Election Petition Judgement : Tower Hamlets 2014
[2015] EWHC 1215 (QB)

Personation and other voting offences
False registration

  1. False registration is often the first step in vote-rigging. Ghost voters are registered which are, as said above, either fictitious names or persons who exist but who do not reside at the address concerned. The latter category comprises those who have no connection at all with the property at which they are registered and those who have a connection with the property but are not resident there in the sense that the law requires.
  2. In an electoral area with a huge electorate such as Tower Hamlets, identifying ghost voters is a difficult task. It is time-consuming and faces the problem that what the investigator is trying to achieve is, essentially, to prove a negative, to establish that Mr X does not reside at the address shown in the electoral register. The time and resources available to an election petitioner are always going to be very limited and, however hard he tries, the petitioner is unlikely to do more than scratch the surface of false registration. This, of course, enables a respondent to say -- as Mr Penny did say repeatedly -- 'the Petitioners have only proved a handful of false registrations in an electorate running well into six figures: treat it as de minimis'.
  3. While it may be true that, for the purposes of establishing 'general corruption' under s 164 of the 1983 Act, numbers matter, and the paucity of proved ghost voters may be fatal to proving that they affected the result of the election, this is not true where the responsibility for the false registration can be laid at the door of the candidate. As explained above, one bogus vote, if arranged by the candidate or someone who is in law his agent, will unseat the candidate, however large his majority.
  4. A number of witnesses gave evidence that they had visited properties to make enquiries as to whether those whose names appeared on the register in relation to those properties actually lived there. One of those witnesses was Mr Andrew Gilligan, who is a well-known journalist, albeit one who has always been very critical of Mr Rahman. His evidence, which was only half-heartedly tested in cross-examination, was to the effect that he had visited a number of properties and discovered that those registered were not known there or even, in one case, that the property appeared to be completely unoccupied (312 The Highway). I saw no reason not to accept Mr Gilligan's evidence about these properties.
  5. I do not propose, in what is a long judgment, to go through the properties at which false registrations were proved. The numbers of false registrations was not large, certainly well under 100. In seems more fruitful to concentrate on those properties where there is an ascertainable link between the registration and those who are the agents of Mr Rahman.
  6. The first of these properties is Flat 16, Prioress House, Bromley High Street, E3 3BD. This property cropped up more than once and appears to have been used as an accommodation address for THF candidates. In this context it will be recalled that THF candidates are incontestably agents of Mr Rahman for electoral purposes and that it is irrelevant whether the candidate's primary motive is his own election and the election of his chief only a secondary motive. The candidate is bound.
  7. The first candidate was Monir Uzzaman (aliter Monirazzuman) Syed who stood for THF in Bromley North. Also registered at this flat were four people, two people with Italian names, one with a Lithuanian name and one with an Asian name. In a witness statement Mr Syed claimed to have lived there at the time of the election but to have moved away immediately afterwards for personal reasons. He was not called to give evidence to support his witness statement and it is noticeable that the address he did furnish on one statement was in Ilford. Mr Syed had an interesting relationship with this property. In 2013 he applied to be a candidate for the Labour Party but I was told by Mr Chris Weavers, the Labour Party electoral agent, whose evidence I accept, that Mr Syed had been turned down (inter alia) on the ground that he could not satisfy the Party that he genuinely lived at that address. Mr Syed then tried his luck with THF whose selection processes (i.e. interview with Mr Rahman) seem to have satisfied that party that he was indeed resident at 16 Prioress House. It is remarked by the Petitioners that Mr Syed, being an estate agent, would have access to information about likely properties whose address could be used for electoral purposes.
