The High Court has ruled that the mayoral election of 2014 has been rendered void and that the discredited mayor Lutfur Rahman is banned from standing again.
The judge in the case, Richard Mawrey QC, said the mayor was guilty of bribery and corruption. He had committed several election offences either on his own or through his agents.
The judge dismantled the reputation of the mayor saying that he lacked honesty and credibility and some of his evidence was "demonstrably untrue".
He said Mr Rahman, who was ordered to pay £250,000 costs, had ruthlessly silenced critics by using Islamophobia as an attack weapon and "driven a coach and horses" through local authority law.
He said: "The evidence displayed an alarming state of affairs in Tower Hamlets which was the result of the ruthless ambition of one man."
Mr Mawrey said his meant that Mr Rahman's election was void meant that that it was as if the election "had never taken place" and he had not lawfully been mayor since that date.
In a sensational morning at the High Court, Mr Mawrey said: "The real losers are the citizens of Tower Hamlets, especially the Bengali community, who have been led into a sense of victimhood."
Four election petitioners brought a case against the mayor claiming ballot-rigging, intimidation and racism in the campaign of 2014 which Mr Rahman eventually won.
The case, heard in the High Court by Mr Mawrey QC, sitting as a judge, lasted two months before Easter.
A gasp went up in the court room when the mayor was branded a liar.
The judge said that the mayor was not a credible witness, was evasive and gave evidence that was "demonstrably untrue".
The mayor's key lieutenant Cllr Alibor Choudhury was guilty of corrupt practices and must leave office immediately.
He also reserved some criticism for police inaction over claims of polling station intimidation. He said evidence presented by witnesses was credible but did not meet the level of proof required to suggest the election result would have been different.
A spokesman for Tower Hamlets First said: "Today’s judgment has come as a shock – the mayor strongly denies any wrongdoing and had full confidence in the justice system, so this result has been surprising to say the least.
"We are seeking further legal advice on the matter in relation to a judicial review. A more detailed statement clarifying our response will be released shortly."
How it unfolded
The judge gave an executive summary of his 200-page verdict to a packed court-room this morning.
He said that illegal practices including postal vote fraud, false statements, bribery and "undue spiritual influence" – which is illegal in election law – had been made.
It had been claimed that Muslim voters had been told it was a "sin" not to vote for Mr Rahman and that anyone who challenged him was a racist or Islamophobe.
The judge said this issue was sensitive but he couldn't avoid pointing out that Mr Rahman was determined the play the race card as well as the spiritual card."
He was found guilty on this.
He also raised the issue of the number of grants given to the media – mostly Bangladeshi – which were paid to induce support, it was alleged. He was scathing of Tower Hamlets' practices – now overseen by Government-appointed commissioners – which had seen money channelled to favoured causes.
The judge was clear in his mind about the gravity of the case and the power of courts to overturn democratic decisions. He said the check had been in place since 1868 to prevent "cheating".
However, those making a case for corruption would need to have a criminal case level of proof – that is "beyond reasonable doubt" as opposed to the "balance of probabilities" required in civil cases.
A number of Lutfur Rahman's Tower Hamlets First cabinet colleagues were in the High Court to hear the verdict although the mayor himself was not present. The judge said THF was not a party, but an extension of the mayor – who had confessed he forgot it had a constitution.
To laughter in the courtroom, the judge made reference to the mayor's past in the Labour party which for 10 years "spent more time fighting each other than opponents".
But in a damning passage, the judge said that the mayor was not a credible, he was evasive and gave evidence that was "demonstrably untrue".
Referring to other characters who had appeared before him, the judge said Tower Hamlets First's Cllr Alibor Choudhury was "arrogant".
Conservative leader Cllr Peter Golds, who had provided testimony against Mr Rahman was a "reliable source".
In relation to intimidation at the polling booths, the judge attacked the police who he said did nothing. They acted like the three wise monkeys – "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" in the face of actions from Rahman's supporters.
He said that Mr Rahman's witnesses were not credible in their depiction of the polling stations as places of tranquility although he said returning officer John Williams was blameless.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said the Election Court's judgement "vindicated" his decision to send commissioners into the council last year.
The judgment could mean extra powers for the commissioners and he said the Met Police "also need to take steps to stop further corrupt practices".