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Archive for March, 2015

At first sight, this one is straight from Comedy Central. Greece is in a bit of a pickle. It’s had a bit of a problem with corruption, and with how its politicians spend public money.

So who better to call in for a bit of advice than a special hit squad from Tower Hamlets?

Here’s a tweet from Stepney’s Tower Hamlets First councillor Mahbub Alam.

Yes, that’s Deputy Mayor Oli Rahman, two of his cabinet colleagues, Shahed Ali and Shafiqul Haque, as well as Mahbub, sitting there facing Greek MPs in Athens two days ago. Thanks to Alam, here are some other photos from their trip: CBBS0BmWQAAgzYe CBCwM2UWQAA-hr0   CBB0OnlWAAAXolu       CBDX7FOUQAAqWe-

CBGAlNMW4AAvkXj   CBGAlNQWwAEbUns

Where to start? As Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs editor Tim Minogue remarked on Twitter last night….wtf. First, the hat. In the first picture above, it’s resting on the head of the deputy mayor, Oli Rahman. He says it was a gift from George Galloway. George_galloway_011 Indeed, he does look like a mini-George and Oli was once upon a time one of his Respect councillors in Tower Hamlets. In fact I’m told that Oli, like George, has also taken to cigars. I’m not sure if he’s started wearing leotards yet, but you never know. galloway-big-brother There are other links to Galloway with this trip as well. In that fourth picture above, showing a tasty meal in Athens on Thursday night, you can see sitting at the far end of the table on the left hand side as we look at it, Kevin Ovenden. A socialist philosopher mathematician, he was for very many years the left hand side of Galloway’s brain (the right being the slightly more creative Rob Hoveman).

Kevin has been in Greece for some time and is no doubt excited by the rise of the Syriza party there, but I’m assured this Tower Hamlets delegation was not his doing. It was all Oli Rahman’s idea, Oli told me this morning. He called me from a Greek train slightly distressed after one of their wider group had just been robbed of their wallet.

So why are they out there and who’s paying for it? When asked about the latter on Twitter last night, Mahbub (who has a fondness for travel, especially if it’s supported by public money..), had this to say:

HaringeyThey flew out on Thursday and are due back tomorrow. Also with the four Tower Hamlets councillors is Haringey’s Labour councillor, Isidoros Diakides (left), who is co-chair of the London-based Greek Solidarity Campaign. There are also officials from the NUT and Unison with them, including the Tower Hamlets council branch secretary John McLaughlin

Yesterday, they all met a group of Syriza MPs in Athens, the party’s head of international affairs, a local mayor and a member of the Greens. As one Tower Hamlets politico said to me yesterday, it’s difficult to understand who exactly is advising who.

However, while it’s easy and perfectly reasonable to mock and laugh, there is a serious side to this. Greece has a serious problem with racism and a growing one with fascism. Golden Dawn are neo-Nazis.

Last year, there were cries of “scandal” after a Greek court acquitted two farmers of shooting 28 Bangladeshi migrants who had been claiming back pay for their strawberry picking work. Very good accounts of the story are here and here.

Oli told me this morning there are some 700 Bengali businesses in Athens alone, many of which are struggling with the austerity measures. Oli thought that most of the Bengalis in Greece did not have Greek passports, merely indefinite leave to remain there. I asked whether any those he had met there wanted to come to the UK. He said if some were “given the possibility to, they would come”. However, he added many others simply wanted to pursue a life in Greece.

He said the Greek MPs and the Greek Bangladeshi Chambers of Commerce wanted to hear about how the racism of the Seventies and Eighties in the UK had been defeated. Oli said the MPs were amazed and impressed that people of an Asian immigrant background had conquered such prejudice and were now running a major London authority. “They were fascinated about that,” Oli said.

I asked Oli what he’d been most impressed with so far and he highlighted a movement set up by Syriza MPs called ‘Solidarity for All’. Each Syriza MP donates 20 per cent of their salary to it for humanitarian causes such as food distribution.

That’s wonderful, I said. I asked him whether he and other councillors in Tower Hamlets would do that, ie donate 20 per cent of their allowances to such causes. At first he said the deprivation in Tower Hamlets was nowhere near the scale of Greece. I pointed out there were food banks crying out for money. I said he’d be setting a fine example.

And then I think he got it. He said he would add a line to a motion he’s already submitted on the issues in Greece for the next council meeting. That should be an interesting vote.

So something good might well come from their diplomatic efforts. Overall, good on them for going.

On a lighter note, I asked Oli if he’d heard anyone using the word “malaka” around him. “I don’t speak Greek, mate,” he said, “but I think so, yeah.”

This is what it means.

Bless.

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A quick update on the election court hearing. After a break last week, the parties return to Court 38 on Tuesday when the barristers involved will make their closing submissions. Following those, the Commissioner (judge) Richard Mawrey QC will take a couple of weeks to come to his decision and his ruling will come shortly after Easter.

He has already indicated that Cllr Maium Miah will not be named (effectively barring him from office) in any judgement: not because he does not believe or does believe Maium’s evidence, but because he does not consider he was close enough to the action, as it were. That’s to say, he wasn’t a major player as far as these proceedings are concerned.

This leaves only Alibor Choudhury and Mayor Lutfur Rahman as vulnerable in this trial, although it could be the case that evidence heard about others could trigger proceedings elsewhere.

We’ll have to wait and see.

baroness uddin

In the meantime, as there’s been something of an information deficit from this quarter over the past couple of weeks, I thought I’d overload you. The transcript from the last day the court sat on good old Friday the thirteenth suggests that Baroness Pola Uddin didn’t have luck on her side.

She was called as a witness by Lutfur’s barrister, Duncan Penny QC, not so much to support the mayor (someone she says in evidence she doesn’t have an awful lot of time for), but to try and corroborate allegation against John Biggs. They were “colleagues” in the ever-so-rosy Labour administration of the Nineties (has Tower Hamlets ever been functional?) when John was briefly leader and she his deputy. At that time there were plots to unseat the former.

All history of course, but allegedly relevant to this case. However, I wonder whether Baroness Uddin was quite prepared for the cross-examination she received from the petitioners’ barrister Francis Hoar. I got the sense from reading the transcript that she wasn’t expecting to be asked about her dodgy recent record on House of Lords expenses, or about the BMW car she was given by the convicted insurance fraudster and Channel S founder Md Mahee Jalil Ferdhaus (or Ferdous). At times I think she was expecting the sort of sedate affair you get in the Lords, where tempers rarely fray and where the Speaker can be relied on to ensure the airs and graces of peers are maintained and respected.

Court 38, the House of Lords it was not.

But first, here’s a quick extract from John Biggs’ second appearance in the witness stand, where he is cross-examined again by Duncan Penny about that Sunday Politics show quote.

Q. Do you make provocative remarks?

A. I am described by some as a pugnacious politician. I was talking to a friend the other day who said he was horrified at the suggestion I am a racist and said that I could be described as an equal opportunities pugnacious politician in that I am equally forthright with people from all backgrounds. I think with time maybe I recognise that people have different sensitivities and I am a lot more sensitive now than I was when I was leader 20 years ago.

Q. You accepted last time that so far as the remarks you made in 13 September 2013 are concerned, you regret them inasmuch as you accept that you can see that they may have upset some people.

A. I think I regret them more in that they have been open to misinterpretation in this rather tenuous spinning by your client and indeed, in my view, by yourself.

Q. You said that last time. I am more interested in you. Let us stick with you for the time being. Do you regret the fact that you might have upset some people? What about your own view about that? Let us forget about what Lutfur Rahman’s team have done.

A. I do not believe, when I looked at the evidence — and I did sit in on Alibor Choudhury’s appearances in the court — and I was quite shocked at his assertions of being hurt given that there was such a great time elapse between his apparent hurt and his use of the information.

Q. Surely you are not trying not to answer my question, Mr. Biggs, are you?

A. I think —-

Q. I asked you about you.

A. I think in life there are many questions to which the answer is not yes or no. If you want to repeat your question, we have all afternoon, I believe.

Q. Is it “Je ne regrette rien” for you?

A. As I said previously, we all make our bed and we lie in it, do we not?

Q. That is not an answer, is it?

A. No, it is not the answer you want me to give, but it is an answer.

Q. I just want the truth.

A. Indeed, so do I.

I quite like that attitude.

The full transcript of the day’s hearings is here: Erlam & Others v Rahman & Williams – Proceedings 13.03.15 – Day 29.

But back to Baroness Uddin’s guest appearance. Background on her dubious expenses history can be read here. The Sunday Times article about how she exchanged a “battered” Honda reportedly worth £300 for a £20,000 BMW X5 (via Mahee Jalil Ferdhaus/Ferdous) is here.

And her denial that she’d ever driven a battered car in her life is in the transcript below.

The judge’s interventions when she asks whether she has really has to answer questions are particularly worth reading. As is the statement by her that she no longer must pay back many of the expenses she wrongly claimed.

Enjoy. (And thanks again to Mark Baynes of Love Wapping for doing a data clean up on the transcript text for me.)

BARONESS UDDIN CROSS-EXAMINED BY MR. HOAR

MR. HOAR:  Lady Uddin, I am going to take you, firstly, before I get to your witness statement, to a report.  I wonder if your Lordship has it.  It is a report by the House of Lords.

THE COMMISSIONER:  No.

MR. HOAR:  There are copies, actually.  My learned friend has a copy.  There is a copy for the witness there.  (Same handed)

THE COMMISSIONER:  It is from the Parliament website.  Yes.

MR. HOAR:  I do not know whether the witness has it.  I do not think she does.  (Same handed)

I am just going to take you, if I may, to relevant   passages.  The report was published as a result of and was the conclusion of an investigation into your claims for expenses; that is correct, is it not?

A.  My allowances, yes.  Yes, it was.

Q.  Can I take you, firstly — now, you will see that there are page references, which are the internet copy page references, at the top right-hand corner.  Do you see that?  So, page 1 of 14, 3 of 14, and so on.

A.  Okay.

Q.  Could I take you, first of all, to page 3 of 14, paragraph 23. This describes the resolutions of the House of Lords with regards to allowances, as you describe them, or expenses, as they describe them.  The resolution includes, “1(a) expenses incurred for the purpose of attendance at sittings of the House at committees; (b) expenses incurred” —-

A.  My Lord —-

Q.  No.

A.  Mr. Hoar, may I — I do not understand what reference you make to this and the statement that I have made, and you should

have made that quite clear.

Q.  Baroness Uddin, you will answer my questions unless there is an objection, and I have not asked one yet.  If you are not following the reference, then that is another matter.  But firstly, you will answer my questions, Lady Uddin.  All right?

A.  My Lord, then I am asking for clarification, my Lord.

Q.  Paragraph 23, 1(a) and (b).

THE COMMISSIONER:  I am afraid that Council for the petitioners is perfectly entitled to cross-examine you as to this report,

Lady Uddin.  He is not obliged to keep his cross-examination to within the four corners of your witness statement.  I am afraid, therefore, that at the moment his questions are  proper, and you will answer them.

MR. HOAR:  Thank you.  Does it say that “expenses can be claimed, if incurred, for the purposes of attendance at sittings of the House”; does it say that?

