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Sound the alarm bells again!

with 10 comments

Democratic process in doubt.

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18 ballot boxes missing? Yet, despite South Tyneside Council knowing this, they prevaricated for six months building up considerable legal costs on both sides, ending up in this story on page 9 of the Sunday Sun today.

“Police have launched an inquiry into alleged election fraud following the disappearance of 18 ballot boxes, we can reveal;
Northumbria Police confirmed they have been asked to probe the results by candidate Ahmed Khan, who lost the local election by 33 votes.
The businessman requested the investigation after he failed in a legal bid against South Tyneside Council to let him examine 88 postal votes which had been deemed “unverified” and not counted. The hearing into the election in the Beacon and Bents ward was held in secret at Newcastle County Court on Monday.
Court documents obtained by the Sunday Sun reveal 18 boxes containing spoiled postal votes have gone missing. The documents describe how the contents of the boxes, disappeared shortly after the election.
Mr Khan, standing as an independent, believes they could have had a bearing on the result because he lost by a narrow margin.
He said:

“I have asked the police, to investigate an accusation of electoral fraud during or shortly after the election. I always had a great amount of faith in the British democratic system but, unfortunately, my experience leads me to believe it is not as it should be.”

Independent councillor Jane Branley, who has supported Mr Khan, said:

“The council have prevaricated for six months while Mr Khan ran up huge legal bills.”

Mr Khan asked Northumbria Police to launch the investigation following his setback in court.

Chief Superintendent Mark Dennett, area commander for South Tyneside, is to make arrangements for Mr Khan to be interviewed. A Northumbria Police spokeswoman said: “We have received a letter this week and inquiries are ongoing,” and she stressed inquiries were at an early stage. Mr Khan also plans to complain to the Local Government Ombudsman and the Electoral Commission about the matter.
The request is the latest twist in the long-running row over the election which has seen Mr Khan and the council face each other in court. The council said they were not prepared to comment in detail because the hearing was private. However, we can reveal the council were aware the ballot boxes were missing within hours of the election. They vanished from a corridor where they were awaiting storage. Officials examined CCTV footage of the area involved but were unable to say what happened. And an examination of a skip in the town hall car park also failed to provide answers. Officials responsible for the count believe the contents of the ballot boxes were accidentally thrown out.
A spokesman for the council said:

“The returning officer is pleased that the court dismissed Mr Khan’s applications and ordered Mr Khan to pay the costs of the proceedings. It is to be hoped that this is now the end of these proceedings and so avoid further costs.”

I have known these details since the day of the court case but understood that there was a legal agreement between the two sides covering what information could be made publicly available following the in camera case, therefore I have not commented on the matter. However, now that it is all out in the open it raises very serious questions indeed.

Questions about the safety, secrecy, and security of the ballot, and questions about the administrative competence of the Returning Officer’s team so near to the close of an election count. Surely it must have been apparent in a tightly fought contest that the scrutiny of ballot papers may have been necessary at some time after the count night. One also has to ask if 18 ballot boxes can go missing after a count, who should be held accountable? The whole integrity of our secret ballot system is called into question when such accountability and security breaks down.

Related links 

Sunday Sun – Police to look into electoral fraud claim 

Shields Gazette – Desperate search in skip for lost votes 

Shields Gazette – Police probe into 18 missing ballot boxes 

Written by curly

November 18, 2007 at 7:13 pm

10 Responses

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  1. It is to be hoped that Chief Superintendent Mark Dennet will eventually be able to issue a report which is a bit more revealing than the Yates enquiry into the Cash for Honours fiasco. Someone really needs to be held accountable for this one. These are OUR votes which were cast by electors whose right to cast them was won over a long period of time by people who were prepared to die to get us this right. It further goes to show the fallibility of the postal vote system. If these votes had gone into the ballot boxes on the day of the election, they would have been on the table at the count.


    November 19, 2007 at 12:31 am

  2. Just to set the record straight there is NO LEGAL AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE PARTIES as to what information can be made available.

    The current situation is that I am governed by certain court rules as to what I can and can’t say. In effect I cannot reveal Mr Brian T Scott the Returning Officer’s (also the council’s Head of Corporate Governance) and his staff’s statements to the public or the police. This is due solely to the fact that the council asked the court and wrote to my legal representatives after submitting their evidence (on 22 October) asking for the court hearing to be held behind closed doors (there was a rule that allowed them to do so).

    On the day of the hearing around 25 people turned up including representatives of the press, sadly despite my attempts to persuade the judge to allow the public and press access on the grounds of public interest the council objected and the hearing went ahead behind closed doors.

    Prior to the hearing we also asked the council to agree to release the statements of Mr Scott and his staff to the Police for a possible criminal investigation (as a result of the details revealed in their evidence), again the council objected. We made a late application to the court for an order to release this information to the police, yet again the council objected on the grounds that they had sent copies to the CPS. We felt that this was not the same as the police investigating the matter and discovering possible criminal activity and then sending their report to the CPS for a decision on whether to prosecute or not. On the day the other side argued that the county court could not tell the DPP what to do and sadly the judge went along with this.

    However, I have since learned that the police have certain powers that will allow them to obtain copies of the evidence (statements) of Mr Brian T Scott and his staff.

    One final point I have always argued that this whole affair is a matter of public interest and as such should be open and transparent. Sadly the council have always tried to keep the whole thing under wraps and have effectively hidden behind legal argument to keep what really happened behind closed doors, even to the extent of trying to pressure me into issuing a joint press statement.

    Come on Mr Brian T Scott the public have a right to know, surely local democracy is more important than your own desire to hang on to your job as the council’s Head of Corporate Governance and the trappings that go with it?

    Ahmed Khan

    November 19, 2007 at 8:34 am

  3. […] Miss. V. Forrest writes to The Shields Gazette puzzling over a terrible, foul smell that is wafting over our town lately. I hope it has nothing to do with this. […]

  4. obviously the council must have somthing to hide then


    November 20, 2007 at 7:14 pm

  5. […] the full story see here, or […]

  6. […] you’ve ever been worried or concerned by the apparent lapses in our democratic processes here in South Tyneside, then this email received by Iain Dale will put […]

  7. […] applied to local circumstances, does anybody else think that this sounds like a case of “shutting the stable door after the […]

  8. […] The first clearly relates to the court case involving South Tyneside Council and Independent candidate Ahmed Khan when it was revealed that 18 ballot boxes had been lost. […]

  9. […] For those not familiar with the story of the eighteen missing ballot boxes, please click here. […]

  10. […] of last year’s election in the Beacon and Bents ward, that Mr. Scott found himself making an apology over losing 18 ballot boxes, and Mr. Khan publicly called for Mr. Scott’s […]

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