The London Assembly has called for an investigation into the police mishandling of electoral fraud and malpractice in the Tower Hamlets election in 2014.
Police made “major failings” in their handling of the probe which left observers baffled and Assembly members “shocked”.
The man at the centre of the abuse, Lutfur Rahman, was booted out of office and banned for illegal and corrupt practices. The Election Court heard a litany of criminal-standard activities, laid out in great detail – but still the police refused to pursue the cases.
It emerged during the Assembly’s investigation, the police had not even passed the files to the Crown Prosecution Service and many of the files had gone missing.
Now the police and crime committee is calling for a full investigation by Her Majesty’ Inspectorate of Constabulary, a call made by Wharf.co.uk last month.
Unwilling to act
Chairman Steve O’Connell said: “During our investigation, we, as a committee, have been shocked to uncover major failings by the Metropolitan Police in its ability to investigate allegations of electoral fraud and malpractice.
“Missed files of evidence; missed opportunities to gather witness statements; witnesses who were prepared to give evidence in the Election Court but were unwilling to do so in criminal proceedings – this is not what we expect from a supposedly world-leading police force.”
Mr O’Connell has written to Sophie Linden, the deputy mayor for policing and crime, urging her to use her powers to call on Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) to look into the activities of officers investigating the election.
He wrote that more could have been done to examine the claims and that the investigations that did take place were not undertaken to the highest standards.
He said: “It is time therefore for a fresh pair of eyes to review the activities of the Met in regard of the allegations of electoral fraud and malpractice.
“While the time limited constraints of the Representation of the People’s Act may prevent any prosecution of past electoral malpractice by Mr Rahman, offences of bribery, corruption and conspiracy have no time limit for bringing charges.
“There may still therefore be opportunities to mount a criminal prosecution and bring a sense of closure to what has been a systematic affront to the democratic process.”
Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs said: “Despite a High Court judge finding Lutfur Rahman and his colleagues guilty on multiple counts of corruption and electoral fraud, there is deep frustration that the process stopped without criminal charges. On the basis of the evidence in the election court there were many leads to follow.
“Many people in Tower Hamlets are understandably mystified why those who tried so hard to steal the 2014 election have yet to be fully held to account. I welcome the Police and Crime Committee’s call for the HMIC to be called in to see what lessons can be learnt from this sorry saga.
“Thankfully electoral fraud is rare but where it does happen we need confidence that the police have the skills and motivation to thoroughly investigate and bring those responsible to justice.”
Andy Erlam who led the petition which barred Mr Rahman from public office said: "I congratulate the committee for looking so thoroughly at the case, drawing attention to the complete failure of the Met to look at very serious crimes against democracy and a massive fraud of public funds."
City Hall said: “We are aware of this matter and the Met and the CPS are now reviewing the evidence. We await the outcome of this process.”
Mr Rahman has used the failure to prosecute as de evidence that he was effectively exonerated in the inquiry and is pursuing a judicial review of his ban on that basis as he attempts to relaunch his political career.
Only this week he successfully used that defence to fend off an attempt by the Solicitors Regulation Authority to strip him of his professional powers. A disciplinary panel adjourned its hearing.
The Met Police have repeatedly said officers had pursued all possible lines and followed up witness statements but did not feel there was sufficient evidence to present to the CPS.
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