Local news for Wapping E1W and Tower Hamlets

The ex-Mayor and the [REDACTED] canvassers

By on May 2, 2015 in Greenbankgate, Investigations

This is a text version of a report into the possibility that Tower Hamlets Homes (THH) staff might have been using their position for electoral canvassing, or that they or members of the council staff were being impersonated for this purpose during the May 2014 Mayoral election.

LW was given this report at the start of the electoral petition trial. It was obtained through a Freedom of Information (FoI) request and as such LW is allowed to publish it, however we have not done so while the electoral petition case was in progress as it relates to a key allegation of the petitioners.

The report was conducted by the Service Head of Safer Communities at Tower Hamlets Council in response to two incidents when mystery women canvassers were noticed on the Green Bank estate and LW blogged about them.

LW has created this text version but it has not been edited.

In the original document there are several blank spaces where details of individuals have been edited out (‘redacted’) for reasons of confidentiality.

Rather than do one huge post on this issue there will be a separate post on the key findings of this report, namely that ex-Mayor Lutfur Rahman did know the identities of the second group of mysterious lady canvassers spotted and filmed by Love Wapping.

If you want to skip to the most interesting stuff go to paragraphs 4.11 and 4.12.

PRIVATE & CONFIDENTIAL

LONDON BOROUGH OF TOWER HAMLETS

Investigation: That THH staff may be using their position for electoral canvassing, or that they or members of the council staff are being impersonated for this purpose.

1 Introduction

This report details the investigation conducted on behalf of the Head of Paid service into allegations that officers of Tower Hamlets Homes and Tower Hamlets Council may be canvassing on behalf of the Mayor whilst in paid employment of either Tower Hamlets Homes or the Local Authority.

2 Background

On the 7th of November 2013 a Mark Baynes wrote about ‘Tower Hamlets Homes staff who he suggested were canvassing for Mayor Lutfur in Wapping’ in his Love Wapping blog.

2.1.1 On the 27th November at a full council Councillor REDACTED introduced an emergency motion, seconded by Councillor REDACTED relating to an allegation that THH officers were canvassing on behalf of the Mayor for Tower Hamlets. They reported that there was an article on the Love Wapping website entitled ‘Tower Hamlets Homes staff canvassing for Mayor Lutfur in Wapping’ and called upon the Head of Paid Service to investigate the allegations. The motion was debated by the chamber and voted upon and agreed.

2.1.2 As a consequence of the council motion agreed at full council on the 27th November the Head of Paid Service. Stephen Halsey, sent me an email on the 6th December 2013 instructing me “To undertake the investigation referred to in the Council motions”.

2.1.3 On the 21st November Cllr REDACTED of the Labour REDACTED of the Labour Group, of Tower Hamlets, and REDACTED of Tower Hamlets Labour Party wrote to the Metropolitan Police Borough Commander for Tower Hamlets. They set out their complaint as it relates to the comments in the Love Wapping blog claiming abuse of taxpayers money, impersonating for the purpose of electoral canvassing, and obtaining information by deception.

3 Terms of Reference

The detail of the terms of reference for this investigation is framed in the council motion as;

3.1.1 To instruct the Monitoring officer, returning Officer and Head of Paid Service to work with THH and the police to fully investigate the concerns that THH staff may be using their position for electoral canvassing, or that they or members of the council staff are being impersonated for this purpose.

3.1.2 To call on the Head of Paid Service to carry out an audit of all council pass holders and all individuals with access to the council’s information systems.

3.1.4 Tower Hamlets Homes

In addition to this investigation Tower Hamlets Homes commenced their own investigation into the report posted on the Love Wapping website by Mark Baynes. This investigation commenced on the 8th November and was concluded before Christmas 2013.

4 Investigation

4.1 Mark Baynes

A resident in Wapping and the author of the Love Wapping Blog he writes that he was at home on the 7 November and at about 11.30 am there was a knock at his door. When he opened the door he saw 3 smartly dressed women who he says introduced themselves as representing Tower Hamlets Homes. One of them held a glossy A4 leaflet which had ‘Mayors news’ on one side and ‘Mayors budget 2013’ on the other. He was asked how the Mayor could help him on the estate.

