EAST LONDON, United Kingdom – The Commissioner of the special election court considering allegations of electoral fraud in Tower Hamlets has ruled witnesses’ names and addresses will no longer be made public. Richard Mawrey QC made the ruling after those challenging the election of Lutfur Rahman as Mayor claimed a number of their supporters had retracted their statements after threats of violence.
At a press conference last night the chairman of the campaign to overturn the election, Janet Digby-Baker OBE, detailed what she described as “a campaign of witness intimidation”. She claimed the intimidation campaign had led to many being “bullied and ostracized in their own community”.
The election of Rahman was one of the most controversial polls in recent memory with large numbers of Bengali Muslims gathering around polling stations. The groups of Bengalis spoke to ethnic minority voters on their way into the polling stations, and allegedly warned them that voting against Rahman made them “unislamic”.
On the day of the poll Breitbart London shot footage of the groups, which was later shown on BBC London. The video is likely to form a major part of the case against the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, which is accused of failing to discharge a free and fair election.
Since the petition to overturn the election was filed a number of Bengali witnesses have withdrawn their complaints. The petitioners claim this is as a result of threats of violence and in one case a threat to murder the grandmother of a complainant.
The press conference took place in a restaurant owned by Azmal Hussein, who claims to be a regular victim of vandalism as a result of his support for the petition. Mr Hussein told Breitbart London he was afraid to tell his children of the risks he faced by speaking out. He said he had been accused of being “an enemy of the Bengali community and not a true Muslim” because of his actions.
Hussein said: “I am very afraid now, everywhere I go I take two or three friends with me. This should not happen in this country. My windows get broken all the time, and my car gets vandalised, I have to pretend to my family it is not happening.
“This should have nothing to do with who is Bengali or who is Muslim but if you say you do not support Rahman they claim you are against the community.
“Rahman promised Brick Lane Mosque £300,000 in grants. I ask this question: was it his money, or his father’s money? No, this was the taxpayers’ money and he has no right to promise it just because he believes that will get him votes. It is outrageous.”
Another petitioner, Andy Erlam, explained that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner had been informed of the allegations of intimidation and they were being taken seriously. He said: “Whilst lots of local people have concerns about the Polices’ actions in all of this I must be fair to them. They have offered to fully investigate any allegations of threats against our witnesses but they need people to come forward.
“Unless people are willing to speak out and give names the Police are powerless to act. But they have assured me they will offer any witness protection needed, and they will fully investigate any wrongdoing.”
The group refused to name anyone who had been intimidated but said they would offer the court a number of examples. In one case they say a man gave them a series of witness statements but after a group threatened him he wrote another claiming never to have met the petitioners at all. Mr Erlam said: “I am sure the court will want to consider just how credible his latest statement is.”
The final court date is yet to be set, and there will now be legal discussions about whether the case can be safely heard in the borough. Legal experts have told Breitbart London that it is highly unusual to supress the names and addresses of witnesses and this would only be done if the court was satisfied they were at risk of reprisals.