Tower Hamlets data theft – ICO gives up search for guilty

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has completed its investigation into the massive data theft of Tower Hamlets Homes resident’s personal details stating that the ICO ‘will not be taking any further action’.

This would seem to be the latest sorry episode in a sequence of events whereby the 280,000 residents of a London borough are abandoned by the authorities when the rule of law needs to be applied.

First borough residents have to rely on four private individuals to prove the corruption of Lutfur Rahman.

Then the Metropolitan Police issues a statement saying there is insufficient evidence to bring prosecutions for electoral corruption in the borough.

Now the Information Commissioners Office has given up on finding those responsible for the theft of data from Tower Hamlets Homes that was used by Tower Hamlets First during elections.

Anyone else notice a trend here? Or is it just us?

Tower Hamlets Council, Tower Hamlets Homes and the Electoral Commissioner have been asked for their response to the ICO statement but their responses were not available at the time of publication.

Beep beep! Vote for THF!

Ten months ago LW revealed the data theft of Tower Hamlets Homes resident’s personal details after we came into possession of Tower Hamlets First canvassing sheets(see below) which included tenants mobile phone numbers.

Example of THF canvassing sheet handed to LW
Example of THF canvassing sheet handed to LW
Detail of canvassing sheet
Detail of canvassing sheet


Borough residents were baffled when they were sent SMS messages(see below) urging them to vote for Tower Hamlets First candidates despite never having given their phone numbers to Rahman’s party.

Screen grab of text message sent by THF
Screen grab of text message sent by THF

The statement by an ICO spokesperson sent to LW today simply said: “We have completed our investigation and will not be taking any further action.”

“Completely unsatisfactory”

Jim-Fitzpatrick-speaking-featured“The response looks completely unsatisfactory,” said Jim Fitzpatrick, MP for Poplar and Limehouse when we asked for a comment on the ICO statement. Jim has promised to follow this up.

Jim has already organised a Commons adjournment debate and asked numerous questions in the House regarding corruption in the borough.

Seems that Jim might be going to ask a few more questions.

After LW ran our original story in August 2015 Tower Hamlets Homes employed a firm of solicitors to conduct its own internal investigation and then passed the results of this to the ICO.

Data theft facts

Ten months and two investigations later the result is that there is no result. How can this be?

Let’s look at the facts as we know them and apply some commonsense reasoning:

  1. All Tower Hamlets First candidates in the 2014 election were deemed to have been ‘achieved with the benefit of the corrupt and illegal practices by Justice Mawrey (see para 635 of Judgement quoted here.) Previous conduct is not always indicative of future actions of course but it gives some pretty big hints.
  2. During the 2014 and 2015 elections borough residents were sent SMS messages by Tower Hamlets First without authorisation.
  3. After Tower Hamlets First were defeated LW was handed documents (which we still have) that were found in the old THF offices in the town hall. These are clearly canvassing sheets for THF that include Tower Hamlets Homes tenants mobile phone numbers
  4. The only organisation that holds this type of data is Tower Hamlets Homes.
  5. Because of data protection and privacy laws the type of information in the canvassing sheets would not be easy to access even by authorised THH employees. Either a formal request for such data, especially in bulk, would need to be made by a senior THH officer or it must have been obtained without authorisation.
  6. Any local government IT system has what is known as an ‘audit trail’ built into it. Everything that the IT system does, especially tasks like run outs of tenants personal information, is logged by user accessing the data, time, date, the lot. The data run out used to generate the canvassing sheets still held by LW would be part of an audit trail.

Residents do not need training as a Crime Scene Investigator to work out what went on. But they are reliant on organisations such as the ICO (or Met Police or DCLG) to do their jobs. This has not been happening.

So why were the ICO investigators incapable of revealing linkage between the data theft from Tower Hamlets Homes and the electoral activities of Tower Hamlets First?

ICO investigation blocked by Council officers

LW has been informed by multiple reliable sources that the failure of the ICO investigation is as a direct result of one or more senior Tower Hamlets Council officers blocking the work of the ICO.

Not politicians – council officers.

(If anyone should consider the above circumstances they might wish to read this recent story of the corrupt and fraudulent practices undertaken by Tower Hamlets Youth Services.)

The motivation for these officers to hinder the work of a formal investigation is to conceal the full extent of corrupt practices during Lutfur Rahman’s tenure by Tower Hamlets Council officers. More details on these corrupt practices in future LW news.

I’m off! Can I have my cash now?

One reason for a dodgy council officer to delay or even derail an enquiry such as that by the ICO is to delay public exposure of their activities until they can get a nice big payoff and a non-disclosure agreement binding to both parties.

However now there is a spanner in the works and some officers may be trying to leave very quickly indeed.

Sound unlikely? Not at all. In August this year a cap on payoffs to local government officers comes into force. Once the cap is in place then officers leaving the council can only receive a maximum of £96,000 in ‘exit-pay’. £96k is a lot of money but is dwarfed by some payoffs which are worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. Serious dosh.

And the council committee that agrees the payoffs terms and amounts may be making a decision this side of August.

Freeze exit-pay deals

If the new administration of Mayor Biggs is genuinely intent on becoming a beacon council for transparency then an immediate freeze on any agreements on any exit-pay agreements until after the August cap comes into force would be the right thing to do.

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You might read this story in the national media next week – please remember you read it here first.

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