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Archive for October, 2014

This is a guest post by Andy Erlam, one of the four Tower Hamlets election petitioners (along with Debbie Simone, Azmal Hussain and Angela Moffat). It’s a response to my blog post yesterday, here.

It is kind of Ted Jeory to give some more uninvited advice about how we best manage the Election Petition case.  However, we are sure Commissioner Mawrey QC does not need his instructions interpreted by Ted.

The Commissioner has announced that he may allow statements to be included in the case without the names and addresses being revealed to Lutfur Rahman or John Williams or their legal teams. This is a significant development which we had a duty to inform the press and the public of.

There are some other inaccuracies in Ted’s account, which is not surprising as he did not attend the Press Conference.

Who did attend, we are told, was a spy for Lutfur Rahman, an uninvited solicitor, a trespasser in fact, so Ted may wish to check with him/her.

The comment made by Janet Digby-Baker OBE was slightly misquoted. The case she was referring to was another case and she made it to illustrate how nasty intimidation can become.

Of course, the intimidation and the threatening of witnesses is itself an extremely serious criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment on conviction.

This is the worst way to show contempt for the court and we will not shy away from reporting each and every reported incident to both the court and to the police and carefully monitor progress of any investigation. The police have not yet covered themselves in glory in this case, but we live in hope.

We will respect the court but we expect our opponents to respect the people.

The Scrutiny of the entire mayor election vote starts in the High Court on Monday morning November 3 and as it takes place in the Royal Court of Justice, we can expect that it will be a sedate affair with special care taken towards transparency and due process.

We leave it to your readers to decide whether this will be better than the Tower Hamlets election count of May 23-27.

Instead of sniping ‎from the sidelines, Ted should get back to some quality investigative journalism:

Who is financing Lutfur’s hugely expensive legal team?

Are we certain the Tower Hamlets ratepayer isn’t somehow financing Lutfur’s legal team?

What does the PwC report show and recommend?

Surely a leak from PwC can be organised? I am reliably informed that LBTH has tried to “lean” on PwC which if true is surely another gross miscalculation.

‎Ted predicted wrongly that we would be laughed out of court at the initial High Court hearing in July.

In fact, the unwise attempt to have the case struck-out supported by 10 QCs and solicitors ‎(yes 10 and some paid for by the tax payer) against our brilliant barrister, Francis Hoar, was thrown out of court.

A further High Court Challenge over the PwC report, also paid for by the Tower Hamlets taxpayer, was later rejected by another judge as “hopeless”.

That has not deterred the mayor from seeking another expensive oral hearing which will take place on November 14.

Ted may be impressed by famous QCs but we will not be intimidated. Taking on hugely expensive lawyers is not a sign of strength, but of weakness.

We are not frightened of anyone.

Comment by Ted Jeory: I’m a bit puzzled that a petitioner who is going to court over allegations of impropriety is urging someone in PwC to leak an official report. I think Andy is right to ask who is funding Lutfur’s legal team; maybe he should set down a marker and fully disclose who is funding his own team.

I maintain that the petitioners are brave…but they’d perhaps be wiser to do their talking in the courtroom (as I think Richard Mawrey QC would prefer).

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You may well have read yesterday that Richard Mawrey QC, the judge in the forthcoming Election Court petition for Tower Hamlets, had apparently intervened following allegations of witness intimidation.

The petitioners had hosted a press conference in Brick Lane on Monday evening to outline their concerns.

The petitioner’s chair, Dame Janet Digby-Baker, who runs a fostering agency in Mile End, said they had been told by at least one witness that their families in Bangladesh would “would be hurt” or even “killed” if they did not withdraw their statements.

According to a thoroughly confused report of the press conference by Breitbart London, here, these allegations had caused Mr Mawrey to make a ruling that “witnesses’ names and addresses will no longer be made public”.

An accurate report appeared online at The Wharf, where Rob Virtue wrote:

Petitioner Andy Erlam said another man who had complained to the petition that his postal ballot paper had been stolen had been “approached by strangers six or seven times on the street and aggressively confronted about ‘why he was attacking the mayor'”.

