Labour activists had 'vote-rigging factory' to hijack postal votes
By Nick Britten
the veneer of an apparently democratic local election campaign the
battle to control areas of Birmingham involved allegations of death
threats, intimidation and bribery.
scenes more reminiscent of a gangster movie, party members used
nefarious tactics to ensure a clean sweep of the six available seats in
Aston and Bordesley Green, delivering a large and surprising swing
|The accused Aston candidates: Mohammed Islam, Muhammed Afzal and Mohammed Kazi|
the height of the skulduggery was a "vote-rigging factory" set up by
Labour activists in Aston and run from a disused warehouse. There, the
three candidates - Mohammed Islam, Muhammed Afzal and Mohammed Kazi,
who maintained their innocence and described yesterday's judgment as a
"dark day for democracy" - and their supporters altered bags stuffed
with ballots to ensure that they were elected.
midnight raid by police on the eve of the election found them sitting
at a table with 275 unsealed postal votes scattered on a table in front
of them. The find proved to be the tip of the iceberg.
had collected the ballots in a variety of ways. The most common was to
get hold of a copy of the electoral register, apply for a postal ballot
in someone else's name and have it sent to a "safe" address where it
could be picked up.
This could then be submitted
with a forged signature and false witness confirmation, and the ballot
could be accepted. Another method was to get activists to go door to
door collecting papers, signed or unsigned, which could then be
|The accused Bordesley Green councillors: Shafaq Ahmed, Shah Jahan and Ayaz Khan|
of the victims were pensioners Arthur and Joan White, in Bordesley
Green, who were visted one night by a young man claiming to be from the
council collecting ballot papers.
Mrs White, 77,
said: "He told me to fill it in as he was standing there and asked me
to put a cross in all three boxes for the main parties, which I did. I
didn't think it was right but I knew it was a new system and he said he
was from the council and so I presumed he knew what he was talking
Mr White, 80, later discovered that the signature on his ballot was forged by the time it was entered into the election.
investigations by The Telegraph, other allegations were made, including
an attempt by Labour activists to bribe postmen to hand over blank
ballots without going through the "middle men" of the voters.
illiterate man is said to have had his name used on more than 50 ballot
papers. Activists stood over voters while they filled in their form,
pressuring them to vote Labour.
The hearing was
told that the Labour candidates opened sealed papers before changing
the vote and re-sealing them, knowing that checks by the council were
useless to stop them.
There was uproar on the day
of the vote when three "unexplained", unsealed ballot boxes appeared at
the count and were included, along with a plastic bag stuffed with
votes for Labour.
It became apparent that the
postal voting system was hopelessly susceptible to malpractice. The
application form required the voter's name, address and signature.
form of identification was needed. The applicant could have had the
form sent to any address, filled it in and sent it back with a false
witness name, an illegible squiggle for a signature and it would have
Even if the paper had clearly been
altered, with crosses for one party deleted or just scribbled over with
a vote case for another party, it had to be included in the count.
Bordesley Green, of the 7,000 postal votes cast, up to 2,000 were
either stolen, altered with correction fluid, diverted or falsified in
Labour's favour. The party succeeded in ousting the People's Justice
Party's two councillors by 441 votes. Similarly in Aston, where at
least 1,000 votes were fraudulent, the Liberal Democrats lost by 514
The defeated parties brought a petition
against the winning councillors under the Representation of the People
Act 1983 and the hearing took place at the Birmingham and Midlands
The Bordesley Green councillors, Shafaq
Ahmed, Shah Jahan and Ayaz Khan, were not present. They walked out of
the hearing on the first day after the Labour Party withdrew its legal
support and the judge declined them more time to prepare their case.
Khan, 31, a Lib Dem councillor who lost his seat at the election, said:
"It was a very tough door to door campaign, and it really was as bad as
it sounds. I knocked on doors where the householder would say he'd been
offered £10 for his vote. In Aston, one of the most deprived areas in
the country, you can see how people are easily tempted.
may seem like extreme lengths to go to just to get a council seat, but
that seat opens up a doorway to a lot of power locally and attracts
huge amounts of funding from Britain and Europe."
He added that the fraud was made easier because community elders held great sway over their extended families.
Khan, who was one of the petitioners, said he had received "numerous
death threats" since the hearing began, with telephone messages
"threatening to blow my kneecaps off".
danger now is that the general election becomes a false ballot in key
constituencies where candidates are persuaded to use underhand tactics.
The Electoral Commission has issued a code of conduct signed by all
parties, and police have vowed to keep a much keener eye on proceedings.
Chris Game, senior lecturer at Birmingham University's Institute of
Local Government Studies, said the hearing was "like a guide to postal
vote manipulation". He added: "The Birmingham cases show how the vote
can be undermined very, very easily by postal vote fraud".