“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana
Nearly a year after directly-elected Mayor Lutfur Rahman was found guilty of electoral corruption and banned from office it seems that no laws have been broken in Tower Hamlets. Not even slightly bent.
Residents could be forgiven for thinking that those in higher authority would much prefer it if we all forgot what happened and got on with other things.
No chance. This is the East End, innit?
The official view of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) seems to be just this – move forward and forget the past.
Across the borough there is a widely held view that justice has not been done.
No arrests. No one in jail. Nothing to see here, move along.
Councillor Peter Golds, Leader of the Conservative Group at Tower Hamlets council says that in his opinion the Metropolitan Police still seems to be ‘determined to ignore electoral malpractice,’
This and other comments condemning the seeming inaction of the MPS were made at a meeting of the Tower Hamlets Council Overview & Scrutiny Committee meeting on Thursday 29th February.
The Overview & Scrutiny meeting was a ‘crime and disorder spotlight’ looking at ASB issues and in addition the issue of electoral crimes.
Council officers Andy Bamber, Service Head – Safer Communities, and his colleague Trevor Kennett, Head of Street Enforcement & Response, were on hand to give answers to ASB questions and Tower Hamlets borough Superintendent Peter Turner was also in attendance.
After a very interesting discussion about ASB in the borough the meeting turned to the matter of the distinct lack of action by the Met in relation to electoral crime.
Cllr. Golds made his views on the Met very clear indeed and then asked borough Superintendent Peter Turner what if anything had been done with regard to electoral corruption?
Supt. Turner replied that as any electoral crime investigations were being dealt with centrally at New Scotland Yard he was unable to provide the Overview & Scrutiny Committee meeting with any details of any investigations into allegations of electoral crimes in the borough, either current or past.
Supt. Turner then suggested that the borough should be ‘moving forward’, not looking at the past.
Councillors were taken aback at this response to say the least.
A visibly angered Cllr. Golds said that he considered that the level of police incompetence in Tower Hamlets was approaching that of the police in Rotherham.
Amongst other issues Cllr. Golds suggested in forthright language that Electoral petitioners Andy Erlam and Azmal Hussein were being victimised by the Met which was pursuing vexatious claims against them with seemingly more enthusiasm than rooting out real corruption.
Cllr.Pierce, Chair of the O&S Committee pointed out to the Superintendent that he had nearly lost his own seat in Weavers ward to corrupt electoral practice.
He then suggested that requiring a senior officer from NSY to attend the town hall and report directly to the committee seemed to be the only way that residents could find out what, if anything, the Met had done to investigate electoral offences in the borough.
Wapping Mole gets digging
That was a couple of weeks ago. LW, amazed at the inability of a senior borough police officer to provide the Committee with any details of electoral investigations whatsoever then started asking questions directly to New Scotland Yard and this was the response with which we are now familiar with.
Cllr. Golds comparison of the collusion of the police in Rotherham with the lack of any investigative zeal by the Met in Tower Hamlets is worthy of further consideration.
Rotherham to be twinned with Tower Hamlets?
In Rotherham it seems that the police service colluded with council officials as the priority in Rotherham was jobs and investment and a focus on child sexual exploitation was an unwelcome distraction from this.
Key to this inaction was the fear of council staff being called racist if they identified the ethnic origins of the attackers who were predominantly Asian.
Justice Mawrey’s judgement did show some sympathy towards the pressure faced by the Met in Tower Hamlets as this extract shows:
610 “Nor is this judgment inclined to blame the Metropolitan Police. Policing Tower Hamlets under its current political re?gime is not an easy task. Many in the Police feel that the imputation of ‘institutional racism’ made by the Macpherson Enquiry, albeit 16 years ago, still dogs the Force and they are conscious that, in Mr Rahman, whose personal control of the Borough is tight, they are dealing with a man whose hair-trigger reaction is to accuse anyone who disagrees with him of racism and/or Islamophobia. In the circumstances it would be unreasonable to expect of the police anything other than an approach of considerable caution.”
The question now is did Met officers exercise so much caution in Tower Hamlets that they failed in their duty?
This fear of individuals or organisations being branded racist was exploited by Rahman and his supporters at the slightest criticism of the Mayor and his methods and something that LW has personal experience of. It is no fun at all.
As time passes and no arrests for ‘electoral malfeasance’ are made in the borough it should be of no surprise to the MPS that residents believe the Met has shied away from a determined and thorough investigation of corruption in Tower Hamlets for fear of upsetting race relations.
