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Archive for February 4th, 2015

I’ve not yet had the chance to be in court (although tomorrow might be a fun occasion as Mamun Rashid, the former Respect councillor who stood for Labour in Shadwell last May, takes the witness stand…but only after he asked for the services of an official interpreter. Yes, you read that right: an interpreter is needed for a former councillor who took home £40k from council resources between 2006-10.)

John Biggs was the star turn yesterday and he by all accounts spent five hours in the stand. The transcript of his appearance runs to 200 pages and contains 50,000 words, so that’s too long even for this blog.

I’m going to make it available as a document here (Erlam & Others v Rahman & Williams – Proceedings 03.02.15 – Day 2), and I will also post his official witness statements in due course.

They contain fascinating bits of evidence, much of it contested by Lutfur Rahman of course.

I’ll highlight below seven pages of exchanges between John Biggs and Lutfur’s QC David Penny. They are on pp320-330 of the transcript.

They give interesting insights into the way back room deals are alleged to have happened between the two politicians during the contested mayoral selection process of 2010, ie before Lutfur was expelled from Labour.

Lutfur denies this meeting took place. The petitioners are being represented by Francis Hoar. The Election Court commissioner is Richard Mawrey QC.

The trial continues.

Here’s the extract from the cross-examination of John Biggs by Mr Penny.

14      MR. PENNY:  There is one issue where there is a conflict that I

15          just want to explore with you for a little bit.  Would you be

16          kind enough to go to your witness statement at page 196,

17          paragraph 99.  You are talking about Mr. Rahman, your

18          relationship and your observations of him: “I was reminded

19          also of LR’s ability to mobilise support when at the time he

20          was off the shortlist of 2013 and hedging his bets on how he

21          could secure influence in the event that I became Mayor.  He

22          and a number of his colleagues, including Councillor

23          Choudhury, visited my home late at night twice to offer

24          conditional support and offer of their block of votes in this

25          election in return for guarantees of positions of influence in

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     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

    2          the event that I became Mayor.”  Is that accurate?

     3      A.  It is accurate, yes.  I know that from Lutfur Rahman’s

     4          statement no. 4 that he says that that meeting did not take

     5          place, but there were two such meetings.

     6      Q.  We will look at that in a second.  Just look at the first

     7          sentence of it: “I was reminded of LR’s ability to mobilise

     8          support at the time he was off the shortlist in 2013.”  That

     9          cannot be right, can it?  He was not off the shortlist in

    10          2013.  He was the Mayor in 2013.

    11      A.  No, you are quite right.  This would be in 2009 then.  Yes, I

    12          am four years out.

    13      Q.  When the squabble was going on about who was going to be

    14          elected.

    15      A.  I am four years out.  It was 2009, you are absolutely correct.

    16      Q.  It can make a wee bit of a difference, can it not, four years?

    17      A.  Well —-

    18      THE COMMISSIONER:  So can we change that to 2009?

    19      A.  Yes, I apologise.

    20      MR. PENNY:  That is all right, do not worry.

    21      A.  It was certainly a year before the Mayoral election.  I just

    22          got the wrong Mayoral election, you are quite right.

    23      Q.  Typographical errors can creep into the production of witness

    24          statements and so forth.  So far as this witness statement is

    25          concerned, did you draft it all yourself?

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     2      A.  Unfortunately, I did, yes.

     3      Q.  Each and every paragraph is yours, is it?

     4      A.  I do not know where this is leading to but, yes, I spent many

     5          a weekend at my desk in City Hall drafting and redrafting and

     6          paraphrasing and chopping it about, looking for evidence and

     7          putting together this gargantuan thing, yes.  Is that a

     8          problem?

     9      Q.  It is a question, Mr. Biggs, and you have given me an answer

    10          so I am bound by it.  As you will know, the rules of evidence

    11          establish, all right.  Can we move, please, to the statement

    12          of Mr. Rahman to which you have made reference.  That is in

    13          volume R.  It is his fourth witness statement at paragraph 85,

    14          which is at page 4319.  Let me understand this.  Are you

    15          suggesting that Lutfur Rahman came to your home twice in 2009?

    16      A.  Have I got the wrong year then?  Yes, you are quite right, it

    17          must have been 2010.  After the Mayoral referendum, there was

    18          a short period between the May election and the October

    19          election in which the Labour Party attempted to select a

    20          candidate.  There was one shortlisting meeting, which was then

    21          repeated with a second shortlisting meeting.  Between that and

    22          the point at which Mr. Rahman was placed back on the shortlist

    23          following the various legal interventions, he attended my

    24          house so it must have been in September or something,

    25          August/September 2010 then.  For the second time, I have got

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     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2          the wrong year.  It was 2010.

     3      Q.  Let us get the chronology clear for his Lordship.  The

     4          position was that Mr. Rahman was unsuccessful in seeking to

     5          get on to the shortlist first time round.

     6      A.  Yes. S.

     7      Q.  The processes which the Labour Party had adopted were

     8          unlawful, there was a legal challenge and he was then put back

     9          on the shortlist.

