Election Petition : Simmons v Khan
[2008] EWHC B4 (QB) Judgment

Proving and disproving the ghost voters

  1. To a large extent, the schedule of challenges told its own story. True, it did not show a total of Conservative voters removed from the Register during the challenges which would be sufficient to achieve the magic figure of 120, being Mr Eshaq Khan's winning majority but, unless seriously undermined by Mr Eshaq Khan, it did show false votes at or over the 100 vote level. On the face of it, therefore, Ms Simmons was well on the way to establishing at least general corruption if not corrupt or illegal practices by Mr Eshaq Khan or his agents.
  2. Both sides concentrated on a number of properties, Ms Simmons seeking to show that ghost voters had been registered at the property while not being resident there and Mr Eshaq Khan seeking to show that impugned voters had been real people actually resident at the relevant addresses.
  3. I do not propose to rehearse the evidence of the witnesses as to all the properties concerned in what is already a very long judgment. I shall concentrate on the principal properties relied on by the parties.
  4. Hawtrey Close

  5. It seems appropriate to start with 4-10 Hawtrey Close. The owner of those four properties, Mr Mohammed Azam, a prosperous local businessman who runs a dairy, told me that 6 and 8-10 were derelict and boarded up pending redevelopment of the site. Indeed 8-10 had been derelict for five or six years. There was a Polish family in No. 4 in 2007 but that was all. No Asians and certainly not nineteen Asians.
  6. Mr Price cross-examined Mr Azam on the basis of a draft witness statement from Mr Azam's rent collector to the effect that he had had problems with squatters and break-ins over the 2006/7 period but he wisely stopped short of taxing the court's credulity by suggesting that nineteen Asians had broken into the properties for the purposes of registering as voters and exercising postal votes for Mr Eshaq Khan and had then silently stolen away.
  7. At the end of the day, the only sane conclusion that could be reached was that there had been no Asians living in 4-10 Hawtrey Close. All the nineteen registrations had been bogus and all the nineteen postal votes for Mr Eshaq Khan had been bogus.
  8. 43 and 41 Richmond Crescent

  9. In the three weeks before the 18th April 2007 cut-off date, six people with Asian names were newly registered to vote at 43 Richmond Crescent and a further seven Asian names at No. 41. 43 Richmond Crescent is owned by Mr (Gul) Zahia Khan, one of the "three Khan brothers" mentioned above.
  10. In respect of No. 43, Ms Simmons called Ms Edyta Jankowska, a Polish lady who had lived in the house since September 2006. Her evidence was that the entire house was occupied by her Polish family and their Polish friends. None of the six Asian people added to the Register had ever lived in the house. She told the court that the man who collected the rent, known to her as "Raj" collected mail which arrived at the premises addressed to "Khan".
  11. Ms Jankowska's evidence represented something of a crunch point in this case. The alternatives were stark. There was no possibility of mistake: six adult Asian people cannot have moved into her small terraced house without her noticing. Either Ms Jankowska was telling the truth or she was telling lies.
  12. When Mr Price cross-examined Ms Jankowska, therefore, his task was unenviable. He knew and I knew that in the grey file were three statements served by his client purporting to be formal witness statements by three of the challenged voters at 43 Richmond Terrace and, for good measure, a further four statements purporting to be from challenged voters at 41 next door. All these statements stated that the makers of the statements had in fact been living at the Richmond Crescent properties.
  13. Unkindly but necessarily, I put Mr Price on the spot [24]. I pressed him to say whether he proposed, in essence, to give Ms Jankowska the lie direct and put it to her in terms that the six Asians had been living at the property in April 2007. Though Mr Price fenced my requests with great skill, at the end of the day he could not bring himself to suggest to Ms Jankowska that she was lying. In this he was absolutely right, and his decision is what one would have expected from the consummate professionalism with which he conducted Mr Eshaq Khan's case. Ms Jankowska was patently an honest and reliable witness and any attempt to suggest otherwise would have been foolish.
  14. Her next-door neighbour, Ms Skora Bozena, told the court that she had lived at No. 41 since 2004. She too was adamant that there were only Poles living in the house. No Asians had moved in during March/April 2007. She stated that mail did arrive for people with non-Polish names which was collected by the man who collects the rent for her landlord, a Mr Khan. In April 2007 a lot of brown envelopes arrived for the non-resident names and when the rent-collector took them away he said they were election letters.
  15. Wisely, Mr Price did not challenge Ms Bozena either.
  16. One might have thought that was the end of 43 and 41 Richmond Crescent but it was not, because Mr Eshaq Khan called a witness who sought to re-establish the Asian ghost voters. Mr Mahboob Khan (one of Mr Eshaq Khan's team) gave evidence to the effect that all thirteen of the disputed voters were actually living at those premises and that Ms Jankowska and Ms Bozena had been lying in their teeth. When asked by me what possible motive these ladies might have to perjure themselves, he was unable to suggest any reason and delivered himself of a deplorable piece of racism, suggesting that it was well known that Poles were "easily manipulated" and would, in effect, do anything for the promise of a job or a house.
  17. Having seen the two Polish ladies and Mr Mahboob Khan give evidence, there can be no real doubt which of them told lies. I accept the (largely unchallenged) evidence of Ms Jankowska and Ms Bozena. The evidence of Mr Mahboob Khan as to 43 and 41 Richmond Terrace, on the other hand, was a pack of lies from start to finish. Mr Eshaq Khan's insistence on calling Mr Mahboob Khan to give this evidence is hard to fathom but it did him no favours.
  18. 17 Diamond Road