A.  I have not read at this moment.

Q.  I am asking you to read paragraph 23, 1(a), Lady Uddin; page 3 of 14.

A. 23(a), I am reading that, and I have read it.

Q. Indeed. Does it say “expenses incurred in staying overnight away from their only or main residence where it is necessary to do so for that purpose”?

A. It does say that.

Q. Is that your understanding of the House of Lords rules so far as expenses are concerned?

A. Is that your first question?

Q. No. It is about my fifth one. Is that the case, Lady Uddin?

A. What is the case, Mr. Hoar?

Q. Is it the case that those are the rules, and do you agree that those are the rules for expenses in the House of Lords?

A. My Lord, in response to Mr. Hoar’s question, I would suggest that the whole matter in relation to the —-

Q. Are you answering my question or not?

A. I am, Mr. Hoar.

Q. It does not sound like you are.

A. I am, Mr. Hoar.

THE COMMISSIONER: Let her answer first.

THE WITNESS: You should allow me to finish.

THE COMMISSIONER: Let me have her answer first. Do continue.

A. I would say, and clearly Mr. Hoar has found the details from public records, and the matter of this subcommittee is a matter of record, and I do say that it has been something that I have already answered in the House of Lords, and this is not a matter of contest.

MR. HOAR:  I think his Lordship has just told you that you will answer my questions.

A.  My Lord, I am —-

MR. PENNY:  Please, please.

THE WITNESS:  I am answering, my Lord.

MR. HOAR:  You are not answering my questions.

A.  My Lord, I am answering, and I am making the point that —-

Q. You are not —-

THE COMMISSIONER: Let her finish her answer.

THE WITNESS:  I am making the point, my Lord, that everything in these few pages, and many other pages, is there for public    record. It has been hashed and rehashed, and I have answered all the details; and I am not aware that any of these matters are of any relevance to either my statement or the matter before the court, my Lord.

MR. HOAR:  Have you finished?

A. I have.

Q.  Can I now ask a question, because I am going to rehash it for you, unfortunately, and his Lordship has just indicated thatI may do that.  So, Lady Uddin, can you please answer the question that I asked, which was simply this: does the passage that I just read out accurately explain the rules for expenses in the House of Lords — yes or no?

A.  My Lord, I would say that I would simply refer to my answers as stated in the report, as is available.

Q. Does the —-

A.  And Mr. —-

Q.  — passage I read out accurately explain the rules for expenses in the House of Lords, Lady Uddin — yes or no?

A.  Mr. Hoar, Mr. Hoar, you shouting at me will make no difference to what I have to say, which is —-

Q.  I will ask it a fourth time, a fourth time then.

THE COMMISSIONER: No. Wait a minute. Lady Uddin.

A. Yes, my Lord.

Q.  I appreciate you resent this line of questioning.

A.  I do not, my Lord.

Q.  Well, you have made it very clear that you do.  You are asked a very simple question.  The report that we have from the House of Lords quotes verbatim the resolution of the House in relation to day and night subsistence.  They have been read to you by Mr. Hoar, and he has asked you the very simple question: do you accept that they are, or were at the

relevant time, the rules relating to day and night subsistence?

A.  My Lord, may I please again restate what I have said.  Given that Mr. Hoar and the court itself has access to these  details, he will know that I answered these questions in detail, my Lord, in the reports, and I merely make reference to whatever I had said.  Given that I had no knowledge that Mr. Hoar would be, or the court would be, asking these

irrelevant matters here, then I would have been more prepared with all the things that I may have said in relation to these details, my Lord.

Q.  The only question you have been asked to date on this matter, Lady Uddin, is whether you accept that the rule as read out by Mr. Hoar is, in fact, the rule of the House of Lords.  That is  the only question you have been asked so far, and it is a question which we have not yet had an answer to.

A.  My Lord, you will know from the report that is here before you, and the court will know and Mr. Hoar will know, the whole report details what I had said or not at the time.  If this is presented to me in the way of simply asking me to clarify whether this was the rule —-

MR. HOAR:  Are you refusing to answer his Lordship’s question — because it sounds to me like you are —-

A.  Absolutely not, my Lord.

Q.  —- to answer his Lordship’s question.  So, perhaps I will give you another opportunity — number 7, I think.

Lady Uddin, did the passage that I read out at page 3 of 14 of this report, paragraph 23 of the report, accurately, accurately represent the rules for expenses in the House of Lords — yes or no?

A.  It is, as stated by the rule —-

Q.  Thank you.  So, yes. I am going to turn to paragraph 4.4, night subsistence; and you can answer my questions or not, as you wish, but you may want to answer them.  Night subsistence, 4.4.1:  “Members whose main residence is outside Greater London may claim for expenses of overnight accommodation in London”.  Do you agree that that is the rule?

A.  Yes, my Lord.

Q.  “While away from their own main residence”; do you agree that that is the rule?

A.  My Lord, yes, I agree that that was the rule.

Q.  Thank you.  “4.4.3.  Claims for night subsistence are only permissible in respect of nights actually spent in London either immediately preceding or following attendance at a sitting or meeting described”; do you agree that that is the rule?

A.  Yes, my Lord.

Q.  Thank you.

A.  It was as stated in the Committee.

Q.  “Lady Uddin’s designated main residence”, page 5 of 14, paragraph 34.  You designated three main residences, did you not, between 3rd May 2005 and 12th April 2010, did you not?

A.  Yes, my Lord.  It is a matter for record, my Lord.

Q.  Yes.  Up until 1st August, it was a property in Frinton-on-Sea in Essex, was it not?

A.  My Lord, it is as on record.

Q.  And in the record to which you refer, the House of Lords finding was this.  Paragraph 36, third line down:  “From the data held, it appears that Lady Uddin claimed night subsistence, day subsistence, office costs and the mileage allowance for weekly journeys by car and to Frinton almost

every weekend when the House was sitting for the period May to July 2005″.  Do you agree that that is true?

A.  That is as stated in public record, my Lord.

Q.  Thank you.  Paragraph 39:  “In relation to the Frinton property, the police did not investigate this period”, but the Sunday Times interviewed your sister-in-law, who had lived at the property since 1999.  She could not recall you ever having lived at the property.  Is that true, that you never lived at

that property?

A.  My Lord, both myself and my sister-in-law subsequently contested and challenged this statement.

Q.  Yes.  You said she had been terrified by the journalist, and so lied; that is what you said about that, is it not?

A.  No, I did not say that, my Lord.  We both said that that was not as was presented to us, and we have challenged that in —-

Q. It says —-

A.  —- in the Privilege and Conduct Committee, my Lord, and that is also on public record.

Q.  What have they ruled about that?

A.  Pardon?

Q. What has the Privilege and Conduct Committee ruled about that challenge, Lady Uddin?

A.  And we disagree, my Lord.

Q.  You disagree with their decision, do you not?  Very well.

A.  Mr. Hoar — my Lord, Mr. Hoar is well aware that we challenged that decision.

Q.  And they did not agree with your challenge?

A.  That is the right of the Conduct Committee.

Q.  You challenged it, and they did not agree with your challenge?

A.  My Lord, that is the right of the Conduct Committee.

Q.  So, you had claimed, for a period of six years, mileage expenses that you did not use and costs for living away from your main home, when you never lived in the property in Frinton-on-Sea, in Essex, did you not?

A.  Mr. Hoar, my Lord, that is not, as my statement had said —-

Q. No, it is not, is it?

A.  I have contested this proposition consistently, my Lord, all the way to the appeals.

Q. And you have lost every time, have you not, Lady Uddin, because you had to repay the expenses; and this report is the result of the investigation, is it not?

A. My Lord, you will be aware that the police did not pursue this case. The Crown Prosecution Service did not feel able to substantiate their cases, and the Conduct and Privilege Committee did, however, find —-

Q. Against you?

A. Yes.

Q. Facts relating to your Maidstone property to which you claimed to move in 2005 —-

THE COMMISSIONER: Well, we have the —-

MR. HOAR: You do have the report. I will go through it very briefly then.

THE COMMISSIONER: We have the report. I do not think you need to go through it, because we have the conclusions that the

Committee came to on all these matters.

MR. HOAR: I just want to ask you about one particular thing. Between 23rd August 2007 and 9th June —-

A. 2000 and —-

Q. Sorry. I am going to get that more accurately.

A. Please.

Q. Between 23rd August 2007 —-

A.  Hang on.  23rd August?

Q.  Yes, 2007, and 9th June 2005, in your flat in Maidstone —-

A.  9th June 2005? Q.  2008.

A.  You said 2005.

Q.  I did.  My apologies.  I meant 2008.  One year.  Did you ever cook in your flat?

A.  My Lord, any questions related to this matter and of my occupation in 2005 onwards, in the Cheynes in Maidstone, was replied to and is for matters of public record in detail,

my Lord.

Q.  Did you cook —-

A.  And I hope that you will accept, my Lord, that this is not the place for me to repeat my statements, details of which I do not have access right now.

Q.  Did you cook —-

A.  And I hope, my Lord, that you will —-

Q.  Did you cook —-

A.  —- intervene in this matter, to —-

THE COMMISSIONER:  Lady Uddin, we have the report in front of us, and I have indicated to Mr. Hoar that he is not going to go into it in great detail.  But harsh though it may seem, is it not right to say that in a number of specific instances, the Committee (rightly or wrongly) decided that you had not acted in good faith?

A. My Lord, that is absolutely correct that the Committee made that decision, and that is for public record, my Lord; and I am not able to contest that. I am not able to discuss any further details without looking at what was said during —-

MR. HOAR: Lady Uddin —-

A. —- a long and elaborate process, my Lord. Therefore, I am not able to assist, Mr. Hoar —-

Q. You are able to assist —-

A. —- in this way.

Q. —- because you remember, and I am asking you a very, very, very simple question, which is this. In that year-long period, practically a year, between 23rd August 2007 and 9th June 2008, did you ever cook in your property in Maidstone?

A. My Lord, Mr. Hoar, if he has looked at the details, he will know and realise that I answered those questions in detail that I had lived there during the weekend —-

Q. I am asking you if you cooked there in that period. Did you cook there?

A. If, my Lord, you live in a property, then of course you have to eat —-

Q. Right. So, that is a “yes”. Thank you. Does that mean that you washed —-

MR. PENNY: I mean, really. I am not for a moment seeking to prevent the cross-examination.  Do not get me wrong. But the behaviour is unacceptable.

MR. HOAR: No, it is not. The behaviour of the witness is unacceptable.

MR. PENNY: It is discourteous, it is unprofessional.

MR. HOAR: The witness is refusing to answer questions.

MR. PENNY: No, no.  It is not the way it should be done.

THE COMMISSIONER: It must have been obvious to anyone deciding to call Lady Uddin that she would be open to cross-examination —-

MR. PENNY: Of course.

THE COMMISSIONER: —- on the extremely damaging and adverse findings made by the House of Lords Committee.

MR. PENNY: Of course.

THE COMMISSIONER: Therefore, anybody tendering her as a witness must, I think, be taken to have undertaken that risk.

MR. PENNY: Of course.  I do not dispute that.

THE COMMISSIONER: I am not particularly interested in whether Lady Uddin did or did not cook in the Maidstone property, because I have the findings of the Committee as to whether or   not her claims in respect of the Maidstone property were made    in good faith; and the Committee, I am afraid, took an adverse view on that.

THE WITNESS: Yes, my Lord.