“I’ve seen he’s partially withdrawn his statement in evidence,” said Mr Erlam. “Why would someone complain to the police, talk openly to us, although nervous and frightened and then withdraw? It is something we’re going to have to sort out in court.”

Mr Erlam said Richard Mawrey QC, the Commissioner in the trial, had this week made the decision to allow anonymous witness statements in light of the accusations The group also appealed for victims of intimidation to contact the police.

The petitioners made clear that they were not in any way connecting Mayor Lutfur Rahman to the allegations.

Their claims at the press conference were based on an email Mr Mawrey had sent to the petition parties on Monday, when he wrote:

…I have the power in circumstances where I feel that a witness may be subject to intimidation or reprisal if he gives evidence to allow that witness to give evidence with his identity disclosed only to to the court and not to the other parties (or to the other parties’ lawyers only). I have exercised that power in the past and would do so again.

As a result of the news reports, Mr Mawrey, who is surely now beginning to realise what it’s like operating in Tower Hamlets, today sent a further email to the parties to the record straight.

He wrote:

If, at he hearing, I am satisfied that there has been or may be a risk of intimidation, I have the power to hear evidence in camera or to permit identities of witnesses to be withheld from the parties and the public.

I have not, of course, said that I am currently satisfied that there is such a risk or that I shall make any such order and I hope this is clear to all parties.

This appears to be a judicial expression of judicial irritation.

The petitioners might not have judged Monday’s public move particularly well. In his first directions order at the outset of the proceedings, Mr Mawrey wrote:

I appreciate that this petition is hotly contested and all parties feel strongly about the issues raised in it.

I would strongly counsel the parties (and that includes the second respondent) not to attempt to fight these battles in the media, social or otherwise. [My italics]

The issues are now sub judice and I consider that they should be treated as such even though petitions do not involve juries.

The petitioners may have “missed the memo”, so to speak.

As it happens, they may well have to up their game because Lutfur has just appointed a new barrister.

Jonathan Laidlaw QC, described (on his chambers’ website) as “one of the country’s leading silks”, is now acting alongside his more longstanding counsel, Helen Mountfield QC.

Laidlaw, who successfully defended former News International boss Rebekah Brooks in the phone hacking trial, has been hired to provide clout on some of the allegations of criminality in the petition.

Mountfield, who acted successfully for Lib Dem Elwyn Watkins against Labour’s Phil Woolas in the 2010 Oldham East Election Court petition, is considered more of a public law specialist.

It’s not yet clear whether both will act during the court hearing itself, which is expected in the New Year. It depends on which parts of the petition Mr Mawrey allows through to the courtroom.

It’s also worth noting that both silks are extremely expensive, Laidlaw particularly so.

And it’s also worth re-emphasising their fees will not be paid from public funds.

This is entirely a private risk for Lutfur, who faces possible bankruptcy if he loses.

However, he has set up a fighting fund to help cover his legal fees. I don’t know how much he’s raised or who the donors are.

Neither am I clear whether the fund or its backers must be declared publicly, eg on Lutfur’s register of interests. Can anyone help with this?

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Let’s have a look at the borough of Tower Hamlets in numbers.

The statistic politicos always cite is this one: there are 46 elected representatives–one mayor and 45 councillors. Of those, 27 are Bengali (59 per cent), one is Somali (two per cent), while 18 (39 per cent) would describe themselves as white.

All the following other figures are from the Office for National Statistics 2011 Census survey.

As they say, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. But there are also myths that statistics help to bust.

Figure 1: An overall summary
Screen shot 2014-10-22 at 14.09.08

There are 254,096 residents in Tower Hamlets. More than half are men, which is a touch higher than the London or national average. Most live in households as opposed to hostels and other communal establishments, such as student halls of residence.

Look at the last row and we see what we already know–that Tower Hamlets is densely populated, with the number of people per hectare more than double the London average.