    10      A.  I would not agree with that, but those are your words.

    11      Q.  I think the Labour Party settled the action and paid his

    12          costs; is that right?

    13      A.  They settled the?

    14      Q.  They settled the action against him and paid his costs.

    15      A.  I give an account of that in my second witness statement,

    16          which is my understanding of what happened.

    17      Q.  But one way or another, he ended up back on the shortlist.

    18      A.  Yes.

    19      Q.  He then won the election first time round.  In relation to

    20          that election, you were second and Mr. Abbas was third.

    21      A.  This selection, not the election, yes.

    22      Q.  There was a list and then there was the election proper for

    23          the nomination.  He was successful in votes.  Forgive me, I

    24          should make it clear.  He is not on the original selection

    25          list, he challenges that, he then is on the selection list.

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     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2      A.  There is another iteration.

     3      Q.  Go ahead.

     4      A.  He was rejected, there was a completely fresh panel, he was

     5          interviewed again, he was rejected again, he then exercised

     6          his right of appeal to something called the Disputes Committee

     7          or something — this is all in the appendices to his second

     8          statement — and then following that, by whatever route, he

     9          received a letter saying that he was on it, then a second

    10          letter saying he was not, his lawyers then fired off missives

    11          and he was placed back on it.

    12      Q.  Then there was the election.

    13      A.  No, there was then the National Executive Committee meeting.

    14      Q.  I am talking about the votes for who was going to be the

    15          candidate.

    16      A.  The selection?

    17      Q.  Yes.

    18      A.  Yes.

    19      Q.  I am probably using the wrong terminology.  All I am trying to

    20          establish, as I asked you this morning, is that he was first,

    21          you were second and Helal Abbas was third.  Then there was

    22          intervention from the NEC and you were not made the candidate,

    23          but Helal Abbas was, which is what I was asking you about

    24          earlier on.

    25      A.  Yes.

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     2      Q.  So far as these meetings are concerned, you say that they took

     3          place at your address.  I do not want to expose that in court,

     4          but that was within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

     5      A.  It is my wife’s home, yes.  It is well-known that it is now

     6          her private address, or my ex-wife.

     7      Q.  Who else was there apart from Mr. Rahman?

     8      A.  I was thinking about this last night because I read Mr.

     9          Rahman’s statement.  He said the meeting did not take place.

    10          Mr. Rahman was there, Mr. Alibor Choudhury was there, Mr. Ohid

    11          Amed was there, Anwar Khan was there and I think there was a

    12          fifth person, but I am not too sure who it was.  I was there

    13          on my own.  He had asked that I not have anybody present with

    14          me, which I thought was a bit one-sided, but I am a reasonable

    15          guy and I accepted that.

    16      Q.  Did you make a telephone call in 2010 just prior to his court

    17          challenge?

    18      A.  I have no idea.  We did attempt to communicate by telephone

    19          once or twice in this matter.  I think following his election

    20          as Mayor, I attended one or two meetings with him at the Town

    21          Hall where we talked about the possibilities of

    22          reconciliation.  In advance of this election, I was quite keen

    23          at finding ways of healing things over so we did have

    24          conversations.

    25      Q.  This is before the challenge to his exclusion from the Party

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     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

    2          shortlist.  You telephoned him, did you not?

     3      A.  I have no idea.  We were in the business of speaking to each

     4          other to maintain —-

     5      Q.  Look at paragraph 85 of his statement rather than —-

     6      A.  I have no recollection.  We have spoken on the phone in the

     7          past, but not for a long, long time.  We must have spoken at

     8          about this time, but the contents of the conversation which he

     9          relays in this statement are not true.

    10      Q.  So there is no possibility of you having said to him that if

    11          he withdrew from the proceedings against the Labour Party, he

    12          may have a future in Parliament or the House of Lords?

    13      A.  I certainly could not have offered him such a future.

    14      Q.  You see what is in the witness statement, Mr. Biggs.  I am

    15          just asking you whether such a conversation may or may not

    16          have taken place.

    17      A.  I took this paragraph to mean that, in some way, I had

    18          threatened, offered or attempted to cajole him into not

    19          challenging something in order to please myself and offered

    20          him the inducement that he might get confirmed as a result of

    21          that and no such conversation took place.

    22      Q.  Did you say that senior figures within the Party would come

    23          down on him like a ton of bricks?

    24      A.  I have no recollection of saying that.

    25      Q.  Is it a possibility?

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     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2      A.  Okay, I have no recollection of saying that in the context in

     3          which it is placed here and I have no recollection of a

     4          detailed conversation with him in which we covered these

     5          matters.  I do not recall that, no.

     6      Q.  Are you ruling it out?

     7      A.  I am ruling out that I did not have a conversation with him in

     8          which my tone could be construed as threatening.  I did not

     9          have a conversation with him at which I offered him a seat in

    10          Parliament or the House of Lords because they are not within

    11          my gift.  Even if I wanted to make such an offer, I could not

    12          have done so.  We did talk during this because it was a

    13          stressful time for both of us.  We were both mighty pee’d off,

    14          I was going to say, that the whole thing had been deferred

    15          again and again.  It was stressful for every candidate and we

    16          did try to maintain civil conversations during it.  That was

    17          my interpretation of what happened.