MR. PENNY: The point I am trying to make, my Lord — and I am sorry, I do want to repeat it, because, obviously, this is again taking place in public — is that this should not take place, or this should not be done in a discourteous, impolite and unprofessional manner.

MR. HOAR: I totally reject that allegation, which my learned friend is far too ready to make.

THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Hoar, Mr. Hoar —-

MR. HOAR: The questions I have asked have been entirely proper, and the witness has failed to answer them time and time again.

THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Hoar, given that this is cross-examination as to credit —-

MR. HOAR: There is a particular reason why I want to ask these particular questions. So, I really object to my learned friend standing up and stopping me asking them and the witness refusing to answer them. She said she cooked. (To the  witness) Does that mean that you washed your food? Did you wash your food when you were cooking?

A. My Lord —-

Q. There is a reason I ask this question, for what it is worth.

A. My Lord, I have made every effort to respond to Mr. Hoar in the most polite and in the most respectful manner to

your Lordship, and I have been quite clear that I have, as I have said to the Conduct Committee, that I had been there, I stayed there during the weekend, often on my own, when I did, of course, and sometimes —-

Q. Okay. Thank you.

A. —- sometimes I cook, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes

I washed, sometimes I didn’t, my Lord. Actually, those who are not very familiar, my Lord, with Maidstone, it is a very wonderful place, where many people come, to stay out, live out, go out in the evening, enjoy, and it is access to good restaurants, good —-

Q. Lady Uddin, can you answer my question, please, rather than going on and digressing about Maidstone?

A. I am, my Lord. I hope you will appreciate the details —-

Q. So, you have agreed that you cooked, you washed your food, you washed on occasion —-

A. Sometimes I did, occasionally.

Q. —- in that annual period?

A. Yes.

Q. Why is it then, if you look at page 8 of 14, that in the period between 23rd August 2007 and 9th June 2008, you used no water at all in that property? Why is that?

A. My Lord, we challenged this, and we challenged it at the Committee, and we challenged Southern Water, and you will accept, my Lord, that there was a thorough investigation on this by the police and they found it wanting, my Lord. I can say no more. I cannot elucidate, Mr. Hoar, on this point any further, my Lord, or the court, except to say that I answered those questions and I challenged what was presented to me.

Q.  And you failed —-

A.  My Lord, if I may just finish?  Also, you will appreciate, my Lord, that in the Conduct Committee, I had no ability to challenge anything that was presented to me.  We were not allowed to cross-examine any so-called witnesses that were presented.  It was deeply difficult in that sense to actually call, as you have called me, Mr. Hoar, today —-

Q.  Do you challenge — I have not called you, Lady Uddin.  Do you challenge that meter reading?

A.  My Lord —-

Q.  Do you challenge the meter reading, Lady Uddin?

A.  My Lord, yes, we did indeed.

Q.  You did?

A.  We did indeed.

Q.  What happened when you challenged the meter reading?

A.  My Lord, they were not able to provide the record, as the water company, I believe, had gone through some transition and changed companies.  It was not for us not wanting to be able    to address these issues.  In fact, my Lord, we wanted to challenge the witnesses, and we were not able to do that, due to the Conduct Committee’s procedure and processes.

Q. Now, the Conduct Committee —-

THE COMMISSIONER: Do you accept, Lady Uddin, that the Committee came to the conclusion that you had not been using Maidstone as your principal residence and that the claims that you had made in respect of that property were, therefore, wrong and should be repaid?

A. Yes, my Lord.  You are absolutely correct in that suggestion, and public record stipulates that. My Lord, I only want to make this one point, that, repeatedly, I implored the Committee to accept what I had said, my Lord; and without going into great deal of details of my own personal circumstances — and I do not wish to repeat those here,   either — I want to say that it was a very extremely difficult situation and I dealt with it in the best way I could, making sure that I protected my family, and, also, in the absence of the fact, my Lord, that I was not able to challenge any witnesses or statements.

MR. HOAR: Lady Uddin, at pages 7 to 14 you see accounts, your neighbours’ accounts —-

A. Sorry?

THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Hoar, I have indicated that I have read this report. I do not think that you need take it any further on any questions of credit. It is there for good or ill.

MR. HOAR: I am just going to summarise the proposition, which is this, that for approximately 10 years, every week – or possibly month, if it is done monthly — you put in expenses claims for travel and for housing allowances that were false and fraudulent for 10 years, did you not?

A. My Lord, I have refuted that. I have challenged it. I have stood against the proposition that this was so. I have never, never, in my entire professional career, ever broken any stated rules. The rules under which the Conduct Committee subsequently pursued my conduct in the Subcommittee of Conduct and Privilege was specifically designed to deal with this. No    such rules had been applicable at the time, and I believe — and to this day, my Lord, I believe that I correctly followed the rules of the House, as stated at the time.

Q. In 2010, Baroness Uddin, you drove a Honda vehicle, a small Honda vehicle, into a garage, and you drove out with a BMW, two years old, worth £20,000; is that true?

A. My Lord, I traded my car, which I had purchased from new, which was valued around £8,000 to £9,000, and I then had bought from a friend a car —-

Q. Did you declare it as a gift on the register of Lords interests?

A. My Lord, I have never, ever in my entire driving period ever received a free car from anyone. That is also a matter of public record, my Lord.

Q.  Did you pay for this car then?  Did you pay for the part exchange?  Did you pay the difference between the value of your old Honda and the BMW?

A.  I believe I was asked to pay, I believe it was about £3,500—-

Q.  Did that represent the full commercial value of the difference between the £300 worth Honda and the £20,000 worth BMW?

A.  My Lord, I believed at the time and I had not checked the value of the cars, simply just as I bought my Honda before. I had went into a garage, I asked them what the value was. I did not look it up.  I said this is the value.  I paid for

it.  In a similar vein, I did the same thing to my BMW, which in fact one gone wrong very soon, two and half years only and I had to then exchange it again for a different car, which I am currently now driving.

Q.  Was the garage at which you did this part exchange owned by Mohammed Furdhouse?

A.  Yes, I think his partner.

Q.  Was he the owner of Channel S?

A.  Yes, I believe.

Q.  Did you therefore received a gift worth over £10,000, more like £15,000 from Mohammed Ferdous, owner of Channel S, which you did not declare to the House of Lords?

A. My Lord, I have just repeated what I have said before in the Conduct Committee, my Lord, I did not receive a gift from anyone in the way of a car ever.  Had I have done so, I would have indeed gone to the House of Lords to enquire whether   I needed to register.  You will note, I hope, my Lord, that

I regularly update my register and I have an extremely cordial relationship with the register all throughout the period and

I do not think there has been ever any questions raised about my conduct as far as registration is concerned.

Q.  You are aware, are you not, that actually that was raised in a Sunday Times article, whether you like it or not and whether you think it was justified or not, it was raised in the Sunday Times in 2010, was it not?

A.  My Lord, you will appreciate that newspapers will sensationalise things, they will connect things for their own purposes; and much of which, not just in my case, but others have been discredited since and I think we should all be cautious how much we pay attention to what newspapers say as the only truth, my Lord.

Q.  You have just accepted everything the Sunday Times alleged, have you not, that you drove into a garage with a battered old Honda, you drove out with a BMW, there was considerable value of the cars and you did not declare it to the House of Lords —-

A. My Lord, without discourteous to your Lordship or Mr. Hoar, I would request that maybe somebody who is taking notes may just repeat on my behalf what I have just said to Mr. Hoar, which was not and not, I repeat, my Lord, a tattered Honda.

I have never driven tattered cars, my Lord.  I have paid for them duly out of my earnings. And, my Lord, I exchange one car for another.  I paid what was asked of me, my Lord.

I subsequently re-traded that car from the same garage and bought another. And, indeed, I did not pay anything and

I thought that I was rather done by, in that sense because by that time I had become much more wiser about enquiring what the value of a car should be.

Q. Can I take you to paragraph 6 of your witness statement, please.

A. Mr. Hoar, my Lord, are we done with this?

THE COMMISSIONER: I would be happier if you allowed the questions to be asked to you, not by you.

MR. HOAR: You know perfectly well you are here to answer questions, not ask them, do you not?

THE WITNESS: Mr. Hoar, please refrain from shouting at me and I hope you will respect that I am being extremely cooperative

with you.

Q. Lady Uddin, I suggest you are doing everything in your power to obfuscate and not answer questions and that you have done that since the start of you going into the witness box. That is the truth, is it not?

A.  My Lord, I do not understand how powers are divided in this instance, my Lord, when I am in the witness box and you are standing there shouting at me, Mr. Hoar.

Q.  I have not shouted at you.  I have put propositions and questions which you have failed to answer because you are uncomfortable about the truth of your lies and fraud.  That is the truth, is it not?

A.  My Lord, I have always stated that I have never lied about my circumstances or in the way in which I claimed my allowances and I have never lied about my cars, and I am here to give answers to the best of my ability.  And, my Lord, I do hope  that you will accept that I am doing everything I can to   answer the questions, maybe not at this pace that you are asking, Mr. Hoar, but I am doing my best.

Q.  Paragraph 6.

A.  Yes, Mr. Hoar I am looking at it.

Q.  You said, second sentence:  “On a number of occasions I had also made it clear within the Labour Group that as a deputy leader I was not included or consulted about major policy issues and decisions.”  That is what you have said.  You have said that John Biggs was not a team player.  You have also said, in the next paragraph, that there were concerns expressed by other members that he had continued to work closely with senior officers in the council who had remained from the previous Liberal Democrat legacy.  None of those complaints are anything more than a complaint about the manner of John Biggs, his leadership; is that right?

A.  Sorry, you are asking me to confirm the statement that —-

Q.  I have just done that.  I have asked you to comment on my suggestion which is this: those two sentences do not nothing more than complain about the manner in which John Biggs discharged his leadership of the Labour Group?

A.  Okay.

Q.  Is that right or not?

A.  The reason I made this comment in particular was in the light of the fact that I was asked by the respondent lawyer what was my relationship with Mr. Biggs.  And in which I said that it had increasingly become fraught over the period —-

Q.  Fraught over the period, A-U-G-H-T; yes?

A.  Difficult, yes.

Q.  Just clarifying.

A.  Increasingly difficult and I had said that because of my own experience and, of course, it is not — I merely do not make that point about his manner.  I was speaking specially about

— maybe I could, Mr. Hoar, my Lord, maybe I could give a couple of examples —-

Q.  Lady Uddin, please try for a change to answer my question, which is simply this. You have heard the two sentences I have read.  The question I ask is this.  Are those two questions,   that John Biggs was not a team player, there were concerns expressed my members he had continued to work closely with senior officers in the council who had remained, are those two sentences no more than criticisms of his manner of leadership; yes or no?

A. My Lord, they are more than criticisms of his manner and leadership.  It was simply about the way in which he worked as a leader. And the example which I would, with your permission, like to give is, for instance, I mean, we had just won the office, having fought an extremely difficult period,  we had come on with an antiracist agenda trying to unit the community together. It seemed that the leadership would be collected, involving the wider parties and would reduce the kind of division that had been created over a long period of time —-

Q.  Lady Uddin, you have gone on for long enough now.  Can you please answer the question that I asked.  Those two sentences do not do more than criticise the manner of John Biggs’ leadership; is that true or not?

