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The tragicomedy that is Tower Hamlets council keeps on giving.

Yesterday morning the Met Police issued the following statement:

On Friday 4 April 2014 the Metropolitan Police Service received three files of material from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) relating to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. These comprised of material referred to the DCLG by a member of the public and by the BBC Panorama programme.

The files have been reviewed by a team of officers over the past 6 days. In addition, officers have liaised with Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP (PwC) who are conducting a full and wide-ranging audit of financial matters at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

There is no credible evidence of criminality within the files to provide reasonable grounds to suspect that fraud or any other offence has been committed at this stage. Therefore the MPS will not be investigating at this point in time and believe that it is appropriate for the material to be reviewed further by PwC and DCLG. We will continue to liaise with them should their audit uncover any evidence of criminality.

Which made Lutfur Rahman and his head of communications Takki Sulaiman crow with delight (expect ‘Mayor cleared’ headlines in East End Life and large sections of the Bengali press this week).

Takki was so bursting with joy that he turned into an eve of combat Colonel Tim Collins for the afternoon. Here’s an email he sent to fellow communications chiefs in other local London authorities:

Apologies for the mass email but as you know the battle for hearts and minds starts within the local government community itself!

A small step in restoring trust in LBTH is the announcement by the Met today that there is no credible evidence of criminality or fraud to be found in the Panorama files.

Our statement and the Met’s can be found on our (revamped) website.

http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/news__events/setting_the_record_straight/panorama/new_statement_-_bbc_panorama.aspx

Our statements on the matter over the last two weeks can be found here-

http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/news__events/setting_the_record_straight/panorama.aspx

This is a long journey and the auditors will be here for three months. Given the context of the elections we’ve also had to tone down the nature of our comms thus contributing to the challenge.

Regards

Takki

(Bless, he must be really worried about what they think of him.)

And here’s the statement he authorised his communications department to release to the wider world.

Council response to Met Press Bureau statement following BBC Panorama Programme

A statement was issued by the Metropolitan Police Press Bureau on Wednesday 16 April in relation to recent allegations made in the BBC Panorama programme on London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

A council spokesperson said: “The news from the Metropolitan Police is to be welcomed and Tower Hamlets will continue to work with the Auditors and DCLG.”

Let’s pick all this apart.

No allegations of criminality were “made in” the Panorama programme and Takki knows that full well. Yet he allowed his statement to mislead; this served the interests of his political master.

In his defence, however, the Met Police statement on which he was relying was also highly misleading. But Takki knew that was the case as well.

Here’s why.

In his interview with Panorama, the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said he would be looking “very carefully” at Panorama’s evidence. So Panorama handed over two files to his civil servants who had already gathered evidence from elsewhere.

Apparently, those two Panorama files contained spreadsheet analysis and other evidence of how the Mayor overturned officer recommendations over grants in favour of Bengali and Somali third sector organisations, plus other matters.

I understand one of those other matters concerned about £11,000 of grants given to an organisation called the Brady Youth Forum.

Panorama started posing questions to Takki about this on March 7. When six days later Takki had still failed to reply (he’s a very busy man, you know), John Ware sent him a reminder with some additional questions.

At that point Interim Monitoring Officer Meic Sullivan-Gould (who was by this time convinced Lutfur was a ‘good guy’) began to take over.

Very helpfully on March 19, he told Panorama that there was an ongoing criminal investigation into the Brady issue. He told the programme makers the council had been notified about a fraud by a whistleblower in the middle of last year and that external auditors from Deloitte had reported back on the matter in January.

The Brady Youth Forum was one of several lines of inquiry which I gather Panorama felt needed more work on.

So they left it out of the programme, even though they knew a Fraud Squad investigation was under way.

So imagine our surprise when the Met said yesterday morning there was no credible evidence of fraud in the Panorama files!

I called the Scotland Yard press office for clarification. At about 5pm they called to say er, yes, there is an investigation relating to the Brady Youth Forum. Doesn’t that make your statement this morning a bit misleading, I asked? Er yes, you have a valid point, they said.

I called Andrew Gilligan to let him know. He blogged about it last night.

The police have now issued a “clarified statement”:

Here it is:

On Friday 4 April 2014 the Metropolitan Police Service received three files of material from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) relating to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

The files have been reviewed by a team of officers. In addition, officers have liaised with Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP (PwC) who are conducting a full and wide-ranging audit of financial matters at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

There is no new credible evidence of criminality within the files.

Prior to this, a report was made to Tower Hamlets Police on 20 March by Tower Hamlets Council. The report concerned an irregularity with regards to money being awarded to the Brady Youth Forum, in January and April 2013, that was identified by an internal review. This investigation is being carried out by Tower Hamlets CID.

Therefore there are no new MPS investigations being carried out by the MPS as a result of information contained in the three files of material.

Spot the difference?

They’ve inserted the word “new” before “credible evidence”.

Which itself is odd.

I suspect there were two different teams in the Met examining two sets of files.

The file sent by the council regarding Brady Youth Forum was sent to Tower Hamlets CID on March 20 and I’m not sure how much work detectives there had spent on it.

And I’m guessing the files sent by DCLG were handed directly to a team based at Scotland Yard itself.

What’s not clear is whether those possible two teams actually spoke to each other, or compared notes. Had Tower Hamlets CID flagged up their file on the Brady Youth Forum?

Had a Scotland Yard team handed over information from Panorama on Brady Youth Forum to the Tower Hamlets CID team?

When I called up the Met Police press bureau yesterday, I was told they couldn’t find any reference to Brady Youth Forum on their main pan-London database.

They had to go and check at a local level.

I strongly suspect the Met as a whole was in fact in possession of credible new evidence as a result of DCLG’s actions; I suspect there was a lack of communication internally among the super sleuths.

But what’s also odd is the behaviour of the council in all this.

First of all, the Takki Sulaiman has a “setting the record straight” section on the council’s website. This is where he places rebuttals to stories he dislikes or doesn’t understand. You’d think from the title he’d at least strive for some accuracy. Yesterday morning he was very quick to publish the Met Police’s statement there.

Since then, I and others have told him and the head of paid service, Steve Halsey, that that statement has since been clarified. Has the council updated its website? Of course not (as at 5pm on April 17).

