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Posts Tagged ‘lutfur rahman’

Again, I’ve not yet had the dubious privilege of sitting in Court 38, a courtroom that even the Election Court judge Richard Mawrey QC himself has described as an “unofficial sauna” (there seems to be a problem with the heating system), so I can’t give a full flavour of events.

But I have read some of the transcripts from the proceedings.

Last week’s sittings seemed to be particularly testing. Records show Mawrey asked for Cllr Gulam Robbani to be excluded from the courtroom on Wednesday after he was accused by the petitioners’ barrister of intimidatory behaviour towards witnesses. Mawrey made no judgement on whether that was the case and stressed that the exclusion was no reflection on Lutfur Rahman.

The temperature between the two barristers, Duncan Penny QC for Lutfur and Francis Hoar for the petitioners, is also hotting up. During the mayor’s day in court on Friday, if that’s the right term to use, Penny complained to the judge that “these proceedings need to be taken control of, because what is going on at the moment is, in public, in very high profile proceedings, the most ridiculous conduct I have ever seen in a courtroom in 22 years on behalf of a member of the Bar.”

This complaint came after a long and detailed exchange between Hoar and Lutfur in which the genesis of the Tower Hamlets First party was explored. Part of the petitioners’ case is that the party was for all intents and purposes merely another embodiment of the mayor, so that acts which may have happened under its banner were linked directly to Lutfur.

Mawrey took a close interest in this exchange, which I’ll paste from the transcript below. He addressed a number of detailed questions to Lutfur about how involved he was in the party’s formation and what accounts and other records they kept. In short, Lutfur’s answer was that he delegated most of that to Cllr Alibor Choudhury. Lutfur said he was the leader but left the fine details to others.

Lutfur said the party was a “loose grouping” and that he hadn’t seen any party constitution, although he believed one existed. Further, Lutfur said the party didn’t have a bank account and that financing for things like election campaign materials was done through a system of donations in kind from supporters. Lutfur said the record keeping and accounts for these donations were kept properly at Alibor’s house, the party’s registered address.

As a result of the questioning on this matter, Mawrey agreed an urgent request from Hoar that these records and accounts be presented to the court by 10am tomorrow morning. Hoar indicated he’d want proof they hadn’t been “forged” over the weekend.

All strong stuff; Penny claimed these were “wild allegations”.

The excerpt below about the history of Tower Hamlets First, and how it was formed at a meeting in an unnamed councillor’s  house in late summer autumn 2013 I found particularly fascinating, not least because Lutfur’s then deputy mayor Cllr Ohid Ahmed wasn’t there. But that’s just political anorak stuff.

The full transcript of Lutfur’s first day in court is here. It’s long, and he may have two or three more days of this.

The excerpt about this Tower Hamlets First business is also long, but well worth a read.

(Notes on the text: The first Q you read is a question from Francis Hoar. The formatting is as per the transcript so it’s in line numbers. Those numbers are the first items in each row. Occasionally you’ll see a page number appear e.g. “[page 1881]”; that’s the start of a new page and a new batch of line numbers. The page is headed with a title of whoever the exchange is between, e.g. “Lutfur Rahman – Hoar”. After every four pages, you’ll see this:

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This is the imprint of the company making the transcript, which someone has sent me. I think residents should have access to these records.

Here’s the exchange.

Q. Of course. You say this: “During my first term as mayor

22 I took part in negotiations with senior Labour Party officials

23 with a view to possible re-admission to the party for me and

24 all councillors who had followed me. … (reads to the

25 words)… many local residents were interested in standing for

[Page 1881]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 election and ex-councillors”, and you discussed this with them

3 and you set up Tower Hamlets First as an umbrella group under

4 which all candidates could stand. You say: “Although

5 registered, it is not a political party in the formal sense.

6 It does not have any formal membership … (reads to the

7 words)… although we have a manifesto.” You registered the

8 party with the Electoral Commission on 18th September 2013,

9 did you not?

10 A. That is the date, yes.

11 Q. We have already discussed this, so you are well aware of the

12 obligations pursuant to the Political Parties, Elections And

13 Referendums Act 2000, are you not?

14 A. Yes, sir.

15 Q. You are the leader of the party and, therefore, many of those

16 responsibilities bear down to you ultimately, do they not?

17 A. It is a lose grouping of people with no constitution, no

18 membership. We never had any group meetings as such and, yes,

19 we had to satisfy the minimum requirement which needed a

20 leader and a treasurer. So, I was the nominal leader and

21 Councillor Alibor Choudhury was the treasurer of this grouping

22 of people.

23 Q. As the leader of the party you have particular

24 responsibilities, do you not?

25 A. Yes, I accept that.

[Page 1882]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 Q. Legally?

3 A. Yes.

4 Q. When you registered the party, you registered emblems, did you

5 not?

6 A. Yes, sir.

7 Q. And you registered slogans; yes?

8 A. I left the actual registration, I delegated the registration

9 responsibility to Councillor Choudhury. I believe an emblem

10 was also registered.

11 Q. Two emblems?

12 A. Two —-

13 Q. They might be very similar?

14 A. Okay, forgive me.

15 Q. Fair enough. You tried to do that, you cover your back even

16 when you are doing these kind of things. Donations, again the

17 responsibility for donations lies with Councillor Choudhury as

18 treasurer. Who is the nominating officer?

19 A. The agent for the grouping was Councillor Choudhury.

20 Q. So, he is the treasurer and nominating officer?

21 A. The agent of the grouping, yes.

22 Q. Under the Act who is the nominating officer, pursuant to the

23 Act?

24 A. I think it is the agent who is the nominating officer.

25 Q. You think it is the agent, so you think it is Councillor

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[23] (Pages 1883 to 1886)

[Page 1883]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 Choudhury?

3 A. It is Councillor Choudhury, he dealt with all the nominations.

4 THE COMMISSIONER: Just to remind you, Mr. Rahman, you have to

5 register a person as a party leader, a person as the party

6 nominating officer and a person as the party treasurer.

7 THE WITNESS: I believe it is, my Lord, Councillor Choudhury was

8 that officer.

9 Q. As both nominating officer and treasurer?

10 A. Yes.

11 THE COMMISSIONER: I see.

12 MR. HOAR: The PPERA is the Political Parties, Elections and

13 Referendums Act also requires you to control campaign

14 expenditure —-

15 THE COMMISSIONER: Can I just pursue this a moment. As

16 I understand it I appreciate you do not have schedule 4 of the

17 Act in front of you, that provides that if the same person is

18 named in two or more of those three offices you have got to

19 give the name and home address of some other specified officer

20 in the party. Were you aware of that and who else is given as

21 a specified officer of the party?

22 A. My Lord, I left, I delegated the responsibility for forming

23 the grouping, naming, obviously I was consulted on the name,

24 and the actual formalities to Councillor Choudhury.

25 MR. HOAR: So, if there is a mistake and his Lordship’s point and

[Page 1884]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 there is the name and address of somebody else, that is his

3 fault, is it?

4 THE WITNESS: Well, I do not know — when Councillor Choudhury

5 comes I am sure we can clarify. The Tower Hamlets First

6 grouping was accepted as a party and we were, Tower Hamlets

7 First were able to nominate councillors under its auspices and

8 the mayor. There was not a problem, so I believe the

9 formalities were complied with.

10 Q. You did not know what his Lordship just pointed out, did you,

11 until just now, you did not know that was the case?

12 A. No problems were brought to my attention when the groupings

13 were formed.

14 Q. Just to be clear, what your Lordship drew attention to was the

15 fact if there is one person named as nominating officer and

16 treasurer there needs to be another person’s name and address

17 registered. You did not know about that until his Lordship

18 brought that to your attention, did you?

19 A. Sure, I do not know all the exact specifics of what is

20 required —-

21 Q. No.

22 A. May I finish, please, Mr. Hoar. What is required to form a

23 party or a grouping. But what I do know, and I was informed

24 and I believe that is the case, that it was formed properly,

25 the formalities were complied with, hence we were able to use

[Page 1885]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 the emblem and the name going forward in the 2014 election.

3 Q. I do apologise by saying “no”, I did not mean to cut you off.

4 THE COMMISSIONER: Do you have a registered campaigners officer?

5 A. We do not have any registered campaigners as such. Although

6 Councillor Choudhury and Councillor (unclear) are my main two

7 campaign people.

8 MR. HOAR: Would you be aware that the nominating officer,

9 Councillor Choudhury, is responsible for giving written

10 authorisation for candidates to stand on behalf of the party.

11 A. Yes.

12 Q. And for submitting lists of election candidates where

13 proportional representation is used, that does not apply in

14 your case, so we will ignore that. As a treasurer he is the

15 officer with legal responsibility for ensuring the party

16 complies with its financial requirements and he would be the

17 officer to whom most of the correspondence from the Electoral

18 Commission was sent?

19 A. Yes, and he complied with those requirements.

20 Q. We will come back to that. There is, is there not, a great

21 potential for anyone setting up a political party to get some

22 things wrong, is there not?

23 A. I think in any circumstances we are humans, we can make

24 mistakes. However, in this, in setting up a grouping Tower

25 Hamlets First the fact that nominations were accepted, the

[Page 1886]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 emblems were accepted, we were able to go into election under

3 its name, I believe it was properly formulated.

4 Q. Just to be clear where I am going, I am not at the moment

5 suggesting that anything did go wrong, but there is a

6 potential and the reason I ask that is this. There is a

7 potential for things to go wrong and therefore it is important

8 that the decision to register a political party is very well

9 thought out and planned. Would you agree with that?

10 A. Yes, and we did form a grouping, Tower Hamlets First.

11 Q. Did you receive legal advice?

12 A. As I said, I delegated to Councillor Choudhury, if there were

13 any problems we would have brought it to my attention.

14 Q. You would know if you received legal advice or not, would you

15 not?

16 A. Not necessarily. I left it to — as I said, it was the

17 responsibility of Councillor Choudhury to form and to attend

18 to the formalities and he did attend to the formalities, the

19 party was registered and in order to do that what was

20 necessary he attended to it.

21 Q. I am sorry, Mr. Rahman, have I got this right? You would not

22 know whether or not Councillor Choudhury had received legal

23 advice about setting up a political party for which you were

24 going to be leader; is that your evidence?

25 A. I do not know if Councillor Choudhury obtained legal advice.

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[24] (Pages 1887 to 1890)

[Page 1887]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 What I would have known if there were any issues, if there

3 were any problems in registering that group, it would have

4 certainly are been brought to my attention.

5 Q. I am sorry.

6 THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Rahman, perhaps you can put some flesh on

7 the bones. Who took the decision that a political party would

8 be formed?

9 THE WITNESS: It was a number of councillors, I was there, my

10 Lord, and some supporters. It was not a public meeting, as

11 such, some of us took the decision when we could not be

12 re-admitted to the Labour Party.

13 Q. So, there was a meeting involving yourself and some

14 councillors and some supporters?

15 A. Sure, it was an formal meeting, my Lord. It was not a formal

16 meeting as such.

17 Q. Presumably you, as mayor, chaired it?

18 A. We were there, there was no chair. We had a discussion, it

19 was a discussion group and it was not a formal meeting that

20 required a chair and we decided —-

21 Q. Whose idea was it? Because obviously someone has to have the

22 idea in the first place before you can discuss it.

23 A. I think it was quite a few of us, because obviously — and

24 obviously I agreed with it, it was also my idea too, my Lord,

25 because people were approaching me, as I said in my statement,

[Page 1888]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 who wanted to stand on my track record, on our track record

3 and how well we were that if we did not have a name, we did

4 not have a banner, then there would so many independents who

5 would be claiming to be part of the mayor’s team and,

6 therefore, we said we would give it a name.

7 Q. Who thought up the name?

8 A. I think one of our councillors thought up the name.

9 Q. Not yourself?

10 A. No, my Lord.

11 MR. HOAR: Who?

12 THE WITNESS: I cannot remember.

13 Q. It is quite important. People spend hundreds of thousands of

14 pounds getting advice on branding. You know that, do you not?

15 A. We were not a sophisticated party in the traditional sense,

16 Mr. Hoar.

17 Q. Do you remember that logo for the London Olympics? Do you

18 remember how many hundreds of thousands were spent on that,

19 for example?

20 A. I do not know how much was spent but I know a lot of money was

21 spent.

22 Q. People spend fortunes because it is so important, do they not,

23 these kind of things, Tower Hamlets First or another sort of

24 name, they spend a lot of money on it, do they not?

25 A. We hardly spent any money. Our logo is a house, you can see

[Page 1889]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 it.

3 Q. It is an important decision, it is for a political party.

4 A. It is a very important decision. When we could not be

5 re-admitted to the Labour Party, we wanted a grouping of

6 people coming to together and clearly identified who they are

7 in terms of the election, that was it.

8 THE COMMISSIONER: If you want to form a political party there is

9 obviously a lot of paperwork to go through and you have to

10 find out what to do. As far as you can recall, who found out

11 what was to do and who did the paperwork.