A.  My Lord, I was making some attempt to explain that it was more than a manner, that it was about the way in which he worked, whether it was about restructuring of the committees, whether it is about the allocations of restructuring of staffing,   whether it was about a simulation of staff, whether it was about funding of the organisation.  He did not involve the

wider councillors, numbers of councillors who were extremely talented and very often he worked on his own and particularly I was not often involved in some of his leading discussions.

Q.  Lady Uddin, does not that just prove what I have just asked, which is no more than this, that you were only concerned with the manner of John Biggs’ leadership and nothing more?  Can I ask about this.  You say that you criticised John Biggs for working closely with senior officers in the council who had remained; is that not the job of any leader of the group in    any borough council, to work closely with officers?

A.  My Lord, what I would say is of course I have great and high expectation of John Biggs.  That is the only reason I joined him as his deputy.  But I very soon came to realise – may I carry on.  So, therefore, of course, it would have been a    great surprise that he refused to then work in a collective manner, I came from a background, a profession where I had to work collectively although I led my team.  The idea when you are leading a team that you work collectively to achieve the objects, which collectively as a group of councillors we came to deliver.

Q. Can I ask you to turn back to paragraph 5, please, the fifth line down: “During this period” — that is 1994-5 — he was

known to make throwaway comments and provocative comments”, that is what John Biggs does, he makes throwaway comments and provocative comments, that is his character, is it not; that is who he is?

A. Indeed, you make a very important point. Throwaway comments, such as the Bengali mafia or throwaway comments such as the comments which had been attributed to him on numerous  occasions that he was frustrated, he was angry, he was agitated, he was not willing to reflect other people’s point

of view, are not just throwaway comments and you throw them away and people can languish with their pain. Throwaway comments should be about — yes, I am just saying, I am really unhappy about this, and that does not impact or linger on in people’s lives, Mr. Hoar.

Q. Notwithstanding that you came here to trash John Biggs’ reputation, which I suggest you did, you never mentioned the Bengali mafia comment, which you have just made up, have you not?

A. My Lord, I have — not one word of what I say is made up. The term Bengali mafia was well-known and often repeated by John and others. I often used to respond in that saying that I found it really deeply offensive because they were our colleagues and, of course, political differences aside, we all have political differences with each other, but not to be offensive. I certainly did not come here to trash Mr. Biggs, because I chose to become his deputy. And the reason I came here, Mr. Hoar and my Lord, I was — my name I believed had been mentioned several times in the context of the fax. And  in the same article you will note, Mr. Hoar, my Lord, I said that I had been deeply concerned over a long period of time about the impact of racism within the Labour Party and the hierarchy should be examining that. I had been concerned about that, especially given that we had come in to a new office as Labour Party members trying to rid the fascism that we experienced and the people of the borough had experienced at the hand of, then the Liberal focused council.

THE COMMISSIONER: Where you aware, I will be corrected if I am wrong, the only mention of your name hitherto in this case has   been as the person in whose name a forged fax was sent? So, you were, as it were, the innocent victim of a forgery. That, as I understand it, is the only context in which your name has been hitherto raised in this case.

MR. PENNY: My Lord, I think it is right to say that I, so to speak, relied on this document on its face as well in cross-examining other witnesses.

THE COMMISSIONER: You did and you have accepted that was a mistake.

MR. PENNY: Because the Baroness, who is here to trash Mr. Biggs, reputation has told that I got it wrong.

THE COMMISSIONER: That is true. If the only need was to correct that, I just wondered what might be the purpose of this lady coming.

MR. PENNY: I do not know if you have seen Mr. Biggs’ witness statement. I was asked to make a concession, which I did not have any basis for. The witness was seen and the concession has been forthcoming.

THE COMMISSIONER: It does not necessarily follow from that you have to call evidence.

MR. PENNY: That is true. Evidence comes into the hands of parties in all sorts of ways, as your Lordship appreciates.

THE COMMISSIONER: I fully appreciate that, yes.

THE WITNESS: My Lord, may I respond to the point that you made. You are absolutely right, the respondent lawyers did ask me about that and I made it quite clear that to this day I do not know frankly who sent the fax, except of course there were a lot of allegations flying around. In addition to this, I was also asked a couple of other questions, including some comments that Mr. Biggs had subsequently made on the Politics Show, so I responded in that; so, of course, I did not deliberately come to this court or to the respondent or his lawyer, but they had asked me and I said yes, I am absolutely okay to do that. Absolutely knowing that I was taking a risk, that Mr. Hoar would indeed touch on the privilege and conduct report which I felt absolutely that I could answer, because it   is a matter of public record.

THE COMMISSIONER: Are you still a member of the Labour Party, Lady Uddin?

THE WITNESS: I am, my Lord. I pay monthly subscriptions to the Labour Party, I have been since my early teens.

Q. Do you hold the Party Whip in the Lords?

A. I have not gone and taken the Party Whip as yet, my Lord, because I have rather enjoyed the independence after a very long time in the House of Lords. I have not sought any application.

Q. Can I ask one thing I should have asked at the time. The end of the Privilege Committee report asked you to pay a sum of money back.

A. I did.

Q. Has that all now been repaid?

A. No, I have longer to repay that, my Lord.

Q. There is a mention of suspending you from service, has that been —-

A. No, I returned in 2012, my Lord, and I have been a member of the Lords since.

THE COMMISSIONER: Yes, I see.

MR. HOAR: After being suspended for three years and having to pay back £124,000 —-

THE WITNESS: My Lord, may I correct —-

Q. —- or is the Parliamentary report wrong on that?

A. My Lord, may I correct that. I was suspended between 2010 and March 2012 and I returned there in the end of April, my Lord, April 2012.

Q. Can I take you back to the statement, paragraph 6, because you make those two sentences about John Biggs not being a team player and complaining that he was working with senior officers in the council. Then you said this: “It was and is

my view that there was an underlying assumption that many Bengali councillors did not have the sufficient knowledge, competence or understanding”, this is just an assumption of yours, not about Mr. Biggs but more generally, is it not?

A. I think — I do not have the public records available here but both Mr. Biggs and others will have kept records of detailed conversations, very difficult, conversation meetings which ran into arguments, disarray about these matters, my Lord.   Because we came to office on the basis that the Labour Party will dismantle what was regarded and accepted publicly both by the Liberal National Party as well — that much of the   behaviour of the past Liberal regime was fermenting undertone of racism and racist practice.  It was operated by largely staff that had no connections or any compliance or understanding of the Labour values.  So, of course, all the councillors came in thinking we will now dismantle, not only dismantle any ideas of racism or any undertone of discrimination, whether it was in the housing policies or whether it was about staffing.  And in the context that the borough was highly diverse, the population of the staffing members did not reflect this, my Lord.  So, of course, we had ambition to change this and so the idea then that John Biggs and I or any of the senior managers would simply go in hand in hand working with the same officers was deeply controversial among the Labour group, not just me.

THE COMMISSIONER:  Was your suggestion this, that they should all be sacked.

A.  No, my Lord.  That they should be talked, they should find out

— just as any senior officer.

MR. HOAR:  Is that proper to talk to them in a political way from a member?

THE WITNESS:  My Lord, many political advisers often change with administration and they are either assimilated and the notion of assimilation of staffing was rampant amongst our .  How do we make sure that the staff who implemented the then policies of the Liberal focus regime, which we challenged and then how do we implement Labour Party policy. We had the assumption that it would be done extremely properly and extremely fairly with due regard to the process.

I had myself come from local government in the borough of Newham. Of course, I would have been extremely understanding and sensitive and aware of the process as councillors a staff member has to go through.

Q. You say in the last sentence, paragraph 6: “During John Biggs leadership factional politicians and division were heightened”, the reality is that the main reason they were heightened was because of the constant attempts to unseat John Biggs by Christine Shawcroft and others, is it not; that is the reality, that was the factional bitterness caused by them?

A. The Labour Group, my Lord, was extremely divided and I think I elude to that. Indeed, I cannot recall and there will be others who may have better recollection, but I cannot recall any attempt to unseat John Biggs as a leader during the time while he was the leader. It was only at the end of his term when —-

Q. He was only leader for one year —-

A. The regulation stipulated, my Lord, that every year the leader changes — sorry, has to stand for re-selection. So, only when — I think between March and April there were a lot of  then what the new panel could look like and that maybe John Biggs should be replaced because of his record of not working collectively with the team members, of creating division, of deep angst during all of the meetings, there were many meetings fraught with difficulties and anger. And, indeed, Mr. Hoar, the group was extremely divided, not just on lines of so-called left and right, but also there were large presence of the Bangladeshi councillors and there were issues —-

Q. (Unclear) for example?

A. —- there were several others, including —-

Q. —- is not Mr. Biggs’ biggest fan, is he?

A. As far as I am aware, Mr. Galal and Mr. Biggs had worked very closely together.

Q. Early in the 1980s?

A. I think they had; but I am not privy to their relationship.

THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Hoar, I think we do not get very much from this beyond what we have already.

MR. HOAR: There are two more things I ought to put.

THE COMMISSIONER: The Labour Party in Tower Hamlets in 1995 spent most of its time fighting like cats in a sack.

THE WITNESS: Yes, indeed, they did, my Lord.

MR. HOAR: Paragraph 8, last sentence, it is not true that

Mr. Biggs said that Tower Hamlets was not ready for an Asian lady; you have just made that up, have you not?

THE WITNESS: My Lord, I am deeply saddened to say this is something that John and I had often discussed. He had often said, I think that he was and he did used to then say “Pola,

I am just joking”, and I would always say to him, “John, I  find that deeply offensive, you have said that many times before and it is time you grew up”, I used to say that to him. But that did not take away the fact that there were assumptions about women’s leadership and especially one that was of Asian heritage. I would say that that was without any questions and John himself would argue that there was an enormous amount of prejudice against Bangladeshi community and Bangladeshi women in particular. In any case, Tower Hamlets always has had not sufficient number of women in its rank.

Q. That is the first time you have mentioned that in 20 years, is it not?

A. Mentioned what? I have to say that is absolutely —-

THE COMMISSIONER: Which comment, Mr. Hoar?

MR. HOAR: That Tower Hamlets was not ready for an Asian woman, which is the alleged comment by Mr. Biggs. I have no more questions.

THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Penny?

BARONESS UDDIN RE-EXAMINED BY MR. PENNY

Q.  Have you come here to be exposed to what you have just gone through?

A.  I can only say I came here on your request specifically to answer the questions that no, I did not have anything to do with the fax.  I still do not know who sent that fax.  And  also arising out of the questions I was asked about my views on what John had said and my response to that on the Sunday Politics show.

Q.  Have you come here to lie for Lutfur Rahman?

A.  Absolutely not, my Lord.  Lutfur and I have never really worked together including — I think on maybe one, well, on several community occasions we have shared a platform.  And, in fact, when he was a councillor I had challenged him several times whilst I was in the Lords for his optimism about the borough’s education system.  I do not know whether he still   has the letter.  Indeed, my relationship with Lutfur is very limited and I have come only — and also not come here to discredit John Biggs, I think that I want to say that I   understand in the context within which John Biggs says what he says and that it was in his character to say that he said.