But forget for now the misleading statements because that’s just par for the course for Takki Sulaiman, but look again at the Met Police’s clarified statement.

They say they were notified by the council of the alleged Brady fraud only on March 20.

As I said above, Meic helpfully said Deloitte had reported back on the issue in January.

So why had the council waited all that time to go to the police?

It’s worth noting that some details of Panorama’s investigations into this had been contained in the ‘dossier’ taken to Lutfur’s office at the end of January by the so-called “whistleblowing” Bengali researcher.

The council presumably had sufficient evidence to go to the police, but it seems strange that they appeared to sit on it until Panorama began to hint they would be including it in the programme.

I said a couple of weeks ago that the back story to the Panorama programme might prove bigger than the broadcast itself. Watch this space.

Oh, and don’t forget…the auditors from PwC have only just started their work. This is the serious business of it all.

But you’d never have guessed from Lutfur’s latest press release.

Here:

Scotland Yard find “no credible evidence” in Tower Hamlets probe

Mayor Lutfur Rahman today welcomed the announcement by the Metropolitan Police that there was “no credible evidence” to claims of fraud at Tower Hamlets Council.

Mayor Rahman said:

“I have always maintained that there has been no wrongdoing and the Met’s decision that there is no credible evidence and not to investigate these claims is a vindication, however, the public now need to know who brought these allegations, why they were given such credence by the Secretary of State and whether the upcoming elections had any impact on the timing.”

The investigation was apparently based on documents presented to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles by BBC Panorama’s John Ware. Before the broadcast, a member of the programme’s own production team leaked production notes from the film and made accusations of political and racial bias on the part of the programme-makers. This evidence has been legally barred from publication by the BBC.

The dropped investigation is the latest of several inquiries into local democracy in Tower Hamlets that have returned no evidence of wrongdoing. In 2013, the Electoral Commission published a report into claims of voter fraud, investigating around 160 separate allegations and finding no evidence to support any of them.

Mayor Rahman added:

“There is a clear pattern in Tower Hamlets of opposition parties and sections of the media claiming everything from fraud to electoral malpractice to extremist takeovers in an attempt to discredit my administration. Once again, such claims have been shown to be lacking the critical factor of evidence. I hope that with these latest smears dispelled we can turn back to the issues that matter to local people’s day-to-day lives.”

For a lawyer, he does have a habit of talking conflated disingenuous bollocks, doesn’t he? Now even he’s trying to deny there’s a fraud investigation. Maybe his memory is failing him.

By the way, if anyone has any information about council contracts, grants, public money spent on PR and disposal of properties, they can write to PwC at lbth.inspectors@uk.pwc.com.

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Where to start with updates on the events of last week?

Yesterday, Mayor Lutfur Rahman staged a mini-rally/call for canvassers outside Sir John Cass School in Stepney. I’d been helping out with some spring cleaning at St Dunstan’s Church across the road so I thought I’d pop by to see what was going on.

Here’s the male heavy crowd.

lutfur crowd

Thanks to Cllr Gulam Robbani‘s Facebook page we can see the moment I arrived.

This is a photo he took of me offering a handshake as he walked towards me.

Handshake

 

He wasn’t interested in the handshake; he just continued walking towards me, pointing his camera in my face. It was weird.

So I took a couple of him instead.

But he just carried on snapping. I’m not sure what he thought he was doing (and if you look carefully in the background, you can see Lutfur looking a little concerned about his friend’s erratic behaviour as well) so I gave him the thumb’s up.

thumb up

Someone suggested later I sign an autograph book for him.

Like little sheep following one of their more misguided leaders, a few more brave Lutfurites rushed forward to copy him. Cllr Alibor Choudhury also joined in and asked people to take pictures of us together.

Here are a couple more of my secret fan club.

Don’t you think they do look sheepish?

Standing in the background of the ‘thumbs up’ photo is Sebastian Payne, the online editor of the Spectator magazine. He thought it one of the strangest scenes he’d scene at a political rally. I mean, what kind of politician would try and intimidate a journalist? Bit sinister.

Seb, in a piece he wrote last night, also said there were a number of other more professional photographers taking photos with long lenses from the park across the way and from the end of the street.

Whether these photographers were paid by Lutfur I don’t know, but one or two were jumping to his orders.

For example, a couple of minutes after the Great Man himself arrived, one of his men (for they were pretty much all men), spotted a couple of white girls walking past. They pointed this out to Lutfur, so the mayor pounced. Smiling, he rushed over to them. They looked a bit bemused.

Lutfur and the girls

But he stood there chatting to them for a couple of minutes, just long enough for his cameraman to take enough shots to tick his “diversity” box.

lutfur girls and cameras

And then he walked back to the embraces of his 75 or so committed fans.

For the next half hour I was there, he never once more ventured beyond that crowd.

While I was watching all this, I did have a pleasant chat with his main man, Cllr Alibor Choudhury. We discussed all manner of things and I repeated an offer for Lutfur to write for this blog. He thought it a lovely idea. He also repeated a statement put out on the council’s website disputing the calculations made by BBC Panorama about the awarding of grants.

The BBC said Lutfur had diverted more than £2million of grants towards Bangladeshi or Somali groups to shore up his vote.

In contrast, the council had stated: 

In fact, in the latest grants round, £1.6million of a £9.7million programme was awarded to organisations with a Bengali or Somali chair, CEO or applicant – or 16.5 per cent to a community that makes up just under 36 per cent of the population.

I told Alibor surely the way to settle this is for the council to provide a breakdown of its figures by group. No problem, he said. So I said that’s odd because when I’d asked Takki Sulaiman, the council’s head of communications, for that spreadsheet on Thursday, he’d refused to send it. Takki said if I wanted that breakdown, I’d have to submit a FoI request. How transparent.

Alibor said Takki was “wrong”, that I should have been given it. So would Alibor send me it instead? Oh no, said the cabinet member for finance, we’ll have to let Eric Pickles’s inspectors now do their job.

He then asked me for my opinion on how last week’s events will affect the May election. I told him I didn’t really know. I said Labour seem buoyed by it and that many Bengalis had expressed deep embarrassment about the antics of Lutfur bhai and co.

Alibor said he was surprised at that and pointed to the favourable coverage the Mayor had received in the hard-hitting, ever-so-scrutinising Bengali media.

Here’s a selection of front pages from Thursday’s editions.