12 THE WITNESS: Councillor Choudhury did — obviously he may have

13 sought help from a volunteer, someone may have helped him, but

14 he was the one who was tasked to go ahead and identify, find

15 out what the requirements are and attend to those

16 requirements.

17 Q. You must have signed at least one form as leader?

18 A. Yes, my name was used as the leader. My Lord, the name, it

19 was consensual when the name was branded around in that

20 discussion, more or less everyone said yes, Tower Hamlets

21 First because we wanted to concentrate on Tower Hamlets.

22 MR. HOAR: Do you remember you may or you may not take a bit of a

23 keen interest in politics.

24 THE WITNESS: A fair interest.

25 Q. Not just in Tower Hamlets, a bit more wider than —-

[Page 1890]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 A. I try to keep up with current affairs.

3 Q. You have campaigned, for example, Keith Vaz?

4 A. It was not Keith Vaz, it was Mr. Ashworth.

5 Q. Was it? And you are associated now with Mr. Galloway, to a

6 degree, are you not?

7 A. I know Mr. Galloway, I have never voted for him and I have

8 never supported him. I am associated with a number of

9 politicians. If you could call it association, know of them,

10 etcetera, but I have never been a member of Mr. Galloway’s

11 party nor have I voted for him.

12 Q. And you go to meetings around the country, do you not?

13 A. Not really. I have been to one or two meetings to other

14 places but I have been more occupied with Tower Hamlets, that

15 is my priority, that is my passion.

16 Q. You were once voted to be one of the top 50 most influential

17 figures on the left, were you not? Do you remember?

18 A. I do not know influential.

19 Q. In the country?

20 A. All I am interested in is Tower Hamlets.

21 Q. You therefore take a keen interest in politics nationally, do

22 you not?

23 A. I hardly do take an interest in what happens nationally.

24 Q. Do you remember, there was an election for leader of the

25 Scottish Conservative Party a couple of years ago? Do you

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[25] (Pages 1891 to 1894)

[Page 1891]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 remember that?

3 A. I cannot remember.

4 Q. Do you remember, one feature of the whole campaign was a

5 suggestion by one of the candidates Murdo Fraser, that the

6 name of the party should be changed. Do you remember that?

7 A. I cannot remember that.

8 Q. So, it was so important the naming of a political party that

9 it formed a important plank of a leadership election across

10 the whole of Scotland. Do you remember?

11 A. I do not recall that. I do not remember.

12 Q. Whether you remember that or not, you concede, do you not,

13 that naming a political party, especially at the outset, is

14 very important, do you not?

15 A. Tower Hamlets First, we placed the people of Tower Hamlets

16 First.

17 Q. Yet you cannot remember the name of the councillor who

18 suggested it?

19 A. When we had that discussion what name to be given, everyone

20 came up with more or less similar names. I cannot recall who

21 proposed it first.

22 Q. Where was this meeting?

23 A. Sorry?

24 Q. Where was the meeting?

25 A. It was one of our councillor’s houses.

[Page 1892]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 Q. In a house?

3 A. In a councillor’s house.

4 Q. Who went?

5 A. As I have said, a number of councillors and one or two

6 supporters.

7 Q. Who?

8 A. I cannot give you the exact names.

9 Q. Why not?

10 A. Councillor Rabbani, Councillor Aminur Khan.

11 Q. Let’s go through them slowly so we can all take a note,

12 Mr. Rahman. Councillor Rabbani?

13 A. Yes. Councillor Aminur Khan, Councillor Rabina Khan.

14 Q. His wife?

15 A. Yes, Councillor Oliur Rahman.

16 THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Choudhury?

17 THE WITNESS: Yes, Councillor Choudhury certainly he was there.

18 MR. HOAR: Kabir Ramis(?)?

19 THE WITNESS: No, he was there not.

20 Q. 0hid Ahmed?

21 A. No, he was not there.

22 Q. He was your deputy mayor at the time?

23 A. No, he was not there — sorry, he was my deputy mayor, but he

24 was not there. We informed — this was not a formal meeting

25 as such.

[Page 1893]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 Q. No.

3 A. We never had any formal meetings. I had a chat with him

4 afterwards and I informed him.

5 Q. Nothing is formal, is it, Mr. Mayor?

6 A. We were not a formal grouping.

7 THE COMMISSIONER: Were most of these councillors members of your

8 cabinet?

9 THE WITNESS: Yes, my Lord, apart from Councillor Aminur Khan who

10 was not a member of my cabinet then — sorry, nor was

11 Councillor Rabbani. So, Councillor Rabina Khan was my cabinet

12 member; Councillor Alibor Choudhury was; Councillor Oliur

13 Rahman was my cabinet member.

14 Q. Who took the decision that Mr. Alibor Choudhury would do the

15 paperwork?

16 A. He was very reluctant, all of us pushed it his way.

17 MR. HOAR: When was it, this meeting?

18 THE WITNESS: It was some time in the end of autumn of 2013.

19 Q. Autumn?

20 A. Yes.

21 Q. Towards the end of autumn?

22 A. When did we form the party, Mr. Hoar?

23 Q. Well, you tell me. I did not form the party.

24 THE COMMISSIONER: I think it was accepted, Mr. Hoar, that it was

25 registered in September of 2013.

[Page 1894]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 MR. HOAR: But the witness said towards the end of autumn.

3 THE WITNESS: I did not say end of autumn.

4 MR. HOAR: Was that a slip of the tongue.

5 A. No, Mr. Hoar, I do say —-

6 Q. Are you getting confused?

7 A. You said end of autumn, I said some time in autumn.

8 Q. Sorry.

9 A. So late summer and autumn.

10 Q. As his Lordship correctly points out, the party was registered

11 on 18th September, which technically is summer. (Laughter)

12 THE COMMISSIONER: That is not your best point, Mr. Hoar, by a

13 long way.

14 MR. HOAR: That really is the head of a pin. I am not picking up

15 on that. (To the witness) Anyway, it was in autumn, was it,

16 this meeting?

17 A. Late summer.

18 Q. Late summer/early autumn, but you cannot remember when

19 exactly. It is a pretty important meeting though, is it not?

20 A. I mean, you describe it as important, I do not know what you

21 mean by that. We waited until the last minute to be

22 re-admitted into the Labour Party. We were hoping that we

23 could be re-admitted into the Labour Party. We had to go —

24 could have all stayed independent, it would not have mattered

25 to us. The only reason why we formed and gave it the name,

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MARTEN WALSH CHERER LTD 1ST FLOOR, 6-9 QUALITY COURT, CHANCERY LANE LONDON, WC2A 1HP

[26] (Pages 1895 to 1898)

[Page 1895]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 formed a loose grouping so that a number of independents could

3 not, we knew who the independent was associated with us and

4 would stand with us rather than anyone coming along claiming,

5 “I am independent, I am Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s” —-

6 Q. I understand all that?

7 A. That is all.

8 Q. It made eminent sense. But, nevertheless, the decision to

9 register a political party was an important decision?

10 A. In that sense, it is important, yes.

11 Q. Yet you cannot remember specifically who was there, where it

12 was and when it was?

13 A. No, I am telling you —-

14 Q. You can remember where it was?

15 A. It was in a councillor’s house. There were a number of

16 councillors were there, not everyone was there. During a

17 discussion this came up and the councillors agreed and we

18 agreed that this is how we will move forward. If it was

19 something preplanned and organised in advance, then all the

20 councillors would have been invited.

21 Q. Did you think of taking a minute of the meeting?

22 A. I believe there was, as I said it was not a formal meeting, I

23 do not believe there was a minute but Councillor Choudhury

24 took some notes.

25 Q. So, there were notes some notes of this meeting?

[Page 1896]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 A. He took some notes on the back of a paper.

3 Q. On the back of an envelope?

4 A. I do not know what it was, paper.

5 Q. Has he still got the envelope?

6 A. I doubt he has got — the paper, I do not say envelope.

7 I doubt that he has it.

8 THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Rahman, perhaps you can help me on a couple

9 of matters. Can you recall who paid the fee for registration?

10 THE WITNESS: I did, my Lord.

11 Q. As I understand it, an application for registration must be

12 accompanied by a copy of the party’s constitution?

13 A. Sure.

14 Q. So, there is a constitution?

15 A. I do not believe there is a constitution, so I do not know how

16 they got over that. (Laughter)

17 MR. HOAR: There is no constitution?

18 THE WITNESS: There may be aims and objectives set out, I do not

19 believe there is a constitution.

20 Q. Are you —-

21 A. Can I finish, Mr. Hoar. A constitution as such in the

22 tradition of the Labour Party or the Conservative Party —-

23 Q. So, it is rather the English constitution of British

24 constitution latterly, it is an unwritten constitution, it is

25 made up of conventions and other documents; is that how it is?

[Page 1897]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 A. No, I am not saying that. All I am saying, in terms of a

3 written constitution that the major parties have, I do not

4 believe there is a constitution in that sense.

5 Q. So, you are in breach of the Political Parties —-

6 A. No, I am not saying we are in breach —-

7 Q. Well, you are.

8 A. —- I am sure Councillor Choudhury, when he comes here, can

9 give a perfect answer as to how the party was formed.

10 Q. But you do not believe there is a written constitution, do

11 you, that is what you have just said?

12 THE COMMISSIONER: You would presumably know, as the leader of

13 then party, if there was a written constitution.

14 A. There was not a constitution in the tradition sense, my Lord.

15 But in order to qualify —-

16 Q. In order to register you have to, theoretically at least, to

17 send with your application form a copy of the party’s

18 constitution, but you have never seen one?

19 A. I have not seen a constitution as such, but there may well be

20 a memorandum to support that application, there may well be

21 one in existence.

22 Q. Can I take this a little further. Also required by schedule 4

23 to the 2000 Act is this, the 2000 Act says, section 26: “A

24 party may not be registered unless it has adopted a scheme

25 which set outs the arrangement for regulating the financial

[Page 1898]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 affairs of the party for the purposes of the Act.” One of the

3 documents that you have to submit, together with the

4 constitution, is the draft of the scheme for regulating the

5 financial affairs of the party. Have you ever seen a draft

6 scheme for regulating the financial affairs of the party?

7 A. A number of documents, as I have said, Councillor Choudhury

8 attended to forming the grouping and the party. On its

9 application a number of documents were shown to me and

10 I believe I had to sign a piece of a paper. I do not know,

11 I cannot remember the exact documents. As I said, Councillor

12 Choudhury will be in a very good position to explain —-

13 MR. HOAR: Oh yes.

14 THE COMMISSIONER: As the leader of the party, presumably you

15 obviously would take some interest in the financial affairs of

16 the party.

17 A. Absolutely.

18 Q. But you are not aware of the draft scheme which the Act

19 requires?

20 A. I am not aware of the draft scheme as such. What I am aware

21 that declarations are made and returns are submitted on a

22 regular basis.

23 MR. HOAR: Mr. Rahman, it does sound rather like you did not get

24 legal advice about this, does it not? It really does sound

25 like you did not get any legal advice at all from what you are

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[Page 1899]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 saying?

3 THE WITNESS: I believe Councillor Choudhury would be the best

4 person to answer that question.

5 Q. You, as the leader, would not think it wise as a lawyer who

6 knows the limitations of our specialism to get legal advice

7 from an election law specialist about registering a political

8 party?

9 A. I delegated the responsibility and it is proper to delegate

10 responsibility.

11 Q. When you were a respondent to this petition you instructed one

12 of the three leading firms who were specialist in election

13 law, did you not?

14 A. Yes, Mr. Hoar.

15 Q. I may be unfair to them, they may even be in the top two, you

16 did that because of the importance and gravity of the election

17 petition, did you not?

18 A. I needed expert advice and we got expert advice.

19 Q. In addition to it being important to get expert advice about

20 an election petition, it is pretty important to get it about

21 registering a political party, is it not?

22 A. Mr. Choudhury may have got that advice, I do not know.

23 Q. Again, you are seriously asking this court to believe that if

24 Mr. Choudhury got legal advice you would not know about it?

25 A. As I said earlier on, if there were any problems I asked him

[Page 1900]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 to bring it to my attention. So, obviously there were not any

3 problems, otherwise he would have done so.

4 Q. For example, breaching the Act can be a criminal offence, can

5 it not?

6 A. It may well be.

7 Q. For example, there is a criminal penalty pursuant to section

8 47 for submitting improper accounts, is there not?

9 A. Accounts have been submitted.

10 Q. His Lordship has just drawn your attention to a part of the

11 Act that you had absolutely no knowledge about, has he not?

12 A. Councillor Choudhury, who formed the party, in whom I have

13 full confidence, my Lord, and no issues were brought to my

14 attention —-

15 THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Choudhury, I understand, is not legally

16 qualified. Am I correct?

17 A. No, he is not, my Lord.

18 MR. HOAR: You are, though, are you not?

19 A. Not in election law.

20 Q. And not in contractual law either.

21 A. I am not a contractual lawyer.

22 Q. No, which is why you think you might want to get a lawyer who

23 is experienced at least in drafting an incorporated

24 association’s constitution, would you not?

