Posts Tagged ‘gerald shamash’

Tower Hamlets election petitioner Andy Erlam has asked for the following to be published in response to my criticisms of him criticising John Biggs’s response to his original criticism of John. (Deep breath; I think I’ve got that right.)

Here’s his latest statement:

Like every journalist Ted Jeory loves conflict, even where none exists. John Biggs is a consummate politician and obviously relishes robust political debate especially if it leads to the best result. No doubt John is a very capable Member of the London Assembly and of the Police Committee, but he may not be an expert on Election Petitions.

It’s a pity Ted didn’t check some “facts” with me before publication, (we all make mistakes),‎ before giving the wrong impression. The decision to change lawyers was a majority decision.‎ Tower Hamlets First didn’t, of course, field candidates in the European Elections and corruption is less likely there.

The outcome of the hearing at 10am on Monday 28th. July at the Royal Courts of Justice (all welcome) will be decided entirely on the legal arguments put forward by our very able, independent, barrister not on comment made by Ted Jeory, John Biggs, myself or anyone else.

‎It is important that the Election Petition is free, and seen to be free , from national party political interests but instead representative of the entire electorate of Tower Hamlets. The prize is much, much, bigger than narrow party advantage. It’s about whether democracy matters.

What we can not do is accept statements or donations with strings. Everyone now has a primary duty, not to their political party or their mates, but exclusively to the court.  

Incidentally, the many people who have been caught up in wrong-doing have a special incentive to now step forward to make statements. They are protected by the evidence they make to the Election Court, even if they took part in criminal wrong-doing themselves.  ‎The police and the Director of Public Prosecutions can not prosecute anyone using evidence produced in the Election Court, (except if purgery is involved, which is fair enough).

‎All witnesses are thus protected.

My answer to all the critics and “Arm Chair Petitioners” is this: Time will tell who is right and who is wrong.

Rather than engage in conspiracy theories, let’s ask some more questions:

1. Were many council officers told in numerous meetings, where they were treated, to go out and get 100 votes each for Lutfur or else they would be thrown out of their jobs? 

2. Were they told that, if elected, John Biggs would sack them?

3. Is there a senior officer at the Town Hall, apart from the Returning Officer, who has had regular contact with DS Neil Smithson who is leading the investigation into alleged criminal election activity and, if so, for what reasons?

It’s the leadership of Tower Hamlets Council that is in trouble. Further revelations in the Sunday Telegraph and the contents of the PWC report will add fuel to the fire.

None of us are soothsayers but we can be allowed to speculate based on known facts and gut feelings: This time, this time, the entire political establishment in Tower Hamlets will fall. 

Time will tell.

Andy Erlam


If I may be as so bold to comment on article published on my own blog…there patently is conflict and I know from talking to the people involved there has been genuine unease and disagreement about strategy. But I don’t really need to say that do I?

I asked Andy what he meant by “majority decision” over the sacking of lawyer Gerald Shamash (because I’m not sure that was the case). He declined to comment but instead sent a further and probably final statement, which is below.

On the substance, he outlines or suggests some extremely serious allegations, which, until they are backed by proper evidence in court, border on innuendo. The hearing on July 28 will be fascinating. I genuinely want to know whether there is a case for false statement against the Lutfur camp in respect of smearing John Biggs as a racist.

Here’s Andy’s response to my questions:

Dear Ted,

Thanks for inviting me to comment further. 

Just to let you know that I do not wish to comment in detail further on the case.  As you know, the Petition is subject to legal proceedings and the details of the allegations and the evidence will be disclosed to the respondents, Mr. Rahman and the Returning Officer, when they are required to be in the Court. 

I would, however, like to clarify two points made in your most recent blog on 18th July: 

1. Mr. Rahman’s application to strike out the Petition is made on the grounds of its alleged failure to set out in sufficient detail the particulars of the allegations made in the Petition.  The Petition was drafted by Gavin Miller QC, while Steel and Shamash were still acting for the Petitioners.  The strike-out application has nothing to do with any subsequent developments.