Q.  What do you mean by that?

A.  I think that when I have to say that on 22nd September 2013 when he appeared on television and he said what he said I just thought — that was just following the EDL coming to Tower Hamlets and causing huge angst and upset and disgust and most of the community work together to try and tackle the fact that the EDL must not enter the borough. I think collectively all of the communities have worked extremely well to ensure that we do not ever entertain fascists on our council and in   our institutions locally.  That work has been done together. Therefore, I was extremely sort of distressed really by   hearing that once again John would say something to the effect that once you are elected that you only work in the interests   of one group of people.

Q.  But it was suggested to you, on behalf of the petitioners in this election petitioner, that is what John Biggs does, he says provocative things, he speaks before he thinks effectively; is that okay?

A.  That is his character.  That is certainly something he has done. That is something that I am well experienced with.  That is something, not only me, you ask any of them (unclear), you ask Michael Keith, you ask any one of them on his team they would tell you the same thing.  So, it is not something I am saying, it is not the fabric of my imagination.  You will realise that prejudice and racism and sexism are subjective experiences. They are felt experiences, so that it is up to

the recipient, if you like, to define that. I think if somebody says that right now I am being sexist or racist, I am giving that impression to you and I have to respect your experience.

Q. When you were campaigning, did you talk about sections of the community?

A. I think —-

THE COMMISSIONER: Campaigning when?

MR. PENNY: At a time when this lady was working together with Mr. Biggs.

THE COMMISSIONER: 20 years ago?

THE WITNESS: I think at that time the Bangladeshi community was just emerging in terms of political participation. So, I

think we were always very cautious about how much we would irritate, if you like, the majority white voters, so that we

were often designing policies to ensure that — so, the core voters referred to were never Bangladeshi voters, it was always seen the core voters, i.e. the most important voters, would be the white voters. My experience professionally and has been someone who was elected in Shadwell, which was largely a very much more mixed constituents, that i always challenged this. If John said to me we have to be careful about which housing project we start first, it must not be   seen to be the Bangladeshi one because we would agitate the majority voters. I always used to say we have to trust the instinct of the voters, we would have to rely on working collectively and if we inform people that the majority needs for larger houses belong to a certain section of the community, that is not racist.  That is not giving extra emphasis to one particular committee or importance, it is simply meeting the obligation of an elected councillor.

If I may go back to the question you raised about why I mentioned this.  The Sunday Politics show in particular I think was very unwise and unfitting of someone who is wanting to represent the whole borough, because it fed into the   narrative which was suggested by the EDL that the borough was largely paying lots of attention to the Bangladeshi community. That has never been true.  Because, first of all, it is completely illegal and immoral to just pay attention as elected councillors to one set of the communities because you are obligated by law, by procedures to ensure that all your policies impact the whole community.

THE COMMISSIONER:  Any further questions?

MR. PENNY:  Yes, there are.

THE COMMISSIONER:  Fire away.  I am keeping an eye on the clock, because you are going to recall Mr. Biggs, are you not?

MR. PENNY:  Mr. Hoar is, yes.

MR. HOAR:  And I would like enough time to do that.

MR. PENNY:  It sounds like I am being told to sit down?

MR. HOAR:  I am not.  I am just saying there are only so many hours in a day.

THE COMMISSIONER:  If you have further topics to cover, you cover them.

MR. PENNY:  Let us be honest about it, this lady has been put through the mill during the course of her cross-examination and she is entitled to her say and that is what re-examination is about.

THE WITNESS:  I have been through bigger mills.  I am perfectly able to look after myself.

THE COMMISSIONER:  Yes, cross-examination in its widest sense.

MR. HOAR:  If it arises from cross-examination is the correct test.

MR. PENNY:  Correct.  (To the witness) What about when Mr. Biggs said to you about Tower Hamlets not being ready for an Asian female, did you take him to be just to be joking?

THE WITNESS:  No, my Lord.  I reprimanded him almost immediately. I said to him that I do not take that.  I think I might have myself made a throwaway comment and said, “God, that is so racist”, and immediately he said he said it as a joke.  My Lord, we have had these banters with each other —-

Q.  Why do you say banter?  That is an interesting noun, I want you to explain why it was banter?

A.  Because it was so frequent and it was a normal language for him.  I think those kinds of comments — many who worked with him will tell you that they were offended by the way that he spoke to them very often.  If he got angry in a meeting, he  would almost like grind his teeth in anger.  On one incident I took my daughter, and my daughter was very, very young — and Mr. Biggs also has a daughter — and, in fact, he told me that this council was not a crèche.  I had only on one  occasion took my daughter to the council.  I never did subsequently because I was so absolutely enraged about that.

Q.  Why were you enraged about a comment being made about the council not being creche?

A.  Because it contradicted everything that the Labour values was about.

Q.  Why?

A.  That it was about facilitating women’s participation.  It was about valuing women’s engagement, we are supposed to have followed subsequently a good strategy for child care in the borough and it kind of smacked in the face of everything that we believed in, in the public arena.  So, I said that I was deeply offended by that and I said to him this is the only occasion that I have ever — I have been on the Labour Party campaign trail since my late teens — so my children were a known factor that they not present in the works and I spent as many as my other colleagues had spent over those years, 12 to 18, 20 hours on campaign trail sometimes and of course our children were not part of that.

THE COMMISSIONER: We have gone a long way from cross-examination, Mr. Penny.

MR. PENNY: I have not asked the question. I have asked a question and the witness is answering the question.

THE COMMISSIONER: I was not sure that creches and that sort of comment has arisen before.

MR. PENNY: That is because that arose from the issue that the witness was addressing, which was in relation to comments made by the witness about whether Mr. Biggs was ready for an Asian lady and your Lordship knows that is the question that I asked. That undoubtedly does arise on the issues in this case.

MR. HOAR: It is no comment on which I am able —-

MR. PENNY: No, no.

THE COMMISSIONER: We have yet to see what Mr. Biggs says when we get to him.

MR. PENNY: I do not know, maybe it is me again fantasising, I seem to have done quite a lot of it over the last six weeks,   but I think it was suggested to this lady on behalf of the petitioners that Mr. Biggs was the sort of man who made provocative rash comments, something along those lines.

THE COMMISSIONER: It was.

MR. PENNY:  There we are.  Thank you very much.

THE COMMISSIONER:  You are free to go.

Read Full Post »

Update March 5, 9.50pm: Thanks to data journalist Mark Baynes, who runs the Love Wapping site, the extract from Tuesday’s transcript at the end of this posy has now been properly formatted and made much easier to read.

I had my first visit to Court 38 today. If you want to sample it yourself, you have some seven days of hearings left. It’s due to end a week on Friday.

However, Commissioner Mawrey QC, who you have to see in person to appreciate what a class act he is (his asides and put downs are comical), has stated he will make no judgment until shortly after Easter. That could well be mid-April. That means were he to set aside the May 2014 election, a mayoral by election would not take place on General Election day.

Any appeal from Lutfur Rahman on an unfavourable ruling would delay that further, perhaps by a couple of months. There’s no real harm in speculating what might happen in those circumstances but there is already talk about standing a possible unity candidate against Lutfur’s choice (it’s likely he would be barred from standing again). John Biggs vs Rabina Khan perhaps?

But this really is getting ahead of ourselves. The odds at the outset of this hearing were stacked in Lutfur’s favour.

Because this is Tower Hamlets, some of the proceedings are surreal. And with Alibor Choudhury, Lutfur’s election agent in the witness stand, it was a sure bet we’d have a bit of theatre.

For example, mid-afternoon, this piece of evidence was passed to both the judge and Alibor to examine.

mug

 

This is an official Tower Hamlets First mug. Commissioner Mawrey remarked it was clearly well used as it was chipped.

It was presented to him as evidence that Alibor had arranged for gifts for the 500 or so guests who turned up to a dinner in Canary Wharf’s East Wintergarden in January last year. I reported on it here. Today, we learnt the mug was part of a collector’s dream “party pack” that also included a pen and a brochure. Alibor denied it was a “bribe” to get people to vote for Lutfur. The dinner itself was hosted by Canary Wharf Group, which also paid for the £23,000 of catering provided by the Pride of Asia restaurant. Canary Wharf Group really are very generous aren’t they.

For me, the most interesting allegation against him is the so-called Section 106 charge: ie false statement against John Biggs. There’s decent explanation of it here:

  • Section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 specifies that it is a criminal offence to make or publish a false statement of fact about the personal character or conduct of an election candidate. The purpose of making or publishing this false statement must be seen to be to affect how many votes the candidate will get.
  • Section 106 thus specifies that, in this offence, it must be a distinct statement of fact as opposed to an expression of opinion or comment about a candidate.
  • If a defendant can show that he/she has reasonable grounds for believing that the statement was true at the time of publication, then they will not be successfully prosecuted for this offence – even if the statement does turn out to be untrue. This differs from other defamation and libel actions whereby the defendant must prove that the statement is in fact true.

The onus is on the petitioners to disprove that Lutfur or his agent did not reasonably believe John Biggs to be a racist, if that’s what they labelled him. This is difficult to achieve.  In other words, it might be untrue that Biggs is a racist but if Lutfur and Alibor Choudhury really thought he was then it would not be an offence.

So much of the cross-examination of Alibor by Francis Hoar over the past two days has centred on a BBC Sunday Politics interview with John Biggs in September 2013. This interview was broadcast a couple of weeks after the EDL had tried to march through the borough. In the broadcast, John referred to Lutfur’s Bangladeshi-only cabinet and suggested the mayor was favouring the Bangladeshi community in his policy-making.

Alibor has told the court this incensed him. He said he wanted to confront him immediately and that he was hearing complaints about these words from residents on the doorstep. He said Lutfur asked him to remain calm and that he instead would write to the general secretary of the Labour Party, Iain McNicol, requesting he tell Biggs to retract his words. Alibor said it was only when McNicol failed to reply that he issued a press release in February 2014, five months later, highlighting the statement and claiming Biggs was out to “divide the East End”.

Francis Hoar, cross-examining, suggested this was a cynical political ploy and wondered why, if there had been such widespread anger at the time of the broadcast, there was not one press article or TV report about it, nor indeed any comments on social media.

The Commissioner also wondered why Alibor, if he was sincere in his anger, had not simply written to Biggs directly. Alibor denied the press releases were politically motivated and that he was merely trying to get John to make a statement. The judge, in a slightly incredulous tone, asked him if he really believed that John, having been the subject of an aggressive press release, would then come back and say “Yes, I’m a racist.”

Shortly afterwards, Alibor exclaimed that “we didn’t start this race war…[it was] the Labour party”.

Really, there is so much on this that you will have to read it for yourselves in the transcript. It won’t disapppoint.

The transcript for Monday’s hearing is here. Alibor began his evidence yesterday and the transcript for that is here.

If you’re reading this on a mobile, you might want to stop now because I’m pasting below a long and unedited extract from yesterday. If you feel this lengthy extract is just too cumbersome for the blogpost, again let me know and I’ll delete it.