 

Figure 2: Population by ethnicity. Myth-buster: It’s not ‘full of them Bengalis’

Screen shot 2014-10-22 at 13.54.24

There are 114,819 people who describe themselves as white, or 45 per cent of the population. White British people account for 31.2 per cent. White Other, such as French, Germans, Americans, Lithuanians, Australians etc, account for 12.4 per cent.

British Bangladeshis account for 32 per cent.

There are also 22,975 people who are of black African/Caribbean/mixed white Afro-Caribbean descent, or 9 per cent of residents. Three per cent of residents have a Chinese heritage, or 8,109 people.

Remember, there is just one Somali councillor, but none from the category ‘Black Caribbean’.

When was the last time we had a councillor who would describe themselves from this community? What is being done to engage in this area? Rarely, if at all (and perhaps after the 2011 riots), have I heard any discussion in council meetings about this category. Is this where the real racism exists?

 

Figure 3: Population by religion: Myth-buster: ‘Tower Hamlets…it’s full of them Muslims’
Screen shot 2014-10-22 at 13.50.05

People who stated they were Muslim accounted for 34.5 per cent of residents (87,696). Clearly, almost two-thirds (65.5 per cent) are not Muslim. Those saying they were Christian were 27 per cent, while 19.1 per cent said they had no religion.

Compare this with the London and England averages.

In London as a whole, a relatively large 48 per cent stated they were Christian compared with 59 per cent across England. In London, 12.3 per cent (one in eight) are Muslims, compared with five per cent in England.

 

Figure 4: Population by country of birth – detailed (click table for larger resolution)

lnth pop by birth

 

Of the 144,662 people living in Tower Hamlets who were born in the UK, more than half started life in England, ie 54.6 per cent. Of those born abroad, 14,607 were born in ‘old EU’ countries such as France, Germany and spain (member countries in 2001). Another 7,828 have come from ‘new EU’ countries such as Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Romania etc.

But far more were born outside Europe, ie some 80,000 people. I wonder how many people would be surprised to learn fewer than half these are from Bangladesh, ie 38,877.

The rest were born in at least 30 other countries, with India, China, Somalia, and the US leading the pack.

Of those, we hear much about the Somali community in council meetings…probably because they’re far more of a settled community. But what about the Chinese community? Again, I can’t remember any discussions about them. Why is that?

 

Figure 5: Population by nationality/country passport held

Screen shot 2014-10-22 at 14.08.22

While 144,662 people were born in the UK, 176,531, or 69.5 per cent of the borough’s peopulation) holds a British passport.

Table 2 showed us that 56,506 were born in ‘Middle East and Asia’, including 38,000 in Bangladesh. Of these, only 22,184 people hold passports for those countries.

 

Figure 6a: Population by Age of Arrival in the UK

Screen shot 2014-10-22 at 13.56.38

More than half of the borough’s population were born in the UK, ie 59.9 per cent, or 144,662 people. The averages for London and England are 63.3 per cent and 86.2 per cent respectively.

Of the 109,434 people born abroad, 65,453, or 60 per cent, were aged between 20 and 44 when they came to the UK. Now have a look at this..

 

Figure 6b: Population by year arrived in the UK

Screen shot 2014-10-24 at 15.49.12

Of the 109,434 people in Tower Hamlets who were born abroad, more than half have come to the UK since 2001, ie 59,392, or 54 per cent. That’s 23.3 per cent of the entire borough population, ie almost a quarter.

You could look at it this way: 36,596 people now living in Tower Hamlets arrived in this country during the two Thatcher and Major decades (from 1981-2000, say)…while 59,392 came during the Blair/Brown decade. I can’t find an ONS table to show from which countries these 59,000 migrants came, but here’s an indicator of the latest flows.

 

Figure 6c: Population in 2011: Usual country of residence a year ago for newly arrived migrants

 

lbth pop year ago

This table relates to the current 2011 population of Tower Hamlets. It shows the usual country of residence for people a year before. I’ve included the top 50.