    18      Q.  Was there a telephone conversation in which you invited him to

    19          desist from the legal action that he was taking?

    20      A.  I do not recall such a conversation.  I think he may have told

    21          me that he was considering legal action, I have no idea.  What

    22          would I have said in response to that?  I do not know.

    23      Q.  You heard my question.  Did you invite him to desist in the

    24          legal action that he was taking against the Labour Party?

    25      A.  You keep asking this question and I am just trying to be

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     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2          helpful by trying to remember something that I do not

     3          remember.  I do not remember having any conversation with him

     4          which could be phrased in the fashion in paragraph 85.

     5      Q.  You keep saying that you cannot remember.  I am asking you

     6          whether it could have happened or not.  In other words, are

     7          you ruling this out?

     8      A.  I am ruling out a conversation in which I threatened him or

     9          offered him inducements or tried to encourage him to get out

    10          of the way to give me a free field or whatever is insinuated

    11          in this paragraph.

    12      Q.  Are you ruling out a conversation in which you invited him to

    13          desist in his legal action against the Labour Party?

    14      A.  Yes, I am ruling that out.  I mean, we may have had a

    15          conversation in which he said that he was minded to do that.

    16          We might have talked about what that might mean in various

    17          guises, but I have no recollection of such a conversation.

    18      Q.  What would the conversation have been about then?  “Oh, John,

    19          they have deselected me.”  How does it go after that?

    20      A.  I have no recollection of such a conversation.  I am just

    21          trying to imagine what would happen if I had a conversation

    22          with someone in that position who was a mate of mine.  I would

    23          say, “Life is not at an end.  You could consider a legal

    24          challenge.  The Party may not support you.”  I have no idea

    25          what I would have said.

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     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2      Q.  You were rivals, were you not?

     3      A.  It is interesting you say that.  We are not rivals to the

     4          death in my opinion.  I have always taken the view that the

     5          Labour Party is a fraternal organisation and that we work

     6          together and we try to secure candidates and victories.  I

     7          think my record shows that on occasions when I have lost in

     8          the past, I have valiantly endorsed and supported the

     9          candidates who have won.  At the moment, Lutfur was successful

    10          before the NEC suspended him.  I held his hand aloft outside

    11          the Labour Party office and spoke to the TV cameras with him

    12          and put an arm around him and said, “Good on you, mate. I am

    13          behind you.”  I was very sincere in saying that.  It is not

    14          quite like a war where one of you has to die at the end of it.

    15          It is an adversarial process in which only one of you can win,

    16          but hopefully at the end of it, you put away your swords and

    17          you work together towards the common good.  That is the point

    18          of having a political party.

    19      Q.  In 2010, were you or were you not rivals for the nomination to

    20          be the Labour Party candidate in the Tower Hamlets Mayoral

    21          election?

    22      A.  Obviously we were.

    23      Q.  There was no chance of the words “coming down on you like a

    24          ton of bricks” being mentioned in this conversation?

    25      A.  Shall I read the paragraph again?

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     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2      Q.  Of course.

     3      A.  The meetings at my home did not take place.  They did take

     4          place.  All I can say about this is at that the meeting that

     5          took place in my home, Mr. Rahman told me that he had a block

     6          of votes which he said was of the order of 200 votes — I

     7          thought that was rather less than the number of votes at his

     8          command — and that he would deploy those in my favour.  He

     9          wanted me to offer him in return for this an assurance that I

    10          would make his nominated candidate the Deputy Mayor if I

    11          became Mayor and that I would offer half the places in the

    12          cabinet to people from his faction or grouping.  I said in

    13          response to that in those conversations, misguidedly or

    14          otherwise, that what I wanted to do was to try to represent

    15          the different factions and interests in the party in the

    16          administration of Tower Hamlets in the event that I became the

    17          Mayor and that I would certainly consider his nominations, but

    18          that was not a reasonable request for him to make.

    19      Q.  I hope I made it clear that I was asking you about the

    20          telephone conversation.

    21      A.  There was no telephone conversation of the type intimated in

    22          this paragraph that I am aware of.

    23      Q.  None whatsoever?

    24      A.  We had a telephone conversations.  I cannot remember what

    25          their content was, but there was certainly no conversation the

 

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     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2          purpose of which was to threaten and to harry him or to

     3          discourage him from standing or making his legal challenge.

     4      Q.  At this stage, you still wanted to be the candidate, did you

     5          not?

     6      A.  Yes, of course I did.

     7      Q.  You were none too happy when Mr. Abbas was installed as the

     8          candidate.

     9      A.  By that stage, as I said earlier today, I thought it was a bit

    10          of a train wreck, I was weary and battered by the whole

    11          process and I thought, “Stuff it” momentarily to myself.  Yes,

    12          it was my ambition to be the Mayoral candidate and I then went

    13          away and here we are today.

    14      MR. PENNY:  Indeed.  Thank you very much, Mr. Biggs.

 

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