  8. One of the more curious witnesses in the case was a man who stood as a THF candidate in the May election as Aktaruz Zaman in St Peter's Ward. At that time he gave his address as 312 The Highway, to which we shall return. He was unsuccessful. He then decided to stand, again for THF, in the election for the ward of Blackwall and Cubitt Town in the election that had been postponed from May 2014 because of the death of a THF candidate. Mr Zaman told the court that he decided that being called 'Zaman' was not a good idea because it meant he came last on the ballot paper (this being alphabetical) and he also decided that he needed a change of air. Consequently he changed his name to 'Mohammed Aktaruzzaman' and suddenly decamped from The Highway to 16 Prioress House (within days of the May election). He must presumably have moved in just as Mr Syed was moving out. Sadly for this man, moving his name to the other end of the alphabet did him no good. He was not elected for Blackwall and Cubitt Town either.
  9. When canvassing for the election Khales Uddin Ahmed (the successful Labour candidate for Bromley North Ward) visited a number of properties including 16 Prioress House. His evidence, which I accept on this point, is that, in May 2014 the only resident was a European male and that Mr Syed did not live there. When Mr Gilligan called, in June 2014, he found that no person whose name appeared on the register lived at that address.
  10. I am completely satisfied that neither of these two THF candidates ever resided at 16 Prioress House. Their registration was false and it follows that, when they voted in the election (as it is not contested they did), they were guilty of an offence under s.61 of the 1983 Act. Now, clearly, when Mr Zaman voted in the postponed election he cannot have voted for Mr Rahman who had been elected back in May. Nevertheless Mr Zaman's mendacity in respect of 16 Prioress House did not bode well for his attempt to convince me that he resided at 312 The Highway at the date of the May election, at which he had also voted.
  11. The reality was that at all material times Mr Zaman was the owner of a house in Shoreham-on-Sea where he lived with his wife and family. When taxed with this he said that he had split up with his wife and that the Shoreham property had been repossessed by the mortgagees (Santander) in 2012. This did not quite explain why he had registered himself at The Highway in 2012 but, having failed to answer correspondence or the canvass for two years had been removed from the register. He did not re-register himself at The Highway until 7 March 2014. A plethora of documentation was produced piecemeal during the trial relating to the Shoreham property, much of it contradictory.
  12. What the documents did include, however, was the office copy entry of the title at the Land Registry. This showed that Mr Zaman continues to be the owner of the property to this day and that there had never been a registered mortgage (as opposed to a court charging order which had been made for another purpose).

  13. I was satisfied that Mr Zaman had lied about the Shoreham Property and, taken with the other evidence about the condition of 312 The Highway, had lied about ever being resident there. His was a false registration and his votes for himself and for Mr Rahman unlawful.
  14. Next we have Mr Kabir Ahmed. He is one of several brothers and is an active member of the Mayor's team. Mr Ahmed was a Labour Councillor in the previous administration and was one of those who had 'defected' to Mr Rahman and become an independent. He was 'selected' as a THF candidate for Weavers Ward in 2014 and stood unsuccessfully.
  15. For some time Mr Ahmed had given his address as 236a Bethnal Green Road, E2 0AA, a flat above a shop. This was said to be a property with four double en-suite bedrooms and a shared living room. The other occupants were said to be: Mr Ahmed's wife Sibly Rahman, his brother Mohammed Ansar Hussein, a Mohammed Mokit and Ala Uddin, who was said to work in the shop on the ground floor. According to Councillor Mohammed Abdul Mukit MBE, who knew Mr Ahmed well, he was not actually resident at that address, although he undoubtedly used it as an address for receiving mail. Both Mr Mukit and Mr Gilligan stated that the room allegedly occupied by Mr Ahmed and his wife was completely bare except for one bed, one chair and one desk.
  16. Mr Ahmed's non-residence in the Borough was a matter of some notoriety. Councillor Peter Golds, an indefatigable letter-writer had written to various people to complain about this more than once and had raised it in open council. Councillor Mukit confirmed that Mr Ahmed actually lives at 52 Gants Hill Crescent, Ilford IG2 6TT [43]: he had attended his wedding, the invitation to which had given that property as Mr Ahmed's address. Mr Ahmed admitted in cross-examination that he paid no rent for 236a Bethnal Green Road and that he spent a lot of time in Gants Hill visiting his elderly parents.