  19. Eight Asian names were added to the Register on the last date for registration. The only name lawfully on the Register was that of Ms Surjit Kaur, which was not one of these late registrations. Mr Azar Javed told the court that this was his property and that he had emptied the property in the spring of 2007 in order to carry out extensive building works. New residents (not the registered names) had moved into the house when the refurbishment was complete some time in May 2007 after the election. None of the disputed voters had been resident at 17 Diamond Road at all.
  20. Though tested in cross-examination, this evidence was not seriously challenged and no contrary evidence was adduced.
  21. There were thus eight ghost voters at 17 Diamond Road, seven voted Conservative and the eighth was one of those who failed to get his personal identifiers to tally. It is a pretty fair bet that this too was a vote for Mr Eshaq Khan.
  22. 13 Princes Street

  23. Ms Aziza Raza gave evidence that she and her husband Mr Mohammad Ali Raza have lived at this address with their three children since June 2006. She had no knowledge of the four Asian adults alleged to have moved into the property early in 2007 and who had registered to vote just before the April deadline.
  24. The team defending the challenges to the Register had made a real effort with 13 Princes Street. They had provided Mr Quayle with what purported to be a statement from Mr Mohammad Raza describing in detail how the four disputed names related to family members who had come to live at the property in December 2006, moving out in June 2007, and how he had given them a tenancy agreement. They also provided Mr Quayle with one of the famous tenancy agreements purporting to grant this tenancy. Mrs Raza, however, had no hesitation in denouncing these documents as forgeries and stating that the purported signature of her husband on both documents was false.
  25. Mrs Raza's evidence was clearly credible and was accepted. What she proved, therefore, was not simply that the four ghost voters had not been residing at 13 Princes Street but that Mr Eshaq Khan's team had resorted to forgery in their attempt to persuade Mr Quayle to keep these four names on the Register.
  26. 47 Diamond Road

  27. This property was owned by Ms Nighat Khan who lived in two rooms with her children. Her evidence was somewhat confused. Her witness statement deposed to the fact that five Asian names registered at that address had not been resident at the time but in court she was much more hesitant. What is significant about her evidence is that on Day 3 a typed letter arrived at court claiming to be from Nighat Khan seeking to retract her witness statement and stating that she was too ill to attend court. I indicated that a witness summons should be served and she appeared on Day 4.
  28. In court she said that an Asian man, speaking Urdu and claiming to be a lawyer, had come to her house with this letter already typed and had told her that if she signed it she would not have to come to court. She had not, of course, really been ill nor did she wish to retract her evidence, but she says she was persuaded that signing the letter might get her out of attending court, which she was dreading. This evidence had the ring of truth and the question arose:
  29. who would want to "nobble" this witness ?

    Clearly not Ms Simmons, whose witness she was. The only inference that can be drawn is that is was someone acting on behalf of Mr Eshaq Khan. The "lawyer" was not, I accepted, anyone from Messrs Penningtons (Mr Eshaq Khan's solicitors), still less Mr Price, and it is impossible to speculate who he was, or even whether he was a lawyer at all. None the less this episode cannot be said to have assisted Mr Eshaq Khan greatly.