4.1.2 He also says that he had seen them on the estate earlier and assumed that they were THH staff which he says was confirmed when they introduced themselves.

4.1.3 During the conversation he pointed out that there were a few ASB problems in Watts Street and that the police had sorted it out. He also pointed out an issue with broken paving in Wapping lanethathad only been partly rectified.

4.1.4 He says that he was confused about their interest in the broken paving in Wapping Lane as it was not part of the THH estate. Especially when he started to talk about the poor lighting in Wapping Woods and they stated that they were THH staff and only responsible for THH estates. At this point he asked the three if this encounter had anything to do with the forthcoming elections and the 3 women denied that it was:

4.1.5 Mark Baynes pointed out that he had seen both MPs and local councillors canvassing on the estate but had not seen the Mayor or anyone representing the Mayor.

4.1.6 At the end of the conversation he was handed the ‘Mayors’ leaflet with a telephone number highlighted on it and informed that the Mayor holds his surgery every Thursday.

4.1.7 Shortly after the conversation had finished Mark Baynes left his address to go to a local community meeting and on the way he passed a couple of other groups of people on the estate knocking on doors and carrying the same clipboards and literature as the 3 women that knocked on his door.

4.1.8 His belief is that there were teams of THH staff out canvassing on behalf of the Mayor for Tower Hamlets.

4.1.9 At the community meeting Mark Baynes sat next to an officer of Tower Hamlets Homes and he took the opportunity to mention the visitors to his address and asked about the possibility of THH staff canvassing on behalf of the Mayor. This was flatly denied and the officer produced her THH identity card and asked if the 3 women had produced a similar card. Mark Baynes stated that he had no idea as he had no reason to doubt their identity.

4.1.10 He blogged again on the 8th November when he met officers from THH on the estate who were investigating the events of the 7th that were reported by him. He states that neither he nor the THH staff had any idea who the individuals were who knocked at his door.

4.1.11 When spoken to about the events on the 7th he is absolutely clear that the 3 women said that they were from THH and gave him the leaflet that he highlighted in his blog at REDACTED He describes them as 3 smartly dressed women with head scarves. They did not produce any identification and he didn’t ask for any so he could confirm that they actually worked for THH as they claimed. He cannot recall the individuals and would not be able to recognise them again.

4.1.12 Mark Baynes makes a further entry on the ‘Love Wapping’ site and posted some video footage of 2 women door knocking and sitting in a car. One woman is holding a clipboard that held documents that had a Tower Hamlets logo and the letters ‘ME’ on one sheet.

4.2.1Councillor REDACTED wrote to the Head of Paid Service and Simon Kilbey on the 6th November 2013 asking HR to provide details of any staff that were canvassing and in the paid employment of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

4.2.2 Councillor REDACTED wrote to the Head of Paid Service again on the 11th November 2013 highlighting the Love Wapping blog produced by Mark Baynes that detailed his encounter with 3 women that knocked at his door on the morning of the 7th November.

4.2.3 When councillor REDACTED was spoken to he confirmed that he could not supply any direct evidence that related to the incident that Mark Baynes refers to or any other incident that people have spoken about.

4.2.4 He highlighted the issue that individuals may be out canvassing and purporting to be THH or council officers rather than THH or council staff actually canvassing on behalf of the Mayor.

4.3 Head of Paid Service

4.3.1 The Head of Paid Service, REDACTED responded to Councillor REDACTED email that was sent to him and an email on the 27th November 2013.

4.3.2 He confirmed that neither the Mayor’s office or any part of the council employ casework canvassers and that no council staff is paid by the authority to knock on doors and generate casework. He explained that the decent homes advert that appeared on a television advert was the THH hotline based at Jack Dash House.

4.3.3 He further explained that he understood that the Mayor has a number of volunteers working to support the Mayor, as do other political parties, when canvassing. The volunteers have no connection with the council and are not paid by the authority to carry out their work. They may not describe themselves to residents as representing the council, the Mayor’s Office or Tower Hamlets Homes.

4.4 Councillor REDACTED

4.4.1 Councillor REDACTED raised the issue of canvassing by the Mayor of Tower Hamlets and the use of council resources. The emergency motion is reported at item 13.2 of the full council minutes as follows. To instruct the Monitoring officer, returning Officer and Head of Paid Service to work with THH and the police to fully investigate the concerns that THH staff may be using their position for electoral canvassing, or that they or members of the council staff are being impersonated for this purpose.