ALIBOR (WITNESS): When I saw that, I saw the Sunday Politics show, initially I was more than outraged. Once I had calmed down, I realised what John had done. There was no need for him to say, to pick on the ethnicity of the mayor and his cabinet members. What hurt the most was the lie, the lie that the primary policy focus was Bangladeshi, his Bancroft library, the project for the Bangladeshi community. If I am honest with you, I do not[ think that many Bangladeshi people use it. Is the Tower Hamlets street pastors a Bangladeshi project, I do not think it is. It belongs to the church. City Gateway belongs to the church. I can go on and on and on about how we have resourced and supported white projects, if you likealthough these projects do not, you know, exclusively support and deliver to the white community, but these projects have a focus. And to say that in the context of a lot of racial tension at that time because, remember, the EDL had just marched through our borough two weeks before on the 7th, they had marched throughthe borough. Britain First had started to send threats to local mosques and threatened through the media, socially media mainly to march and start thesethey are not proper christian patrols but they arethat is what they call them, and knowing that there was an election looming, I think that was the wisest and most damaging thing a person in his position of his stature could do. If I had said that, can you imagine, Mr. Hoar, if I had said that about the Jewish community or the black community or the Chinese community, that would received very badly.

Q. So, you were and you have said outraged?
A. Yes.
Q. You thought this was extremely divisive?
A. Very.
Q. You considered that it was dangerous because the EDL had marched only two weeks beforehand and yet you did nothing about it, save from a private letter from the mayor to the Labour Party for something like five months, yes, five months; that is true, is it not?
A. Mr. Hoar, again, it really depresses me to say this. I had to bite my lip for a long, long time. The mayor, who I have a lot of respect for, is a lot wiser than me and a lot maturer than me when it comes to dealing with situations like this. He had written to the general secretary, Iain McNicol, askinghim to intervene on this and get John Biggs to retract what he had said. Obviously that had fallen on deaf ears. There was only so much I could do. I knew that if I had asked the mayor if I could write a letter and kind of deal with this myself, he would not necessarily approve.
Q. There is a thriving Bengali media, both in Tower Hamlets and nationally, is there not?
A. I cannot speak for the national Bangladeshi press, but locally-
Q. A number of newspapers, television channels and so on; that is true, is it not?
A. Mr. Hoar, I live in a bit of a bubble so I can only speak for Tower Hamlets.
Q. A lot of it is based in Tower Hamlets because of the concentration of the community in Tower Hamlets?
A. I know several media outlets, yes.
Q. Yet despite that we hear nothing about that comment by Mr. Biggs in the Bengali media until February, do we?
A. That is correct. Because we abided by the mayor ‘s action on this, his advice and intervention was that we would speak to the Labour Party to get this resolved and we do it quietly and we do it amicably. It clearly did not work and when I am on my campaign trail knocking on doors and having residents say to me, How could you let this man speak like this divide usand portray this borough as a basket case run by Bengali supremacists, that is an insult to us all .
THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Choudhury, a sort of tailpiece to Mr. Hoar ‘s question is this. He said the Bengali press in Tower Hamlets did not appear to pick this up or say anything about it for several months. I can appreciate your answer that you say, Well, we did not stir it because the mayor thought it would be sensible not to stir , that I fully understand. Is it a coincidence that the Bengali press did nothing about this public broadcast, or were they asked, as it were, to tone down any reaction to it?
THE WITNESS: All I can say, my Lord, is that the mayor decided to resolve it by having the Labour Party speak to Mr. Biggs about this. There was no media work done on our part and I cannot really speak for why the media did not pick it up themselves, if that is-
Q. So, nobody had a quiet word with the London Bangla saying cool it ; is that correct?
A. I would have to see the article, my Lord.
Q. No. If the press does not run something on it, it might be that they have decided all individually that they are not going to touch it?
A. It could be possible, my Lord.
Q. Or that somebody has said, Cool it because it does not helpus ?
A. It could be possible, my Lord.
THE COMMISSIONER: Do you think this would be a good time to take a break, Mr. Hoar? It is twenty past three. Shall we say half past three? (A short break)

