A web page on Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s web blog has been altered in an attempt to support the Mayor’s claims that he did not interfere in the allocation of grants.
Examination of an archived version of the original blog page confirms that Mayor Lutfur Rahman had direct knowledge and involvement in the allocation of grants and that he personally overruled the decisions of Council officers.
It is not known who altered the original version of the page.
Two versions of one web page
Below is the content of the original press release.
It is in response to the BBC Panorama ‘The Mayor and Your Money’ documentary broadcast a few days earlier.
And this is the version currently viewable on the Mayor’s website.
Spotted the difference? This shows what has been edited from the original version of the press release.
Download a PDF showing the two versions of the press release.
The reason that the difference between the two pages is so damning can be found at paragraph 4.54 of the PwC report that deals with allegations of the inappropriate allocation of grants.
“4.54 The reason for the increase in the awards to these organisations has not been determined. However, we note that a press release was posted to the Mayor’s political website on 31 March 2014 and issued by the Authority on 1 April 2014 which referred to 32 changes being made by the Mayor. The press release lists five officer recommendations changed by the Mayor.”
The press release ‘posted to the Mayor’s political website on 31 March 2014’ being the one shown above.
Now you see it, now you don’t
On 31 March 2014 these words are in the press release on the Mayor’s blog: [‘he’ being Mayor Lutfur]:
“Among the officers decisions he overruled include:
Change from £0 to £15,000 funding to the Community of Refugees from Vietnam
Change from £0 to £7,500 funding to the Tower Hamlets Chinese School
Change from £0 to £20,000 funding to The Royal London Society of the Blind
Change from £15,000 to £36,000 funding to City Gateway (youth & employment project)
Change from £0 to £40,000 funding to Old Ford Housing”
On 4th April 2014 the DCLG raided the Town Hall.
Between 7th April 2014 and 8 November 2014 when we found the page someone, presumably on the Mayor’s team, realised that having a public statement that Mayor Lutfur overruled officers decisions over grants is not ideal and the words disappear.
Something to hide Mr Mayor?
But instead of tidying up this particular loose end the Mayor’s team have confirmed one of the key allegations of the PwC document.
Why edit a previously published statement unless the Tower Hamlets First Administration has something to hide?
“Rewriting history or selective editing won’t exonerate Mayor Rahman and his Administration. We need honesty and transparency”, said Jim Fitzpatrick, MP for Poplar and Limehouse, commenting on the altered press release.
The other odd thing is that there no trace of the version of the press release that PwC states was published on the Tower Hamlets Council website. It has vanished.
We asked Tower Hamlets Council why this was.
“We didn’t issue this press release. Nor was it published on our website,” came the reply.
When we pointed out the unlikelihood of PwC specifically referencing a press release that never existed the subsequent response was “From the looks of it, this is an inaccuracy in the report.”
Dumber and dumber
To make matters worse when Mayor Lutfur was interviewed by PwC regarding the publication of the original version of the press release on the Mayor’s political website on 31 March 2014 he contradicts the statement.
“4.55 The Mayor stated in interview that he had not been involved in the detail of awards, although he had kept abreast of things generally through occasional high level discussions with Councillor Choudhury in particular.” [Our emphasis]
The PwC auditors then asked the obvious question – what about the press release?
Collective lapse of memory
The answer to this is as predictable as it is cynical.
“4.55 [continued] Neither the Mayor’s Office or the Council know who wrote the blog. The Mayor’s Political Advisor, … issued a Press Release reflecting what was written on the blog but has no further detail about the blog. The Mayor is unable to recall any detail about the blog .”
These words deserve close examination. ‘ The Mayor’s Political Advisor, … issued a Press Release reflecting what was written on the blog.’ Does this mean the press release issued by the Mayor’s Political Advisor was published on the Council website? Are there two separate authors of the blog post and the press release? Neither are lengthy and most reasonable people would assume that the same person wrote the blog post and the press release.
There again this is Tower Hamlets so it is entirely possible that a press release and a blog post containing identical information are always written by two different Mayoral Advisors. Possibly even a third one who keeps an eye on the other two.
Hail the Wayback Machine
<heart> Wapping stumbled over the discrepancy between the original and current versions of the press release purely by chance when working on another aspect of this sorry tale. Lucky, not smart. Here’s how we realised something was odd.
There is on the interwebs a wonderful thing called the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.
This keeps a record of websites so you can go back in time and check what they used to look like.
Even the Wayback Machine is not big enough to keep a copy of every page of every site from every day but it keeps enough.
This is what you find if you copy and paste the address of the existing news / blog page which is (hopefully) this http://lutfurrahman.com/bbc-panorama-fact-fiction-tower-hamlets-council/ into the machine and let it do its magic.
And Hey Presto! You can see the original web page as archived on 07 April. Neat huh?
The Bottom Line
So what do we now know from this little trip into web geekery land?
- There is clear proof that Mayor Lutfur Rahman publicly stated that he overruled the decisions of Council officers into the allocation of grants and detailed those interventions.
- This directly contradicts Mayor Rahman’s subsequent statement to PwC that “…he had not been involved in the detail of awards…”
- The archived version of the news / blog page shows that between 7 April 2014 and 8 November 2014 someone edited the page.
- The version of the original press release published by Tower Hamlets Council cannot be found on their site as of publishing.
(We asked the Mayor’s Office for a comment on the issues in this post but to date have not received a response. When asked for comment the DCLG referred us to PwC who in turn stated that they were unable to break client confidentiality.)