Bengali papers

Some of the headlines read ‘Brave Lutfur’, ‘BBC apologises over Panorama’, etc etc. It’s a free press, I suppose, but they do let themselves and their readers down sometimes with their gullibility.

A number of the papers, including the once prestigious Surma, also ran headlines declaring that Jack Straw was now backing Lutfur. “Lutfur is rolling out the sort of progressive programme that I’m in favour of Labour councils initiating,” the former Foreign Secretary was quoted as saying.

Really?

In fact, these quotes were taken from a rather feeble April Fool gag on Michael Meacher’s blog, Left Futures, published here the morning after Panorama on April 1. There were so many clues this was fake, I won’t bother going into them, but the biggest one of all was the line inserted at the top of the article on Tuesday evening.

Left futures

If I were Labour, I’d be getting Jack Straw to demand an apology and the right of reply in all those papers for the next edition. Labour needs to do better getting its message out to the media.

The Bengali community deserves better journalism than this.

But Lutfur, partly due to the council cash that’s been lobbed their way, has the Bengali press sewn up.

Late on Friday afternoon, his two council-paid media advisers, Numan Hussain and Mohammed Jubair (the £50k a year adviser who also works for Channel S) sent out invites for an “emergency press conference” in the town hall. These two, remember, have been behind allegations the BBC was racist.

I wasn’t invited, and nor was the East London Advertiser. I’m not aware of any other non-Bengali hacks who were asked to come. In fact, the ELA’s Adam Barnett received a tip-off from another source and made his way to Mulberry Place. Only after he was in the building did the Mayor’s Office ring him and ask if he’d like to come!

Here’s Lutfur’s photo of the meeting.

press conference

That’s Stuart Madewell to Lutfur’s left. Many of the others in camera shot are councillors or Tower Hamlets First activists. I’m told the “press conference” wasn’t the most biting of affairs, that it was more like a campaign strategy meeting.

I’m told the first question was something like: “We’ve heard there were SAS here and you’ve been arrested. Is this all propaganda?”

Who dares wins, eh.

There have been a couple of other developments, which I’ll report on later, but in the meantime, here are a couple more photos (courtesy of Labour’s @dave___smith):

Today’s edition of East End Life:

East End Life

 

Can anyone spot what’s missing??

And a someone removing Lutfur’s name from Poplar Baths.

Screen shot 2014-04-06 at 16.33.11

Not quite the Baghdad Saddam statue, but…

 

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8.15am…This has just come to me. At 8am this morning a number of specially appointed auditors from PriceWaterhouseCooopers arrived at Tower Hamlets town hall in Mulberry Place on the express orders of the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Eric Pickles has heard enough and he has now put his words into action.

Officials at DCLG have been watching Tower Hamlets extremely carefully for many months, amassing their own evidence.

The BBC Panorama documentary on Monday was the final straw. Evidence amassed from that programme, and not just that relating to the broadcast itself, is also being examined.

I understand PwC’s people are taking away boxes of files relating to the grants process and the disposal of assets, probably including the sale of Poplar Town Hall.

Mayor Lutfur Rahman is due to hold an anti-Panorama rally in Stepney on Saturday. I suspect the tension will be ratcheted up.

More on all this later, but spare a thought for interim officer Meic Sullivan-Gould, who’s missing all this fun having flown to Japan…where they know what to do in these sorts of circumstances…

I’ve written a more detailed account for Express.co.uk here.

And here are the letters sent from DCLG to the council and PwC.

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Jan0700146_biggerMeic Sullivan-Gould, a Past President of the Association of Council Secretaries & Solicitors, has ruffled a few feathers since becoming interim monitoring officer at Tower Hamlets council in January.

I’m told he’s a great fan of Private Eye and that he believes he’s a real bloodhound when it comes to sniffing out town hall wrongdoing.

He’s something of a travelling wilbury in local government circles. Councils queue up for his consultancy services, it seems. He must be the best thing since sliced bread. He’s an expert. In everything.

Except keeping counsel as a good lawyer perhaps should.

Within a few short weeks of of working in Tower Hamlets the white knight of local government was letting it be known there was nothing to investigate. He, Meic, had given the council and Mayor Lutfur Rahman a clean bill of health.

Nothing to be seen here, you pesky journalists and opposition councillors; run along now.

How he had managed to go through the books and processes of the council is such a short space of time, I have no idea. He must be superhuman.

And so confident was he of his thorough investigation, he took to Facebook as the Panorama programme was airing on Monday night.

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 13.07.15

The man he is chatting to is Mark Hynes, the director of law at Lambeth Council, who, significantly, is the President of the Lawyers in Local Government. So a heavy hitter. I’m not sure he’ll be most impressed about Meic’s privacy settings.

So what we learn is that Mark Hynes is shocked by Panorama’s findings. “Where were all the officers?” he asks. “..it would seem that the Bengalis through the mayor and cabinet are doing what they want.”

I’m not sure “the Bengalis” is a term he’d like to use again. And I think the headhunters will knock no more about him moving to LBTH.

But Meic doesn’t pick him up on his use of language. Instead he berates Mark for taking a view. In fact, Meic goes further: He offers his expert political analysis. “The mayor’s support will be galvanised by their unfair coverage….chances of a free fair and credible election diminished by an unnecessarily contentious rehash of longstanding unproven allegations!”

Remember, Meic had just watched a programme proving a dubious relationship between the Mayor and Channel S. Meic thought there were Chinese walls in place surrounding Mohammed Jubair’s work for the broadcaster and as a mayoral media adviser.

So in Meic’s view, Lutfur is not the Bad Mayor, but a good guy. Clean bill of health.

Part of his job, of course, is to be impartial on many matters, and to retain the trust of members and officers. He may just have lost that. They almost yearn for the return of his predecessor Isabella Freeman. I’m not sure he can hang around too much longer.

That’ll give him time to scour the pages of Private Eye (for articles about himself.)

Or return to his thoughtful musings on Twitter..

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 16.30.43

 

 

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trialbyjeory:

This is a reblog of a piece on Tendence Coatsey

Originally posted on Tendance Coatesy:

Directly Funds Religious Groups. 

This is not the place to discuss the full picture  of the Panorama report into Tower Hamlets Council and Lufter Rahman.

Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for local government, is not the best person to criticise anybody, even the person who ties his shoelaces.

Counterfirehas however  muddied the waters by repeating Rahman’s charges that the programme is ‘racist’ and ‘Islamophobic’.

Since they claim to speak for the left, they need a reply.

They claim,

Take away the constant reminders that Lutfur and many of supporters are Bengali(!!), and what were we left with? Firstly, the fact that he didn’t follow the advice of council bureaucrats as to who should get funding, and secondly that he didn’t submit himself to sufficient questioning by Tower Hamlets’ Labour-dominated council. As for the former, it is a hardly a political scandal that funding decisions should, ultimately, be taken by…

View original 717 more words

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JOhn Ware, panorama, bbc, lutfur rahman, tower hamlets Having been partly involved in the making of tomorrow night’s Panorama documentary on Mayor Lutfur Rahman and Tower Hamlets, it’s more difficult to judge what its impact will be (it’s a 30 minute programme and lots has been left on the cutting room floor).

From what I know, I think it’s a very measured, balanced and fair investigation and I suspect Communities Secretary Eric Pickles will take some action as a result. The programme exposes serious inadequacies in the checks and balances of a directly elected mayoral system, particularly when there’s a context of dysfunctional party politics.

Although pretty much every theme of what will be broadcast tomorrow will not be new to readers of this blog, there will be some disturbing details of what’s been going on behind the scenes. It’s clear a number of senior officers have had major concerns about process and decisions. To the wider national audience that Panorama is aimed it, the entire story will be worrying.

I’m not going to give anything away about the broadcast (except to say Lutfur may regret his decision to be interviewed), but I think the bigger story, in the short term at least, will be the background to the production itself: accusations of racism against the BBC and a so-called journalist betraying highly confidential sources (and then absurdly, in my view, claiming to be a whistleblower).

Lutfur Rahman’s council has spent tens of thousands of pounds (we don’t yet know the final figure) on City lawyers Taylor Wessing and PR outfit Champollion, whose remit was to suppress the programme. Over the past few weeks, they, Lutfur and the council’s interim monitoring officer, Meic Sullivan Gould, have tried to badger the BBC into pulling it at every opportunity.

This culminated last week in a letter to the BBC’s Director-General Lord (Tony) Hall (who, having seen the programme with the corporation’s editorial high command, gave it the thumbs up judging it to be fair and impartial).

Their main argument has been that the BBC should not be engaging in the sort investigative journalism that might affect the outcome of an election so close to an election. Which is a curious argument indeed.

They have also argued the production was biased from the outset and that its primary aim was to unseat the Mayor. And surprise, surprise (given what we know about the tactics of Lutfur’s people in this regard), they’re again playing the race card.

Instead of me doing the talking, here’s the statement Lutfur himself issued last night (after it became clear the programme would be aired):

BBC Panorama whistle-blower reveals racist and Islamophobic programme

Criminal investigation underway as BBC Panorama whistle-blower reveals racist and Islamophobic programme on Tower Hamlets

You may be aware that BBC Panorama is due to air a programme about Tower Hamlets next week.

I believe the programme is being used for political campaigning and electioneering purposes just weeks before local and Mayoral elections in May.

A dossier passed to us by a BBC whistle-blower has revealed it to be in total breach of the BBC’s editorial guidelines as a public broadcaster.

It has clear racist and Islamophobic overtones targeting the Bangladeshi Muslim community in Tower Hamlets.

The BBC and the undercover production company, Films of Record, have also been referred to the Information Commissioner and there is now a criminal investigation underway.

Sadly this programme is already being used for political campaigning by politicians from Tower Hamlets Labour Party and promoted by right wing journalists.

The BBC’s targeting of our borough is nothing short of a direct intervention in the outcome of an election.

I’m proud that with your support I have been able to deliver some of the most progressive policies of any council in the country, whether that’s building the most homes; supporting our young people; providing free school meals to all primary school children; protecting our heritage; looking after our elderly or improving our environment.

I’ll let the people of Tower Hamlets judge my record in office – not by a programme with a clear political bias, broadcasting for Tower Hamlets Labour Party.

Here is my 3 years in office report – Transforming Tower Hamlets: Three Years On.

You can also watch this short counter documentary for an alternative perspective on the Panorama programme http://vimeo.com/90422433.

So let’s look at this “whistleblower” accusation.

First, here’s the BBC’s response:

“The BBC emphatically rejects any suggestion that its investigation into Lutfur Rahman’s administration was either politically or racially motivated. We can confirm that there has been a breach of data protection at an independent production company working with the BBC on a Panorama investigation as a result of unauthorised disclosure by a former researcher on the production team, in breach of her obligation of confidentiality. This breach includes material relating to the programme’s confidential sources. Our primary concern is to protect our sources and we are urgently investigating the matter. We have also notified the ICO.”

Now the background.

In January, Panorama reporter John Ware and the production company Films of Record (it’s a production company, not an undercover production company) hired a young Bengali broadcast journalist student). At her interview, she was highly critical of Lutfur Rahman and his administration.

They got her to do some research on some of the third sector organisations they were investigating as part of the programme’s focus on taxpayer grants. She was also asked to do some translating and she’d also been keen initially to do some undercover work.

She was only with the team for four days in mid-January and on the last day she was given access to a shared but restricted computer file.

After she started demanding more money, the team let her down gently and said thanks but no thanks. But then some six weeks later, the team were dropped with a bombshell. A dossier containing a significant amount of confidential material had been taken from the shared drive and handed to Mayor Lutfur’s office.

It is thought the council had this dossier for a number of weeks before their lawyers Taylor Wessing disclosed it to the BBC and Films of Record. This is important to note.

How this dossier was accessed is not yet fully clear. I understand the BBC is satisfied as to the involvement in handling the “dossier” of certain paid individuals in the Mayor’s office. Inquiries by the Corporation are progressing.

As to whether there is a criminal investigation into the BBC/Films of Record, my understanding is that is manifestly not the case. The BBC has told the Mayor this but he seems to have ignored it. Both the BBC and Films of Record quite rightly notified the ICO as soon as they were aware of the data breach. Note my point re the council’s actions above.