THE COMMISSIONER: Yes, Mr. Hoar?
MR. HOAR: Mr. Choudhury, before the break we were talking about the media, in particular the Bengali media, after the remarks by Mr. Biggs on the 30th or so of September 20 . In addition to an absence of response in that quarter, there was no response on Twitter and no response on Facebook, was there?
THE WITNESS: I cannot account for what happened in social media, Mr. Hoar; but I can tell you that on the doorstep it was definitely being talked about.
Q. Certainly nothing has been producedI appreciate that you are not a party to these proceedingsbut certainly no evidence has ever been produced from Twitter or Facebook. You are a not a party but you are the election agent, are you not?
A. Sure.
Q. Therefore, you know there is a lot at stake in this petition for you as well as for Mr. Rahman; yes?
A. (No verbal response)
Q. If you had found
THE COMMISSIONER: Is that correct?
THE WITNESS: I understand, my Lord.
MR. HOAR: So, if you had been aware of any comments about this remark between that five month hiatus, you would have got them together and given them to K&L Gates, the solicitors to the mayor, would you not?
THE WITNESS: Mr. Hoar, for me if there is a tidier way to sort something out, I will use that as my first option. Clearly it did not work. I was still getting feedback from people out in the community, feedback which suggested to me that what John had said on the Sunday Politics show was deeply, deeply offensive. I made it very clear that I would not act spontaneously on a whim and I would, if possible, get a second opinion. And, you know, and I have given you evidence of this already, I sought a second opinion from the EHRC.
Q. That is just it, is it not? If, Mr. Choudhury, it was right that this remark had caused outrage, the outrage would be all over Twitter and it would be all over Facebook, would it not?
A. Mr. Hoar, it was all my over my brain and that is why I felt I needed to act and I had to bite my lip, because the mayor would not approve of direct confrontation on this matter.
Q. You say that people on the doorstep and on the street were outraged by this and they told you so?
A. Absolutely
.Q. You say that despite the fact, and you say that because this was a comment on a south eastern area BBC broadcast?
A. Correct.
Q. Which had a relatively widespread audience and yet, despite that, nobody thought to put it in the press and nobody thought to complain about it elsewhere, did they?
A. Mr. Hoar, I cannot explain the actions of the press. I can explain the social media element because I am not a great fan of social media myself, although I do have Facebook page, and I do use Twitter occasionally, but I am not someone who checks social media on a regular basis, so I cannot confirm anything with regards to that. What I can say is, on a personal level, as in like through my engagement with residents, that people were outraged, very upset and some people just clearly scared of the consequences. They were just like, What is going on in this borough? How can we have someone of his stature, someone who is supposed to be representing at least three very diverse boroughs, say something like that and get away with it .
THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Choudhury, would you accept that in general the Bangladeshi press in Tower Hamlets is supportive of Mayor Rahman?
THE WITNESS: My Lord, the Bangladeshi press, in my view, aim to provide objective news, impartial news, you will see that theycover the mayor as well as prominent members of other parties. If they deliver on something or if there is an activity or even an incident worth reporting, then that is reported. I would not say, my Lord, forgive me if I sound disrespectful, I would not say they were solely promoting the mayor and have any kind of connection in that sense with him.
Q. Would it be fair to say that they were in general sympathetic towards the mayor?
A. My Lord, for me they are sympathetic to news. If someone is going to deliver news, then they will report that. I do not recall them treating the mayor in any special way. There are stories that are put through the Bengali media are stories where there has been something great delivered or there has been a situation, it is all standard news to me, my Lord.[Page 3070] They would do the same for Rushanara Ali and I am sure they have done the same for John Biggs and other prominent members of the Labour Party in Tower Hamlets.
MR. HOAR: Any part of the Bangladeshi media, no part of it shows special favour to the mayor, do you say.
A. That is my understanding, Mr. Hoar.
Q. Did you read the London Bangla on the first Friday of February?
A. The first Friday of February?
Q. Friday, the 6th or something?A. I cannot remember.
Q. Do you remember that the headline-
MR. PENNY: Which year are you talking about?
MR. HOAR: This year.
THE WITNESS: No, it was not this year, was it, last year.
Q. I am talking about this year actually. Do you remember that the headline was anyone who attacks Lutfur Rahman, attacks all British Bangladeshis; do you remember that headline?
A. I am sorry, I read a lot of newspapers, mainly non-Bengali, so I cannot say I remember that.
Q. Is it fair to say that was more or less sympathetic to Mayor Rahman?
A. Mr. Hoar, I cannot explain the motivations of that newspaper.
Q. Despite all this, and I suggest that the Bangladeshi media is[Page 3071] very much in favour of the mayor, despite all that, nobody thought until you prompted them to put anything on in their newspapers, on their television stations about that comment, nobody thought to do so?
A. Mr. Hoar, just for clarity, I did not want to go about challenging Mr. Biggs for his actions in this way. It was not me that went on the Sunday Politics show and blurted out things that would be hurtful, insulting and very, very damaging for our community. He was given a chance. Iain McNicol failed to act. I then spoke to the Equalities andHuman Rights Commission who, at the time, agreed with me and said I should refer this matter to the police because it could be tantamount to incitement of racial hatred-
Q. We will get to that.
A. Mr. Hoar, I did not do that. I will tell you why later.
Q. We will get to that. But the point is, that is not the question, is it? Because I accepted that they did make a complaint when you prompted them, a lot of people did. We can see, if you wish, the press headlines that that generated, but it was generated by you, the outrage was generated by Tower Hamlets First and, most of all, it was generated by you and the press released you had authorised, was it not?
A. For the record, Mr. Hoar, I acted very independently and, as I have said earlier, I know that the mayor would not have approved of what I did. I knew that I could not act with a Tower Hamlets First hat on, I had to act as Alibor Choudhury the outraged British Bengali who had heard someone very responsible in this community say something super-destructive.
Q. You were happy to e-mail Mr. Biggs on occasion in this period, were you not?
A. Yes, I know. I asked him to retract his comments-
Q. You did that and we can see it at 878 of file F, you did that on 28th February, did you not?
A. That is correct, Mr. Hoar
.Q. Neither you, nor the mayor, nor anybody anyone else in your team thought to e-mail Mr. Biggs before 28th February, some five months after this broadcast; that is right, is it not?
A. Mr. Hoar-
THE COMMISSIONER: Is it right?
THE WITNESS: That is correct.
MR. HOAR: Thank you.
THE WITNESS: There is an explanation, my Lord, if you will let me explain.
THE COMMISSIONER: Yes.
THE WITNESS: My Lord, we had different options to us. We could have gone to the press straightaway, but we did not. The mayor chose in a calm way to deal with this. His action was to go to the General Secretary of the national Labour Party and ask him to intervene. That did not get us anywhere. That was done a month after or several weeks after. We sat on it for a long hoping that John Biggs would see the error of his ways. He refused. Then I went to the EHRC. Then I asked John by e-mail to retract what he said. He did not even have the courtesy or the decency to at least acknowledge my e-mail and say I have received it, I will deal with it .
Q. Is it your evidence, Mr. Choudhury, that you entertained serious expectations that Mr. Biggs or his superiors in the Labour Party would retract what he had said on the SundayPolitics show?
A. My Lord, the bare minimum that I expected was a acknowledgement that this would be investigated properly and there would be a formal response to what Mr. Biggs had done on the Sunday Politics show.
MR. HOAR: Another of the comments you made in your answer to my Lord was this. You were hoping that John Biggs would have the decency to retract his comments. Why not ask him, Mr. Choudhury, directly, directly?
THE WITNESS: Mr. Hoar, how would I do that?
Q. By e-mailing him?
A. I did e-mail him, Mr. Hoar.
Q. You did not until 28th February, some five months after the broadcast, did you?
A. Mr. Hoar, you are clearly not listening to what I am saying.
Q. I am listening.
A. I spoke to his superior, the General Secretary of the national Labour Party; how higher can you get?
Q. You said in answer to my question: Why not ask him? , you said, I did . I then asked you, yes, five months later. You did not ask him directly for five months after this broadcast, did you?
A. Mr. Hoar, for the third or fourth time, my mayor had decided to take this up with the General Secretary of the nationalLabour Party and that obviously did not get us anywhere.
Q. Mr. Choudhury, for the third or fourth time, why not answer my question?
A. I do not know, my Lord.
THE COMMISSIONER: Why was the decision taken to go to the Labour Party itself rather than to the person you saw as the principal offender?
THE WITNESS: My Lord, if anybody knows Mr. Biggs, he can be very arrogant and he can be very brash. What we did not want was a brush off from Mr. Biggs because we felt, particularly I felt, that what he had done was very serious and he needed to understand the implications or the impact of his action. That is why we went high up the chain to get this resolved; and it did not happen.
MR. HOAR: So that we can pin down your answer here, are you suggesting that you did write to John Biggs directly or telephone him before 28th February or are you agreeing with me that you did not?
THE WITNESS: Where did you get the impression that I had emailed him before-
MR. HOAR: Because you are not answering my question, that is why. I am asking you to answer it.
THE COMMISSIONER: Do you accept that you personally did not contact Mr. Biggs personally about this matter until 28th February 2014.
THE WITNESS: That is correct, my Lord.
MR. HOAR: Thank you. Now we can move on, at last. Page 867, the difference-
THE WITNESS: Hold on, please.
Q. The difference, Mr. Choudhury, between 19th February and 30th September is that 19th February was but three months before the election; is that correct or not?
A. It appears to be a fact, Mr. Hoar.
Q. That is why you held on to this outrage for five months, is it not?
A. No, Mr. Hoar. We could have done a lot more damage, if that is what you think we were trying to do, if we had gone to Tower Hamlets straightaway.
THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Choudhury, I wonder if you could answer this. Page 86& appears to be dated 19th February 2014.
THE WITNESS: Correct.
Q. It is a press release that is, let us put it neutrally, critical of Mr. Biggs. What purpose did you think it served nine days later to send him one e-mail asking him to retract; by this time you had gone public? Did you really expect in answer to your 28th February e-mail that John Biggs would reply saying, It is a fair cop, I retract everything ?
A. My Lord, I would have appreciated a response at least
.Q. Why should he respond when you have gone public with this press release?
A. My Lord, the intention was to do a bit more than this. If I am perfectly honest, the EHRC actually recommended that I go to the police. I could have gone to the police and reported him for incitement of racial hatred and we would be in a very different place today, if that had happened.
MR. HOAR: Would we?
THE WITNESS: There would be a police report, would there not?
Q. Would we? You think he is guilty of incitement to racial hatred?
A. I am not the police-
Q. Are you accusing him of that criminal offence?
A. I cannot pre-empt that, Mr. Hoar, can I?
Q. Is it your opinion?
A. Can I pre-empt that, Mr. Hoar? I do not think it would be proper to comment-
Q. You can give your opinion. Because, Mr. Choudhury, for this reason: because the only basis on which you could possibly accuse Mr. Biggs of incitement to racial hatred is that comment; so, you can give your opinion to this court about whether he was guilty of it. Please do so.
A. Mr. Hoar, as you have prompted me, I believe what he did was hugely damaging, it was wrong on many levels and he shouldhave corrected the information that I put out in the public domain. He clearly did not do that. He felt this was something trivial, something that he could brush off, something that he clearly thought would not really be considered as damaging for this community.
THE COMMISSIONER: I do not think, Mr. Choudhury, you have actually answered my question. That is this. Why do you send the e-mail on 28th February, demanding a retraction in effect, when you have already gone public with the press release about Mr. Biggs? Surely the time to approach him for a retraction is before the press release so that you can say, I put it to Mr. Biggs, he has retracted and he is terribly sorry , or alternatively, I put it to Mr. Biggs and he told me to take a running jump . Either way, one would have expected this to[Page 3078] happen before you go public. I cannot understand, Mr. Choudhury, and I would be grateful if you would explain, what the point is nine days after the press release writing to Mr. Biggs when you know either you are not going to get an answer at all or you are going to get an unfavourable answer?
THE WITNESS: Thank you, my Lord. It was always our intention to use Iain McNicol to try and address this. So, if his Labour Party superior would get him to apologise or at least to respond to us, then that would have been the ideal situation. As I said earlier, my Lord, I was considering police action.I was considering reporting him to the police for what he said on the Sunday Politics show, based on the advice that I received from the EHRC. Now, before I took that step, which I did not take in the end, I wanted him to apologise or at least explain, my Lord, why he ended up doing what he did on the Sunday Politics show and causing so much discomfort for the Bangladeshi community and for everyone really. It was not really the Bangladeshi community, people were appalled across the spectrum.
Q. If that is right, Mr. Choudhury, why did you not ask him to explain, before issuing a press release, condemning him for what he said on the Sunday Politics show? If he had come up with an explanation, then it might have been different. Why fire first and then ask him for an explanation. I simply do[Page 3079] not understand this, Mr. Choudhury; unless, of course, the e-mail of 28th February is, as it were, intended for the record, rather than intended for a sensible reply?
A. My Lord, so I am clear, there was no political motivation for doing this. He clearly did something which insulted not just myself but a lot people. In hindsight, I will agree with you, my Lord, it would have been wiser for me to e-mail him. But it is clear that there needed to be impetus, there needed to be something that would stimulate a response from Mr. Biggs. Maybe I have got it wrong, maybe tactically I did somethingwhich in hindsight-
MR. HOAR: Tactically, Mr. Choudhury, you were very clever. Do you agree or not? I suggest you were very clever, tactically.
A. I wish I was.
Q. I suggest that you are very clever indeed, Mr. Choudhury, and you know it. Pressure was today mounting , that is the first line of the body of the message. Pressure by whom, and why today, on 19th February 2014?
A. I thought I had already explained that, Mr. Hoar. Pressure from out in the community.
Q. Pressure was today mounting . There was no pressure, other than from you and the broadcast you had kept for five months, was there?
A. If the insinuation is, Mr. Hoar, that I held off so I could[Page 3080] use-
Q. Yes, that is the insinuation.
A. Can I finish, sirfor some political advantage, then you are totally wrong.
Q. You arego on.
A. The purpose of this is to get accountability. I am sure they would do the same thing if we had made a similar statement. So, it was for accountability purposes.
Q. If they had done it, they probably would have done it straightaway, rather than five months later. Can I take youto your quotes, please, Mr. Choudhury? Councillor Choudhury said , second sentence, ;Secondly, John may want to think of me as a foreigner, but I was born here and am as British as he is ‘. You were accusing Mr. Biggs of racist thoughts at least in that, were you not, by thinking of you as a foreigner, despite being a British man?
A. Mr. Hoar, what he did on the Sunday Politics show, for meI am not going to deny thisthere is a sliding scale of racism for me. On one end, you have smears and at the other you have institutional racism. For me, what he did, that act, was racist.