2. Whilst it is of course a matter for the court, the strike-out application is being vigorously opposed and I am advised is unlikely to succeed, as the Court has the jurisdiction to order further particulars once the Petition has been presented.

Yours sincerely,



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The four Tower Hamlets election petitioners are due to defend a ‘strike-out’ application (submitted by Mayor Lutfur Rahman and Returning Officer John Williams) before a judge on July 28 but they way things are progressing they might literally be laughed out of court.

For very many people, the shambles around the count, the poison of the campaign, and the unusual campaigning methods used in Tower Hamlets on polling day (unusual to outsiders at least), meant there was a good argument to have a case heard in court. It would help clear the air, one way or another.

But amassing evidence of wrongdoing is a painstaking business and it certainly helps if you have people who have been there before. Gerald Shamash, the Labour party solicitor nationally, falls into that category.

It was he who helped Andy Erlam file his petition with the Election Court last month.

But a couple of weeks ago, he was sacked. Andy decided he wanted a new team. He won’t say why but it may be because Gerald was too expensive or because he took the initiative on certain matters.

Even prior to this, there had already been a degree of tension among the petitioners, whose number include a two Labour party members and a Ukip activist. But the sacking inflamed matters, largely because Andy did not, apparently, consult the others about it.

In the background, they have all been very busy compiling witness statements and there are, as I understand it, some potentially quite interesting pieces of evidence.

But credibility is also a powerful ingredient and that requires calm and sensible statements as to the facts and arguments.

Which brings me to the developing row between John Biggs and Andy Erlam.

Andy kicked all this off last week when he wrote an “open letter” to John urging him to declare his stance on their case. I’m told Andy never consulted John before sending this letter. I blogged about it on Wednesday when I also printed John’s reply to Andy. (In that blog post, I questioned Andy’s claim that up to 15,000 votes in the mayoral election were affected by forgery or intimidation; he now says that was an error and the 15,000 relates both the council and mayoral elections. Quite why the European polls are omitted is unclear.)

I thought, and so did most who read it, that John was pretty clear in his response…that he’d do all in his power to make the case work, including lodging a witness statement.

But in his reply, John also referred obliquely to the Gerald Shamash issue, something few knew about beforehand; I didn’t.

However, this reference seems to have riled Andy and yesterday he sent me another statement by way of reply to John. Again, John wasn’t consulted and he has in turn sent me his reply to that reply.

It’s great having such transparency from politicians and I wish far more discourse was made in public, but I do wonder whether this is the best way of securing the strongest case to put to a judge.

Andy’s (quite lengthy) statement below, I’m afraid to say, does somewhat tilt towards the truther lands of conspiracy theories, particularly over the ballot boxes and THEOs. I hope he doesn’t say that to a judge.

My personal view is they don’t have a hope on proving industrial scale electoral fraud, but if they were to focus their minds and arguments on the issue of “false statement”, ie the deliberate portrayal of John Biggs as a racist, then they have more of a chance. After all, this is what did for Phil Woolas in 2010: he breached s106 of the Representation of the People Act, which says it is an illegal practice to make a false statement about a candidate “for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate at the election”. Funnily enough, Gerald Shamash does have experience of this: he was Woolas’s solicitor.

Anyway, here’s Andy’s reply to John’s reply from Wednesday (and for what it’s worth, you have to admire Andy and the others for putting their money where others’ mouths are by fighting this):

Andy Erlam

Andy Erlam

I find it incredible that John Biggs continues to disbelieve that there may have been an industrial-scale fraud in the Mayoral and Local Council elections on 22nd May, despite mounting of evidence which is steadily accumulating and being turned into statements fit for the court, which is in itself a massive task. Respectfully, I look forward to receiving John’s own promised statement please at the very earliest opportunity, namely this Sunday. It is the least he can do in the circumstances.  