4.4.2 To call on the Head of Paid Service to carry out an audit of all council pass holders and all individuals with access to the councils information systems.

4.4.3 When asked about the allegations she confirmed that she could not supply and direct or supporting evidence to prove the allegations and was referring to issues relayed to her by other councillors, members of the public and the blog produced by Mark Baynes.

4.5 Tower Hamlets Homes

4.5.1 On the 8th of November, the day after the encounter between an officer of THH and Mark Baynes at a community meeting and the publication of the Love Wapping blog. Tower Hamlets Homes initiated an independent investigation into the incident as described by Mark Baynes and the allegation that THH staff were engaged in canvassing on behalf of the Mayor for Tower Hamlets.

4.5.2 A copy of the investigation report is attached.

4.5.3 Whilst the report does not detail the lines of enquiry it does conclude that there is no evidence to substantiate any inappropriate activity on the part of staff employed by THH.

4.5.4 It further states that on the balance of probabilities there were callers to the home of Mark Baynes but there is nothing to substantiate that the people carrying out the door knocking were in the employ of THH.

4.5.5 The findings of the THH investigation is supported by;

  • There is no record of any issued raised by Mark Baynes or flagged to his address on IT systems managed by THH on or after the 7th November 2013.
  • There are 2 highways issues reported on the 201h November reported by a third party who’s details are unknown. They relate to highways Issues and may pertain to the issues raised on the 7th November 2013.
  • That all THH managers are confident that all staff are aware of the need to identify themselves as THH staff and to produce their identification for scrutiny.
  • That there has been no THH campaign knocking on doors on the estate that Mark Baynes lives on.
  • That it is very unusual for THH staff to undertake door knocking exercises in groups of three.
  • That no LBTH or THH Identification was shown during the incident

4.6 REDACTED Tower Hamlets Homes

4.6.1 REDACTED is a REDACTED with Tower Hamlets Homes. He has no knowledge of the alleged encounter between Mr Mark Baynes and a member of Tower Hamlets Homes Staff at a Community Meeting on the afternoon of the 7th November. This meeting was shortly after Mark Baynes says that he had an encounter on his door step. LW [Note by Love Wapping – ‘LW’ here presumably refers to the initials of the THH in question, it does not mean ‘Love Wapping’] does confirm that once the blog entry on Mark Baynes website, Love Wapping became known to THH they instigated their investigation. The investigation commenced on the 8th November the day after the blog entry.

4.7.1 REDACTED THH Neighbourhood Officer

The officer confirms that on the 7th November she attended a community meeting around lunchtime and was approached by a man whom she did not know. She confirms that she had a brief conversation with him about people on the estate who were knocking on doors canvassing for the Mayor and that women were stating that they were from THH. She asked him if they had produced THH identification and she showed her pass to him. He had not asked for identification and was unaware that the people that knocked at his door had any identification.

4.7.2 She also recalls that earlier that day she was conducting a home visit on the estate. Whilst she was in the premises she recalls that there was a knock at the door and when the resident opened the door she overheard a male voice say Tower Hamlets Homes. She did not see the person that spoke and cannot add any context to the words that she heard.

4.7.3 On the 8th November, the day following the community meeting and the encounter with Mark Baynes REDACTED returned to the estate on a walk about to see if she could find anybody door knocking as described to her. She did not find anybody. This visit by the THH officer is corroborated by Mark Baynes.

4.8 Tower Hamlets Council Staff

4.8.1 The main allegation as reported by Mark Baynes in his Love Wapping blog singles out Tower Hamlets Homes staff as the potential individuals involved in the canvassing issue. The council motion that was raised by Councillor and passed by full council states that the investigation should be extended to include council officers employed by Tower Hamlets.

4.8.2 During this investigation every Council Directorate and Service Head responsible for staff has been contacted and asked about staff either canvassing or conducting surveys within their services.

4.8.3 Every service head confirmed that none of their staff are undertaking canvassing activities on behalf of the Mayor as part of their work.