Those damned Yanks and French–they’re swamping Tower Hamlets. Blame the bankers probably. Meanwhile 494 people came from Bangladesh. Some of those could be short term students.

And as for those central and eastern Europeans…fewer than 800 came from seven countries to the borough in 2010/11.

 

Figure 7a: Population by primary language spoken
Screen shot 2014-10-22 at 13.50.25

 

 

Almost two-thirds of people in the borough stated that English was their main language, ie 159,488 people, or 65.8 per cent of those over the age of three.

It follows that more than a third (34.2 per cent), or 82,880 people, do not use English as their first language.  Of those, more than half do not apparently believe they speak English “very well”.

What are these other main languages spoken by almost 82,880 people? What proportion do you think is accounted for by Bengali/Sylheti?

 

Figure 7b: Population by primary language spoken–detailed (it’s worth clicking this table for a better resolution)

dataset-3 dataset-3

So 43,525 people speak Bengali/Sylheti as their main language. That’s 18 per cent of the borough’s population–fewer than one in five.

But here’s an interesting thought. From figure 2 above, there are 81,377 people in the borough classifying themselves as Bengali. That means about half (53.4 per cent to be exact) speak Bengali as their main language. Presumably, the main language for the other half is English. This is the generational change.

Younger Bengalis speak English first and foremost. The older guard worry about this. And some of them are senior figures in the council. They’re rapidly becoming irrelevant.

And for the time being, here’s one last table that I found interesting..

 

Figure 8: Number of residents employed in the Armed Forces

Screen shot 2014-10-22 at 13.57.12

Just 0.06 per cent of Tower Hamlets residents are employed in the Armed Forces. It’s not a Tower Hamlets ‘thing’ actually. The percentage for London as a whole is only 0.08 per cent. This compares with 0.2 per cent for England nationwide.

London is the worst recruiter for Armed Forces personnel. Why is that?

Anyway, that’s your lot for now.

 

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I keep being asked what’s the latest with the PwC report that Eric Pickles was due to announce in the Commons last week.

The answer is that it’s all a bit unclear.

I’m told Tower Hamlets council, with a certain “coup de theatre“, dumped a whole load of new documents on the PwC auditors at the very last minute of the report’s preparation (and five months after the investigation started).

This has caused something of a delay.

Parallel to this is another potentially interesting little conundrum. At the end of August, High Court Judge Sir Kenneth Parker declined an application from the council for a judicial review of the decision to send in the auditors in the first place.

In his written ruling, he used the word “hopeless” to describe one of the council’s arguments. He firmly rejected the other grounds as well. His ruling is here:

3 - Tower Hamlets Judicial Review Judgement

3a - Tower Hamlets Judicial Review Judgement

However, as The Wharf reported in September, the council was undeterred and applied for an oral hearing before another judge.

This has been granted and a date has been fixed for next month.

Here’s the question I’ve asked…Surely it would be illogical to publish the report ahead of that judicial review? If the court rules in favour of the council, ie it rules it was unlawful to send in PwC, then surely that would mean the report itself was unlawful in some way?

Put it another way: what would be the point of the JR hearing if by that time Eric Pickles had already published the report? Would that hearing then be obsolete in practical terms? If the report was so damning that Eric determined intervention was necessary, could that intervention then take place if the JR rules his original decision was unlawful.

He’d be in a bit of a pickle, and embarrassed politically.

Wouldn’t the council’s lawyers want to apply for an injunction on publication of the report prior to the JR hearing? Camp Lutfur Rahman is keeping quiet on the matter.

Sources in Eric’s Department for Communities and Local Government, meanwhile, say the two issues are separate. But I do wonder whether they might wait until after the JR.

Maybe one of the learned readers out there can help?

As for the Election Court petition, that is still going ahead. I’m being told by town hall sources it’s likely to happen in January, although the venue is still unconfirmed. It’s quite possible it won’t take place at the town hall in Mulberry Place after all, but at another building that can accommodate an accompanying media and public circus.

York Hall, the famous boxing venue in Bethnal Green, might be one (very appropriate) option.