If true, the irregularities are so extensive that a scrutiny will show that the election results can not be relied upon and that a new election for Mayor will have to be held. Where that leaves the local election results is unknown legal territory. It is interesting that the Tower Hamlets Labour Group in the Council has been silent on the subject of the Petition.

Incidentally, there was an important error in my original article. It should have read: “I estimate that between 10,000 and 15,000 votes were forged or affected by intimidation across the Borough in the Mayoral and council elections.”

Is this a “wild” allegation?  We know from Tower Hamlets First sources that each THF candidate was ordered to each obtain 250 postal votes by fair means or foul. Guess which technique was most used?

The reports and statements that we have so far received show that there were very many illegal practices with postal votes across the Borough. I mean bullying, stealing postal ballot papers and opening completed postal ballots, re-sealing envelopes and posting.

Added to that we know from the work of Andrew Gilligan and our own informants that postal ballot applications were made for people not in the UK at the time and for ghost voters who don’t exist. 

Furthermore, there are reliable reports of crowds of THF activists systematically intimidating some voters, mostly Bangladeshi Brits, outside many and possibly most polling stations throughout election day.

There are also numerous reports of people, Bengali women in particular, being accompanied, bullied and intimidated to vote for Mayor Rahman and THF.

Even more allegations have now emerged about the use of council resources and staff in the election by THF and even the illegal access to voters’ private mobile numbers from council records.

At the same time, the police and polling station staff were unable or unwilling to control the situation. It is also alleged that the vast majority of Imans in the Borough told their flocks that to vote other than for Lutfur and THF would be “Un-Islamic”, which if proved is an illegal act.

The stream of allegations is endless and, in fact, the stream is turning into a river and the river a torrent.

John was at the count. Can he have failed to notice the hundreds of THF supporters, the chaotic conditions, the delays and the hugely varying figures in the votes counted in some wards, always changing the results from Labour to favour THF? Did he not see Mayor Rahman take control of the local council counts, often over-rulling the hapless John Williams, who was effectively humiliated as the Returning Officer. This was not chaos, it was organised chaos.

It doesn’t end there. Tower Hamlets Council refuses to answer Freedom of Information requests about the ballot boxes, on the false claim that Returning Officers are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The Information Commissioner doesn’t agree, but Tower Hamlets is desperately playing for time.

So LBTH won’t say where the ballot boxes were stored from the close of polls, how they were transported, by whom and whether they were guarded by the police. The lack of transparency and respect for the law of the country beggars belief, but it’s not new and it’s now getting more and more irrational in Tower Hamlets Council.

That leaves rumours to run wild. Some allege that the Theos accompanied the ballot boxes. These Tower Hamlets Enforcement Officers accountable to the Mayor, (the Mayor’s “private army of LBTH policemen”), are not impartial and, if true, their role in the election would be yet another deeply worrying matter. The council is also refusing to say exactly where in the town hall the ballot boxes were stored and whether the rooms were locked and if so, who had access via the swipe cards.

Further concerns have also emerged recently about the robustness of the police investigation currently taking place. It is known that suspected fraudulent votes have not been forwarded to the police and that complaints made to the police have not been followed up. Furthermore, even the very serious allegation that a car-load of postal ballot papers was discovered by the police seems to be being talked away by investigating police, incredible as it may seem. Andrew Gilligan reported that the car bootfull of forms were completed and has verified this fact but the policeman leading the investigations claims that the forms were blank and thus no criminal offences had been committed. It appears that the police are involved in a cover-up whether by inefficiency or worse. Was Andrew Gilligan wrong about Iraq?

And what is the Electoral Commission doing with its near £16 million budget?  Disgracefully, it is looking the other way when it comes to Tower Hamlets. 

John refers to accepting unpleasant results in a democracy. His comparison of Rahman with Thatcher is wholly inappropriate. A far better comparison is with the 2004 US Presidential Election which we now know had very extensive corruption that changed the course of American and indirectly international history. Ironically, Kerry was also a good looser.

