Mayor Lutfur Rahman, the executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets, has been stripped of office after an election court found him and several key aides guilty of election offences.
Mr Rahman, who says he’s “seeking further legal advice on the matter in relation to a judicial review”, was also banned from standing in the court’s ordered re-run of last May’s election and ordered to pay £250,000 costs.
Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey ruled that Rahman and colleagues in the Tower Hamlets First party were guilty of vote-rigging and of falsely accusing Rahman’s key rival, Labour’s John Biggs of being a racist.
Today’s verdict follows a complaint from four local voters who Mawrey praised for pursuing the case despite knowing they’d also be accused of racism and Islamophobia by supporters of Mr Rahman.
Mr Biggs, who lost the election by just 3,000 votes and currently serves on the London Assembly, described the verdict as “a victory for honest politics”.
He added: “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.”
“People from across our community have been badly let down by the mayor. After five years of abuse of public funds and public trust, it’s time that residents have a council that is again on their side, that restores faith in free and fair elections and heals divisions in our community.
“The mayoral election will now be re-run. It will be an opportunity for all the people of our borough to vote to reject, once and for all, the kind of corrupt politics that the petitioners, this Election Court and the Commissioner’s judgment has exposed.
“I will do anything I can to help restore trust and confidence in local democracy in Tower Hamlets and bring about reconciliation in our diverse community, to heal the rancour and bitterness that has built up in the borough in the last five years.”
In December local government Secretary Eric Pickles appointed commissioners to oversee much of Tower Hamlets council’s work after an independent report uncovered a “worrying pattern of divisive community politics and alleged mismanagement of public money by the Mayoral administration.”
A spokesperson for the council said it welcomed the fact that Mr Mawrey’s verdict “cleared the council’s returning officer, John Williams, and council staff of all allegations related to fraudulent practice in the delivery and administration of the 2014 elections.”
They also confirmed the council “will now take the steps necessary to hold an election for executive mayor of Tower Hamlets.”
Mr Pickles said today’s verdict vindicated his decision to send Commissioners “into the dysfunctional mayoral administration” and said they would now work to ensure “a free and fair election takes place on 7 May.”
He added: “I will now ask the Commissioners whether further resources or powers are necessary to help them stamp out this culture of corruption in Tower Hamlets.
The Commissioners’ powers may need to be extended in the interim before any by-election.
“The police also need to take steps to stop further corrupt practices following this damning judgement. We must also challenge those who seek to spread further division in light of the ruling. There can be no place for rotten boroughs in 21st Century Britain.”