25 A. Mr. Choudhury formed the grouping. He attended to the

[Page 1901]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 formalities. We were able to go into the 2014 election with a

3 properly constituted grouping of Tower Hamlets First.

4 Q. A properly constituted grouping.

5 A. Of Tower Hamlets First. No issues were brought to my

6 attention so I can reasonably assume that there were no

7 problems.

8 Q. So you are a party whose leader does not know whether the

9 party has received legal advice, a party which does not have a

10 constitution, a party which is in breach of the Act for not

11 having a constitution and a party, frankly, whose leader — I

12 will stop there as it is going to be rude so I will not —

13 whose leader knows little, if anything, about the procedure

14 for registering political parties.

15 A. Mr. Hoar, that is not my expertise. We wanted to form a

16 party, a grouping, and we did so. Councillor Choudhury had

17 the responsibility to attend to those matters and he kindly

18 did. We went into the 2014 Mayoral and Council election under

19 the umbrella of Tower Hamlets First.

20 THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Rahman, help me on the question of

21 constitution. One would expect the constitution of a

22 political party to contain rules for the admission of people

23 to the political party. I imagine you would be familiar with

24 that from your days in the Labour Party.

25 A. Sure.

[Page 1902]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 Q. What I cannot understand is what was your mechanism for

3 admitting people to Tower Hamlets First as a party if you do

4 not have a constitution?

5 A. Sure. I am not saying there is not a original document, my

6 Lord, setting out its aims and objectives and terms of conduct

7 etc. It is not a constitution in the traditional sense as the

8 Labour Party or the Conservative Party or the Lib Dem Party

9 has because we are not a party in the traditional sense. We

10 do not have a membership. Our members are the councillors and

11 the candidates who stood on the platform of Tower Hamlets

12 First.

13 Q. If someone came to you and said, “Mr. Rahman, I would like to

14 stand as a candidate for your party”, are there rules in

15 existence which would govern whether you admitted that person

16 or not or would you simply yourself decide whether or not he

17 was going to be a candidate?

18 A. No, clearly there was a pack, my Lord, and Mr. Choudhury, as

19 an agent, went through that pack which has the protocol of the

20 Electoral Commission guidance and some basic norms about what

21 is required to be a candidate. The process was this.

22 Potential candidates approached me at the first instance and I

23 asked some basic question. We did not have a traditional

24 machinery as such. As I said, it was a grouping of people.

25 We asked some basic questions as to what qualifies them to be

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[Page 1903]

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2 a candidate. Those people were then passed on to Councillor

3 Choudhury, who went through the formalities. There was a pack

4 that was in existence.

5 Q. So in effect Councillor Choudhury chooses the candidates.

6 A. I did the initial vetting, my Lord, and the candidates were

7 passed on to Councillor Choudhury to go through the

8 formalities before they could be nominated as our candidate.

9 MR. HOAR: I want to explore that more, if I may, but can I just

10 ask you about membership, please. How do you join Tower

11 Hamlets First?

12 A. We do not have a membership, a formal membership as such.

13 Q. Really?

14 A. No.

15 Q. So why do you say at paragraph 66 on page 17 of your witness

16 statement: “Whilst not a strictly organised party, Tower

17 Hamlets First is certainly distinguishable from me and it

18 would be an insult to its members to assume that they joined

19 simply to support me” so how do you join?

20 A. Councillors.

21 Q. No.

22 A. Councillors.

23 Q. You said “members” —-

24 A. What I want to —-

25 Q. Do you want to correct that?

[Page 1904]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 A. Let me correct that, Mr. Hoar.

3 Q. You want to correct paragraph 66, do you?

4 A. Can I just say what I meant by that is that we do not have a

5 formal membership, Mr. Hoar. We do not have members as such

6 per se. Our members, the members of Tower Hamlets First are

7 its councillors and the candidates who stood for councillors

8 who did not make it through. That is all it is.

9 Q. So no subscription, no membership card, no statement of values

10 like the Labour Party, no constitution, no membership list,

11 you do not know how many members you have, there are no

12 disciplinary proceedings, there is nothing, is there? There

13 is nothing to it.

14 A. I would not accept that.

15 Q. It does not even comply with the minimum requirements of the

16 Act.

17 A. I am sure it complied and therefore it formed a grouping. It

18 formed a party to go into the 2014 election.

19 MR. HOAR: I think you have just discovered that it does not. Can

20 I take you, please, to the Labour Party rule book in relation

21 to candidate selection for local government, please, after his

22 Lordship has asked some questions.

23 THE COMMISSIONER: You say that you are unaware of the scheme for

24 running the financial affairs of the party, which appears to

25 be an obligatory document, but that is something on which

[Page 1905]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 Councillor Choudhury may help us. How are the financial

3 affairs regulated?

4 A. My Lord, I believe it would be incorrect if I said I did not

5 know of its financial obligations. Of course I know of its

6 financial obligations.

7 Q. No, its financial arrangements.

8 A. I was required to sign some documents when the grouping was

9 formed and I do know, and I do ask, that regulatory returns

10 are submitted and declarations are made about the financial

11 affairs of the grouping, of the party.

12 Q. But returns of what? How does money come in and how does

13 money go out?

14 A. Donations, my Lord, donations, expenditure. We have to submit

15 a return to Companies House and to the Electoral Commission,

16 the relevant authorities, on a regular basis. Those are

17 submitted.

18 Q. I follow that, but how are the financial affairs arranged?

19 That is something that, at the moment, I am a bit baffled

20 about. Presumably you have a bank account.

21 A. We do not have a bank account. (Laughter) We are not a party

22 in that sense. People will make commitments, my Lord, and the

23 money will be spent.

24 THE COMMISSIONER: For example, if someone comes to you,

25 Mr. Rahman, and says, “I think you are doing a great job. I

[Page 1906]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 want to put £10,000 into your campaign.” You would not

3 presumably expect them to produce a pile of non-consecutive

4 fifties. How is it physically paid?

5 MR. HOAR: Or maybe you would.

6 MR. PENNY: No, sorry, that, I am afraid, is exactly what is going

7 on in this court at the moment. It is the pursuit of a

8 vendetta.

9 MR. HOAR: Really?

10 MR. PENNY: Including comments along those lines. That is quite

11 inappropriate in the public sphere.

12 THE COMMISSIONER: Your protest is noted.

13 A. My Lord, can I explain?

14 Q. Yes, I would like you to explain. I am interested to know the

15 mechanics of it.

16 A. My Lord, we do not have a bank account because we do not have

17 so much money coming into us. For this leaflet, for example,

18 we would not know if this leaflet would cost X amount; yes? A

19 volunteer would ask me, “Look, this would cost this amount and

20 the payments will be made by me to go to the printers or by

21 someone else —-

22 MR. HOAR: The trouble is, Mr. Rahman —-

23 THE COMMISSIONER: Let Mr. Rahman finish.

24 A. If someone decides to support us, my Lord, we would not ask

25 for the money to be given to us. We would say, “Please pay on

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[Page 1907]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 our behalf to the printers” so they would make the

3 disbursements on our behalf.

4 Q. How is that then logged?

5 A. We would know. We would write the name of the donor’s name —

6 Mr. Choudhury will explain that when he comes in — or the

7 person who has paid the money directly. The details will be

8 noted and the amount will be noted. The amount will be

9 declared at the appropriate stage, my Lord.

10 Q. So there would somewhere be an account book of some kind in

11 which the donations would be noted.

12 A. Yes, my Lord.

13 Q. And the expenditure that is made, for example, on the leaflet.

14 A. Yes.

15 MR. HOAR: So, Mr. Rahman, in that case, you will not have any

16 problem at all bringing that book on Monday morning, will you?

17 A. Mr. Choudhury will explain and will produce whatever —-

18 Q. No, Mr. Rahman, I am saying to the court that I am quite happy

19 for you to ask Mr. Choudhury whether he can provide that to

20 you over the weekend and if he can, you will be quite prepared

21 to bring it to the court on Monday morning, will you not?

22 A. You have said what you have said. I will need to speak to Mr.

23 Choudhury, Councillor Choudhury.

24 Q. I look forward to seeing it.

25 A. He is the one who deals with the financial affairs and I am

[Page 1908]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 sure he can explain.

3 Q. Good.

4 A. And the process is that, my Lord.

5 MR. HOAR: Because the problem with your —-

6 MR. PENNY: My Lord, I would like to make some submissions,

7 please.

8 MR. HOAR: That is fine.

9 MR. PENNY: I would like to make some submissions.

10 THE COMMISSIONER: In the absence of the witness or not?

11 MR. PENNY: The witness is entitled to be present. I am content

12 for the witness to be removed whilst I make the submissions.

13 THE COMMISSIONER: No, if you are happy, he can stay there.

14 MR. PENNY: I want to invite my learned friend to cease making

15 statements or expressions of personal opinion. I would like

16 him to act as an advocate and an advocate who asks questions.

17 MR. HOAR: That is a completely inappropriate objection, if I may

18 say so, my Lord. I am doing nothing but asking questions and

19 putting propositions to a witness. It is a ludicrous

20 objection, if I may say so.

21 THE COMMISSIONER: As with jokes, it is the way he asks them. I

22 think Mr. Penny does take the point that occasionally your

23 questions do stray —-

24 MR. HOAR: I apologise for that.

25 THE COMMISSIONER: —- into the area of —-

[Page 1909]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 MR. PENNY: Melodrama.

3 MR. HOAR: They are not comments though. They are propositions to

4 be put to the witness and that is entirely proper, of course.

5 Can I take you back, Mr. Rahman, to the issue of donations.

6 What you have said is that you have no bank account; yes?

7 A. Yes.

8 Q. Therefore, there is no one record of the donations that your

9 political party will receive, is there?

10 A. There are records, Mr. Hoar, there are records.

11 Q. But the records will be sporadic records of donations and

12 payments to different organisations rather than one bank

13 account, will they not?

14 A. “Sporadic” is your word. There are records. There is a

15 system in place which clearly shows what bills have been paid

16 and how they have been paid.

17 Q. But that record is entirely a matter for Councillor Choudhury.

18 How he puts that together is crucial, is it not?

19 A. It is a proper record and proper declarations are made to the

20 appropriate authorities.

21 Q. So the risk for Councillor Choudhury is that if somebody says,

22 “Councillor Choudhury, I do not believe you are taking an

23 accurate record”, he has got no way of saying, “No, it is all

24 going into this bank account”, has he?

25 A. Money does not come — that is why we do not have a bank

[Page 1910]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 account. Money is expenditure on money that is spent,

3 incurred costs, costs incurred and the donor will pay for

4 money spent directly.

5 Q. We have to take it on trust from Councillor Choudhury that he

6 is keeping an accurate record, do we not?

7 A. Councillor Choudhury keeps records and we have full confidence

8 in him in keeping records.

9 Q. We have to keep it entirely on his trust, do we not?

10 A. And —-

11 THE COMMISSIONER: Where are the records kept?

12 A. Councillor Choudhury keeps those.

13 Q. At home?

14 A. Yes, his home is the registered address.

15 Q. His home is the registered address of the party.

16 A. Yes, my Lord.

17 Q. So if any suggestion was made that he was not keeping an

18 accurate record, it would just be his word against somebody

19 else’s, would it not?

20 A. I am sure it could be cross-referenced.

21 Q. How?

22 A. Ask Councillor Choudhury when he comes in.

23 Q. You do not think that as leader, you ought to perhaps keep a

24 closer eye on these sorts of things, Mr. Rahman?

25 A. I do. I have full confidence in Councillor Choudhury.

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[Page 1911]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 Q. Do you?

3 A. He is the Council’s Cabinet member for resources and finance.

4 He has done a good job for the last five years.

5 Q. But you have just heard from his Lordship that, unbeknownst to

6 you, he has breached the Act by not having a constitution.

7 A. Well, let us —-

8 THE COMMISSIONER: No, Mr. Hoar, that is not entirely fair. What

9 the witness says is if there is a constitution, he has no idea

10 where it is or what it is or even of its existence. There may

11 be, in Mr. Choudhury’s home, a copy of the constitution, which

12 at some stage I shall be shown. All Mr. Rahman says is, “If

13 there is, I have not got one and I have not seen it.”

14 MR. HOAR: You are much more of a Tory than a Whig, are you not?

15 You like your unwritten constitutions, do you not, Mr. Rahman?

16 THE COMMISSIONER: I think that is fighting talk with a gentleman

17 of the Left.

18 MR. HOAR: I know. I apologise for the comment. Anyway, can you

19 please turn to this document, Appendix 4, “NEC procedures for

20 the selection of local government candidates”. I am just

21 going to take you, if I may, to the start. These are

22 procedural rules. This is the 2013 rule book so it may have

23 changed a little since your time in the Labour Party.

24 THE COMMISSIONER: Can I just pursue something if I may.

25 Mr. Rahman, were you in court when a Mr. Dawber gave evidence?

[Page 1912]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 A. For part of it, my Lord.

3 Q. This was a dinner that was held at Island Gardens. Mr. Dawber

4 told us that this was a political donation of the kind that

5 his company makes pretty well across the board.

