- Independent Lutfur Rahman elected for second term as mayor last year
- A judge yesterday declared the poll result void due to corruption
- Court found Rahman used corrupt and illegal practices to seize power
- He was ordered to pay £250,000 costs and is unable to stand in re-run
A London mayor who 'cynically perverted' the religious feeling of his Muslim community and 'silenced his critics with accusations of racism and Islamophobia' has been removed from office after a bitter legal battle with voters.
Disgraced Lutfur Rahman repeatedly played the 'race card' in his bid to seize the mayoralty of Tower Hamlets and later cling to power, Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey found yesterday.
The judge said the case 'starkly demonstrated what happens when those in authority are afraid to confront wrongdoing for fear of allegations of racism and Islamophobia'.
He added: 'Even in the multicultural society which is 21st century Britain, the law must be applied fairly and equally to everyone. Otherwise we are lost.'
The judge ordered that last year's mayoral election - which was riddled with corruption of Third World proportions - be run again and barred Rahman - who was re-elected to the position after forming his own party, Tower Hamlets First - from standing again.
Rahman, who was not in court for the judgement, was ordered to pay £250,000 costs following an Election Court trial estimated to have run up legal bills in the region of £1 million.
Lutfur Rahman has been found guilty of corrupt and illegal practices by an Election Court judge
Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey (pictured) said the case 'starkly demonstrated what happens when those in authority are afraid to confront wrongdoing for fear of allegations of racism and Islamophobia'
Rahman is the first person since the 19th century to be found guilty of the Victorian-era misdeed of unlawfully using religious influence.
Last night, the Metropolitan Police belatedly said it would now consider ‘whether’ to launch a criminal inquiry into his conduct.
In his ruling yesterday, Judge Mawrey branded Rahman a pathological liar who had ‘driven a coach and horses’ through the law.
On the conduct of Mr Rahman and his party during the election campaign, the judge found:
- Rahman 'let loose a mob of excitable, politically committed, young men' who 'approached voters, particularly Bangladeshi voters and harangued them in a manner that appeared to some onlookers to be rather aggressive'.
Some voters said getting into polling stations was like 'running the gauntlet'.
- Up to 300 votes were 'dubious' or the result of 'personation', an electoral offence where someone votes as someone else.
- Rahman 'ran his campaign on the basis that it was the religious duty of faithful Muslims to vote for him'.
- He ran his party, Tower Hamlets First, as a 'personal fiefdom', which 'had no other aim, objective or ideology beyond the continuation of Mr Rahman in the office of Mayor of Tower Hamlets'.
The judge said: 'The evidence laid before this court ... has disclosed an alarming state of affairs in Tower Hamlets,' he said.
'This is not the consequence of the racial and religious mix of the population, nor is it linked to any ascertainable pattern of social or other deprivation. It is the result of the ruthless ambition of one man.'
The judge added: 'The real losers in this case are the citizens of Tower Hamlets.'
The judge said Mr Rahman and his supporters had accused opponents of 'dividing the community' when it was in fact they who had done so.
THE VALIANT VOTERS WHO RISKED ALL TO EXPOSE NEST OF CORRUPTION
He added: 'The Bangladeshi community might have thought itself fortunate to have been the recipient of the Mayor's lavish spending but in the end the benefits were small and temporary and the ill effects long-lasting. It was fool's gold.
'On past form, it appears inevitable that Mr Rahman will denounce this judgment as yet another example of the racism and Islamophobia that have hounded him throughout his political life.
'It is nothing of the sort. Mr Rahman has made a successful career by ignoring or flouting the law (as this Petition demonstrates) and has relied on silencing his critics by accusations of racism and Islamophobia.
'But his critics have not been silenced and neither has this court.'
Four voters who stood up to Rahman - Andrew Erlam, Debbie Simone, Azmal Hussein and Angela Moffat - and brought the High Court legal action which eventually removed him from office were praised for their 'exemplary courage' today.
