Three Labour candidates standing in local elections in the London borough of Tower Hamlets have been spoken to by police investigating allegations of electoral fraud using falsely-registered postal votes. The inquiry by Scotland Yard Special Branch officers in the impoverished east London borough is part of a nationwide probe into 50 claims that electoral rolls from London to West Yorkshire, some of them in marginal constituencies, have been packed with fictitious or absent voters in the run up to this week's poll.
When The Independent visited the area on Monday to investigate the claims, reporter Jerome Taylor was attacked and badly beaten by youths shortly after calling at the house of Khales Uddin Ahmed, a Labour candidate for the Bromley-by-Bow ward.
A total of 12 people are registered to Mr Ahmed's address, seven of whom have been added to the electoral roll in the last eight weeks. A witness said that two of the attackers tried to run into Mr Ahmed's property. A 16-year-old youth has been arrested on suspicion of assault and released on police bail. Mr Ahmed yesterday failed to respond to requests for an interview.
The Metropolitan Police said it had received 10 separate allegations passed to it by Tower Hamlets Borough Council that addresses in closely-fought wards had acquired multiple new occupants shortly before the electoral register closed last month. Four of the claims are now the subject of a police inquiry.
George Galloway, whose Respect Party has fought a long electoral grudge match in the borough with Labour since 2004, and the Conservative Party have highlighted entries on the electoral roll where up to 18 adults have been registered at flats containing just two or three bedrooms. Mr Galloway, who is standing in the Poplar and Limehouse seat, vowed yesterday to mount a legal challenge to the results if it seems likely that they have been affected by any irregularities at the ballot box.
Police confirmed they are investigating 28 claims of electoral fraud across 12 London boroughs. A spokesman said: "All complaints and allegations received will be assessed, and where appropriate, will be thoroughly investigated in close liaison with the CPS and other relevant agencies."
The Independent understands that three out of the 51 Labour candidates standing in Tower Hamlets, which has a large Bengali population, have been spoken to by detectives in the last three weeks as part of "routine enquiries" into the allegations. There have been no arrests.
Entries on the electoral roll which have been highlighted include an apartment block in the Bethnal Green area, inhabited by families mostly with two or three adults, where one flat has had 17 voters added to its listing in the last month.
Another address, a small flat linked to a Labour councillor seeking re-election, has had three new voters registered within the past few weeks.
Tower Hamlets council said yesterday it would support calls to allow local authorities additional time to investigate late postal vote applications by allowing four extra days before the registration process closes to scrutinise application forms. The council said it had 3,123 registrations which it did not have time to investigate.
The allegations have led to a febrile atmosphere in the borough, where both parliamentary seats are held by slim majorities. Mr Galloway said: "The integrity of the elections here has been thoroughly compromised. Clearly there are grounds for arguing that these contests should end up before the electoral court."
A Labour Party spokesman said: "The Labour Party condemns fraud wherever it takes place and will take tough action against any member, candidate, agent or activist who abuses the voting system."
Postal vote investigations nationwide
Police have received complaints of electoral fraud in Tower Hamlets; Barking and Dagenham; Lambeth; Westminster; Enfield; Hounslow; Haringey; Ealing; Brent; Bexleyheath; Camden; and Redbridge.
Overall they have received 28 separate allegations of postal voting fraud. Five are currently under investigation, with 23 being assessed. Of the five allegations under investigation, four are in Tower Hamlets, and one is in Ealing.
Tower Hamlets Borough Council received 3,123 late postal vote registrations. A spokesperson for the council said that the late arrival of the applications did not give staff enough time to investigate and that the issue of electoral fraud was taken very seriously.
"We have over 300 staff from across the council now working on the elections and all have been trained to maintain the integrity of the election and watch out for potential voter fraud."
Police in Bradford have received three allegations of fraudulent postal votes and one allegation of "making or publishing false statements of fact about character or conduct".
The allegations are still under investigation and no arrests have been made.
In Halifax two men, aged 60 and 39, were arrested on 19 April this year, on suspicion of election fraud and are currently on police bail.
There have been allegations of breaches of the Electoral Commission Code of Practice in Rochdale; North Manchester; Oldham and Bolton. The police are working with the Electoral Commission to investigate these reports.
A spokesperson for Avon and Somerset police said that they have received no allegations of electoral fraud, despite Bristol East Labour candidate Kerry McCarthy last week announcing the details of a postal vote count on Twitter, which is in breach of the Electoral Commission's Code.
Tory activists said they had received reports that a man in hospital, on a ventilator, had been bullied by a member of a rival party into signing his postal vote in their favour, but Surrey police said have received no allegations of electoral fraud.
Derbyshire police have investigated two allegations of postal voting fraud and both investigations have now been closed. Not enough evidence was found to charge anyone of voting fraud.