The point is that if you live in Tower Hamlets, you don’t live in a democracy. How confident can we be that our votes in the next General Election will be respected? Given the likelihood of a very close General Election contest in 2015, this is of huge significance nationally.

One last point, the very big losers in the catastrophic Mayoral and local elections of 2014 are the Banglashi-Brits in Tower Hamlets. Culture, language, literacy problems, the community power structures, poor housing and difficult individual situations mean that the population is very vulnerable to bullying, intimidation and financial and other pressures. Tower Hamlets First does not represent the Bangali population, as it claims. It is a small clique, like any other, seeking power for its’ own reasons.

Lutfur was a Labour man and wants to be one again. He is a politician bred in the Labour Movement of East London. Presumably he knows a lot of what has happened over the years – the compromises and the errors of Labour and in the forthcoming trial much will come out.

Mayor Rahman, whom I’ve never met and have no personal opinion about, claims many good policies and achievements. Whether these are accurate or not, I can not judge. But what I do know is that the means never ever justifies the end and that, if morality is cast aside, the means become the end.

There needs to be a revolution in politics in the East End. Political corruption has been seen as the norm here for decades. But corruption is not normal. Nor is it unique to Tower Hamlets, it’s just that irregularities here have been so extensive and so arrogantly displayed that, this time, things have gone too far.  

John Biggs knows perfectly well, although he would prefer otherwise, that Gerald Shamash, the Labour Party solicitor, is no longer our solicitor and that Gavin Miller is no longer our barrister and that Francis Hoar is. We do not wish to comment on this decision.

There are two points of principle here. We will not allow any donor, however large, to steer the Petition, nor will we allow any political party to pull the strings.

Given that John Biggs is the likely beneficiary of a re-election, as things stand, I’m surprised that he describes the Election Petitioners as “mavericks”. The dictionary definition of a maverick is: “an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party.” I guess I and the 3 other Petitioners, Azmal Hussain, Debbie Simone and Angela Moffat, will willingly plead guilty to that charge. Only with massive support from the good people of Tower Hamlets can we change the area for good. Further specific allegations must be sent very urgently to us to help us all win the case.

Andy Erlam

Tower Hamlets Election Petitioner

(Personal Capacity)


And here’s John’s reply:

John Biggs

John Biggs

Everything that Andy Erlam says about the election may be true but that doesn’t mean that it is true or that if it is true it is possible to prove that it is true in a court without sufficient evidence. But I am encouraging anyone with evidence of abuses to share this with the petitioners because theirs is a very serious series of allegations and must be properly examined. I am pleased the petition has been lodged in order that the allegations, widely believed to be true, can be examined.

I will be making my experiences known and will make a statement, particularly but not just looking at the allegations of racism levelled against me which I believe were deliberately invented to try to polarise opinion and particularly to encourage BAME voters to back Lutfur Rahman by spreading misinformation. This action was dishonest but also it was an action without principle or regard to the responsibility local politicians have to encourage and foster good relations.

I believe too that there were multiple abuses. But unlike Andy I do not believe in shooting from the hip without making statements that can be shown to be true. And I am also sensitive to the deep sense of victimhood that Lutfur Rahman likes to foster and which allegations without sufficient evidence will nourish. That will be no good for the East End.

In common with Andy, I do believe that the current mayor is bad news for East London. His inward looking culture rooted in patronage says nothing to the future and creates a vacuum while urgent leadership is needed. But I think he will ultimately be defeated by the proper and measured use of evidence and truth.

I do hope the petition leads to a thorough and good hearing and I do believe the result was improperly influenced and manipulated but in order for the truth to be found there must be more light and less heat. There must be a risk that an alternative tactic will achieve the opposite result to that it intends.

