A prominent London mayor fought a campaign of “intimidation, corruption and fraud” to win power, with voters told it would be “un-Islamic” not to support him and backers bribed with free food, a court has heard.
Lutfur Rahman, mayor of Tower Hamlets, is at the centre of the bitter legal battle over alleged electoral fraud which – if he is found guilty – could see him removed from his position and banned from public office for five years.
Almost 100 witnesses will be called in the case, which began at the High Court in London, yesterday.
It has been brought by a group of local residents, Andrew Erlam, Debbie Simone, Azmal Hussein and Angela Moffat, who accuse Mr Lutfur of electoral fraud during last May’s election. The group, led by Mr Erlam, who stood as a councillor last year, want the result – which saw independent Mr Rahman elected for a second term – declared void and re-run.
Barrister Francis Hoar, representing the four, told the court: “The allegations against Lutfur Rahman are that he was guilty of corrupt and illegal practices, directly or through his agents.”
He claimed that Mr Rahman “has been prepared to take whatever steps, whatever means and recruit whatever support to take power, power for himself, power for his friends and power over his own community.”
Witnesses saw a voter crying outside a polling station last year after allegedly being told by a supporter of Mr Rahman that not voting for him was “un-Islamic” andmeant you were “not a good Muslim,” the court heard.
The Tower Hamlets mayor “has a long history of abusing his power, inciting his supporters to intimidate his opponents , corruptly funding organisations to promote him politically, and electoral fraud – personally as well as through others,” Mr Hoar claimed.
“Unlike Sophocles, Lutfur Rahman would not ‘rather fail with honour than succeed by fraud’.”
He added: “Mr Rahman was well aware that his supporters were registering themselves and others as ‘ghost’ voters.”
But Duncan Penny QC, representing Mr Rahman, told the court: “There is little if any evidence of personal wrongdoing by Lutfur Rahman.” He described the allegations as “invention”, “exaggeration” and “in some cases downright deliberately false.”
Allegations against returning officer John Williams, described by Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey, the judge in the case, as a “sideshow to the main war,” were withdrawn.
But Mr Rahman’s political future remains at stake. In a statement, a spokesperson for the mayor said: “The petitioners’ case is weak and unconvincing, characterised more by amateur dramatics than credible evidence. Police and the Electoral Commission have already investigated election complaints and upheld none of them.” They described the people bring the case as “hardened party politicians” and added: “The Mayor looks forward to clearing his name of these manipulative, distorted and vicious accusations.” The hearing continues today.
The case comes just weeks after Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, commented there could be “no place for rotten boroughs in 21st-century Britain” and appointed a team of commissioners to oversee the running of Tower Hamlets council for the next three years.