Q. You say that his comments were gleefully used as propaganda by the EDL, and you say later: Biggs ‘ slogan is uniting the East End, but with far right patrols on our streets and bomb threats to the town hall and East London Mosque, his remark is doing the opposite. If that was not stirring up trouble by equating his remarks to bomb threats and far right patrols, what is?
A. Mr. Hoar, what I said there was a statement of fact. These events occurred soon after his unwise comments on the Sunday Politics show. I have just stated the facts.
Q. In your complaint to the EHRC, which was and was intended to be part of-
THE COMMISSIONER: Have I heard any evidence about far rightpatrols on the streets or bomb threats to the town hall and East London Mosque after the broadcast?
MR. HOAR: No, my Lord, we have not.
THE COMMISSIONER: I thought not.
MR. PENNY: There are documents produced by witnesses from whom you have heard evidence in relation to it.
THE COMMISSIONER: After the broadcast?
MR. PENNY: Well-
THE COMMISSIONER: We can look them up.
MR. PENNY: You have the speech from Tommy Robinsonit is 7th September, thoughand the text of it.
THE COMMISSIONER: Yes. But that is the EDL March. We have had that; it has gone.
MR. HOAR: It is not bomb threats, is it?
THE COMMISSIONER: There we are.
THE WITNESS: Sorry, my Lord, may I speak?
THE COMMISSIONER: Yes, of course.
THE WITNESS: My Lord, I producedI think it is somewhere in the bundleI produced a letter from the Council, to basically confirm that there was an evacuation because they received a suspicious package and we were all evacuated and the emergency services got involved, et cetera, et cetera. As for the bomb scare at East London Mosque, it was widely reported in the media, mentioned in (unclear), and Iunderstand that that has also been provided; so, the sequence of events which spring from what Mr. Biggs has said.
MR. HOAR: Hang on. Well, you have reported the comments as being on 22nd September and you have reported the bomb threat as being on the 25th. We may have to look that up overnight. What you do say to the EHRC is that there is a clear appeal to racial prejudice which is equally irresponsible, particularly given the backdrop of tensions around the EDL March which had taken place weeks before the programme and the constant negative press coverage , and you mentioned that bomb threat. The purpose of that is to imply heavily, is it not, that John Biggs ‘ remarks were responsible for that bomb threat and those comments?
A. Mr. Hoar, I was not making those comments flippantly. They[Page 3083] were very serious comments, and the aim of going public with those comments is to highlight the danger and the risk of behaving in such a way.
Q. If they were serious, you would have made them at the time, would you not?
A. They were made soon after, Mr. Hoar.
Q. If you were serious about those comments, they would have been made at the time, would they not?
A. They were made, Mr. Hoar, roughly about that time.
Q. Roughly about that time? Right.
A. You might want to check that.
THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Choudhury, I will be corrected if I am wrong here, but I seem to recall that Mr. Rahman said that this press release had been drafted by you.
A. That is correct, my Lord.
Q. And it was?
A. Yes, it was.
THE COMMISSIONER: Thank you.
MR. HOAR: Now, did you show it to the Mayor before you sent it out?
A. No.
Q. Are you sure about that?
A. Unfortunately, yes.
Q. Why? He racked you over the coals for it, did he; told you off for sending it out, did he?
A. Let ‘s say he was not best pleased.
Q. He was not best pleased. All right.
THE COMMISSIONER: Forgive me, Mr. Choudhury, as I understand it, your explanation of the apparent gap between the broadcast and, as it were, the press release was that the Mayor had said that, as it were, going public was not an appropriate way to deal with it. I fully understand that as an answer. But given that this press release is going public, one would have thought that you would have said to the Mayor, I think weought to go public on this. You have been soft-pedalling for five months. Let ‘s go public. But you do not seem to have run this past the Mayor; is that right?
A. Yes, my Lord.
THE COMMISSIONER: There we are.
MR. HOAR: So, despite the fact that Mr. Rahman was very upset with you for sending out this press release, you were still happy to send out another one on 15th Aprilyou can find it at page 887in which you quote from Mayor Lutfur Rahman himself? That is a bit funny, is it not?
A. Not really, Mr. Hoar. It was done a good two months after. Obviously, by then, the Mayor was aware of what I had done. What did not help was the unresponsiveness from Mr. Biggs and the Labour Party.
THE COMMISSIONER: You were in the middle of an election campaign, Mr. Choudhury. Did you really expect, in the middle of an election campaign, that Mr. Biggs was going to accept any claims which you made, or, indeed, vice versa?
A. Forgive me if I sound naive, my Lord, but I thought that was serious enough to at least prompt a response. Whether he would outright apologise would be pushing it a bit, but I know that we deserved a response or an explanation as to why he did what he did.
MR. HOAR: The thing is, though, you are not naive at all; you area very shrewd political operator, Mr. Choudhury, if I may say so. You can thank me for that or disparage me for that comment, as you wish. Is that fair: are you a shrewd political operator?
A. I would not describe myself that way, Mr. Hoar. You would find that my colleagues and those that know me would not share that view.
Q. You would not share the view?
A. Would not share your view, I meant. Sorry.
Q. It is not my view. It is a question. I am suggesting that you are a shrewd political operator.
A. Mr. Hoar, I would say that I am someone who tries his best to do good by the community that elected me into office and someone who is not fallible. I mean, I make mistakes.[Page 3086]
Q. Except, you are not such a shrewd political operator when you lose your rag; and you did that on 26th February, did you not, when you said, at a full Council meeting, Oswald Mosley had his blackshirts. John Biggs has his black cardigans ? You agree you made that remark; you have accepted it in your witness statement.
A. Regretfully, yes.
Q. Why do you say regretfully ? You have just accused John Biggs of incitement to racial hatred. Why do you regret contrasting him to Oswald Mosley?A. Because I offended a colleague of mine, who at the time was mourning the death of her ex-husband, and it was clearly stupid and insensitive of me to use those words. I mean, I was not aware at the time of her mourning, but-
THE COMMISSIONER: Is the suggestion, therefore, that if this lady had been wearing a black cardigan purely as a fashion statement, your comment would have been justified?
A. My Lord, I have no-
Q. Is the only thing wrong with it that the lady was in mourning, in other words?
A. My Lord, it was a spontaneous comment, and I have obviously since understood the seriousness of what I have said and made an apology, a full apology, to my former colleague, Anne Jackson.[
MR. HOAR: It sounds like that is a yes , does it not? You regret saying it about Councillor Jackson; you regret nothing else about the comment; that is correct, is it not?
A. I said the comment in the context of division. Now, when it came to my mindand like I said, it was a spontaneous reaction from me, maybe not the wisestI thought of Oswald Mosley as a divisive character, and I could compare that division or the act of trying to divide communities with what Mr. Biggs had been doing.
Q. So, you do think it is appropriate to compare John Biggs tothe fascist leader Oswald Mosley, who led race riots in the East End of London? You do, do you not?
A. Let ‘s not over-egg it, Mr. Hoar.
Q. It is not over-egging it.
A. Let ‘s keep it simple. I am saying to you that Oswald Mosley, for me, clearly was an unpleasant person, was someone who was clearly divisive. What John had done, and what John continued to represent for mebecause he clearly had no remorse for what he said on the Sunday Politics show or said anywhere elsesaid the same thing, really.
Q. This is John Biggs, who has spent his entire political career fighting racism, including voluntarily going to Barking and Dagenham, campaigning against the BNP there, campaigning against Derek Beacon, campaigning against racism, and you[Page 3088] think it is appropriate to call him an Oswald Mosley, do you, Mr. Choudhury?
A. Mr. Hoar, have you seen him out campaigning and doing all this wonderful work? Maybe you have. What you will see is this man is not in the front of any demonstration or any action against anybody. He is always in the back, and he is someone, I know, that takes credit for other people ‘s work. He has taken credit for my work. I used to work very hard in St. Dunstan ‘s in my first term in office. He did not do anything, but yet John Biggs was the one who got credit
.Q. You sound rather bitter, if I may say so. Is that fair?
A. I am not happy that he has taken credit for my work, no.
Q. Can I take you, please, to the initial response of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to your complaint. You can find it at F/879, second paragraph: The Commission agrees that you are rightly concerned about the remarks made by the Labour mayoral candidate on the BBC ‘s Sunday Politics show. Before I go on, this was of course sent after the memo in which you enclosed your complaints to the EHRC. It goes on: However, such remarks should more appropriately be reported to the police note reported to the police . While the Commission is the regulator of the Equality Act 2010 for matters concerning discrimination and human rights, incitement to racial hatred is a police matter, as it was made a criminal offence. Similarly, the publication of material that is likely to incite racial hatred may be a criminal offence under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. That was not their last word, was it?
A. No, it was not, Mr. Hoar. My colleaguenot my colleague, sorrya journalist, a right wing journalist, Ted Jeory, decided to intervene; and I can remember the day when I actually spoke to him about this. It was a day, in Stepney, when we were out campaigning.
Q. It was 5th April, was it not?A. Yes, it was.
Q. Saturday, 5th April. Can I ask you about this. I am going to suggest what happened. You were at a rally, and you fell into discussion with Ted Jeory?
A. That is correct.
Q. You mentioned the BBC politics show?
A. Yes.
Q. And Ted Jeory said that your comment was a load of bollocks did he not? He said that to you?
A. I think he called me a dickhead or a prick as well.
Q. He did not say that, did he?
A. He did. He did. It is not a problem.
Q. You are happy to make that under the cover of privilege, are you, to make that allegation?
A. It is not a problem. I did not really take offence to it, Mr. Hoar.
Q. He said that you were wilfully misconstruing the comment?
A. I do not remember those words, Mr. Hoar, at all. I remember him saying, Alibor, was it really racism , and I said I felt it was more than that, and I, maybe naively, said, Look, Ted, here is a copy of the letter from the EHRC.
Q. You said so with a look of smugness, did you not?
A. With a look of smugness?
Q. Yes, with a look of smugness.
A. I have nothing to be smug about, Mr. Hoar.
Q. Because you were very smug, were you not, about this letter in March, because you thought it suggested that a hate crime had been committed, or you said that you did?
A. So, why would I feel smug about it, Mr. Hoar? I was quite distressed.
Q. Because you were delighted, delighted, to have this ammunition from the EHRC, were you not?
A. Can you just stop and think a minute, Mr. Hoar? Why would I share that with someone who was a hostile journalist? Why would I be smug-
Q. You have just accepted that you did share it with a hostile journalist, did you not?
A. I sent him a copy of the e-mail.
Q. Exactly. You have just suggested that you did. So, that is not a matter of dispute; you did share it with Ted Jeory?
A. Of course. Absolutely.
Q. You agree that you shared it with Ted Jeory because I am going to take you to the e-mail chain in which Ted Jeory deals with it, Mr. Choudhury. So, when you say, Why would I share it with a right wing journalist , that is exactly what you did?
A. Mr. Hoar, can you rewind back. You said I shared it with some smugness. Why would I be enjoying it as though it is likeI have got ammunition? Why would I give ammunition to a hostile journalist?
Q. Because you were delighted that you had what you thought was this ammunition from the Equality and Human Rights Commission?
A. You have got that very wrong, Mr. Hoar.
Q. There was an e-mailI am going to take you to it, on 882from Ted Jeory to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, asking for clarification, and what it says is that He , i.e. you, showed the memo, the letter from the EHRC, to Ted Jeory, to prove that the EHRC agrees with the complaint; and he refers to the sentence, The Commission agrees that you were rightly concerned , inferring that that means he has a case. You then can see what transpires between them. None of these e-mails were sent to you. But you did receive an e-mail, did[Page 3092] you not, on 11th April 2014, which you can find at 886. I am going to take you to that now. Yes?
A. Please.
MR. PENNY: I do not know if there are any questions about that e-mail chain.
MR. HOAR: Do you agree with what I have just said transpired? I am just telling the story and I am asking you to confirm that that is what happened?
A. I can confirm there was an e-mail exchangewell, in so far as Ted had sent me an e-mail
Q. Right. So, this is what you get on 11th-
THE COMMISSIONER: Even an exchange, Mr. Choudhury, indicates that you had forwarded to Mr. Jeory the letter that you had got from the EHRC. Is that correct?
A. That is absolutely correct, my Lord, and I did it in distress and I did it-
MR. HOAR: Distress?
A.- to show him how upset I was and how wrong it was for John to do what he did.
Q. You are a good actor, Mr. Choudhury, but not that good. You did not show any distress when you spoke to Mr. Jeory. Anyway, 886, please, 11th April 2014.
THE COMMISSIONER: Can I just get some dates again? Your press release that we have talked about, John Biggs dividing the East End , is 19th February?
A. It is the first one, my Lord.
Q. And it refers to Mr. Biggs being referred to the Equality and Human Rights Commission for remarks he made on the Sunday Politics programme?
A. Yes.
Q. At the time that press release was issued on 19th February, had you received the reply of 18th February from the EHRC?
A. The reply, my Lord?
MR. HOAR: Sorry, I am slightly lost, my Lord, on that.
THE WITNESS: So am I.
MR. HOAR: 18th February.
A. Yes. So, we get a reply on 21st March, my Lord.
THE COMMISSIONER: 21st March. So, 18th February is your letter to the EHRC?
A. That is correct.
Q. You then go public, saying he has been referred to the Commission?
A. Correct.
Q. Before you get any answer from the Commission?
A. Yes.
Q. You get answer 1. Mr. Jeory takes it up. You then get answer 2. That is correct?
A. Correct, my Lord.
MR. HOAR: And that answer says this: In our letter, we expressed a view about remarks made by John Biggs on the BBC Sunday Politics broadcast. Mr. Biggs is the Labour mayoral candidate for Tower Hamlets, I have now had the opportunity to review this letter and to discuss it with colleagues. On reassessment, in my view this letter was inaccurate in going outside the remit of the commission and in appearing to proffer an opinion in a situation where, as the letter makes clear, the matter is properly the remit of other authorities who are appropriately placed to address any issues arising.We have noted the content of the BBC broadcast but have no further comments on the matter. That is signed Chief Legal Officer of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. That was the final position of the EHRC before your second memo, which was sent on 15th April, was it not? That was their final word and you knew it was their final word, did you not?
A. Two things. First of all, this was prompted by the intervention of Ted Jeory, who decided to act on behalf of Mr. Biggs. Otherwise, it would not have come. Secondly, the second letter for me did not detract too much from the first letter. It clearly did say that they should not have proffered an opinion. But in my view it still said that if I had felt that John Biggs had made a racially insulting comment, then that should be dealt with by the police.
Q. Can I sorry, your last couple of words, sorry?
A. You want me to repeat them.
Q. Yes, please?
A. I said that it still says that if I felt that there was an incitement to racial hatred offence being committed here, I should take that up with the police.
Q. With the police, that is what I missed and what my learned friend missed. I apologise. Page 195 of your witness statement. Please. I should say of our file R, paragraph 34,please. This is what you said about this in your witness statement. You agree that the press release was issued-
THE COMMISSIONER: Are we going to come on to the release of 15th April, obviously (unclear) of that, are we not?
MR. HOAR: I would rather get at least this memo dealt with. There is one more.
THE COMMISSIONER: I think it is quite late in the afternoon, we are going to go into tomorrow with this witness.
MR. HOAR: Very well. I hoped to make better progress.
THE COMMISSIONER: Well, the witness can stand down for the moment.

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