4.8.4 One service (Community Safety) responded that that they are under undertaking local surveys in areas about ASB issues prior to the Community Safety walkabouts. This is a partnership exercise to identify and address local ASB issues with the police and local housing providers. The officers engaged in this work do not identify themselves as working for the Mayor, they do not hand out the leaflet as described by Mark Baynes and identified in his blog.

4.8.5 A log of issues raised during the visit is collated by the officer and reported to the Head of Service and they will ultimately form part of the local walkabout.

4.8.6 On the 7th November, the day that Mark Baynes highlighted the alleged canvassing issue the officers from Community Safety were not working on or near the Green Bank Estate.

4.9 REDACTED

4.9.1 REDACTED is REDACTED the Mayor’s Office and is responsible for all of the LBTH staff that is employed in the office. Her manager is REDACTED .

4.9.2 MP is aware of the political restrictions that apply to officers. She explained the role of her office and that no officers were engaged canvassing on behalf of the Mayor in contravention of the political restrictions or while working as a council employee.

4.9.3 When she was shown the images of 2 women taken from the Love Wapping website she had no idea who they were.

4.10 Mayors Office Staff

4.10.1 Each officer was spoken to. They explained their role within the office and were aware of the political restrictions as it affected them. All the officers stated that they were not engaged in any canvassing for the forthcoming elections for the Mayor or any other political party. Neither did they have knowledge of anybody they work with that was engaged in any form of canvassing.

4.11.1 Mayor Rahman

The Mayor is quite clear on the rules that relate to politically restricted staff and is not aware that any staff from LBTH or Tower hamlets Homes have been or continue to be canvassing.

4.11.1 In relation to the incident on the 7111 November he confirms that volunteers were canvassing on his behalf and that they identify themselves as canvassers working on his behalf.Having been made aware of the allegations he has tried to identify the women concerned in the alleged incident but has been unable to do so because no one has come forward. Hedoes not know how the misunderstanding has come about but comments on the rumours and that the allegations may be politically motivated.

4.11.2 He states that no one in his office is running his election campaign and politically restricted staff should be aware of the rules and would not volunteer as canvassers.

4.11.3 The Mayor has been able to identify the women in the second event described and filmed by Mark Baynes.

4.12 Women Canvassers

4.12.1 It has been impossible to identify the women that called at Mark Baynes’s address on the 7th November.

4.12.2 However, the women filmed by Mark Baynes in the second incident have been identified by the Mayor.

4.12.3 Whilst I could not compel either woman to be interviewed one of them agreed to come into the council to explain how they undertake their canvassing role. I eventually met with her on Friday the 11th April at the Council offices. She attended with a friend to help with interpretation as English is not her first language

4.12.4 At the beginning of the interview I produced a photograph , a still from the MB video highlighting 2 women door knocking on an estate, and she identified herself as one of the women in the photograph.

4.12.5 She identified herself as a housewife and a volunteer working to re-elect Mayor Rahman. She is not and has never been an employee of the Council or Tower Hamlets Homes.

4.12.6. She explained that: She would speak in Bengali when knocking on doors. She would greet the occupier in both Bengali and English and explain that she supported the Mayor and was working on his behalf. She would ask if the Mayor could help with any issues that the occupier might have and if they also supported the Mayor.

4.12.7 She says that she was not given details of people to call on, or any other information about residents. She would simply door knock and explain what she was doing. If the resident wanted to report an issue she would take a telephone number and write it onto the sheets that were given to her by the Mayor. She would then return the sheets with the contact numbers for those people that wished to be contacted .

4.12.8 When asked for further clarification about how she introduced herself to householders she was quite clear, with the help of interpretor, that she did not say she worked for the Mayor or his office. She reiterated that she is a volunteer, that she introduced herself as a supporter and asked the householder that opened the door if they also supported the Mayor and if they had any problems that he could help them with. When asked about the papers that she was given, as highlighted in the MB video she says that they were blank, that she didn’t know what ‘ME’ meant and would just write a telephone number in the blank box provided. She was clear that she was never given any personal information about who lived in the property and that she would just knock on doors to see what response she received.

4.1 2.9 She is no longer door knocking and feels vulnerable and unsafe when out because of the amount of interest that this blog has stirred up. [Same line as Alibory Choudhury was giving in Council].