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A few weeks ago, Andy Erlam, who stood and lost in Bow East for his Red Flag Ant-Corruption Party in May, launched an Election Petition challenging the result for the directly elected mayor poll.

That petition is being backed by a number of people from various parties and is currently going through the early court processes. The petitioners are having to do the very hard legwork of amassing evidence to present to a judge who must make a decision on whether there is a case to answer.

Yesterday, Andy wrote an open letter to John Biggs asking for him to “publicly back” the petition. Hitherto, John has welcomed the petition and the chance it might give to clear the air.

Andy copied me and other journalists into his open letter. It’s below. You’ll see he says this:

I estimate that between 10,000 and 15,000 votes were forged or affected by intimidation across the Borough in the Mayoral election

I asked him for examples of the evidence he’d gathered to back up that claim. He said that wasn’t possible at this stage because he wanted to protect people’s identities. So I asked him to provide the calculations behind his estimate and how he extrapolated to that number. He still hasn’t answered.

My personal view is that he risks looking silly. The figure of 15,0000 is huge: he’s saying that up to 40 per cent of the 37,000 votes for Lutfur Rahman were as a result of fraud or forgery. That really would be Mugabe-land. It’s also a bit of an insult to Lutfur’s electorate. Well, a bit more than a bit.

Anyway, the open letter has prompted a reply from John Biggs. In it, he uses his strongest language yet.

He, too, feels some of Andy’s claims might be somewhat outlandish, but he strongly believes the election was “bent”.

John goes beyond his previously stated belief that there was widespread postal vote fraud. He now also believes there could have been “organised fraud” in the counting of votes.

He does not state how, but I understand the allegation is this: counters deliberately undercounted John’s votes and over-counted Lutfur’s. Counters count the votes in bundles of 50. The belief is that some counters counted to say 47 or 48 for Lutfur’s votes and bundled them up into a pile of 50; meanwhile, the counters would count to say 52 or 53 for every 50 of John’s votes. So Lutfur’s piles of 50 votes overstated his true position, while John’s understated his. Or so the allegation goes. I understand that some counters were called up on this by party agents and other representatives on the night.

John, in his letter, also confirms he’ll cooperate fully with the petition and appear as a witness.

Here are the two letters.

Dear John,

I am writing to you to ask you to this week publicly back the Tower Hamlets Election Petition that was launched on Friday 13th June.

As you know, there is very deep concern in the community about the legitimacy of the Mayoral and local council elections held on 22nd May and the subsequent chaotic count.  I do understand and admire the fact that you have been a “good loser” in the contest which you were said to have lost by 3,500 votes.

However, there is a growing mountain of evidence which points to the fact that you did not lose, because the election was grossly corrupted by industrial-scale irregularities ranging from “ghost voters”, multiple voting, intimidation at the polling station, the stealing, forgery of postal votes on a massive scale and deliberate miscounting of votes.

On the basis of reports received by me to date, I estimate that between 10,000 and 15,000 votes were forged or affected by intimidation across the Borough in the Mayoral election.

If so, had the election been honest and managed properly, I believe that you would have won by a substantial majority.

As regards the count, the only issue in my mind is whether the chaos was just chaos or whether it was organised chaos.  In 40 years in politics observing elections and counts, including a stint as an official EU International Election Observer in South Africa in 1994, I have never seen such intimidation, corruption and deception in an election and count.  

Furthermore, the Council refuses to say where it held the ballot boxes following the election and a whole series of corrupt ballot papers have been kept from the police. I am now convinced that the current police investigation into cases where there have been arrests is not serious and that the police are simply going through the motions of investigating election fraud.

So the point is, that it is not John Biggs who is the real looser in Tower Hamlets, it is the whole voting population who have been cheated of a fair and democratic election and as such face next year’s General Election with absolutely no confidence that their vote will be honestly and fairly handled. If you continue to sit on the fence, this golden opportunity to clean up Tower Hamlets politics once and for all will be lost. People look to community leaders like you to show a lead when times are tough. Tower Hamlets is not presently a democracy area of Britain.

