William Eichler 10 March 2017

'Major failures' found in Tower Hamlets fraud investigation

Members of the London Assembly have accused the police of ‘major failings’ in their investigation of electoral fraud in Tower Hamlets.

A report from the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee has called for an inquiry into the Met’s investigation of electoral fraud in Tower Hamlets’ 2014 mayoral contest.

Steve O’Connell, chairman of the committee, said he was ‘shocked to uncover major failings’ by the Metropolitan Police in its investigation.

In 2015 the election commission ruled the previous year’s mayoral election in Tower Hamlets was void because then mayor Lutfur Rahman had breached election rules.

Government commissioners then took over the running of the council with powers being handed back as and when the communities secretary judged the authority to be ready.

The Assembly committee report said ‘more could have been done’ to investigate the allegations of fraud and malpractice in Tower Hamlets before and during the election.

It also found the investigations that did take place were not ‘undertaken to the highest possible standards’.

Important evidence was also missed by the Met, the committee found. A bundle of 27 files sent to the director of public prosecution was ‘not reviewed’ by police.

The committee said the Met could have ‘generated sufficient evidence’ to seek a criminal prosecution had they carried out a more thorough investigation.

‘During our investigation, we, as a committee, have been shocked to uncover major failings by the Metropolitan Police in its ability to investigate allegations of electoral fraud and malpractice,’ said Mr O’Connell.

‘Missed files of evidence; missed opportunities to gather witness statements; witnesses who were prepared to give evidence in the Election Court but were unwilling to do so in criminal proceedings – this is not what we expect from a supposedly world-leading police force.’

‘We urge the deputy mayor to use her powers to press for HMIC [Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary] to take the matter further, with the aim that eventually we can assure Londoners - and particularly residents in Tower Hamlets - that justice has been done,’ he added.

Responding to the committee’s report, mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs said: ‘Despite a High Court judge finding Lutfur Rahman and his colleagues guilty on multiple counts of corruption and electoral fraud, there is deep frustration that the process stopped without criminal charges.

‘On the basis of the evidence in the election court there were many leads to follow. Many people in Tower Hamlets are understandably mystified why those who tried so hard to steal the 2014 election have yet to be fully held to account.’

‘I welcome the Police and Crime Committee’s call for the HMIC to be called in to see what lessons can be learnt from this sorry saga.’

‘Thankfully electoral fraud is rare but where it does happen we need confidence that the police have the skills and motivation to thoroughly investigate and bring those responsible to justice,’ he added.

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