  30. Interestingly, Ms Nighat Khan was another victim of the duplicated tenancy scam in that a purported tenancy document (in the standard form) in favour of the disputed names had been produced to Mr Quayle to justify retention of the names on the Register. Although this was not put to the lady, other evidence adduced in the case makes it clear that this too was a forgery.
  31. 3 Charlotte Avenue and the Walthamstow Six

  32. As anyone who has read the Birmingham Judgment will recognize, attempts to justify electoral malpractice have a tendency to descend into the surreal. The high point of surrealism in Slough concerned 3 Charlotte Avenue.
  33. 3 Charlotte Avenue is a flat with two bedrooms and one reception room, owned by a Housing Association. In it live Ms Rafeez Perveen, her husband Mohammed Zahid and their five children. In April 2007, however, six further Asian names were registered at the property, all of whom obtained postal votes and voted for Mr Eshaq Khan.
  34. Ms Perveen told me that none of these people had come to live in her small flat and agreed with the proposition that if six further adults had moved in, she would have been sure to notice.
  35. Ms Perveen was not cross-examined.
  36. None the less, as part of his case, Mr Eshaq Khan called Mohammed Basharat Khan. This gentleman gave evidence about a number of other properties but he also gave evidence about 3 Charlotte Close Avenue.
  37. What he said was that his brother Gulzeb Khan, Gulzeb's wife Naseen Khan, daughters Iram Gul Khan and Uzma Khan, son Habib Khan and nephew Adeel Abbas had been living at an address in Walthamstow in east London. In April 2007, however, the whim came upon them that Slough was the place to live. So they decamped, bag and baggage, to Slough where, on the strength of some (unspecified) family relationship they contacted Ms Perveen and her husband. Ms Perveen and her husband were, of course, only too delighted to accommodate Gulzeb Khan and his extended family and they came to an arrangement whereby the Walthamstow Six moved into the two-bedroomed flat at 3 Charlotte Close Avenue. Ms Perveen, her husband and their five children, he claimed, obligingly agreed that they would all go to her father's house to sleep at nights but otherwise the family continued to occupy the flat.
  38. Consequently, according to Mohammed Basharat Khan, during the following weeks, no fewer than thirteen people (the original seven and the Walthamstow Six) were living happily cheek-by-jowl in this small flat. The sudden move to Slough seems to have affected nobody's work patterns because I was told that the only one of the Six apparently working was a driver with a base somewhere in London to which he was happy to commute.
  39. Sadly, it appeared, Slough proved not to be the El Dorado that these visitors had hoped and, shortly (though of course coincidentally) after the May election, the Six decamped, bag and baggage, back to their original home in Walthamstow, glad, no doubt, of having had an opportunity to vote, there having been no elections in Walthamstow in 2007.
  40. This farrago of nonsense was delivered with an entirely straight face. One did not know which to admire more - the insouciance with which this absurd cock-and-bull story was narrated to the court or the contempt for the court's intelligence in supposing for an instant that any court would fall for it.
  41. Calling Mohammed Basharat Khan to give evidence, which he must have known was going to be perjured, was a poor move for Mr Eshaq Khan. In fact, as it turned out, 3 Charlotte Close Avenue was the least of this witness's difficulties.
  42. It is necessary to state at this stage that I considered Mohammed Basharat Khan to be a thoroughly dishonest witness whose evidence I rejected.
  43. In my judgment, the Walthamstow Six never left Walthamstow but either lent their names and signatures to this fraud or were unknowingly used by their relative to obtain six false votes for Mr Eshaq Khan. In view of the fact that the grey file contained statements purporting to come from these people, the obvious inference is that they were parties to the fraud.
  44. Double registrations