In my view, the journalist they hired should be ashamed of herself. She apparently claimed she had become concerned about the nature of the programme, that it was somehow trying to bring shame on Britain’s Bangladeshi community. Whether any pressure was exerted on her from external sources, I don’t know. I do know that many, many Bangladeshis are terrified about speaking out in public for fear of vilification in their own community. They’re quite happy to talk to journalists in private but very rarely go on the record. The few that do are brave.

What also galls is that this journalist now claims whistleblower status for betraying whistleblowers. It’s my understanding that she made not one attempt to raise apparent concerns about the programme with any of the Panorama team. As a journalist, she would have known the BBC has in place strict and confidential channels for such concerns.

As for the other allegations in Lutfur’s press release….

Panorama was ‘politically motivated’: Rubbish. Their methods were exemplary; the team knocked down weak hypotheses at every stage. They were rigorous and judicious.

Panorama has been Islamophobic: Rubbish. Lutfur Rahman (by even his own admissions and boasts) is a highly public and controversial figure. He boasts he’s Europe’s first directly elected Mayor, he invokes Islam and Allah in his speeches and he boasts that he’s the first to put such high priority on faith buildings. His support is drawn almost exclusively from one community, the Bangladeshi population in Tower Hamlets. There is undoubtedly a strong public interest in scrutinising him and his policies.

Mayor Rahman is also putting it about that John Ware is a Zionist Islamophobe who targets Muslims. Rubbish. They’re claiming this is ‘proved’ because the BBC paid out libel damages from a previous investigation of his in 2006 into the charity Interpal. Well, actually, that documentary led to a Charity Commission reprimand for Interpal. The libel damages were incidental to the main story: they were paid to a man whose face had not been blanked out on a photograph featuring one of their main subjects.

Whether or not tomorrow’s Panorama proves to be a game-changer in Tower Hamlets on May 22, I don’t know.

But the evidence has been submitted to Eric Pickles who now says this:

“There is a worrying pattern of divisive community politics and mismanagement of council staff and resources by the mayoral administration in Tower Hamlets. I will carefully examining the evidence provided by Panorama’s thorough investigation and will consider the appropriate next steps, including the case for exercising the legal powers available to me.”

In the meantime, Lutfur is publicising this 26 minute attack video on Panorama (quite how it was funded or who made it hasn’t been disclosed, but it features a number of useful idiots)…it’s all the fault of the ‘right wing’, you see.

Enjoy the warm-up (and oh, by the way, I gather that John Ware found the council’s head of communications Takki Sulkaiman to be one of the most manipulative press officers he’s ever dealt with in a long career in journalism…which I can’t disagree with: he should have stuck to politics.)

 

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Lutfur_ferdhaus-460480Many of you would have already seen this piece I wrote for the Express on Thursday, but it needs recording here.

You’ll remember last month this blog post about Mayor Lutfur Rahman providing another court character reference for a convicted criminal. As I said then he has rather a habit of using his office for such good deeds. First, it was a minicab driver who molested a woman in the back of his car who secured Lutfur’s praise, then last month it was his friend and admirer, Mohammed Mahee Ferdhaus, aka Mahee Jalil, aka the most influential man in British Bangladeshi TV.

Mahee is the founder Channel S, a rogue satellite TV company based in Walthamstow. And until he was sentenced to his second stretch in jail last month (he previously did a couple of years for insurance fraud; this time it was for money laundering £500k from a motor insurance fraud), he was the channel’s main anchor.

Politicians fell at his feet and helped repay them with favourable coverage…which meant that when Ofcom wasn’t actually asleep on the job, the channel was in breach of broadcasting rules.

In fact, Channel S has been a repeat offender with Ofcom. In 2012, they said this of biased coverage towards Lutfur:

We are concerned that the breach in this case comes after three previous contraventions of the Code rules covering due impartiality and elections recorded against Channel S: in Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin 1773; Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin 1884; and Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin 2035. We therefore put the Licensee on notice that further breaches of the Code of a similar or related nature will be considered for statutory sanction.

Yet when Ofcom came to sanction the broadcaster for its next breach the following year, it said it was powerless to take a stronger line. As the Evening Standard reported in March 2013, Channel S had recreated itself under a new management structure and with new directors registered at Companies House. How convenient. Here’s what Channel S told the Standard back then:

“Channel S Television Ltd in its present form has only been trading since the end of June 2012. Everything that you mention was prior to June 2012 and I cannot comment on it as it was under different management at that time.”

The council, too, seems to have hidden behind this line because it has continued to pay the channels tens of thousands of pounds in public money for advertising and grants for “award ceremonies”. It also employed the channel’s main reporter, Mohammed Jubair, as a £50k a year part-time mayoral adviser on “community media”.

Now, wouldn’t it be a scandal if the council was fully aware that Channel S throughout all this time was being still being controlled by a convicted fraudster and that the new management structure was something of a con?

Which brings me back to my article for the Express on Thursday. After we discovered last month that Lutfur had provided a glowing character reference for Mahee, we wrote to the judge to see a copy of the Mayor’s letter. The court wrote back to decline our request on the grounds the letter had been provided in confidence as part of Mahee’s mitigation.

So we pursued the case and in a hearing before Judge Anthony Pitts at Southwark Crown Court on Thursday (Judge Pitts presided over Mahee’s case), we argued that what an elected public official was saying in mitigation for a known criminal was a matter of strong public interest. We argued that I had a long and acknowledged record in investigating Tower Hamlets and that Lutfur’s letter did not fall within the category of a confidential note to the court such as a mitigating victim statement.

So impressed was Judge Pitts with our arguments, he not only made extra special efforts with his court officials to find the reference, but also he revealed Lutfur’s deputy mayor, Cllr Ohid Ahmed, had also provided one as well. Intriguingly, he added that some other “well known….extremely well known people” had also given letters of support, but because we had made no application on that score, those names remain anonymous. I wonder who they were.

Judge Pitts agreed that the matter was “important” for the rights of the press to investigate and for criminal procedure rules in sentencing. Essentially, we have set a precedent for journalists.

So let’s have a look at these obsequious references.

Do they sound like they thought Mahee was just some mere presenter? What about Ohid’s comment that Mahee “sent his camera crew” to a news event?

Now remember this. At the time Lutfur and Ohid wrote these letters on official council notepaper, they knew Mahee Ferdhaus was a twice convicted criminal, a massive fraudster;  a man who, through his no doubt inflated motor insurance company premiums, stole from Bengali residents in Tower Hamlets. They also knew his not-so-squeaky clean personal life led to his kidnapping, torture and beating by associates and gangsters.

