An allegation that a voter was spat on and canvassers were paid in the run-up to last May’s mayoral election in Tower Hamlets LBC have been included in amendments to court papers ahead of a hearing next month.
Petitioners to the election court, led by Andy Erlam, who stood for the Red Flag Anti Corruption Party in May 2014’s election, have also accused mayor Lutfur Rahman (Tower Hamlets First) of issuing grants, allegedly totalling £954,000, to fund lunch clubs in a bid to win votes. Court papers said “that it was known or believed by [Mayor Rahman] and/or his agents, in approving and/or recommending the said grants, that he would be promoted politically during the lunches provided to electors”.
In relation to allegations of voter intimidation outside polling stations, court papers said “one voter who expressed her support for the Labour party was spat at in the face by an agent of [Mayor Rahman]”. The petitioners have also made an allegation that voters were interfered with in booths at a number of polling stations.
Regarding the allegation of payments to canvassers, the court papers said Mayor Rahman’s “election agent, Alibor Choudhury [Tower Hamlets First, cabinet member for resources], organised the recruitment and payment of canvassers during the election campaign…and instructed them to canvass for [Mayor Rahman] in exchange for financial reward”.
In a statement, Mayor Rahman said: “I completely reject the unsubstantiated allegations of voter intimidation outside polling stations and the use of public funds for political gain.
“The Electoral Commission and police have already investigated and dropped election complaints, and the recent PwC audit found no bias in the distribution of funding. These are not new claims, but cynical political attacks which are manifestly untrue. I look forward to being able to prove as such at the election hearing.”
The court papers also allege Mayor Rahman spoke at an event at which an imam told those present that “it would be a disaster and very sad” if the mayor was not re-elected. The court papers added: “It is alleged that the said imam, acting as agent of [Mayor Rahman] in his presence and with his approval, threatened the infliction of spiritual injury on any Muslim elector not voting for [Mayor Rahman] by implying, in a religious context during prayers, that voting for him was a religious duty.”
In response to that particular allegation, a Tower Hamlets spokeswoman said the claims were “untrue” and added “people praying for outcomes they believe to be favourable is hardly unique to the Islamic faith or the London borough of Tower Hamlets”.
The amended court papers also include an allegation that Mayor Rahman hired Mohammed Jubair “as a media advisor between January and May 2014, at a time at which he continued to present and produce political programs for Channel S TV” as a way to get “highly favourable coverage and support”.
The petitioners, who are seeking a re-run of last May’s mayoral election contest in the borough, said all of the new allegations against Mayor Rahman and Tower Hamlets’ returning officer John Williams are made under the Representation of the People Act 1983.
In a statement Mr Williams said: “I deny any misconduct and reject the allegations made against my staff; and I am co-operating fully with the commissioner.
“Every complaint I received as returning officer was investigated and where necessary passed to the police.”
Mr Williams said his role as returning officer “is politically neutral” and added his “only concern was to deliver a free and fair election with a result that accurately reflects the will of the electorate”. He added: “I took far-reaching steps to ensure this, including the introduction of a local protocol to combat fraud and abuses which was described by the Electoral Commission as among the toughest in the country.”
LGC reported in August how petitioners had lodged more than 100 pages of evidence with the High Court.
The Tower Hamlets election petition is due to be heard in an election court at the Royal Courts of Justice, starting on 2 February.
Communities secretary Eric Pickles in April sent investigators from accountantcy firm PwC into Tower Hamlets to probe allegations of impropriety in grants distribution. PwC identified there had been a “failure to comply” with best value duties at Tower Hamlets.
As a result of that report Mr Pickles appointed two commissioners to Tower Hamlets in December. A third commissioner is still to be appointed.