As you know, 4 individual voters have stuck their necks out for you in launching this Election Petition. We are free from political party influence and have no motive except to see justice down. Now is the time for John Biggs to stick his neck out for us and for Tower Hamlets.

I hope that you will be able to issue a statement this week publicly backing the Election Petition and urging all Labour Party members and all voters to make statements on irregularities that can be used in court. This open letter is designed to open up the debate much further.

Yours sincerely,
Andy Erlam.


And this is John Biggs’s reply:

Dear Andy,

I was very busy yesterday and only became aware of your letter when two of the media outlets to whom you had forwarded it asked for my comments! I am therefore replying on the assumption that you will share this reply with the media (and am pre-emptively copying it to one outlet).  This is an important matter and so my reply is quite lengthy, with no apology to those seeking sound-bites.

My position is as follows:

I am a democrat and accept that the result announced by the Returning Officer must be treated as the proper result unless and until it is proved otherwise. To not do so would throw the foundations of democracy into dispute. However, I accept that there is a very widespread unhappiness with the election.

One needs however to be careful and to disentangle the strong antipathy that Mayor Rahman attracts from large sections of the electorate from underlying anxieties about whether the election was fair. By recent analogy, many people of our generation will recall that Margaret Thatcher was massively unpopular and polarising to many people but that she still legitimately won elections. The election, and administration, have both in my view been unhealthily polarising but we must disentangle that from anxieties about whether the election was fair. It is important to make that point.

You raise very serious concerns about the election, which have also been raised by others. My position is that I share most of these. I believe that there was a considerable amount of election fraud, principally but not only centred around the manipulation of postal votes. I am less persuaded about the allegations of intimidation, although conduct around, and in, polling stations was a disgrace.

This feeds however into the next point, which is that, separate from the comprehensive breach of the ‘election protocol’ by one party, conduct at polling stations being just one example of this, the administration of the election, both the management of polling stations and of the count, fell far short of being well-organised. I believe that we may also find that there was organised fraud in the counting of votes, albeit by a minority of those involved. All of these things need to be tested, with evidence. Without evidence they remain mere beliefs.
I am also angry about the smear tactics used in the campaign, by the Mayor’s supporters (and by nobody else), against me, as the only serious challenger to the incumbent. Specifically, I am not a racist and I was disgusted by the unprincipled use of this claim to try to polarise opinion and to secure support for the Mayor as a perpetual victim. Life does need to move on from this form of politics and if redress is available by showing that the result was improperly influenced by this claim, knowing it was false, then it should be available.  
In other words I think there are comprehensive concerns, and I have shared these, as have other Labour members, with the police, the electoral commission, the council, the media, with yourself and your fellow petitioners and with your legal representative, Gerald Shamash.
You ask if I will ‘stick my neck out for us and for Tower Hamlets’. You need to understand that we must respect and work with our democracy and not make wild claims that will damage good community relations and which do not respect the proper democratic will of voters. However, there are continuing widespread concerns, and, short of criminal sanctions, an election court is the only way to test these concerns and I welcome you and your fellow petitioners in making this challenge. I will do all that I can to ensure that the case is properly considered, including making statements, appearing as a witness as necessary, and working with your legal team, and I will do all that I can to ensure that it is, and to encourage others to support you.  I will do so in a way that is respectful of all the people of our borough.
There are two final points, which are that to succeed your petition must be supported by an adequate legal team, and that the partnership you seek with me and others needs to be a real one and not a maverick campaign, as it will otherwise fail. Your claims must be based on evidence which can be persuasive in an election court. You need therefore to use a serious legal team which inspires confidence and encourages others to come forwards, and you, working equally with your other three petitioners, must be open and clear with the people of Tower Hamlets, and respectful of all parts of our community, in making your claim. If you do these things, you will attract support and the likelihood that the truth  will be known.
John Biggs

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