4.13 Electoral Offences

A review of the Representation of the Peoples Act 1983 and the Electoral Administration Act 2006 reveals that no offences in relation to these Acts have taken place based upon the evidence obtained in this investigation.

4.14 Legal Position Regarding misrepresentation Services

The fact that individuals may state that they are from the Local Authority or Tower Hamlets Homes is not in itself an offence. If the person seeks to make a financial gain or cause a financial loss to another then an offence may have been committed. If the person seeks to make a financial gain or cause a financial loss to another then an offence may have been committed . That is not the case as reported in these circumstances.

5.0 Council IT systems

5.1.1 The Council resolution also called for the audit of all council pass holders and individuals with access to the council’s information systems.

5.1.2 Unfortunately the current configuration and use of the system made it impossible to run data checks to audit the system to identify specific individuals that may not have legitimate access to council passes

5.1.3 Since the council resolution facilities management have reviewed every entry and cleansed the entire system to remove names from the database that cannot be traced. Such examples relate to past employees, contractors and agency staff that are no longer working for LBTH.

5.1.4 The database now only contains the names of people that should legitimately have access to a council pass. Facilities management have reviewed the pass allocation process and individuals will now only be able to obtain a pass upon the production of a pay role number or a personalised letter from a senior manager.

5.1.5 In addition, FM are reviewing the types of identification that should be given to parties that work for the Authority. It is likely that paid employees, Councillors, and other workers will be given different style cards to accurately reflect their position within the council.

6.0 Metropolitan Police

6.1.1 On the 21st November REDACTED of the Labour Group, the Labour REDACTED of Tower Hamlets, and REDACTED the Chair of Tower Hamlets Labour Party wrote to the Metropolitan Police Borough Commander for Tower Hamlets. They set out their complaint as it relates to the comments in the Love Wapping blog claiming abuse of taxpayers money, impersonating for the purpose of electoral canvassing, and obtaining information by deception.

6.1.2 Whilst the police have recorded the allegations they are yet to report on the course of action that they intend to take to deal with the issue.

7.0 Conclusions

7.1.1 Mark Baynes and the Councillors have not made any allegation that Tower Hamlets Council staff were or are involved in the canvassing of residents on behalf of the Mayor.

7.1.2 Mark Baynes gives a clear account of the encounter at his front door with the 3 well dress women and the fact that that they stated that they worked for Tower Hamlets Homes. The women did not produce any form of identity and neither did Mark Baynes ask for any.

7.1.3 Whilst he saw other people on the estate door knocking and speaking to residents he was not party to any of the conversations and has no knowledge what was said by the other groups.

7.1.4 His meeting with a manager at a community forum very shortly after his encounter tends to support his version of events. The officer he met confirms that the conversation took place and that she and other officers went out onto the estate on the 8th, the following day, to see if they could identify the people concerned.

7.1.5 The Tower Hamlets Homes management team had the content of the Wapping blog brought to their attention and they immediately instigated an internal investigation into the claims that THH officers were canvassing on behalf of the Mayor. This decision was made completely separately from the THH officer’s action on the 8th of November. The THH investigation concluded that the people mentioned in the blog were not THH staff and that THH staff were not involved in any canvassing activity.

7.1.6 The speedy action of both the THH officer and the management team evidences how seriously the matter was taken by THH. There does remain a question mark over how the unidentified individuals introduced themselves and what was said. The THH officer whilst out visiting overhears someone say Tower Hamlets Homes but cannot detail the context in which the term was used. It may have been used because the tenant was actually a THH tenant but then again they may have introduced themselves as THH officers. Whilst Mark Baynes is clear that the individuals introduced themselves as THH officers. The Mayor is equally clear that people canvassing on his behalf should properly introduce themselves

7.1.7 The Councillors that raised the issue of Tower Hamlets Homes and canvassing cannot add anything further to the investigation. They have no direct evidence of any wrong doing or misrepresentation by any Tower Hamlets Homes or Council staff member in this alleged incident. Their knowledge and information is based upon the Mark Baynes blog and other hearsay evidence and cannot take the investigation any further.