6 A. Yes.

7 Q. He expressed that they had done the figures and they had

8 worked out exactly how much it was. I cannot remember, but it

9 was something like £45,000. I will be reminded by Mr. Penny,

10 I am sure. As that is a political donation in this case to

11 your party, Tower Hamlets First, what would the mechanism be

12 for the party to record that donation?

13 A. Sure. Councillor Choudhury, in that instance, recorded the

14 value of the donation in terms of the meals, in terms of the

15 hall and the other materials that was attributed to Canary

16 Wharf, my Lord, and that, together with other expenditure,

17 other donations, was declared to the appropriate authorities.

18 There is a proper procedure in place where he records those

19 kinds of transactions. That is an example of where we did not

20 need an account, we do not need an account, my Lord, where

21 money was paid directly from the donor to the provider of the

22 service.

23 Q. These are reasonably substantial sums, of course. This is not

24 a few pounds on a leaflet. This is many thousands of pounds.

25 A. No, absolutely. This is the biggest sum as such that we

[Page 1913]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 received from someone who helped us.

3 Q. As I understand it, Mr. Rahman, what you are saying is that we

4 would be better off asking Mr. Choudhury about all this.

5 A. Yes. That is exactly how it happened.

6 MR. HOAR: Can I take you, please, to your file V, page 1390. Do

7 you have that?

8 A. Yes.

9 Q. Before I get to that, it is right, is it not, that as a party

10 you need a brand; yes?

11 A. Yes, something to recognise it by.

12 THE COMMISSIONER: By a brand, do you mean a logo?

13 MR. HOAR: I mean it in the most loose sense, incredibly loose,

14 rather like THF. I am sorry about that.

15 MR. PENNY: You do it all the time. I do not why you are

16 apologising.

17 MR. HOAR: At page 1390, the brand is this, “Mayor Lutfur Rahman

18 transforming Tower Hamlets three years on”; yes?

19 A. That was the logo, that was the brand, that was the signage we

20 used for this booklet.

21 Q. Page 2, “Three years on”. Turn the page. There is a very

22 nice picture of you, Mr. Rahman. It is a very nicely produced

23 document, is it not? Just flipping through it, it is

24 incredibly impressive. It is very, very nicely set out with

25 lovely pictures, with extremely catchy slogans, the kind of

[Page 1914]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 thing that would prompt anyone to vote for you, is it not?

3 You like it. Presumably you do like it because you used it.

4 A. It is about giving the message of what we had delivered, what

5 we had done as an administration for the last three years, the

6 preceding three years.

7 Q. Page 2 is a nice picture of you and a quote from Mayor Rahman.

8 Page 3 — page 4 and 5 on the original document — “Executive

9 Mayor’s foreword” with another picture of you and a quote.

10 Pages 6 and 7 show a nice picture of you and housing and

11 regeneration with a quote, not from you on that occasion.

12 Page 8 is a nice picture of you with a girl at a school and

13 then a nice picture of you with a police officer at page 9.

14 Then we go on to page 10. There are two pictures of you and a

15 picture of you at page 11. You are in the background on page

16 12, but you are in the foreground on page 13. There is a

17 small picture of you on pages 14, 15, 16, 17, 19 on the

18 timetable, 22 all over the place and your name at the end;

19 yes?

20 A. Yes.

21 Q. But it is not about you.

22 A. It is about me, my administration, what we have done during

23 the last three years. With the booklet, the money was paid

24 for by me.

25 Q. By you. You paid for it?

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[Page 1915]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 A. Not the Council. It was not Council resources. It was our

3 resources.

4 Q. I am not suggesting it was. Who paid for that brochure? Who

5 paid for it?

6 A. Well, clearly I paid for it, we paid for it. I do not know

7 whether it was a donation or whether it went from my

8 resources.

9 Q. You cannot remember.

10 A. I can go back and find out.

11 Q. But Councillor Choudhury has got good records of this.

12 A. Yes, absolutely.

13 Q. And he will be able to give it to you over the weekend?

14 A. We know exactly how much was spent on producing this booklet

15 and the number of booklets —-

16 Q. He will be able to give it to you over the weekend, will he

17 not?

18 A. When he comes in, you can ask him. I am sure he will provide

19 it to you.

20 Q. No, he will be able to give it to you over the weekend.

21 A. He can give the information.

22 Q. To you so that you can bring it to court on Monday morning.

23 If Councillor Choudhury has good records, they must be easily

24 to hand, must they not, Mr. Rahman; yes?

25 A. (No response)

[Page 1916]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 Q. If Councillor Choudhury has good records that are in keeping

3 with the Electoral Commission’s rules and the law, he will

4 find it very easy to get a copy.

5 A. Councillor Choudhury keeps the records. He has the receipts

6 and he has got the records.

7 Q. It is up to you. You can bring it on Monday or not, as you

8 wish. You say this in your witness statement at R17. It is

9 paragraph 66: “Whilst not a strictly organised party, Tower

10 Hamlets First is certainly distinguishable from me and it

11 would be an insult to its members to assume that they joined

12 simply to support me. They agree with me and accept my

13 leadership because my record aligns with their values.”

14 Then you say, “Tower Hamlets First would be perfectly

15 capable of existing without my presence.” Can I take you,

16 please, to the regulated entry profile of your political

17 party, Tower Hamlets First, with the Electoral Commission? It

18 is a document you must be familiar with bearing in mind you

19 are the leader of that political party. (Same handed)

20 Can I ask you to look at right at the bottom. These are

21 the slogans that you have registered for your political party:

22 “Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s team”; “Lutfur Rahman’s team”; “Lutfur

23 Rahman’s progressive alliance”; “the Mayor’s team”; “Mayor

24 Lutfur Rahman’s independents”; “Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s

25 community alliance”; “East End independents”; “Tower Hamlets

[Page 1917]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 First”; “putting Tower Hamlets first”; “Lutfur Rahman, Tower

3 Hamlets First”; “Lutfur Rahman, putting Tower Hamlets First”.

4 How many of those refer to you?

5 A. Quite a few.

6 Q. Can you count? I asked how many.

7 A. I said quite a few.

8 Q. Eight out of eleven. Eight of eleven of your slogans have

9 your name on them. The first of them talks about your team,

10 does it not? They use your title, “the Mayor”, which you

11 like, do you not? You like your title, do you not? Your

12 civil servants call you “the Mayor” all the time.

13 A. I have no comment. They also call me Lutfur.

14 Q. Your face and your quotes appear all over that document that

15 we have just seen, do they not?

16 A. We chose the name of the grouping, Tower Hamlets First. We

17 may have given it a number of descriptions but, at the end of

18 the day, the description we gave was Tower Hamlets First,

19 Mr. Hoar.

20 Q. Can you please turn to R43.21, Mr. Rahman, in the same file,

21 file R, with your witness statement?

22 A. Which paragraph?

23 Q. 43.21. It is paragraph 100: “I have read the second statement

24 of Ahmed Hussain ….” and then it goes on into other matters

25 which need not concern us. “In respect of paragraph 35, there

[Page 1918]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 is no condition attached to grants requiring plaques to be put

3 up saying that the plaque project was opened by the Mayor.

4 This is just custom and practice for all projects under my

5 administration.” You wrote that just weeks ago, did you not,

6 in January; yes? Did you not?

7 A. Yes.

8 Q. It is your witness statement.

9 A. Yes.

10 Q. “No requirement, just custom and practice”. Those are paid

11 for by the taxpayer, are they not?

12 A. It is usual for leaders of the counsel, whether the current

13 leadership or previous leadership, if you go around Tower

14 Hamlets, you will see where the leaders have opened

15 initiatives, where the leader’s name has gone on plaques to

16 acknowledge that. It is usual. I can assure you that I am

17 not the first one. It has happened under the leadership of my

18 predecessors, Councillor Denise Jones, Michael Keith and

19 Councillor Abbas. There is signage — you may call it plaques

20 — to acknowledge that.

21 Q. So, to take one example at random, Councillor Abbas would have

22 “Leader, Councillor Abbas” all over Council documents, would

23 he?

24 A. Councillor Abbas has opened new housing where a plaque or

25 plaques have been installed. He is the leader of the Council,

ERLAM & OTHERS v RAHMAN & WILLIAMS 20 FEBRUARY 2015 PROCEEDINGS DAY 14

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1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 Councillor Abbas.

3 Q. And the brand of the Council would be “Leader, Councillor

4 Abbas”, would it?

5 A. Sorry, you are talking about the branding of the Council? We

6 are in a different area. We are in the Mayoralty. The change

7 in governance, people need to know. It was not a leader of a

8 cabinet system. It was a mayoralty system. The decisions had

9 to be taken by the Mayor and the Mayor was responsible for

10 those decisions. Therefore, it was only proper, given a need

11 to know and understand the mayoralty. The Mayor was

12 accountable to them. The leader was not accountable to the

13 electorate, to the people of the Borough, apart from his or

14 her ward. Here, we have a Mayor who is responsible to the

15 entire population of Tower Hamlets.

16 MR. HOAR: Could you turn to file G, please, Mr. Rahman?

17 THE COMMISSIONER: Are we turning to another matter?

18 MR. HOAR: No, but it would be a convenient moment.

19 THE COMMISSIONER: I think possibly that we can all go and cool

20 off for ten minutes from this unofficial sauna and reconvene

21 at twenty-minutes past three.

22 (A short break)

23 MR. HOAR: Mr. Rahman is entitled to be present, because he is a

24 party, of course, and I am going to make the application that

25 I make now in public. I apply for immediate (or as soon as

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1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 possible, not later than 9 p.m. tonight) disclosure, pursuant

3 to 31.19, of the accounts of this political party; and the

4 disclosure should be to the High Court, I think. There is a

5 real concern that if we leave it any later than this,

6 documents could be manufactured; and there is evidence that

7 documents have already been manufactured in this case. You

8 saw it yesterday, my Lord. So, I ask that you make that order

9 now, whether by witness summons or otherwise.

10 THE COMMISSIONER: Yes. Sorry, what was the —-

11 MR. HOAR: Well —-

12 THE COMMISSIONER: 39 —-

13 MR. HOAR: 31.19, I think, is disclosure, third party disclosure.

14 THE COMMISSIONER: So, who would be required to —-

15 MR. HOAR: Alibor Choudhary is said to have this.

16 THE COMMISSIONER: Yes. Even were I with you, there would be

17 nobody in the High Court at 9 o’clock on a Friday evening,

18 that is for sure; and certainly not me.

19 MR. HOAR: The problem is, if we leave it over the weekend, we

20 will have absolutely no way of knowing whether it has been

21 manufactured.

22 THE COMMISSIONER: I follow that. But were such an event to take

23 place — which there seems at the moment, on the evidence

24 I have, no assumption to be made on the matter — then would

25 that not —-

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1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 MR. HOAR: Yes, it would. I follow your Lordship’s thinking.

3 THE COMMISSIONER: On the other hand, I think that it would be

4 desirable, given Mr. Rahman’s evidence with regard to the

5 position of Mr. Choudhury as his agent and as the Treasurer of

6 the party, if the accounting records of the party were brought

7 to court by somebody for start of business on Monday. I would

8 also quite like to see (if such exists) whatever document was

9 sent to the Electoral Commission as being the party’s

10 constitution and whatever document was sent to the Electoral

11 Commission as being the draft of the scheme for the management

12 of the affairs under section 26.

13 MR. PENNY: Surely, the Electoral Commission is the correct party

14 to whom this ought to be directed. If you are going to stand,

15 as my learned friend is, and make a wild allegation in

16 public — and it is not the first one, let’s face it — then

17 why do you not go to the Government body that regulates the

18 elections, instead of —-

19 THE COMMISSIONER: No.

20 MR. HOAR: Not the accounts.

21 THE COMMISSIONER: I think, Mr. Penny, that the primary source of

22 the constitution and the statement of its financial affairs,

23 the primary source for that must be the company itself — in

24 this case, the political party itself.

25 MR. PENNY: Shall I read you what the Electoral Commission

[Page 1922]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 published about this?

3 THE COMMISSIONER: I am simply going on Schedule 4 to the 2000

4 Act. If these documents exist, they should be in the

5 possession of the political party. If they are in the

6 possession of the political party, there is no reason why the

7 gentleman who has been mentioned should not produce them here

8 at 10 o’clock on Monday morning.

9 MR. PENNY: I am sure that is right. But you might, actually,

10 like to read what is actually published by the body that is

11 responsible for the regulation of this — because I do not

12 know that anybody has in this courtroom.

13 THE COMMISSIONER: At the end of the day, I go on the Statute

14 rather than on what the Electoral Commission publish.