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Oliur Rahman

Cllr Oli Rahman manning a PCS picket line in Stratford today

The below piece is on the Express website here.

THE Deputy Mayor of the controversial east London borough of Tower Hamlets was yesterday marched from his civil service workplace after concerns about his political activities.

A security guard was ordered to ban Councillor Oliur Rahman from entering the Job Centre Plus office in Stratford, east London, where he works as a benefits adviser.

His bosses at the Department for Work and Pensions said he could no longer perform the role, one he has had for 14 years, due to hypothetical concerns about political neutrality.

They claimed his high profile role in Tower Hamlets politics meant he was more likely to be recognised by people he dealt with in the job centre, even though he works in the neighbouring borough of Newham.

The DWP argued Mr Rahman was at risk of being accused of political bias in his day job.

It said this risk had increased following his appointment as deputy to Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman, who is currently the subject of Government and national media attention.

Mr Rahman’s bosses said they were acting on the direct advice of the Cabinet Office, which yesterday confirmed it supported their decision.

They said he was being transferred to a non-frontline role away from jobseekers at another office in Stratford.

Their stance and the decision to call in a security guard triggered a blazing row at the Job Centre yesterday.

It caused Mr Rahman, who is also an official at the PCS union, so much stress that he vomited and hyperventilated.

His bosses were so concerned they called an ambulance.

Paramedics treated the councillor but he declined to go to hospital.

PCS officials believe the DWP is “politically targeting” Mr Rahman.

He was today manning a picket line at the Job Centre Plus in a campaign against Government cuts.

Yesterday’s events were the culmination of a long-running dispute.

He has worked for the DWP for 14 years and has been a councillor since 2004.

Until 2010, he worked at the Poplar Job Centre in Tower Hamlets but he was then moved to Stratford after a complaint from an opposition party which claimed he could be trying to exploit his job for political purposes.

He has served in Lutfur Rahman’s cabinet since October 2010.

It is understood no complaints have been received about his dual role in that time.

However, DWP became increasingly worried.

According to Mr Rahman’s supporters, his bosses tried to transfer him out of London altogether.

Mr Rahman opposed the proposal and wrote to the Civil Service Appeal Board.

On October 28 last year, the board ruled in Mr Rahman’s favour.

It told the DWP that were he to be re-elected as a councillor in May 2014, he should be allowed to stay in his frontline role in Stratford.

After his re-election as a Tower Hamlets First party in May, his boss Lutfur Rahman made him his deputy.

The DWP believes his “elevated role” as deputy mayor of a borough receiving so much attention nationally has created a tipping point.

His bosses sought renewed guidance from the Cabinet Office, which has now told the DWP it can overrule the Civil Service Appeal Board decision.

When Mr Rahman objected to the proposed back office transfer earlier this month, the DWP suspended him–a decision it rescinded just days later following advice from HR professionals.

However, the department’s bosses continued to insist he move to the new role.

Mr Rahman is now understood to be consulting lawyers.

His friends also point out that the national attention on Tower Hamlets Council is not of his making.

They say it is largely due to a decision by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, who ordered Government inspectors to examine the borough’s finances last April.

In a statement, Marjorie Browne of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: “For the best part of four years Mr Rahman feels he has been subjected a series of targeted behaviour from the senior management of the Job Centre Plus (JCP) without any foundation or complaint from any clients.

“He feels politically targeted for simply being a councillor and politically active within Tower Hamlets.

“The fact that senior management from the JCP are going against their own Civil Service Appeal Board’s decision says everything one needs to know about this case.”

A DWP spokesman said: “Every day our Job Centre Plus staff are successfully helping people into work.

“It’s important that they remain politically neutral, which is why we can’t have elected politicians in frontline roles.”

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said it “supported” the DWP decision and added: “The Civil Service Code requires all civil servants to act with political impartiality, and to comply with any restrictions laid down on their political activities in line with the Political Activity Rules.”

Mr Rahman said he was unable to comment.

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