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Archive for December 21st, 2011

Following the mayor’s (mostly failed) complaint to the PCC, it looks as though it’s Lutfur Rahman Week over at Andrew Gilligan’s Telegraph blog.

I’ll update the links on this post as and when Andrew releases more details, but I thought it would be a good idea to open up this blog for comments on his findings (the Telegraph blog is often clogged up by more ill-informed nutters than even this one).

Yesterday, he wrote about Cllr Shahed Ali’s tax affairs. It seems as though Shahed, who collects about £23,000 a year for being a cabinet member councillor in Tower Hamlets, might have engaged in that notorious Phoenix tactic of winding up one company and starting another…but leaving HM Revenues and Customs out of pocket to the tune of £25,000. When I tweeted this yesterday, Cllr Oli Rahman, who is also in Lutfur’s cabinet, replied:

Over £25 billion in public money is still owed to the tax payer. What did AG say about that?

I pointed out that Andrew had in fact written about it: that the £25billion is made up of these little pots of £25k. Oli has so far failed to respond to that.

Today, Wednesday, he has added more detail to the story that I broke here last week, that Helal Abbas had been suspended from the council following a complaint from IFE bigwig Hira Islam. Andrew has read Hira’s complaint…and reveals that Hira himslef was actually disciplined by the council last year.

Over to you.

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Two of the stories that had most impact while I was at the East London Advertiser have now, thanks to the journalistic gods who like our world to be balanced and in harmony, coalesced into one.

On October 4 2007, we ran this front page:

(The typo, if you’ve spotted it, wasn’t my fault!)…This story had an impact in many ways and it left wounds which have healed only relatively recently. The thrust of it was a plan (the council disputed that word: they said it hadn’t achieved the requisite level of research at that point to merit being called a ‘plan’) to reuse Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park as a multifaith burial ground. That would have entailed digging up some 350,000 bodies buried there between 1841 and 1966 when the cemetery was closed. After a huge backlash, both locally and nationally, the plan was kicked into the long grass. For the time being at least.

A year earlier, on October 5, 2006, we ran this story:

After we ran this story, the council (mainly then press head Lorraine Langham who is now operations director at Ofsted) condemned us and Lib Dem councillor Stephanie Eaton, who did much to expose this scandal, of scaremongering. The council had forgotten to consult the Health and Safety Executive over a housing development it had granted permission for on The Oval in Bethnal Green. That error was not exactly minor because the proposed development, on which construction had already started, was right next to Britain’s biggest gasometers by the Regent’s Canal. The omission caused a major row between the HSE and the council. The HSE opposed the plan but the council then offered a compromise: it suggested putting signs up at the back of the new flats saying, “No smoking and no barbecues”. Seriously. The courts also considered the omission serious and the permission was eventually overturned (Ms Langham never did apologise to us).

The last time I looked, the development was still half-built, going nowhere and in limbo.

Two weeks ago, East End Life carried a brief item on page 3. Headlined “cemetery discussion”, it said:

THE mayor has asked council officers to urgently explore options for a new multi-faith cemetery in Tower Hamlets. 

At a meeting of the council’s cabinet on December 7, Mayor Lutfur Rahman made clear that residents wanted to see options for a local cemetery brought forward for discussion.

Speaking after the meeting, he said: “Local people want the option of having a burial plot within their borough.

“Current arrangement with neighbouring boroughs don’t meet that aspiration. I want all the options on the table so we  can debate them in an open and transparent manner.”

Full details of the meeting on the council website.

Well, when you go to the council’s website for that cabinet meeting on December 7, there is not yet anything about the cemetery discussion.

I understand that the matter was first raised at the Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting the night before when Cllr Sirajul Islam, who suffered the devastating loss of his 14-year-old daughter Aniqua in 2006, had questioned why the new open spaces strategy contained no details about a cemetery in the borough. The committee chair Ann Jackson then raised it with Lutfur at his cabinet meeting the next day.

There was then some discussion about what had been happening to various plans on this issue in the past couple of years. It was then noted that the council was looking at a “commercial site” as a possible solution.

I understand that the commercial site they’ve earmarked is – yes, you’ve guessed it – the half-built development by the Oval gasometers and possibly land around it.

This is an issue that has had traction in Tower Hamlets for many years now. Tower Hamlets is not unique among inner London boroughs in having no working cemetery: in fact, none do. In east London, families must trek to Manor Park, Hainault, Redbridge and various other sites to visit graves.

This is a delicate one….but I’m not sure it’s right that taxpayers’ money should be spent buying land in these austere times.

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