15 MR. PENNY: You are a High Court judge, or you are a Deputy

16 High Court judge. But there we are.

17 THE COMMISSIONER: So, my source is the Statute.

18 MR. PENNY: Yes, of course.

19 MR. HOAR: My Lord, I still have a concern, which is this. It is

20 all very well to say that were it to be presented on Monday

21 and to be forged, that would be a great point for us. It is

22 actually a point which I follow entirely. However, how on

23 earth are we going to find out? Are we sending it to

24 Mr. Radley for a documentary analysis?

25 THE COMMISSIONER: No. Simply, at the moment, it is going to be

ERLAM & OTHERS v RAHMAN & WILLIAMS 20 FEBRUARY 2015 PROCEEDINGS DAY 14

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1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 produced in court by somebody at 10 o’clock on Monday morning.

3 If the documents do exist, we can look at them, and if they do

4 not exist, then somebody at some stage will probably provide

5 an explanation for us.

6 MR. HOAR: We can look at the documents that purport to be the

7 documents referred to.

8 THE COMMISSIONER: Whatever documents are produced, we will look

9 at; and if none are produced, we will not.

10 MR. PENNY: Can I just raise a matter —-

11 MR. HOAR: Just to be absolutely clear, it is not a wild

12 allegation.

13 THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Hoar, Mr. Penny has an application.

14 MR. PENNY: These proceedings need to be taken control of, because

15 what is going on at the moment is, in public, in very high

16 profile proceedings, the most ridiculous conduct I have ever

17 seen in a courtroom in 22 years on behalf of a member of the

18 Bar; and it is happening in a case where, as you know, the

19 oxygen of publicity will be feeding this on to the wires.

20 Your Lordship, as well as having the obligation of making the

21 fact-sensitive decision in this case, as you do, has a

22 responsibility to the public to ensure that conduct which is

23 appropriate to proceedings of this nature is observed; and

24 that, in my submission, is not happening at the moment.

25 MR. HOAR: I do not accept any of that, my Lord. I suggest that

[Page 1924]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 my learned friend withdraw that comment.

3 THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Hoar, at the moment, I work on the

4 principle that if you ask a question that is improper, I shall

5 stop you. If Mr. Penny objects to a question, and he is

6 right, I shall stop you. But you conduct your

7 cross-examination, as Mr. Penny conducted his, as you consider

8 fit.

9 MR. HOAR: I note that there will —-

10 THE COMMISSIONER: It is right to say that the issues that have

11 been ventilated in cross-examination, namely, the structure of

12 Tower Hamlets First, that issue does appear to me to be

13 relevant to an issue raised in the petition, namely, the issue

14 — which is clearly on the petition and is argued both ways by

15 both sides — as to whether and to what extent the party is or

16 is not, as it were, an emanation of the Mayor.

17 MR. HOAR: Indeed.

18 THE COMMISSIONER: That is an issue in the case. Mr. Penny has

19 addressed it from one side, you are addressing it from the

20 other. But it seems to me that that is something that may

21 legitimately be explored in cross-examination of Mr. —-

22 MR. HOAR: May I say —-

23 MR. PENNY: Your Lordship will have noted that I did not

24 suggest —-

25 MR. HOAR: May I say, before my learned friend —-

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1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 MR. PENNY: —- I did not suggest otherwise. I am talking about

3 the nature of the proceedings. I am not talking about the

4 content of the questions; and nor am I talking about the

5 content of the questions that your Lordship has asked. I am

6 talking about the nature of these proceedings and the conduct

7 that is going on.

8 MR. HOAR: My Lord, if my learned friend had objections, perhaps

9 he should have put them. I do submit that is — in any event,

10 there we are.

11 THE COMMISSIONER: More questions, fewer comments, Mr. Hoar,

12 I think is the —-

13 MR. HOAR: Well, Mr. Rahman cannot cope with that.

14 THE COMMISSIONER: Well, that is a comment that should not have

15 been made, Mr. Hoar.

16 MR. PENNY: QED.

17 THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Hoar, do not engage in the aside. Not

18 simply does it annoy Mr. Penny, but it also does not help me.

Read Full Post »

While most eyes are naturally on the Election Court hearing the sometimes idiosyncratic business of Tower Hamlets council carries on.

On February 4, Lutfur Rahman’s cabinet met to discuss the question that has been a battle cry among some for almost a decade – a cemetery for Tower Hamlets.

As with most if not all inner London boroughs, there isn’t one. After plans to reopen Mile End’s deconsecrated Tower Hamlets Cemetery as a multi faith burial ground were roundly squashed in 2007, this issue has been a hardy election and petition perennial.

Respect pushed it particularly hard when they were a force under their own name and it has been something that Lutfur, aware of a grassroots demand, has been trying to deliver since he became mayor in 2010.

The obvious problem is that in inner London there is no space. Council officers have been trying to find solutions for years.

I last wrote about it here in 2013 when I reported that Lutfur had authorised a budget of £3m to find somewhere north east of the borough and “within the M25”.

Almost two years on, we learn from the report presented to cabinet this month that these efforts have come to nothing. Their attempts at doing a deal have collapsed after worries about the vendor’s ability to deliver planning permission.

It means that an unspecified amount has been wasted on legal fees, according to the cabinet paper.

But fear not, we’re told in councilspeak, because these costs will be recouped by savings they think they’re going to make on a deal with another cemetery they’ve located.

That cabinet paper notes the council is under no legal obligation to provide a burial site. It also says that under current arrangements, the council provides a £225 subsidy to families wanting to bury their loved ones – mainly at the City of London and Woodgrange Park cemeteries in Manor Park, and the Muslim Gardens of Peace cemetery in Hainault.

Burial plots aren’t cheap. A new private grave at City of London can cost £2,200 plus service fees; at Gardens of Peace, the charge is more like £2,700.

The demand for council subsidies and/or a longer term solution is understandable in somewhere like Tower Hamlets.

So it would be interesting to know how many people would agree with the proposals agreed at cabinet.

What proposals, you ask. Well, if you were to examine the cabinet report you wouldn’t know. The council hid the details in part 2 of its agenda, the “pink papers” section of the meeting that excludes the press and public on the grounds of apparent “commercial confidentiality”.

Perhaps you can be the judge of the merits of that. Here are those leaked pink papers:

And here’s my summary.

The cabinet has agreed to buy three acres of land at Kemnall Park Cemetery in Chislehurt, in the borough of Bromley…for £3m. The report states this is enough land for 3,000 burial plots, which they reckon will be filled within 15 years (at 200 plots a year).

Kemnal Park is an existing private cemetery, just off the A20.

Screen Shot

The council reckons it would take about 25minutes for people in Tower Hamlets to drive there. That may be so for the zombies of Mulberry Place, but as the more alert well know the travel time back northbound through the Blackwall Tunnel is usually far longer.

At 4.30pm this afternoon the journey time from Whitechapel, according to Google maps was about 40minutes.

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 16.36.48

Anyhow, I’m not sure that’s the main issue (and there’s perhaps a wider one about maintaining links to east London. Manor Park and Hainault certainly do that).

Here are the finances.

As well as the £3m capital cost, there seems to have been something of a disagreement between officers and Lutfur on ongoing annual revenue expenditure.

Officers wanted to recoup this £3m by making an annual profit from the selling of graves. Under the officers’ proposal, the council would commit to buying 200 plots each year over 15 years at a cost of £1,000 each.

Officers calculated that if they then charged residents £2,237 for each burial fee, the cost to the taxpayer over 15 years would then be zero.

However, paragraph 7.7 of the leaked report reveals that Lutfur wanted to charge just £650 per burial, citing Waltham Forest council’s policy as an example. According to officers’ calculations, running at a loss in that way would mean an extra ongoing cost to the taxpayer of £70,000 a year.

Adjusted for inflation over the 15 year term, that would be an average of £83k per annum. In total, the capital and revenue costs together would be £3.8m.

Is that vale for money?

Is this something money should be spent on? What is the opportunity cost, what else could/should this be spent on?

What do you think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The trial continues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22          and a number of his colleagues, including Councillor

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

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

25          election in return for guarantees of positions of influence in

                                          320

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

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

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

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

     5          place, but there were two such meetings.

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

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

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

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

    10          2013.  He was the Mayor in 2013.

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

    12          am four years out.

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

    14          elected.

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

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

    17      A.  Well —-

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

    19      A.  Yes, I apologise.

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

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

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

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

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

    25          concerned, did you draft it all yourself?

                                             321

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2      A.  Unfortunately, I did, yes.

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

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

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

     6          paraphrasing and chopping it about, looking for evidence and

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

     8          problem?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    18          a short period between the May election and the October

    19          election in which the Labour Party attempted to select a

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

    21          repeated with a second shortlisting meeting.  Between that and

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

    23          following the various legal interventions, he attended my

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

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

                                             322

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2          the wrong year.  It was 2010.

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

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

     5          get on to the shortlist first time round.

     6      A.  Yes. S.

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

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

     9          on the shortlist.

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

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

    12          costs; is that right?

    13      A.  They settled the?

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

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

    16          which is my understanding of what happened.

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

    18      A.  Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                             323

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2      A.  There is another iteration.

     3      Q.  Go ahead.

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

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

     6          his right of appeal to something called the Disputes Committee

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

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

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

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

    11          and he was placed back on it.

    12      Q.  Then there was the election.

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

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

    15          candidate.

    16      A.  The selection?

    17      Q.  Yes.

    18      A.  Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

    24          earlier on.

    25      A.  Yes.

                                             324

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

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

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

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

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

     6          her private address, or my ex-wife.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    15          guy and I accepted that.

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

    17          challenge?

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

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

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

    21          Hall where we talked about the possibilities of

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

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

    24          conversations.

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

                                             325

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

    2          shortlist.  You telephoned him, did you not?

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

     4          other to maintain —-

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

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

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

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

     9          relays in this statement are not true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    16          have taken place.

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

    18          threatened, offered or attempted to cajole him into not

    19          challenging something in order to please myself and offered

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

    21          that and no such conversation took place.

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

    23          down on him like a ton of bricks?

    24      A.  I have no recollection of saying that.

    25      Q.  Is it a possibility?

                                             326

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

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

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

     4          detailed conversation with him in which we covered these

     5          matters.  I do not recall that, no.

     6      Q.  Are you ruling it out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    17          my interpretation of what happened.

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

    19          desist from the legal action that he was taking?

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                             327

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2          helpful by trying to remember something that I do not

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

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

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

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

     7          you ruling this out?

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

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

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

    11          in this paragraph.

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

    13          desist in his legal action against the Labour Party?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    25          what I would have said.

                                             328

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2      Q.  You were rivals, were you not?

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

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

     5          Labour Party is a fraternal organisation and that we work

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

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

     8          the past, I have valiantly endorsed and supported the

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    18          of having a political party.

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

    20          be the Labour Party candidate in the Tower Hamlets Mayoral

    21          election?

    22      A.  Obviously we were.

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

    24          ton of bricks” being mentioned in this conversation?

    25      A.  Shall I read the paragraph again?

                                             329

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2      Q.  Of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    10          would make his nominated candidate the Deputy Mayor if I

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

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

    13          response to that in those conversations, misguidedly or

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

    15          the different factions and interests in the party in the

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

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

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

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

    20          telephone conversation.

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

    22          this paragraph that I am aware of.

    23      Q.  None whatsoever?

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

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

 

                                             330

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

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

     3          discourage him from standing or making his legal challenge.

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

     5          not?

     6      A.  Yes, of course I did.

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

     8          candidate.

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

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

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

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

    13          away and here we are today.

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

 

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Apologies for the lack of posts: I’ve been settling into a new job.

It’s full council tomorrow night and it’s likely that the two commissioners, Sir Ken Knight and Max Caller will be there for a bit of midweek comedy. I’m sure everyone will try to be on their best behaviour but at some point councillors are bound to visit the playground.

One subject which might provoke a reaction is Rich Mix, which is based in what traditionalists call Bethnal Green but which is increasingly known (incorrectly) as Shoreditch.

Rich Mix opened as a £26m arts and cinema centre in 2006 with a specific remit to tap into artistic interests in the Bengali community. From memory, I think it launched with a working display by an artist from Dhaka who was assembling an old car in full view of the public. Art can be a bit like that..

Rich Mix relied on various strands of public funding, including from Tower Hamlets council and the Arts Council. It was very much a Labour project, driven by the likes of Oona King, Michael Keith and Denise Jones…and a certain Mayor of London Ken Livingstone.

One of the early board members in fact was a certain Lutfur Rahman when he was cabinet member for culture under Denise. I don’t remember and I can’t find any record of him ever opposing or being critical of the project back then.

I did. The place was a management disaster in its early days. Its business plan was flimsy and it had bosses who loved spending other people’s money.

In fact Rich Mix was the subject of one of my early posts on this blog in 2010 when I quoted an article I’d written for the East London Advertiser in January 2006 about the initial teething problems.

It’s worth reading that piece from nine years ago again because it provides some background for a row that I think will feature tomorrow.

Here’s what I wrote in 2006:

SERIOUS concerns have been raised about the financial viability of a major new national arts centre that is due to open in the East End later this year.

The Advertiser has obtained a secret report revealing that the Rich Mix Cultural Centre, which is being built in Bethnal Green Road, needs extra taxpayers’ help to meet soaring costs. Tower Hamlets councillors have been asked to top up loans to the project and some are now deeply worried the borough’s £3.5m investment in the £26m centre is at risk.