  17. Mr Gilligan told the court that Tracesmart and credit records he had checked also showed Mr Ahmed and his wife as resident in Gants Hill.
  18. Applying the statutory test of residence set out above, I am quite satisfied that 326a Bethnal Green Road was not such a 'residence' as would entitle Mr Ahmed to be registered to vote from that address and I am equally satisfied that this was a mere accommodation address, used for administrative purposes. I did not accept that Mr Ahmed had any genuine belief that this was his residence: he quite clearly knew that the falsity of the residence was well-known to his political opponents and he continued to use that address.
  19. It follows that Mr Ahmed's registration was a false registration and that his votes were unlawful.
  20. At this point I should mention the mysterious case of Mr Shahed Ali. He was registered as being resident at two separate addresses, Flat 38 Welstead House, Cannon Street Road, E1 2LJ and 17 Harkness House, 101 Christian Street, E1 1RX. Both these addresses were in the same division of Whitechapel Ward (WH3) whose polling station was Henry Gosling Primary School. Mr Ali, though submitting a witness statement on behalf of Mr Rahman, was not called as a witness.
  21. Absent any explanation being tendered to the court, it would appear that Mr Ali had himself registered twice in the ward in which he was standing (indeed stood successfully) as a THF candidate. On the face it, both addresses cannot have met the residence test and the inescapable inference is that at least one of them is false.
  22. In dealing with the case of Mr Shahed Ali, the court is in no way embarrassed by the refusal of the parties to adduce his evidence or other evidence concerning his electoral behaviour. During the course of the Scrutiny, representatives of the Metropolitan Police removed the two ballots cast from these addresses in the Mayoral election and, it is understood may have obtained by another route the ballots cast in the ward and European elections. Mr Ali was arrested but it was decided that there was insufficient evidence to charge him with an electoral offence.
  23. The court, both before the hearing and at the hearing, indicated that the case of Mr Ali should be investigated and that, absent explanations being tendered, the court was entitled to draw adverse inferences from the evidence about Mr Ali's conduct. Given the inquisitorial functions of the court, as was made clear, this was a course open to the court.
  24. Were Mr Ali's the only instance of a THF candidate being involved in an apparent false registration, the court would have hesitated to come to conclusions but, as it is, putting it at its lowest, his conduct is at least prima facie of the same pattern as that of Messrs Syed, Zaman and Ahmed.
  25. What we get from this is that, out of 44 THF candidates standing in the ward elections, three can be shown to have been guilty of false registration (Mr Zaman twice over) and a fourth potentially so. Mr Rahman cannot escape the consequences of these electoral frauds committed by his hand-picked candidates: they are his agents.
  26. In the circumstances it is unnecessary to examine the other properties where false registration was discovered by witnesses such as Councillor Mukit and Mr Gilligan. I accept that the amended 'Ghost Voter' schedule annexed to the final written submissions of the Petitioners is, in general terms, accurate. That schedule, in its final form, is confined to registrations where it can be shown from documents extracted at the Scrutiny that votes were cast for Mr Rahman.
  27. The false registrations are sufficiently numerous to demonstrate that false registration was not the random action of over-enthusiastic members of the public. The false registrations must have been organised. As the beneficiary of the organisation was THF, both Mr Rahman and his candidates in the wards, it would be wholly unrealistic to hold that the organisation of these registrations was other than in the hands of THF supporters, agents within the terms of electoral law. If there were no evidence of Mr Rahman's own candidates engaging in this practice, then it might just have been possible to deliver a Scottish verdict of 'not proven' as, in effect, Mr Penny invites the court to do. In the real world there is no meaningful alternative to a finding that most, if not all, of the false registrations were organised by persons who were agents.

[43] : In the London Borough of Redbridge.