As Britain went to the polls today to vote in the European and local elections, a worrying increase in voter intimidation and fraud resulted in an unprecedented police presence in areas across the UK identified as “high risk”.
Officers were stationed at every one of the 125 polling stations in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, it was reported, in the wake of a “breakdown of trust” between the public and election officials in the past.
Sky News reported that, in all, 16 areas of the country had been identified by the Electoral Commission as having the potential for problems. They included parts of Birmingham, Peterborough, Burnley and Blackburn.
Large groups of party supporters will be stopped from gathering outside polling stations, police said, in attempts to prevent voters being intimidated on their way to booths.
Polling officers in the “high risk” areas have been given additional training, and postal votes are also being closely monitored against other council records.
John Williams, the returning officer for Tower Hamlets, said: “We want to encourage people to use their democratic right to vote. Postal votes are a legitimate way of ensuring those who cannot get to polling stations can have their voice and choice heard.
“But we are also determined to tackle fraud robustly, which is why we have been working closely with the police and the Electoral Commission to maintain the integrity of the elections.”
Speaking to the Telegraph, a council spokesperson said that she was not aware of such a full-scale police presence ever being used in the borough before.
A council spokeswoman said: “We are going to have police officers at all of our 125 polling stations for the whole 15 hours of the poll, which is from 7am until 10pm.
“It is part of efforts we have been making to ensure free and fair elections and make sure we have the most robust procedures in place to make sure the election runs smoothly.
“We are keen to make sure that nobody is intimidated and everybody is free to go in and cast their vote.”
The UK was tasked today with returning 73 members for the European Parliament, as well as selecting candidates for more than 4,000 council seats across 161 English local authorities. Northern Ireland also staged its local elections today.
Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will await the impact of the Ukip-effect as voters go to the polls following a campaign dominated by Nigel Farage's Eurosceptic party.
Ed Miliband, who had a difficult last few days in the Labour campaign this week, said he was nonetheless feeling “very good” as he cast his votes at Sutton village hall in his Doncaster North constituency.
In pictures: Ed Miliband trying to look normal
In pictures: Ed Miliband trying to look normal
1/17 The beggar
Ed Miliband casually gives money to a homeless woman in Manchester, surrounded by press photographers.
2/17 The Bacon Sandwich
Ed Miliband buys a bacon sandwich from cafe owner Antonios Foufas at New Covent Garden Market in London as he kicks off a day of campaigning on the eve of the local and European elections
3/17 The Bacon Sandwich
Ed Miliband chats with a cafe owner Antonios Foufas at New Covent Garden Market in London
4/17 The Bacon Sandwich
Ed Miliband embarked on a whirlwind campaign tour of England - but struggled at the first hurdle (a bacon sandwich). Aides intervened after just a few less-than-elegant bites
5/17 Flower Shopping
Ed Miliband talks with a couple of traders at New Covent Garden Market in London
6/17 Flower Shopping
Ed Miliband purchases some red roses for his wife at New Covent Garden Market in London
7/17 Talking Business
Ed Miliband talks with a trader at New Covent Garden Market in London
8/17 Good Morning Britain
Miliband on ITV's Good Morning Britain show on 20 May 2014, a day of gaffes in which he was also caught out by BBC Wiltshire for not knowing who the local Labour leader was
9/17 '£70 Weekly Shop'
Ed was accused of being 'out of touch with reality' after he seemed not to know what he - or the average British family - spends on a weekly food shop
10/17 Drop in Polls
Ed Miliband paid a visit to Leighton Hospital in Crewe to speak with the staff about the NHS, but faced difficult questions about polls showing his personal ratings falling well behind those David Cameron and George Osborne
11/17 On the Sofa with Farage
Ed Miliband appeared on the Andrew Marr Show to debate with Nigel Farage - but has all but conceded defeat in the Newark by-election, allowing Ukip a free run at the Tories
12/17 Wollies in Wellies
Miliband was among a number of politicians to come under fire for 'touring' the floods in the South and South West earlier this year
13/17 Wollies in Wellies
The Labour leader admitted it was 'a difficult decision for politicians whether to visit areas like this'
14/17 Missed Opportunity
Miliband's performance at the Labour conference last year failed to make much of an impression on voters, polls suggested
15/17 Sharing the Moment
Miliband, Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Angus Robinson enjoy their moment with Andy Murray, after the tennis player's Wimbledon win
16/17 Casual Husband
Miliband and his wife Justine are pictured in their hotel room in Brighton as he prepares to give his keynote speech to the annual Labour Party Conference
17/17 The Milibands
Just your average family of four?
The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, similarly replied that he was “very well, thanks” as he arrived to place his vote in Sheffield.
Yesterday, the Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said she believed the party was “on track” to make gains today, with opinion polls suggesting the party could triple its number of MEPs from two to six.
And David Cameron tweeted a picture of himself walking out of a polling booth with wife Samantha, writing: “Vote Conservative for real change in Europe.”
A shock result in a poll by YouGov, commissioned for The Sun, projected yesterday that Ukip would win the European elections with 27 per cent of the vote, with the Lib Dems dropping down to fifth place.
Before casting his ballot, Mr Farage said: “If we get what we like, things will never be quite the same again.”