They are angry that costs have spiralled and are concerned more money is being sucked into what could become a huge white elephant draining the public purse for years to come. One councillor has branded the project ‘scandalous’ and a ‘bottomless pit with no proper business plan’. But his claims have been angrily rejected by the centre’s bosses.

The prestigious arts complex, whose board members include former Bethnal Green and Bow MP Oona King, is seen as crucial for the regeneration of the deprived area around Brick Lane. Concentrating on ethnic cultural projects, it will house BBC London, a three-screen cinema, art galleries, a Sunday market place and music and dance studios.

Ms King dubbed it the East End’s ‘very own Tate Modern’ and it is Mayor Ken Livingstone’s flagship arts project.

With most of the six-storey structure completed, designers are currently working on the internal fittings with the centre due to open in the spring. However, the project, run by the Rich Mix Cultural Foundation and funded by backers including Tower Hamlets council, the Arts Council, the London Development Agency and the Millennium Commission, has been dogged by delays and cash problems.

A new management team was put in place last year and since then cost controls have improved markedly, but some councillors still fear a future financial crisis.

It is expected that by the time the centre opens, Tower Hamlets taxpayers will have paid into it some £3.6m. The council has also pledged a further £300,000 to contribute towards the annual £4.6m running costs in the first three years of operation.

Bosses at the centre are currently trying to attract sponsors but if crucial income from the centre’s cinemas fails to materialise, a council loan of £850,000 could be at risk.

In a confidential report for last week’s council cabinet meeting, Chris Holme, head of resources, wrote: “It will take robust cost and income management to prevent the centre falling into deficit on an annual basis.

“Failure to generate levels of income identified will have a significant impact on the sustainability of the centre.”

However, Lib Dem councillor John Griffiths said: “The whole thing makes me want to cry. Because the foundation itself is the accountable body for the project, there’s no proper scrutiny of the spending. They keep coming back to us asking for more money, but I’m really worried we’re walking right into a debt trap here.”

But Nick Kilby, chief operating officer for the centre, described the councillor’s remarks as political posturing. “There are no substance to them at all. This is a well-run project, costs aren’t out of control and there is no crisis. This is a terrifically exciting project and we look forward to persuading the councillor how it will benefit the East End.”

I’ve changed my mind about Rich Mix.

I suppose it was inevitable that such a politically driven project would become a political football but there does seem to be something spiteful and illogical in the way that Lutfur’s administration appears to be hounding the organisation to a point where closure is a real risk.

For the past four years, the council has been pursuing legal action (at an undisclosed cost: maybe we’ll be told tomorrow night how much) to try and force Rich Mix to repay that initial £850,000 loan. In that legal process Rich Mix argued it was in fact owed another £1.6million by the council as part of an agreed s106 planning gain fee from a nearby development.

The parties went to court and a judge ruled partly in favour of the council late last year on what some might say was a technicality. Because the wording of the s106 agreement deal was so vague, it was unenforceable.

The upshot is that Rich Mix has offered to repay the £850k in instalments. For whatever reason, Lutfur has demanded it be repaid in one go.

The East End Review, an offshoot of the Hackney Citizen, wrote a decent piece about the issue here.

That article was based on an interview with Rich Mix’s chief executive Jane Earl. Jane is a former chief executive of Wokingham Borough Council who has strong views on good governance. She’s the reason I’ve changed my mind about Rich Mix (and I’d have her as one of the Tower Hamlets commissioners).

She’s made Rich Mix sensible, popular and relevant.

The area has changed massively and maybe this part of the problem. As I said, it’s no longer regarded as the old Bethnal Green; this is now hipster country and it will eventually spread into the southern stretches of Brick Lane. Maybe it’s better to embrace and accept than be a bunch of King Cnuts.

Here’s one event that’s worth seeing next month, for example.

Rich Mix

Perhaps Lutfur should attend.

Or perhaps his “cabinet member for culture”, Cllr Shafiqul Haque (another former Rich Mix director when he served under Denise), should go. He’s paid an extra £13k a year on top of his £10k a year basic allowance for doing that job.

But apart from pocketing his cash and posing in the odd photo looking at a book, I have absolutely no idea what he does or what he’s done. I can’t wait to see him explain that tomorrow.

Culture? What culture? Is there actually a council culture strategy?

Here’s a thought for the council: get Rich Mix to write one for the borough. I bet they could easily do it for £850k… .

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Happy New Year to everyone. May it bring harmony, peace and joyous ringing of bells throughout the borough!

I wrote on December 11 that Cllr Shahed Ali, Lutfur Rahman’s cabinet member for street cleaning and waste management (I always think of Tony Soprano when I hear that term), had been arrested for alleged vote fraud in Tower Hamlets.

The Met Police had arrested him at his home address early in the morning and told him he was being investigated for “multiple voting”. He was released on bail until a date this month.

Scotland Yard has now confirmed that Shahed will face no further action. They have investigated the complaints and his explanations and Shahed has no more questions to answer.

As for what actually happened, that remains a mystery: it’s not clear whether the police are continuing their investigations.

It’s a fact that Shahed was registered at two separate addresses; it’s also a fact that two votes registered to him were used.

But remember, he is completely innocent.

He is now able to get on with his job in a cabinet whose members are beginning to complain among themselves about being toothless puppets for Lutfur’s executive office.

And I understand that it’s not just Lutfur’s cabinet members who are wondering what their jobs are (note that although they complain, they’re still happy to pocket their £12k a year extra ‘special responsibility allowances’). His backbench ‘Tower Hamlets First’ councillors, who include the likes of Abjol Miah, are also grumbling.

During Lutfur’s last administration, he did not hold a single group meeting with his team of councillors. This was all explained away by arguing they weren’t really a group, but merely a collection of like-minded independents.

However, since May they’ve been an official group (thus collecting the public money that flies their way). Yet, I’m told, despite promises by Lutfur to hold them, there still hasn’t been any group meetings.

Perhaps Lutfur has been too busy. Or perhaps he simply doesn’t rate many of his councillors that much. Either way, they’re not the actions of a mayor who’s trying to address doubts about governance.

His next big meeting is cabinet on Wednesday evening when one of the major issues up for ‘discussion’ is a new 16-year waste management contract, which is currently run by Veolia.

A public tender will soon go out for a 16-year deal worth £26million a year in total, i.e. £416million over the life of the deal.

On Wednesday, Lutfur’s cabinet will have to agree the principles of what to ask for in the tender. It seems that officers are recommending any new contractor “provides their own depot” for the dust-bin lorries. You can view the cabinet paper here.

Currently, the lorries operate from a council owned depot in the borough, but the town hall is proposing to withdraw any publicly owned property for that use because it’s all being earmarked for housing development.

The likely consequence of this that any new contractor will have to drive trucks in every day from outside the borough. So if they drive in from Rainham, for example, where there are large depots, they are sure to get caught up in the horrendous westbound morning traffic on the A13.

And that of course will mean delays, missed collections and higher costs.

Surely there’s a brownfield site that can be laid aside instead of reserving it for what would amount to 20 or so ‘affordable’ 2-bed flats.

The question is: should housing considerations trump all others?

Which brings me to a press release issued by Tory Canary Wharf councillor Andrew Wood over the Christmas period.

It concerns the site of the old City Pride pub on the corner of Marsh Wall and Westferry Road in Canary Wharf. In 2008, it became one of the most expensive pubs in the world when it was valued at £32million.

It was demolished a few years ago and in October 2013, developers secured planning consent for a 75-storey skyscraper. It would be the UK’s second tallest residential building and house 984 luxury apartments.

For they will all be luxury flats. The council seems prepared to accept that it just won’t do to have any affordable housing there; instead, they want the developer to build flats for the cleaners and other unworthy plebs well away from their building.

Not only that, the council says this skyscraper is so important (it will earn the borough up to £10million in s106 planning gain payments) that any existing resident in that area who complains about loss of light can simply forget it.

From the council’s cabinet papers, the developers have complained that a number of pesky neighbours have threatened an injunction against their project on the grounds that it would affect their lawful “right to light”.

Under the law, only a local authority can over-ride someone’s human right to light.

So the council has stepped in to help. It is proposing to acquire the property rights from the developer, then over-ride residents’ right to light, and then transfer the property rights back to the developer.

It seems pretty cynical, to say the least.

We’ll find out on Wednesday whether Lutfur thinks this is worthy use of these powers.

 

Here’s Cllr Wood’s press release:

Mayor Lutfur Rahman to acquire the property rights to the 2nd tallest residential building in the UK in order to circumvent resident’s legal rights (as well as giving two fingers to Eric Pickles).

Tower Hamlets Council has announced its intention (see attached PDF) to acquire the land at City Pride and Island Point on the Isle of Dogs, London E14. City Pride if built would be the second tallest residential building in the UK at 233 meters high, 984 apartments and 75 storeys.

The Council would then apply its powers under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to break neighbouring residents right to light. Under English Law properties older than 20 years own the right to light and if a neighbouring building overshadows residents living spaces they can either negotiate a settlement or they can block that development. Only the Council can legally break that right to light but only if it owns the property. This was first introduced to allow Councils to develop public infrastructure and was then used in the City of London i.e. the ‘walkie talkie’ to allow major office development to progress. Industry professionals have expressed surprise that a Council would do it to allow a purely residential development and they are not aware that such a power has been used elsewhere in a residential as opposed to business area. The Council would do this in return for £9.5m of s106 cash contributions and the delivery of 187 social housing units off-site at Island Point.

Tower Hamlets Council claim that the social, environmental and economic benefits of allowing City Pride to be built outweigh the disruption caused to local residents. This is despite Tower Hamlets Council employing an external consultant, LUC, who recently recommended that any development whose density exceeds 3,000 habitable rooms per hectare not be allowed, City Pride would be 5,803 rooms per hectare making it the densest developments in the country. The London Plan recommends a limit of 1,100 rooms per hectare.

Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government recently appointed two external Commissioners who will be responsible for approving any property disposals made by the Council. They are however not responsible for approving property acquisitions and as the deal is likely to be a back to back deal they will be faced with a fait accompli, the Council has already agreed a decision leaving them with no choice but to acquiesce as it is not in the Councils interests to retain ownership of the land. There is no evidence that they have been consulted on this issue yet.

In addition from Monday 5th January 2015 Tower Hamlets Council is supposed to be consulting residents of the area on the South Quay Masterplan, a development plan intended to guide future development of the area which includes the City Pride site (an area which will include 7 of the 12 tallest residential buildings in the UK and an increase in population from 2,932 people to 22,964 on one road). However rather than waiting to consult residents on whether City Pride delivers public benefits it has short circuited the process by announcing a decision in advance of that consultation starting. This is why Commissioners were appointed to try and improve transparency.

The Mayor, Lutfur Rahman will formally announce the decision in Cabinet on Wednesday 7th January 2015.

The Wharf newspaper reported this story here.

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Abul Hussain

Abul Hussain

In September 2010, I highlighted the following comments on the Facebook page of Abul “Abz” Hussain, who was at that time a member of the National Council for George Galloway’s Respect party.

Abul Hussain 2010 1Abul Hussain Facebook 2010Quite rightly, a day after my blog post, Respect expelled Abul from their party. Their statement was published here.

Within a year, however, Abul was appointed as a Justice of the Peace, ie a magistrate. He still sits at Stratford magistrates’ court. He helps decide if people are guilty or innocent, and what sentences to pass.

I’d noticed he was a magistrate earlier this year when he was becoming vocal in his support for Lutfur Rahman on Twitter. His Twitter account contained a link to his private internet marketing business, a site on which he helped to promote himself by stating he was a JP.

The Judicial Office’s Code of Conduct for judges and magistrates is strict on avoiding conflicts of interests–commercial and political.

It is also strict on the use of Twitter and social media. It advises judges and magistrates to be extremely careful.

I questioned Abul about this in a Twitter exchange last month. He denied any wrongdoing but quickly removed from his business website any reference to his role as a JP.

I’d completely forgotten he was the same Abul Hussain kicked out of Respect for anti-Semitic remarks in 2010.

Andrew Gilligan remembered.

He ran this in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph. I can only assume the Judicial Office was unaware of his past when they let him sit on judgement on others in 2011.

It would be astonishing if we were not asked to explain himself now.

Here’s the Sunday Telegraph story in full:

A man expelled from George Galloway’s Respect party for racism and anti-Semitism is serving as a magistrate in London’s most multiracial borough.

Abul “Abz” Hussain describes himself as a “follower of David Icke,” the conspiracy theorist who believes that the world is ruled by a race of giant lizards and that global leaders, including George W. Bush and the Queen, are the descendants of extraterrestrial reptiles.

On his Facebook page, Mr Hussain, a British Bangladeshi, condemns “ignorant” people who “want me to ‘integrate’ into a decadent [Western] lifestyle.”

As a sitting Justice of the Peace (JP) at Stratford magistrates’ court in Newham, east London, Mr Hussain is called upon to enforce British law, a key tenet of the society he appears to question. Sitting with two other magistrates, he passes verdicts and sentences in most criminal cases, with the power to impose up to six months’ imprisonment. More serious cases are also first heard by magistrates, who can grant or deny bail.