  45. The industry of Ms Simmons's team unearthed a number of instances where alleged ghost voters in Central Ward were real people actually resident in the adjacent Wexham Lea Ward. One of those was Mohammed Basharat Khan himself who had simultaneously been registered with his wife and sister-in-law at 43 Diamond Road in Central Ward and at 57 Mirador Crescent in Wexham Lea Ward. In evidence Mr Khan was undaunted. His story was that his home was at Mirador Crescent but he had had to move out in April 2007 because the property was being renovated and was thus empty. He had moved into Diamond Road and registered to vote. The moment Mirador Crescent was available - after the election - he moved back.
  46. In fact Mirador Crescent was not empty for renovation. In April 2007 four voters were registered at that address in forms which (to jump ahead slightly) the handwriting expert identified as having been completed by Mohammed Basharat Khan.
  47. Sadly, Mohammed Basharat Khan and his family had not received their postal voting packages at 43 Diamond Road. They had all gone astray so he and his wife and sister-in-law had been obliged to go to the Town Hall to obtain duplicates to cast their votes. Mohammed Basharat Khan indignantly rejected the obvious suggestion from Mr Millar [25] that the reason why the family had not received their voting packages was that they had not been living at Diamond Road at the time and had failed to make arrangements to collect their packages from that address.
  48. Once again, I disbelieved Mohammed Basharat Khan. He had not been resident at 43 Diamond Road and he and his family should not have cast any votes in Central Ward.
  49. The one part of Mohammed Basharat Khan's evidence I did accept was his admission that he had been part of Mr Eshaq Khan's election team, albeit (he claimed) in a very minor capacity. For reasons which will become clearer when we consider the handwriting evidence, he was altogether too modest in his assertions. He was, in fact, a prime mover, playing a major part in the false registration of voters.
  50. Other properties