In short, to pretty much any reasonable individual, he’s a rotten egg.

So don’t these character references say something about the characters of the men who gave them?

Ohid Ahmed is the the cabinet member for “community safety” but here he is praising a Class A criminal.

And Lutfur Rahman is among other things in charge of a multimillion pound discretionary grants programme and is responsible for ensuring there is no fraud. Yet here he is fulsome in his praise for a fraudster. Maybe he’s not that bothered about “white collar crime”.

What shining examples they are.

They might not realise it, but their actions are bringing shame on the decent Bengali community.

Anyway, here’s the Express article in full. (And I’m going to write a separate post later about some new breaches of the Ofcom code by other Bengali TV stations in favour of Lutfur.)

EXPRESS Newspapers today scored an important victory for the rights of the press to view court documents by persuading a judge to release a glowing character reference from a London mayor for a convicted fraudster.

Judge Anthony Pitts at Southwark Crown Court agreed to release the reference from Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman in support of millionaire Mohammed Mahee Ferdhaus, an influential TV mogul and presenter who was sentenced last month to three years in jail for laundering £500,000 of proceeds from an insurance fraud.

The judge was so impressed with the arguments put forward by Express barrister Joseph Lewis and its journalist Ted Jeory that he revealed Mr Rahman’s deputy, Councillor Ohid Ahmed, had also provided a reference that praised Ferdhaus’s attempts on TV to reduce crime.

“You may as well have that too,” the judge volunteered. The judge said the case had been an important matter for criminal sentencing procedures.

Both letters, which were used by Ferdhaus to try and secure a lower sentence, were written on Tower Hamlets council headed notepaper. While the deputy mayor added a postscript to his reference that he was writing in a “personal capacity”, no such note was on Mr Rahman’s letter.

Judge Pitts in earlier correspondence with the Express had declined an application to disclose the reference, saying it had been handed to him in the sentencing hearing “in confidence as part of the mitigation”.

However, after listening to arguments at a hearing in open court today, he said he had “changed his mind”.

He said: “I think that the press are entitled to know these two particular documents. “They could easily have been read out and they could have been called as witnesses. “For that reason, I am going to disclose both of them.”

He said he had found arguments “extremely interesting” and had ordered his court officials to look “extensively” to see if the references remained in the building. Officials had only found them 10 minutes before today’s hearing, he said.

In his arguments, Mr Lewis said Mr Jeory had a long and acclaimed record of investigating Tower Hamlets and the links between the mayor and Bangladeshi television stations.

Mr Lewis told the judge Channel S had previously been “repeatedly reprimanded” by Ofcom for biased coverage in favour of Mr Rahman. He said Ferdhaus’s influence “held great sway” within the Bangladeshi community of east London.

He said Mr Jeory was investigating the nature of the links between the mayor, who was elected to office in 2010, and Channel S. He added a BBC Panorama programme due to air “in the not too distant future” was also probing the relationships.

Mr Lewis said while he accepted the principle that certain references supplied to the court should remain confidential, for example victim statements in domestic violence cases, a letter from an elected public official on council paper was “a different matter”.

“This was a political ally effectively providing assistance to his friend or ally,” Mr Lewis told the judge.

At the sentencing hearing last month, the court had been told Mr Rahman had provided a reference, but the details of the letter had not been read out in full. Mr Lewis said the public had a right to know what had been said.

He said court guidelines recognised the “special position of the press’s role as a public watchdog” and that Mr Jeory’s application as an accredited journalist should be accepted.

Judge Pitts also revealed a number of “very well known” other personalities had supplied references for Ferdhaus but their names remain anonymous.

Ferdhaus’s case was reported by Express.co.uk last month. He had admitted his part in a £1.9million “crash for cash” insurance scam between 2006 and 2008. Gangs had rammed expensive cars such as BMWs into each other at drinking parties and Ferdhaus, 40, had a “background” role in the crime.

Until the day of his trail he had tried to pin the blame on his innocent brother Abdul. He had been jailed for 18 months in 2008 for conspiracy to defraud in respect of an almost identical earlier insurance scam between 2002 and 2003.

The businessman was on bail awaiting trial at the time he became embroiled in the later fraud. Ferdhaus had suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after being kidnapped at gunpoint outside his TV station offices in Walthamstow, east London and issued with a £250,000 ransom demand.

When he refused to pay his assailants they tortured him, hanging him upside down and pouring boiling water on his head, before threatening to rape his daughter.

In his reference for Mr Ferdhaus, Mr Rahman wrote: “Mr Ferdhaus has played an instrumental role in promoting British Bangladeshis across the globe through Channel S.

“His contribution to the British Bangladeshi community especially in the fields of media and culture is widely recognised and commendable. Under Mr Ferdhaus’s leadership Channel S was one of the first satellite BME channels to initiate free viewing, connecting the Bangladeshi diaspora across Britain and the world. He has played a critical role in philanthropy, supporting charity and humanitarian organisations following natural disasters.

“As a prominent media personality, I have always known him to be constructive, critical but impartial as an anchor on community and current affairs.”

In his reference, Deputy Mayor Councillor Ahmed said Ferdhaus influenced his thinking on policies. He said Ferdhaus’s ‘Reality with Mahee’ Tv programme was “particularly useful”.

He wrote: “His programme helped the community enormously as his show always talk about real issues and problems (sic). I often watch his programme and find it very useful particularly his suggestions and recommendations to solve these problems. 

“As founder of Channel S (Number one Bangladeshi TV channel in UK) he has always helped us promoting the good initiatives particularly the community safety issues, recent example was that when Tower Hamlets facilitated the biggest police operation in the country, he sent his camera crew in the middle of the night with reporters which was broadcast in the channel extensively (sic).

“As TV presenter and Founder of TV channel he has his own community intelligence which he often share with us in order to resolve problems in our community particularly drugs, prostitution and antisocial behaviour related problems.”

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I asked Nick McQueen, the new Ukip candidate for Tower Hamlets mayor to write a short piece to introduce himself and to outline some of his views and how he would improve the borough. I also asked him for his views on the important second preference vote that Labour’s John Biggs is probably relying on.