A resident of neighbouring Tower Hamlets, Mr Hussain is a strong supporter of Lutfur Rahman, the borough’s extremist-linked independent mayor, who was re-elected by a narrow margin in May.

During the campaign, Mr Hussain stated on Twitter that Tower Hamlets had been treated by the Labour Party as the “last outpost of the British Raj” and added: “I’m definitely not a racist but I’ll admit to voting on racial lines… this is a show of BD [Bangladeshi] strength to Labour HQ!

He claimed Bangladeshis were treated by Labour as “colonial subjects” and said the borough under the party was a “collection of bantustans”, artificial states created by the apartheid regime in South Africa to segregate black people. A recent entry on his Facebook page shows a man hitting a woman with a mallet.

As a member of the national council of George Galloway’s Respect Party, a council candidate and joint general secretary of the local party, Mr Hussain took a major role in Mr Rahman’s previous election campaign in 2010, organising canvassers and meetings for Mr Rahman, who was removed from Labour after The Sunday Telegraph exposed his links to an extremist Islamist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe.

Respect did not run a candidate of its own and supported Mr Rahman. Mr Hussain also appears to have been one of Mr Rahman’s nominators for the mayoralty.

However, Mr Hussain was expelled by Respect two weeks before polling day after posting in a Facebook exchange: “You know the world’s coming to an end when a Jew accuses you of being of his kind… I should have put u on that convoy to Gaza, could have traded the Jew with the Israelis to let the aid through.”

Despite Mr Hussain’s expulsion, he was appointed a magistrate in September 2011.

A spokesman for the Judicial Office confirmed that Mr Hussain was a serving JP and said: “Any allegations about a magistrate’s conduct would, in the first instance, be investigated by their local advisory committee. If they felt there was evidence of misconduct it would be referred to the Judicial Investigations and Conduct Office (JCIO).

“Should the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice then find that a magistrate has brought the judiciary into disrepute, a number of sanctions are available including removal from office.”

Mr Hussain did not respond when contacted.

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Judge Richard Mawrey ruling on Tower HamletsRichard Mawrey QC, the Commissioner of the forthcoming Tower Hamlets election court hearing, yesterday overturned a decision to hold the trial at the Town Hall and ruled it must be heard instead at the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand.

He ruled it will start at 10am on February 2 in Court 38.

It is an early victory for the four petitioners, who are led by Andy Erlam and represented by barrister Francis Hoar.

Another judge at a preliminary hearing had previously rejected their request for it to be heard outside Tower Hamlets and had recommended the town hall.

However, in a written ruling yesterday, Mr Mawrey said the town hall could not be considered a “neutral venue”.

He said there was now “considerable hostility” in the borough to the arrival of Eric Pickles’s commissioners.

And he noted that George Galloway and Ken Livingstone had made “very public calls for campaigns of harassment to be directed against what they describe as interference with the democratic process”.

At a rally last month, Livingstone called for Lutfur’s supporters to protest outside the homes of the commissioners.

All this has been clearly observed by Mr Mawrey.

He said a “considerable” volume of evidence/allegations against Mayor Lutfur Rahman and Returning Officer John Williams had now been placed before him.

He stressed he had made no judgment whatsoever on the veracity of the allegations.

However, he said the allegations included suggestions there was a significant body of support for the mayor in the town hall–where an election petition would normally be heard.

He wrote: “The witness statements include a body of evidence to the effect that the Town Hall staff contains a significant body of political supporters of Mr Rahman whose conduct in the past is said to have gone well beyond what is permissible in the case of local civil servants. There are also allegations (which may or may not be well founded) of Town Hall staff having been involved in (or at least complicit in) active electoral fraud.”

He also revealed in his written ruling that the Metropolitan Police had been present at the recent confidential scrutiny of the Mayor’s vote at the Royal Courts of Justice. He said the police were conducting their own investigations into electoral fraud.

This time, it seems it’s all being taken much more seriously.

Here is Mr Mawrey’s explanation in full. Paragraphs 7-12 are particularly interesting.

NOTE: In the interests of conversational debate, I am going to allow comments on this post BUT please do not ascribe any guilt to any individual. Keep the discussion around the general issues of the election petition and the venue. I stress that allegations have been made, all of which are denied and are yet to be tried. Comments will be moderated.

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE M/350/14

QUEEN’S BENCH DIVISION

IN THE MATTER OF THE REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE ACT 1983

AND IN THE MATTER OF A MAYORAL ELECTION FOR THE LONDON BOROUGH OF TOWER HAMLETS HELD ON 22 MAY 2014

BETWEEN:

(1) ANDREW ERLAM

(2) DEBBIE SIMONE

(3) AZMAL HUSSEIN

(4) ANGELA MOFFAT

Petitioners

-and-

(1) MOHAMMED LUTFUR RAHMAN

(2) JOHN S WILLIAMS (RETURNING OFFICER)

Respondents

DIRECTIONS ORDER No 7: 19 DECEMBER 2014

REASONS (not part of the order)

1 I have confirmed with the Rota Judges that the powers conferred on an Election Commissioner under the Representation of the People Act 1983 (‘the 1983 Act’) s130(5) entitle a Commissioner to order that the trial should take place outside the electoral area under s 130(6). Such an order may be made if the court is ‘satisfied that special circumstances exist rendering it desirable that the petition should be tried elsewhere’.

2 I appreciate that an application was made to Mr Justice Supperstone for an order under s 130(6) and that on 31 July 2014, he dismissed that application. I have read his judgment on that occasion which sets out the grounds on which the Petitioners were then contending that the trial should take place outside the Borough and the reasons why the Judge rejected those grounds and refused the order. Having considered that judgment I would say, respectfully, that I entirely agree with it and that it was the correct decision to be made on the limited grounds and the equally limited evidential material before the court on that occasion.

3 The position today is entirely different from that which was before Supperstone J in July. The parties’ cases have been fully pleaded and a very considerable volume of evidence has been served.

4 May I emphasize at this point that I have, as yet, seen and heard none of the witnesses and I have formed no conclusions on the evidence whatsoever. At this stage of the proceedings the allegations made by all parties in their witness statements remain allegations, to be proved or disproved at trial. Insofar as I have taken those witness statements into account when making this decision, I have in no way prejudged their reliability or veracity. My approach is to treat the allegations on the basis that they might be true or they might not.

5 In general the most likely venue for the trial of a petition challenging a local authority election is the authority’s Town Hall. It is not the inevitable venue and I have tried other petitions (notably Birmingham) in some other building within the electoral area. In this petition, however, the Town Hall was put forward as the most suitable venue and I shall approach the question by considering that venue first.

6 As the parties are aware, I have been uneasy about the Town Hall as a venue from an early stage. This case differs from the norm of local authority petitions. Historically, local election petitions have concerned events in a single ward (occasionally two wards as in Birmingham in 2005). In those circumstances, the Town Hall of the Borough represents both a convenient and a relatively neutral venue. Here the challenge is to the election of an executive mayor whose headquarters is inevitably the Town Hall itself. Even were feelings not running as high as they are here, there must be grave doubts as to propriety of a petition to unseat an executive mayor being tried in his own Town Hall.

7 This case is unusual in that there are persistent and highly publicised allegations that witnesses, in particular witnesses for the  Petitioners, have been subject to intimidation of themselves or their families both within the Borough and, indeed, in Bangladesh. Certain of the witness statements have been served with the names and addresses of the witness redacted and there is a possibility that I shall be asked to make witness anonymity orders. As said above, I cannot and do not at this stage decide whether these allegations are well-founded but it would be irresponsible to discount them and to decide the venue in a vacuum. 

8 I have also to look at the question of intimidation in the context of the allegations, supported by witness statements, of widespread voter intimidation at the polls. These allegations also cannot be ignored. I fully appreciate that the first Respondent denies the allegations of intimidation and denies that, if it did occur, it can be laid at his door. None the less the evidence submitted does raise at least a triable issue as to intimidation.

9 Furthermore the Town Hall cannot realistically be regarded as a neutral venue. The witness statements include a body of evidence to the effect that the Town Hall staff contains a significant body of political supporters of Mr Rahman whose conduct in the past is said to have gone well beyond what is permissible in the case of local civil servants. There are also allegations (which may or may not be well founded) of Town Hall staff having been involved in (or at least complicit in) active electoral fraud.

10 In this context, though I accept that it is not yet evidence in the case and may never become so, these allegations find considerable support in the PwC report commissioned by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. It would do little to enhance the view of the court as a neutral and impartial venue if it were held in a venue which is perceived (rightly or wrongly) to be staffed by people who are, to put it neutrally, partisan. There would be legitimate fears that the staff might obstruct or identify vulnerable witnesses and, whatever precautions are taken, the security of documents would always have a question mark over it (however unjustified that might turn out to be).

11 When the matter was before Supperstone J the concern raised was of disorder at the trial and the Judge pointed, quite rightly, to the powers of a Commissioner to enlist the assistance of the Police. Events have, as said above, moved on somewhat. It is no longer primarily a question of maintaining an orderly trial. If that were the only concern, I would not be revisiting the earlier decision. The fact is that the position of the Metropolitan Police has become more complex, as it is no secret that the Met is conducting its own enquiries as to potential criminal offences committed in the course of the May election (hence the involvement of officers at the Scrutiny) and has been further dragged into this case by the allegations made on both sides of witness intimidation. Nor can I overlook that the case itself does involve criticism (which, as I say, may be entirely unfounded) of the involvement of the Met in policing the election itself. Thus the issues raised before Supperstone J have been overtaken by the subsequent history of this petition.

12 An additional change of circumstances arises from the Secretary of State’s publication of the PwC report and his appointment of commissioners to take over certain of the functions of the Council. Those commissioners have already started work at the Town Hall. The appointment of the commissioners has been met with considerable hostility in certain areas and I cannot overlook the fact that, at a rally attended by the first Respondent, certain of his high-profile political supporters such as Mr Ken Livingstone and Mr George Galloway MP made very public (and much broadcast) calls for campaigns of harassment to be directed against what they describe as interference with the democratic process.

13 This might be mitigated if the Town Hall were otherwise a suitable venue for a trial but it is not. I carried out an inspection last week and the facilities are simply not appropriate for a lengthy trial. The only available courtroom is the Council Chamber. This cannot really be converted into an acceptable courtroom. It has fixed desks which are not convenient for a three-party case, especially one with copious documents. There is no real space for a ‘witness box’. Everything would have to be cleared out for Council meetings. There are no practicable rooms for the judge’s retiring or for the parties’ legal teams. More to the point, the Council Chamber is in the heart of the office area with the staff problems already referred to.

14 For all these reasons I have ruled out the Town Hall as a venue.

15 I indicated at an early stage, when the Petitioners raised their objections, that the parties should attempt to find possible alternative venues within the Borough. The Returning Officer and his solicitors have made considerable efforts to find an alternative venue and I made a tour of the four venues they had located. None of them was remotely suitable and some of the problems involved in the Town Hall as a venue would have applied to those venues even if they had been suitable.

16 I have thus, with great reluctance, come to the conclusion that there are here the kind of special circumstances envisaged by the 1983 Act and that the proper course is to order the trial to be held in the Royal Courts of Justice.

17 Supperstone J remarked, quite correctly if I may say so, one of the reasons for holding election courts in the electoral area concerned is to allow local public access to the court. This is fair as far as it goes but it must be seen in context. When the rule developed in the nineteenth century public transport was much less available and much less affordable than today. In any event, the rule itself does carry its own limitations. In my experience, petitions challenging the election in a ward of the council are heard centrally (often in the Town Hall) which in a large electoral area (Birmingham is a good example) may be several miles away from the ward concerned.

18 The RCJ are, of course, situated in the City of London which is the borough immediately adjacent to Tower Hamlets. If the contested election had been in, say, Merton or Enfield, then the difficulty of the citizens of the borough attending court would be a significant factor. The RCJ may be considered one of the easiest places to get to by public transport in central London and I cannot see any appreciable hardship involved in the citizens of Tower Hamlets attending a trial there.

19 I have therefore liaised with Mr Evans of the Elections Office and he has secured the use of Court 38. It is a large court and its position in the West Green Building will obviate many of the problems attendant on use of a court in the main building.

20 I realise that this may cause some inconvenience to the Respondents but I am satisfied that the interests of a fair and publically transparent trial require the move to be made.

_

21 Finally I should wish to record in these reasons my thanks to Mr Emyr Thomas of the second Respondent’s solicitors for his part in locating and inspecting the alternative venues.

Richard B Mawrey QC

Commissioner

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This is the Written Ministerial Statement from Eric Pickles in the Commons today. It explains why the Commissioners have been sent in and gives his opinion on the representations made by Mayor Lutfur Rahman and Tower Hamlets council on the PwC report.

In short, Eric says: “It is disappointing that there is a culture of denial in the mayoral administration about its systematic failures.”

