SEE VARIOUS UPDATES AT BOTTOM OF THIS POST:
The Guardian’s Dave Hill joked yesterday that the poison of the Tower Hamlets elections had yet to include the ritual allegations of vote fraud.
So, when will the traditional, pre-election #TowerHamlets Islamist-“linked” vote-rigging “fears” story appear? Can’t be long, surely.
— DaveHill (@DaveHill) May 10, 2014
I think Lutfur’s camp must have been glued to Dave’s Twitter timeline. For, on cue, less than 24 hours later this Tweet appeared this afternoon from the account of Lutfurite Cllr Oliur Rahman:
There are two Labour councillors in the Lansbury ward: Shiria Khatun and Rajib Ahmed. Because he named neither, Oli, in one fell swoop, defamed both. In libel law, his only hope would be if one of them had actually been arrested. When this was explained to him, he deleted the tweet.
In fact, I can say with certainty that Oli was referring to Shiria Khatun. And when Oli said in his Tweet, “just been told”, I confidently understand the person he was referring to there was none other than the Deputy Mayor, Cllr Ohid Ahmed, who is also standing in Lansbury. (See update below.)
The problem for them is that Shiria has not been arrested. As this tweet came through, she was out campaigning.
She is incandescent that such the smear is being spread among the voters of the Lansbury ward. She believes Tower Hamlets First is so worried about the outcome on May 22, they’re resorting to lies that could well see one or two of them in hot water.
I’m told that in 2010, rumours were spread (by whom, I don’t know) that Shiria was not a Muslim because she does not wear a hijab. These are some of the depths Tower Hamlets politicians plumb, on almost all sides.
I understand today’s matter has been referred to the Returning Officer, who surely now must show he’s taking these things seriously.
Did Ohid tell Oli that Shiria had indeed been arrested? He declined to tell me.
However, this is what he did say: “I’m personally against all sorts of voting fraud. I have campaigned against it and requested no candidate should be handling/harvesting postal votes. However, very unfortunately this has happened in my ward, I was told. I understand this has been reported to the police. It is up to the victim and police to reveal the name of the culprits if they find anyone involved.”
Expect more of these sorts of allegations over the next 10 days.
Sorry, Dave, it’s started.
UPDATE 8am, May 12
I’ve been told that Ohid says he was called by Oli asking if he’d heard a rumour that Shiria had been arrested, and that Ohid told him he had.
UPDATE 11.30am, May 12
Lutfur’s supporters were busy yesterday on Facebook saying that Shiria had been interviewed by police. I called Shiria. This is her version of events.
“I was knocking on doors in the Lansbury ward yesterday. I saw police in the street and I thought they’d come to talk to people about drugs problems in the area so I went over to them to say I was happy they were there. Then I saw Louise Stamp with them [from the council’s electoral services department]. They said there had been an allegation against me about faking votes. I was completely taken aback and shocked.
“I asked what’s going on. Then I saw one of Lutfur Rahman’s Ohid Ahmed’s supporters. He said he had been interpreting for an elderly Bangladeshi couple who had made an allegation. I told the police that’s not on, that he’s one of the mayor’s right hand men. The police said he hadn’t interpreted, that he was a well-wisher. But he had been in the room of their flat and I told the police they wouldn’t have been able to understand what he might have said to the couple, that he might have been influencing them.
“This elderly couple have made a formal allegation. The allegation is that I’ve taken their vote. This is a complete lie. I have not touched a single ballot and the only ballot I will touch will be mine. I don’t know this couple beyond that they are my constituents. I had previously asked them if they were going to vote.
“The couple who made the allegation have now flown to Bangladesh. I find that a surprise and some coincidence.”
Separately, the police have confirmed they have received a complaint and that they are investigating. They are also aware of the special characteristics of Tower Hamlets election time.
UPDATE 9.15pm, May 12
I now understand only one of the elderly couple has gone to Bangladesh and the police seem satisfied the trip wasn’t last minute.
I also gather the allegation is that blank ballot papers were taken. Shiria denies this.
It’s probable Shiria will be interviewed by police, but not necessarily under arrest. That’s standard practice when such allegations are made.
The elderly couple have also been warned that any false allegation could result in a perverting the course of justice investigation.
The police have a detective based at Limehouse examining all manner of electoral issues at the moment. That’s a good move by the police. I get the impression this more than a PR box-ticking exercise.
Tweets and Facebook postings are being particularly monitored for offences under election law.