Below is Nick’s piece and below that, I’m copying the short manifesto Ukip has drawn up for Tower Hamlets.

The three things that stand out for me in terms of headline grabbers are the decriminalisation of heroin in Tower Hamlets (to get rid of the dealers, but which could also have the effect of attracting every junkie in London to the borough); new “Moses” clubs in every school to help children of different faiths mix more; and the abolition of the council funded “mother tongue” classes for Bengali families (something I and many others including David Goodhart have called for).

I think this should prompt a good discussion….Here’s Nick’s piece:

Why I am Standing

I am an East Ender born and bred. My life experiences set me apart from the political class. They are trained to argue for policies that they do not believe in but in the East End we call that lying. Instead I will be honest, transparent and accountable.

Children in the borough are suffering. Some of them are being fed soup at the end of the month.

Others are being segregated due to the current mayors policies, and the funding for their clubs has been taken away. There is overcrowding in the borough I grew up in the East End but I have never known it this bad. I want to fight for the multi-cultural, multi-religious society of London’s East End.

The East End is not a colour, we all become as one. A community is assessed NOT on how well the rich live, but on how well we look after the less fortunate.

My Views of the Current Mayor Lutfur Rahman

Mr Rahman uses policies of segregation rather than integration – for example his “mother tongue” lessons. The mayor of Newham (Sir Robin Wales) has recently accused him of bringing a form of apartheid to Tower Hamlets. He rarely speaks in the council meetings. He does not have the interests of the whole community at heart. Have you ever seen him at Canary Wharf standing up for the City, one of our country’s most important industries and a major source of the tax revenue that funds our public services?

Would I like Rahman out at Any Cost?

Yes of course I want him out. But the answer is not to elect a different socialist administration under Labour. Their candidate John Biggs will keep his role on the London Assembly – we don’t need a part-time mayor. He ran the council for a number of years and the Labour Party created Rahman. Would you give a lighter back to a previous arsonist?

The Tory candidate (Chris Wilford) has been parachuted in. He has no real background in the East End and is currently talking about potholes. We need something very different for Tower Hamlets – UKIP can be that difference.

How Can UKIP Make the Borough Better?

We will breathe new life into the borough with our policies. UKIP does not have a whip in local government, which gives our councillors freedom to fight for the specific things that matter to their electors.

 We are very different to the other parties. See my views on the decriminalisation of drugs to solve the heroin problem in the borough. I will use council resources to generate more money.

See my vision for an East End Wonderland every year in Victoria Park.

I will introduce free breakfast clubs for primary school kids and after-school “Moses” clubs to bring together children from all backgrounds (Moses is a prophet to the Jews, Christians and Muslims).

I want grammar schools for the academically-gifted children and trade schools for those of a practical disposition so that they can learn the real skills they need to earn good money in the trades.

I will support small businesses in the borough by easing the bureaucracy and making the council more responsive. I have been in business for most of my life so I know what it is like. And I will always stand up for Canary Wharf and oppose EU interference. The City gave me my start in life – I started a business providing the plants for their offices.

I will support genuine civic groups as long as they are for the whole community, to promote integration rather than separation.

The conduct of the council meetings is a disgrace. UKIP will restore order and dignity to the proceedings.

I will bring in forensic accountants to go over the books and look for asset stripping and misappropriation, and I will prosecute those responsible. Those accountants will also find me millions of pounds of savings and I will be ruthless in cutting out waste.

I will support the arts in the borough and will find a permanent site for Old Flo.

Do I Have Bengali Support and Candidates?

I know a lot of Bangladeshis – some of them are my next-door neighbours. They have promised me their vote because like the rest of the community they are fed up with the current system. Why should they be any different? Their kids are also being targeted by the heroin pushers. So yes, I have Bengali support. But no, we do not yet have any Bengali candidates. If anyone from that community is interested in standing for UKIP please contact me.

We only formed the UKIP branch in December, so we are starting from behind. We do not have the local structure and activist base that the other parties have. We have set ourselves the goal of finding twenty candidates – one for each ward – so that everyone in Tower Hamlets who wants to vote for UKIP can do so. That would be a massive achievement.

Second Preference Votes

We are in this to win. I want people’s first preference votes only. If you want UKIP and the change that we will bring then you should vote only for me and my councillor candidates. If you absolutely must vote for your old party – Tory or Labour – then please lend me your second preference votes (and please give our councillors one of your votes on that ballot). We are not instructing our supporters to give their second preference votes to anyone.

I am getting the support of working class people, Conservatives, Labour, and also from people who have never voted before. Our challenge is to get enough of the people who have given up on politics to register to vote. Our first flyer simply has UKIP on it and the contact details for the voter registration department at the council.

The following is from the Tower Hamlets Ukip website:

My Plan

  • Zero tolerance on heroin to protect our youth.
  • Free breakfast clubs and school dinners for primary school children.
  • East End Wonderland at Victoria park to raise funds for open spaces.
  •  “Moses clubs” in all schools to bring the different races and religions together, with special activity programmes during the holidays.
  • Quickly create new primary schools by using existing college buildings.
  • Grammar schools for the academically gifted and trade and technical schools for those of a more practical disposition.
  • I want community integration rather than segregation.
  • My office will be fully transparent and accountable.
  • I will bring in forensic accountants to look for asset stripping and misappropriated funds, and I will prosecute those responsible.
  • I will promote culture and art in the borough and find a permanent site for Old Flo.
  • I will support businesses, for example with a late license for Brick Lane.
  • I will always stand up for Canary Wharf and oppose EU interference in our vital financial services industry.
  • I will replace the mayoral dictatorship with a fully democratic system.
  • I will cut open the belly of this beast for everyone to look inside.

Budget savings to implement my plans

My accountants will find millions of pounds in savings by cutting unnecessary spending. But the following “quick wins” can be implemented straight away.

  • Abolish unnecessary expenditure on faith buildings.
  • Abolish “mother tongue” lessons.
  • Abolish the mayoral car and highly-paid advisors.
  • Stop the translation of information into foreign languages, removing the need for council-funded translators.
  • Scrap the East End Life propaganda newspaper.