  51. The flavour of the evidence related so far - hard evidence of bogus registration adduced by Ms Simmons and untruthful or unreliable contrary evidence adduced by Mr Eshaq Khan - was maintained for other properties. Only a few further instances need be mentioned.
  52. Four witnesses called for Mr Eshaq Khan attempted to justify copies of the notorious duplicated tenancy agreement. Perhaps the most endearing was Mr Haqnawaz Khan who attempted to convince the court that the document - purporting to show a tenancy of 73 Wellesley Road to one Muhammad Shahid - had been produced by his 14 year old daughter on her computer. To account for its similarity to the other nine tenancy agreements, this witness said he had obtained the form from Sumander Khan [26]. When the court asked him whether his daughter had scanned the document into her computer (somewhat mischievously it has to be confessed, as the document is patently not a scanned document), he grabbed this apparent lifebelt and asserted that indeed that is precisely what this talented teenager had done. When it was pointed out to him that the document mis-spells "Wellesley" on more than one occasion - well, one knows how careless the young can be. The fact that other documents purporting to come from Mr Shahid contained an entirely different spelling of "Muhammad" as "Mohammed" was explained away as exemplifying the myriad versions of the Prophet's name. I did not believe a word of it. In my judgment the four names on the schedule for this address plus the elusive Muhammad (or Mohammed) Shahid - all of them postal voters for Mr Eshaq Khan - were false.
  53. Richmond Crescent proved richer in ghosts than the Tower of London. No fewer than 38 ghost voters are listed in the schedule as occupying (or possibly haunting) numbers 4, 6, 19, 31, 37, 38, 41, 43, 50 and 66 Richmond Crescent. Its nearest rivals are Hawtrey Close (19 false voters) and Diamond Road (16 - 8 of them at 17 Diamond Road alone).
  54. I have already dealt with the ghosts forensically exorcised from 43 and 41 by Ms Jankowska and Ms Bozena. 37 Richmond Crescent is owned by Mr Gulnawaz Khan, another witness called for Mr Eshaq Khan. Four voters were registered at that property in the last two weeks of registration. Mr Gulnawaz Khan is also privileged to have a talented daughter, though in this case possibly of somewhat riper years than the daughter of Mr Haqnawaz Khan. For, once again, I was told that it was the witness's daughter who had produced the (by now familiar) tenancy agreement which, in this instance, purported to show a tenancy granted to what Mr Gulnawaz Khan claimed were a group of relatives over from Kashmir, led by one Ahmed Iqbal. These relatives were said to have occupied the two rooms normally occupied by the witness's son while the son was away on holiday. How these relatives met the requirement of eligibility to vote remained somewhat of a mystery. Unsurprisingly, once the election was over, these ghosts had flitted back to their native Kashmir. Equally unsurprisingly, my disbelief was not suspended.
  55. Mr Rashid Mahmood, a signatory of Mr Eshaq Khan's nomination form, sought to verify a tenancy agreement of 68 Wellesley Road showing a tenancy granted to a Ms Shazia Khan. This story was not helped by the fact that this lady appeared to have moved just after the election to 49 Maple Crescent in Wexham Lea Ward - an address at which there were double registrations in the names of Zafreen Ahmed and Shafreen Khan (both simultaneously registered at 45 Wellesley Road). I came to the conclusion that Shazia Khan was probably a real person, resident in Wexham Lea, who had allowed her name to be used for a fraudulent registration in Central Ward. The tenancy agreement (unexplained whether by daughters or otherwise) was one of the familiar forgeries.
  56. Another signatory of the nomination form, who admitted actively campaigning for Mr Eshaq Khan, was Mr Altaf Khan. (Pausing there, in the course of the election one Altaf Khan had been arrested by the police for attempted personation at a polling station. It was common ground between the parties that the man arrested was a different Altaf Khan from the one giving evidence.) This Altaf Khan's evidence was very muddled. He was obliged to admit that 5 Colonial Road, which was owned by his uncle Karam Khan, was an address where one Raja A Khan had been double-registered with an address in Wexham Lea and the explanation that Raja A Khan was a relative over on holiday from Pakistan did not seem adequately to account for his electoral bi-location or his eligibility to vote. The witness was also strangely vague as to why someone called Yasir Khan should have been granting a tenancy (standard form, of course) of his uncle's property in Colonial Road to one Raja Afzal Khan.
  57. 5 Colonial Road does not appear on the schedule because Mr Quayle had been deceived by the tenancy agreement into retaining the apparent tenants on the Register, but it is now clear that of the eight names registered at that property, seven of whom registered postal votes in favour of Mr Eshaq Khan, most, if not all were bogus. Oddly enough, the one registered voter at 5 Colonial Road not to vote at all was Mr Karam Khan who, as the owner, would have been fully entitled to do so.
  58. Mr Altaf Khan himself owns 47 Wellesley Road and his brother owns No. 45 next door. When asked about Zafreen Ahmed and Shafreen Khan (of 49 Maple Crescent - see above) who were registered as living in this next-door house in April 2007, he appeared unable to recall them.
  59. I did not find this gentleman a satisfactory witness.
  60. Finally in this series there was 186 Stoke Road owned by Mr Eshaq Khan's brother. Mr Eshaq Khan's niece, Ms Raqzeen Khan, gave evidence to say that she and her husband Zulfiqar Khan had been living in Stoke Road, having moved from 82 The Cherries (in Wexham Lea Ward) shortly before the election. She was clearly determined to do her best for her uncle but it was not a very good best. She could not account for obvious errors in the electoral documents of herself and her husband, she appeared to have little understanding or recollection of how postal voting works and she even questioned the signature on her husband's PVS. This, combined with the fact that a number of the relevant documents bore one of the questioned groups of handwriting, rendered her evidence completely unreliable. The kindest thing to say about this young lady is that her natural and understandable family loyalty may have taken precedence over strict veracity.
  61. Even apart from the spurious tenancy agreements, there were other documents produced to Mr Quayle which completed the picture of a concerted attempt to deceive him into retaining names on the Register. By way of example only, he was sent two letters purporting to confirm the residence of ghost voters at 7 India Road and 12 Richmond Crescent. Unfortunately, those apparently unconnected letters were in the same handwriting - a handwriting later identified by Mr Hughes as being in the main group (Group A) of questioned handwriting. These were patent forgeries. As stated above, Ms Aziza Raza confirmed that a letter purporting to come from her husband to confirm ghost voters at 13 Princes Street was a forgery.
  62. I have quite deliberately not touched on every property as to which evidence was given. In particular I have dealt fairly lightly with the properties where false registrations were the subject of evidence called by Ms Simmons. For the most part their evidence was either unchallenged or unshaken by cross-examination and I accepted it as reliable.
  63. Why Wexham Lea ?

  64. It seemed strange that so many people who were resident in Wexham Lea Ward were prepared to lend their names to voter fraud in Central Ward. This might have remained a mystery but for a chance question in cross-examination by Mr Price which revealed that in 2007 there had been no Conservative candidate in Wexham Lea. No doubt it was thought that it would be a pity to have so many prime Conservative votes going to waste in Wexham Lea when with a modest amount of form filling these voters could perform what might be called a "virtual migration" across the Ward boundary and be registered in Central.

[24]   Day 3 pp 64 ff.

[25]   Day 8 pp 20 ff.

[26]   See para 174 above.