This is a story that has been running for a while, and has now finally come to its inevitable conclusion: shame and humiliation for Lutfur Rahman the Mayor of Tower Hamlets.
As is well known, Lutfur Rahman came to power on the back of a campaign run by his allies in the Islamic Forum Europe: the British franchise of the Bangladeshi political party, Jamaat e Islami. Its founder, Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin escaped to Britain from Bangladesh, where he is alleged to have abducted, tortured and murdered a number of Bangladeshi intellectuals and patriots, who were seeking self-determination and independence for their country. He was also backed by the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who has been labouring long and hard to get his man readmitted to the Labour Party – without success.
Lutfur Rahman cultivates sectarian and extremist support, in particular by running adverts on Britain’s many Islamist TV channels, where the politician is promoted along side hate preachers and other bigots:
Government ministers have criticised Tower Hamlets Council and Mayor Lutfur Rahman for “a worrying pattern of divisive community politics and mismanagement of council staff and resources”.
Parliamentary under-secretary for local government Brandon Lewis launched the attack after a question from MP for Poplar and Limehouse Jim Fitzpatrick in the House of Commons.
Mr Fitzpatrick asked what sanctions the government was considering imposing after broadcasting watchdog Ofcom censured five television channels in January for carrying political advertisements promoting the Mayor, at the taxpayer’s expense.
In Bangladesh, where the first war criminals have been convicted of their crimes, massive crowds are thronging the streets, demanding the death penalty for the genocidaires – which, incidentally, I would oppose as I oppose all capital punishment. However, in East London, as Nick Cohen reports in The Observer today, the Islamic Forum Europe supporters are physically attacking opponents of Jamaat e Islami on the street:
The conflict between the Shahbag and Jamaat has already reached London. On 9 February, local supporters of the uprising demonstrated in Altab Ali Park, a rare patch of green space off the Whitechapel Road in London’s East End. They were met by Jamaatis. “They attacked our men with stones,” one of the protest’s organisers told me. “There were old people and women and children there, but they still attacked us.”
The relationship between Lutfur Rahman and the Islamic Forum Europe was exposed by Andrew Gilligan in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme. One segment showed how Lutfur Rahman had tried to install an incompetent IFE activist, Lutfur Ali, as the Assistant Chief Executive of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.
Almost three years ago, in March 2010, The Sunday Telegraph and Channel 4’s Dispatches revealed how Mr Rahman, then council leader, had achieved power with the help of the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), an extremist group that wants a sharia state in Europe. One of his first acts was to hire a man with close links to the IFE, Lutfur Ali, as the council’s assistant chief executive, even though a leaked report of Mr Ali’s job interview by a professional headhunter described him as a “limited”, “superficial” and “one-dimensional” candidate who might “struggle intellectually” with the post. His CV, which Dispatches exposed as containing a falsehood, was also leaked. Mr Ali was responsible, among other things, for council grants, which flooded in their millions to a range of front groups for the IFE. He was forced to resign after our programme, when it emerged that he was moonlighting in another job on council time.
In late 2009, we filmed Mr Golds sitting in his study and reading from the leaked headhunter’s report.
And here’s the amazing thing. Look what Lutfur Rahman did next:
Incredibly, in 2012, more than two years later, Rahman’s council started disqualification proceedings against Golds for “infringing” Lutfur Ali’s “right to privacy” in this interview and breaching council confidentiality by “leaking” the document to me.
Andrew Gilligan takes up the story:
Tower Hamlets hired a professional investigator to pursue its preposterous claim against Golds, with a full panoply of interviews, witnesses and statements. Oddly enough, or perhaps not, the one person its fearless gumshoe didn’t manage to hook up with was the key witness, myself.
So I contacted her to point out that the documents were not in fact leaked to me by Golds; that they had been circulating in the public domain since the previous year; that their contents had been referred to in the local newspaper as early as May 2008; and that even if Golds had been guilty of any disclosure simply by repeating them on TV the year after, the deceits and disqualifications of the council’s second most senior officer were surely not private, but matters of the clearest public interest.
I asked why Tower Hamlets was spending thousands of pounds to defend a long-gone employee who was forced out for essentially cheating it – especially since Lutfur Ali himself never complained, either to the council or to us. I asked why the investigation was launched so long after the supposed offence had taken place. And I also asked why, given that something Golds had said to me was the basis of the complaint, the investigator had made so little effort to contact me.
Answers came there none – presumably because the answer is that the whole farrago was launched for the sole purpose of hassling Mr Golds, a regular thorn in Mayor Rahman’s side, tying him up in legal knots, costing him big money in solicitors’ bills, and deterring anyone else from holding the Dear Leader too vigorously to account.
Marvel at how long, how intensively, and how expensively Lutfur Rahman pushed this hopeless case:
Despite having a formal written statement from me making it clear that the central allegation was false, the investigation accelerated. As well as the investigator, the council hired a legal consultant, a firm of solicitors, Weightmans, and one of Britain’s most prominent (and expensive) local government QCs, Elisabeth Laing. The case was briskly rejected by a judge in the first-tier local government tribunal. Undaunted, the council decided to appeal. Only last week did it finally give up, after being advised by its own lawyer that its position was untenable.
Tower Hamlets refused to say last night how much it had spent on the affair. But the estimated cost to council taxpayers, including investigator, lawyers, court fees and staff time, is in the region of £80-£100,000. Council disclosure records show that more than £5,000 was paid to Weightmans in a single month alone. Even so, Rahman may, by his own lights, have got value for money – because fighting the investigation has diverted Peter Golds’ time and energy from scrutinising the Mayor.
“It’s been absolutely traumatic,” says Mr Golds. “I have worried about it a great deal. For doing my job, holding the council to account, I was subjected to a process that could have finished me in public life. It seems to me, and we see the same thing in the NHS, that there is a coterie of people who will do anything to stop bad behaviour being exposed.” In one sense, Golds was fortunate; some of his legal expenses were covered by the Conservative Party, and his barrister, Richard Harwood, worked for nothing. Had this not been the case, however, he would have faced legal bills of at least £7,000: a high price for a TV interview.
Frankly, it is amazing that Peter Golds stayed the course. When faced with a campaign of harassment, funded by Lutfur Rahman’s multi-million pound budget, most people would give up.
You’d never find this out if the only newspaper you read was The Guardian, by the way. As far as they’re concerned, Lutfur Rahman is a tribune of the people, who weeps at the thought of having to make cuts in public spending. Perhaps he should spend a little less money trying to grind councillors who expose his incompetence and extremism into the ground.