7.1.8 Even though there was no allegation that officers from Tower Hamlets Council were actively canvassing for Mayor Rahman every Directorate and service has been audited to ascertain if management know of or sanction any such activity by members of their staff. In addition, members of Mayor’s office were personally interviewed. All services were asked to identify any survey or consultation work that is currently taking place in the community.

7.1.9 The audit did not produce any evidence that council staff are or were actively canvassing on behalf of the Mayor or any other political party. It did identify that managers are acutely aware of all the restrictions that are placed upon council staff and will report any suggestion or hit of such activity if they became aware of it.

7.1.10 During the service audit one service identified that they are currently conducting local surveys. The Community Safety team are coordinating ASB walkabouts with the police and landlords with the Lead Member to identify current hotspot areas and problem solve the issues. This is a programme of events that has been operating from that latter part of 2013 and is identical to the walkabout programme that took place in 2012/13. An inspection of their briefing documents and other literature shows that they do not make reference to the Mayor in or the forthcoming elections in any way. In relation to the 7th of November they were not engaged in any survey work near Mr Baynes home.

7.1.11 Members of the Mayor’s office are aware of the political restrictions placed upon certain grades and there is no evidence that anybody employed in the office is canvassing on behalf of the Mayor.

7.1.12 The Mayor is quite clear on the rules that relate to politically restricted staff and is not aware that any member of staff from LBTH or Tower Hamlets Homes has or are canvassing.

7.1.13 In relation to the incident on the 7th November he confirms that volunteers were canvassing on his behalf and that they identify themselves as canvassers working on his behalf. Having been made aware of the allegations he has tried to identify the women concerned in the alleged incident but has been unable to do so because no one has come forward. He does not know how the misunderstanding has come about but comments on the rumours and that the allegations may be politically motivated.

7.1.14 The Mayor has been able to identify the women in the second event that was described and then filmed by Mark Baynes. They are not employees of either THH or the local authority. Whilst they cannot be compelled to answer any questions that relate to the incident one lady did come forward and offered an interview.

7.1.15 She was interviewed on the 11th April and brought a friend with her to help with interpreting because English is not her first language. She Identified herself as one of the women that was filmed by Mark Baynes in the second incident. She confirmed that she was not and had never been an employee of Tower Hamlets Homes or the Council. She is a volunteer and offers unpaid time to assist the Mayor.

7.1.15 On the day In question, as with any other day, she was involved in door knocking seeking support for Mayor Rahman. She explained that she knocks on doors and greets the occupier in both Bengali and English. She explains that she is a supporter of the Mayor and is seeking support for him. She asks if there is anything that the Mayor can do for them and if there is she takes a contact number that she records on forms given to her. At the end of the exercise she hands the forms in and has no idea what happens as a result but assumes that the person is contacted to see if the problem that they raised can be addressed. She explained that she was not given any personal information about any resident or to target certain individuals. She just knocked on doors seeking support for the Mayor.

7.1.16 Whilst the woman was clear about what she said and how she introduced herself and this was explained with the aid of a third party due to the women’s English language skills it is quite possible that there could have been a misinterpretation of her message when engaging with residents that do not speak in Bengali and that has given rise to the concerns raised by Councillors.

7.1.17 The database used to issue council identification cards only contains limited information about individuals in its current format. This makes the audit that was requested by full council impossible.

7.1.18 Since the council resolution facilities management have reviewed every entry and cleansed the entire system to removing names from the database that cannot be traced. There were numerous entries that related to past employees, contractors and agency staff that are no longer working for LBTH.

7.1.19 The database now only contains the names of people that should legitimately have access to a council pass. Facilities management have reviewed the pass allocation process and individuals will now only be able to obtain a pass upon the production of a pay role number or a personalised letter from a senior manager.

7.1.20 In addition, FM are reviewing the types of identification that should be given to parties that work for the Authority. It is recommended that paid employees, Councillors, and other workers will be given different style cards to accurately reflect their position within the council.

7.1.21 There is no evidence to support the claims that officers from Tower Hamlets Homes or indeed Tower Hamlets Council are or were actively engaged in canvassing for Mayor Lutfur Rahman on the run up to the May elections. There is no evidence to suggest that officers of the council have been impersonated for this purpose.

— ends —

Read comment and analysis on this report here.

 

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