Ironically LW has found that the overwhelming majority of residents who have emailed us asking “why Lutfur Rahman is not in jail?” are Bangladeshi.
It has been noticeable that since the removal of Rahman from office members of the Bangladeshi community have felt safe enough to speak out.
The Three Wise Monkeys
Has the MPS actually done its job in Tower Hamlets? The instinctive reaction to the perceived lack of enthusiasm for investigating corruption is that bribery is to blame.
While understandable this is unlikely to be true. Political correctness is much more insidious in our society and much more dangerous.
Consider another extract from the judgement of Justice Mawrey:
579 “With a few exceptions, the witness statements for the returning officer covering events outside the polling stations (mainly police officers) and inside (mainly polling staff) described an atmosphere of hushed, almost cloistral, calm. In the light of the two other groups of statements, an unkind person might remark that the policemen and polling staff had appeared to take as their role models the legendary Three Wise Monkeys.”
Not corrupt, just embarrassed
Allegations of corruption in the Met are, in the opinion of LW, incorrect although understandable.
What may have happened is simply cock-up, not conspiracy. Multiple small errors that over time combined into a significant failure of policing in Tower Hamlets. An offence ignored here, a report quietly forgotten there. It all adds up.
What is more likely than corruption in the Metropolitan Police is this much simpler narrative. That various members of the Met’s Senior Leadership Team (SLT) in Tower Hamlets screwed up over a number of years when trying to deal with Lutfur Rahman since him coming to power in 2010. A SLT consists of those officers of chief inspector rank and above.
The electoral petition result then forced the Met to publicly demonstrate the results of its handling of electoral malfeasance in Tower Hamlets.
Because there was nothing to show. Nada. Zilch. Zero.
Only those who had to deal with the previous council administration can understand the impossible task Tower Hamlets police faced. But then that is their job.
The Met were facing a major embarrassment – because the job had not be done properly. On top of this the Met was being questioned over other enquiries gone astray (see below).
So given a choice between admitting a cock-up or attempting to pretend that the job had been done but nothing seriously untoward had been found the Met chose the latter.
And maybe this simple explanation is the reason for the nonsensical and factually flawed statement the Met published last week.
Tower Hamlets residents are not alone in feeling that there is a significant disparity between their perception of reality and that of the Metropolitan Police.
This week has seen the very public abandonment of Operation Midland, a Met investigation into alleged child abuse of senior public figures.
New Scotland Yard has already launched its own investigation into its handling of historic allegations of sexual abuse against public figures led by retired judge Sir Richard Henriques, but the results will primarily be for the eyes of the Met commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe.
This is in addition to the Goddard independent inquiry into child abuse and allegations of cover up across England and Wales including Rotherham.
Sex abuse is a very different crime from electoral malfeasance but the fundamental issue of the competence of our police force, even of our system of policing in the UK, is exactly the same.
And it may be that electoral malfeasance is not the only crime to have been allowed to thrive in the borough.
Good old fashioned greed
The problems caused by Lutfur Rahman and his Tower Hamlets First fan club may extend further into straightforward corruption.
Nothing to do with intimidation at the ballot box or vote rigging or shifting grants to favour one group over another.
Just plain and simple greed by people in public office.
LW has heard tell of various businesses and premises who have had to shut down as a result of their ‘treats’ from Rahman’s administration being withdrawn on the orders of the current Labour administration.
This is in addition of the withdrawal of grants to dodgy charities and lunch clubs.
It is good to hear that this is being done but it may well be that there still exists corruption in Tower Hamlets that will make the revelations of the electoral petition pale into insignificance.
Problem is that the authorities have proved that they are incapable or unwilling to investigate.
Residents investigation continues
It seems likely that, following the outstanding example set by the four electoral petitioners, borough residents might just have to do their own detective work and bring their own private prosecutions.
LW is very keen to hear from anyone who has knowledge of corruption in the borough. We are not interested in rumours or conspiracy theories. We need to see evidence. You might have it on your desk right now. And you know it needs to be used. The question is how?
As LW runs on a budget so small it would not keep a squirrel in nuts for more than a couple of weeks we do not have things like PO boxes or freephone numbers.
What we do have is our usual contact email address: email@example.com
LW has asked for help before and certain individuals – who will never be named or receive any public thanks – answered our call. You know who you are. No one else ever will.
So we ask again as there is still work to do. Please get in touch and tell LW what you know.