Here’s the statement (I’ve underlined and put in bold font what are considered the key sections).

I would like to update hon. Members on a series of steps we are taking to improve the quality of local government services and ensure value for taxpayers’ money.

London Borough of Tower Hamlets

On 4 November, I informed the House that I was satisfied, having considered the report of the inspection by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) of Tower Hamlets Council, that that Council is failing to comply with its best value duty, and proposed to statutorily intervene to secure the Council’s compliance with that duty.

I gave the Council until 18 November to make any representations it wished on the inspection report and my proposal for intervention, and I sought and received from the Council certain undertakings not to take further specified actions on grant making, appointment of statutory officers, and transfer of property to third parties, until I had reached decisions about the use of my intervention powers.

I have now carefully considered all the representations that the Council has made. I have also considered afresh the PwC inspection report and the report the Election Commission published on 1 July 2014 into the elections in Tower Hamlets, and I have had appropriate regard to other representations that I have received about my proposed intervention.

I remain satisfied that the Council is failing to comply with its best value duty. It is disappointing that there is a culture of denial in the mayoral administration about its systematic failures.

As I said in my previous statement: “Localism requires local accountability and local democracy. Municipal corruption undermines the local checks and balances that are vital in a democracy and essential in mayoral systems with their concentration of power. We cannot risk such corruption”. But this is not just about the money. The abuse of taxpayers’ money and the culture of cronyism reflects a partisan community politics that seeks to trade favours and spread division on the rates. Such behaviour is to the detriment of integration and community cohesion in Tower Hamlets and in our capital city. This remains my view.

I have concluded that it is both necessary and expedient for me to exercise my intervention powers in the Local Government Act 1999 as I have proposed, and accordingly, I have today given the Council the necessary directions under section 15(5) and 15(6) of the 1999 Act to implement the proposed interventions.

These are centred on putting in place until 31 March 2017 a team of Commissioners to oversee or exercise certain of the Council’s functions. It is open to me to review this in the light of the progress made by the Council to secure compliance with its best value duty. I have nominated Sir Ken Knight to be the Lead Commissioner. Max Caller CBE has also been nominated  as a Commissioner, and I will announce a further Commissioner in due course.

In summary, the specific intervention measures are as follows.

(1) To require the council

to draw up and agree with the Commissioners within three months from the date of the direction a strategy and action plan for securing the Council’s compliance with its best value duty (to include as appropriate complying with the specific requirements set out below), and to submit this to the Secretary of State;

to prepare under the direction of the Commissioners and submit to the Secretary of State at 6 monthly intervals thereafter until 31 March 2017 a report on progress against the strategy and action plan;

to undertake as a matter of urgency a recruitment exercise, under the direction of the Commissioners, with the aim of making as soon as practicable, permanent appointments of suitable persons to the positions of the three statutory officers (Head of Paid Service, Chief Finance Officer, and Monitoring Officer);

until 31 March 2017 to obtain the prior written agreement of the Commissioners to (a) any dismissal or suspension of a statutory officer; and (b) any proposed appointment or designation of a replacement;

until March 2017 to obtain the prior written agreement of the Commissioners before entering into any commitment to dispose of, or otherwise transfer, to third parties, any real property other than existing single dwellings for the purposes of residential occupation;

within 3 months from the date of the direction, to prepare a fully costed plan for how the Council’s publicity functions can be properly exercised and agree that plan with the Commissioners; and until 31 March 2017 adopt any recommendation of the Commissioners with respect to that plan or to publicity more generally;

by 1 February 2015 to prepare and implement an action plan, in consultation with the Commissioners, to achieve improvements in the Council’s processes and practices for entering into contracts, and until 31 March 2017 to adopt all recommendations of the statutory officers in relation to the processes and practices to be followed in relation to entering into contracts, unless the Commissioners’ prior written agreement is obtained not to do so.

(2) The Commissioners to exercise until 31 March 2017 all functions of the Council relating to the making of grants, including responding to Freedom of Information Act requests in respect of grant payments, with the Council providing at the request of the Commissioners its views on proposed grants.

(3) The Commissioners to exercise until 31 March 2017 the Council’s functions of appointing persons to and removing them from the posts of Electoral Registration Officer and Returning Officer for Local Elections (this will also apply to their general election duties).

The Council will be required to comply with any instructions of the Commissioners in relation to the exercise of those functions for which the Commissioners are responsible, and  to provide the Commissioners at its expense with such services, amenities and administrative support as the Commissioners may reasonably require, and with access to the Council’s premises, documents, and to any employee or member as appears to the Commissioners to be necessary. The Council will also be required to pay the Commissioners’ reasonable expenses and such fees as I determine.

Intervention was not a decision taken lightly, however I could not allow the overwhelming evidence of the serious failings within Tower Hamlets to continue unchecked. I do not accept the Mayor’s representations that the problems in the Council can easily be put right.

Residents need to know that decisions are being taken properly in an open and accountable way. The Commissioners I am appointing are experienced and talented professionals who understand that transparency and accountability are vital to the functioning of local democracy.

Local government transparency

The Coalition Government has taken many steps during this Parliament to place more power into citizens’ hands to increase democratic accountability and make it easier for local people to contribute to the local decision making process and help shape public services. Transparency is the foundation of local accountability and the key that gives people the tools and information they need to play a bigger role in society.

In October, we issued the Local Government Transparency Code 2014 and have made it a legal requirement for local authorities to publish much of the data specified in the Code. Today, we have taken another step forward in ensuring that local people have key information to hold public bodies to account by publishing a Transparency Code for smaller authorities.

Under the new local government audit regime smaller authorities will be subject to the transparency requirements laid out in this Code in place of routine external audit. The Code will require the on-line publication of information that provides taxpayers with a clear picture of authorities’ activities, spending and governance, improving the ability of communities to hold local public bodies to account.

The Transparency Code for Smaller Authorities applies to parish councils, internal drainage boards, charter trustees and port health authorities with an annual turnover not exceeding £25,000. Published initially as recommended practice, we intend, subject to Parliament, to make the Code mandatory by the start of the 2015-16 financial year and will offer support to this local government sector to help authorities comply with these requirements.

Backing locally-supported joint working

There are many ways that local authorities can work together to save money and improve services, but there is equally no one-size-fits-all model either. The Dorset Fire Authority and the Wiltshire and Swindon Combined Fire Authority have formally made representations requesting a merger. We have today published a consultation paper on their proposals.

Contrast to the last Administration, we do not believe in top-down restructuring. Nor do we agree with the current proposals of the HM Opposition to force more mergers. The botched FireControl programme is a prime example of how such restructuring is expensive and distracting. Rather, we will support locally-led partnerships, where there is genuine support from all members of the local community, and the consultation will test this local support.

Improving support arrangements for local councils

It is important to have in place the most effective arrangements to help councils across the country to continue to improve and reform – essential if they are to deliver sensible savings.

Councils have a right to expect services designed to support them are the best they can be, provide the support they need and provide best value for money.

In 2015-16, we intend to provide grant of £23.4 million to the Local Government Improvement and Development (formerly IDeA) to deliver effective support to councils. This will be accompanied by robust scrutiny to ensure that every pound spent by them is spent appropriately and on providing direct support to councils. We expect of them the same standards and value for money as we expect of councils delivering frontline services, and we expect them to be transparent with councils about how they have spent the grant and the services they deliver to support councils.

The Coalition Government’s policy is to open up budgets to competition wherever possible. We intend to explore how the budget given for improvement services can be opened up to competition with contracts in place for 2016-17, allowing councils, council groupings, think thanks, mutuals and other interested parties to bid for such funding, and drive further best practice in local government.

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At last. Two of the three Commissioners to be appointed by Eric Pickles to run parts of Tower Hamlets council arrive for work this morning.

They are Sir Ken Knight, who will be the lead Commissioner, and Max Caller. The third will be announced in due course.

Both Sir Ken and Mr Caller are heavy-hitters.

Sir Ken is the better known nationally, while Mr Caller has a huge reputation as a local government Mr Fixit man: he was in charge of Hackney council from 2000-04 when that authority was being transformed under special measures.

First, Sir Ken:

s300_ken_knight

He’s currently a director of his own consultancy company, Ken Knight Consulting Ltd, having retired from the fire service.

He has a distinguished career. He oversaw the London Fire Brigade as London Fire Commissioner from 2003-07, including during the July 7 terror attacks.

Since that stint ended in 2007, he has worked on a number of high profile projects for central governments, both in the UK and abroad. In Britain, he worked until last year as the Government’s first Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser.

He wrote the Rising to the Challenge report on the 2007 floods and was in charge of the review into the Lakanal House fire disaster in Camberwell in 2009.

And last year, he completed the cost-saving review of England’s 46 fire authorities, which found £200million could be saved.

You can see why ministers like him. Unions have a different opinion. How Lutfur Rahman and he will get along is anyone’s guess. However, Lutfur’s mentor Ken Livingstone did once have a legal run-in with him in 2007.

Here’s an extract from Sir Ken’s Linkedin profile.

Sir Ken Knight linkedinThere is more on his own website, here, which states he is the independent chairman of the board of Exova, a large company specialising in providing fire safety materials. I can’t find his name on Exova’s website so that might be an old listing.

He is also one of the Queen’s Deputy Lieutenants for London, so he will probably know Commander John Ludgate, the Deputy Lieutenant for Tower Hamlets who does a fabulous job of looking both bemused and amused during council meetings.

And so to Max Caller.

Max Caller

In this interview here, he talks about how his career started off as a sewer inspector in the underbelly of London. So fantastic training for the current situation in Tower Hamlets.

Actually, I think he will be great for the borough: he’s a former chief executive of Hackney, Barnet and Haringey councils and he’s been an election observer in Albania. What more do you need…

The Government’s biography of him states:

Max Caller CBE has amassed 33 years experience in London boroughs with the majority at Chief Officer level.

As Chief Executive of Hackney, he managed the transition of the authority from the worst in the country to one of the fastest improving.

As Chief Executive of Barnet he introduced a cabinet form of governance and an effective scrutiny system, which was one of the models for subsequent legislation.

Max was appointed the first Regional Returning Officer for London for the 1999 European elections, was Deputy Chief Counting Officer for the UK wide Alternative Vote referendum and has been involved in electoral pilot arrangements on an all-postal/electronic counting system for borough and mayoral elections.

He has also served as a short term observer for OSCE overseen elections in Albania and Montenegro and as a Commonwealth observer for elections in Kenya and Ghana.

Since April 2010 he has been chairman of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England.

He grew up in South Wales and is an engineer by background. He’s also on the advisory board of Norwood, a leading Jewish charity whose president (in the interests of transparency) is my employer (until Friday), Richard Desmond.

Here’s an extract from Eric Pickles’s press release issued this morning:
The team will, with immediate effect, take control of grant making within the council, will approve any sale or disposal of property and will agree a plan for publicity after independent inspectors PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) concluded the Borough was failing in its best value duty in these areas.

The PwC report, published on November 4, severely criticised how grants were handed out to organisations which failed to meet basic criteria for public funding, property was sold without proper process and taxpayers’ money was spent on political advertising for the Mayor.

The authority, under the direction of the Commissioners, will have three months to prepare a strategy and action plan setting out how it will comply with its duty to act openly and transparently, serving all of its communities fairly and securing value for money.

The Commissioners, due to be in place until 31 March, 2017, will drive forward the action plan, updating the Secretary of State every six months on progress.

Secretary of State Eric Pickles said: “Intervention was not a decision taken lightly however I could not ignore the overwhelming evidence of the council’s failure, and allow this to continue unchecked. I do not accept the Mayor’s representations that problems are easilhy put right.

“Residents need to know that decisions are being taken properly in an open and accountable way. The Commissioners I have appointed are experienced and talented professionals who understand that transparency and accountability are vital to the functioning of local democracy.

Lead Commissioner Sir Ken Knight said: “We are determined to restore faith in how Tower Hamlets operates. Local people deserve a council that not only makes decisions in an accountable and transparent way but also with the benefit of all residents in mind

“Today marks the start of a long but necessary journey to ensure public confidence in the council is restored, community cohesion maintained and that Tower Hamlets is no longer a by-word for poor governance.”

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Cllr Shahed Ali, Tower Hamlets council’s cabinet member for the ‘clean and green’ (ie street cleaning and refuse etc), was yesterday arrested on suspicion of multiple voting in May’s elections.

He was arrested early in the morning and asked to explain how two votes were cast in his name earlier this year.

It’s understood he was registered to vote at two different addresses.

A source close to Shahed said he voted just once in person and that was it. The source said the police investigation centres on the ballot cast from the second address.

He is said to be helping police solve the riddle, and strenuously denies any wrongdoing.

He is a member of Lutfur Rahman’s Tower Hamlets First party, having been expelled from Labour for having backed the Mayor in 2010.

He has been ward member for Whitechapel since 2006 when he was first elected for Respect.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said a 44 year old man had been arrested on suspicion of multiple voting yesterday.

Let me stress that Shahed has not been charged. My source said he wouldn’t be making any comment on the issue for fear of jeopardising the police investigation.

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