Personal message from Nicholas

Dear Voter,

I’m aware of the ups and downs of life and how difficult it is to cope with the austerity measures that we are all experiencing, be it on an individual basis or from a family or business perspective. Let me explain to you my political position. In some ways I go further than Labour when it comes to delivering social protection. In other ways my policies are more conservative than those promised by the Conservatives.

I truly believe that the basic human needs – heating, eating and housing – must be affordable to the community, especially where children are concerned. For example, children cannot learn if they are underfed and this is unfortunately happening in our borough. Hence my commitment regarding the school breakfast clubs. A community is assessed not on how well the rich live but on how well we look after the less fortunate among us.

I’ve been in business for most of my life and I understand how much we need good businesses to create jobs and pay taxes, which is why I support the growth and expansion of the business and financial districts in the borough, and I will help them above and beyond expectations.

The middle section of my politics is libertarian – the philosophy that places the highest value on personal freedom and limited government. More liberty helps us all to achieve more, to be happier and healthier, and it will make the community a better place to live in. I will integrate libertarianism with modern-day politics to confront the problems that we face today.

The national leadership of UKIP does not dictate our policy in local government but leaves us free to do what we need to in the local setting. UKIP is the fastest growing party in the UK because it is for everyone, especially the working man and woman. We believe that if you work then you should be better off. When we run the borough you will benefit. When we run the country it will be strong once again.

I was born and bred in the East End. I am old school, but my life experiences set me apart from the schoolboys that have been running the borough. My promises set out above will breathe new life into the borough, making it a better place to live and work. Our history, and our multicultural diverse community is what makes Tower Hamlets one of the most dynamic places in the world and one of the most interesting places to live and work.

Thank you for reading this, and I hope you will support my campaign for the greater good of our local community.

Love East End. Vote UKIP. Vote Nicholas McQueen for Mayor. 

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Every month councillors are required to submit a timesheet detailing the work they claim they’ve been doing to collect their allowances and special responsibility allowances from the public purse.

Well, let me clarify that: they’re meant to submit them and they collect their allowances regardless of the work they actually do; the timesheets and their pay are not in any way related.

So in some ways, these timesheets are meaningless.

However, they are somewhat illuminating because they shine a we light on a councillor’s character. Some take them very seriously and submit them as regularly as clockwork. Some are also completely honest about what they state on them.

For example, Labour’s excellent Bow East councillor, Marc Francis, falls into both categories. His timesheets are pretty much up to date and you can read his latest one for January 2014 here:

Screen shot 2014-03-08 at 09.23.10In fact, this probably understates the work he does.

In contrast, let’s have a look at the latest Tower Hamlets turncoat, the newly Independent Anwar Khan, who will now stand against his own sister-in-law in Bow West.

The last timesheet he appears to have submitted (and hey, as a management consultant he knows full well the importance of well kept timesheets) was in September 2011. In fact, in the 46 months since he was elected as a councillor, the council only displays records for nine months.

And in that time since he’s been a chief whip for the Labour group, one of whose duties was to ensure colleagues kept up with their timesheets.

Perhaps he was just too busy to submit them. I mean, he’s a really busy man, it seems.

Have a look at his timesheet for September 2010, the month before Lutfur was elected mayor and when he would have presumably been spending an awful lot of time on party, not council, business.

Screen shot 2014-03-08 at 09.40.59

Wow. A hugely impressive 144 hours on councillor business that month. That’s 36 hours a week–a full time job in itself. How he managed to combine that with raising a young family and a high-powered job in the City, I’ll never know. He must have understanding employers.

I wonder whether his timesheets for them include such guff as 15 hours on “community events”. In fact, he states 15 hours per month on every sheet he’s submitted. It’s a lovely catch-all phrase is ‘community events’.

But out of the various councillor records I’ve looked at, his isn’t the worst. His latest enemy and fellow Bow West councillor Ann Jackson takes that prize: she hasn’t submitted once since January 2010.

Councillors may think these timesheets futile but they are among the few scraps that their voters have to examine what they’re doing.

Here’s a little table of the records for Respect and the independents:
Screen shot 2014-03-08 at 10.02.04

I’ve put a N/A by the name of Gulam Robbani (who has had some previous difficulties with his timesheets, remember) because the council’s website has none next to his name. Shurely some mistake?

I don’t have time to go through all the other councillors, so maybe someone else can help.

However, among the group leaders, we see this:

Labour’s Sirajul Islam – Dec 2013

Tories’ Peter Golds – Sep 2013

Lib Dem Stephanie Eaton – Sep 2013.

And unless I’ve missed it, I can’t see any timesheet section for Mayor Lutfur Rahman himself. Maybe he just uses a tachometer.

 

 

 

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[Watch the video of the racist row in the council chamber here].

Eric Pickles should be congratulated for insisting council meetings should be filmed. Remember that Tower Hamlets council tried to block this idea: they knew there was dirty linen to hide.

I hope he watches the web cast of last week’s full council meeting which was picked up in this edition’s of Private Eye.

Alibor Choudhury, the man in charge of the borough’s £1.2billion budget thought he had a good gag when he wanted to accuse Labour’s Bow West councillor Ann Jackson of being a racist and a fascist. Heck, she was wearing a black cardigan, so, er, wow, like Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts she must be part of John Biggs’s “black cardigan brigade”.

How tasteful.

The problem was she was wearing a black cardigan because she was in mourning for her ex-husband, whose funeral she had attended the day before.

All this is recorded in glorious Tower Hamlets Technicolor by those Pickles webcams.

As was a quite twisted rant by a rather hysterical Anwar Khan, who I once praised on this blog but who has since lived up (or down, rather) to the descriptions others gave me of him: a slightly disingenuous hissy-fitter, with an anger management problem. According to his register of interests, he works for Lloyds Bank. Good luck to them. Since his deselection from Labour he’s been accusing Labour of institutional racism. They don’t want incredibly talented Bengalis like incredibly talented he to speak out, you see.

No, they want thickos like his own sister-in-law to stand in his place instead, he believes.

Today, he quit Labour and announced he would stand as an independent in Bow West against his own sister-in-law – and in doing so won praise from the man he now himself praises, Mayor Lutfur Rahman. This is the same Lutfur about whom Anwar was until late last year scathing at every opportunity.

You can read all about that meeting and, more importantly, watch the videos of the race row on the Express website, where I and my Tower Hamlets dwelling colleague Owen Bennett wrote this piece today.

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