Judge Mr Mawrey said: 'The Petitioners knew that Mr Rahman would deploy all his resources to defeat them and could rely on the Bangladeshi media to back him all the way.
'The Petitioners would be portrayed as racists and Islamophobes, attempting to set aside the election (by a large majority) of a Mayor whose government of the Borough had been inspirational, for no better reason than the fact that he was a Bangladeshi.
'And so it proved. The Petitioners have been duly vilified - but they have hung in there.'
The group of voters was headed by Andy Erlam, who stood as a councillor on an anti-corruption ticket.
After the judgement, Mr Erlam said: 'It is a fantastic result for democracy. There will have to be a new election of mayor. Mr Rahman cannot stand.'
TOWN HALL DESPOT WHO RAN HIS FIEFDOM LIKE A MEDIEVAL MONARCH
Election Petitioner, Amzal Hussain (left) and Tower Hamlets Returning Officer, John Williams (right), arrive at court earlier this year
DID LABOUR ADD TO THE MESS? JUDGES SLAMS PARTY'S ACTIONS
London Mayor Boris Johnson said: 'I'm very glad that justice has taken its course and that a cloud has been lifted from Tower Hamlets.
'It is vital now that we move on with new elections, and ensure that something like this can never happen again.'
Lawyers for the group of voters made a series of allegations, including 'personation' in postal voting and at polling stations, and ballot paper tampering.
Rahman, 49, won the poll in May with 51.8 per cent of the vote. He had formed his own party, Tower Hamlets First, after being expelled by Labour.
HOW PRESS EXPOSED HIM
He had claimed there was 'little, if any' evidence of wrongdoing against him.
His lawyers described the group of four's claims as invention, exaggeration and 'in some cases downright deliberately false allegations'.
A statement on Mr Rahman's website today said: 'Today's judgement has come as a shock - the Mayor strongly denies any wrongdoing and had full confidence in the justice system, and 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.'
The English Defence League (EDL) was useful to Lutfur Rahman, Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey suggested.
By opposing him, the organisation enabled Mr Rahman to argue that anyone who criticised him was "giving aid" to the EDL.
He said: "Because it dislikes Mr Rahman... the EDL seizes on any criticism of Mr Rahman and repeats it on social media.
"This enables Mr Rahman and his cohorts to argue as follows: criticisms of Mr Rahman by his political opponents are adopted and repeated by the EDL: the EDL is a racist organisation: therefore anyone who criticises Mr Rahman is giving aid and comfort to the EDL.'
Labour mayor candidate and London Assembly politician John Biggs said after the ruling that it was 'a victory for honest politics'.
'By setting out to break the rules and going to extraordinary lengths to win last May's mayoral election, Lutfur Rahman and his allies robbed the people of Tower Hamlets of the free and fair mayoral election they deserved and betrayed everyone in our community who trusted and voted for him.
'Enough is enough - it's time to get democracy and accountability back in Tower Hamlets and restore trust and confidence in our politics.'
Barrister Francis Hoar, petitioners, Angela Moffat, Andy Erlam, Azmal Hussein, who mounted a challenge under the provisions of the Representation Of The People Act, and legal adviser Bob R A Watt. Mr Erlam welcomed the ruling as a 'victory for democracy'
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles hailed the ruling that a mayor was guilty of corrupt and illegal practices as a vindication of his decision to intervene in the running of the council.
He said the judgment against Lutfur Rahman - directly-elected mayor of Tower Hamlets in East London - could mean extra powers being handed to Commissioners sent in last year to take over some council operations.
That could include transferring full executive control from the present cabinet of councillors, as happened recently in Rotherham over its poor response to child sex abuse.
Until now the Whitehall-appointed troubleshooters had been in charge of areas of particular concern such as grants, contracts and election administration.
Mr Pickles said he would also be seeking reassurances that steps were being taken - including by the police - to ensure that there would be no issues with the General Election.
'This judgment vindicates our action to intervene,' he said in a statement.