Allegations of "widespread vote-rigging" ahead of local elections

Hounslow amongst boroughs currently under investigation

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Contacting Hounslow Council

Scotland Yard has been brought in to investigate 'suspicious' activities alleged to be vote-rigging across seven London boroughs including Hounslow.

Electoral officials are eager to avoid a repeat of allegations of postal vote fraud which surrounded local elections in Birmingham in June 2004.  A subsequent inquiry found that ballot-rigging in two of the city's wards "would have disgraced a banana republic".

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police confirmed that investigations are currently taking place in Hounslow as well as Harrow, Kensington and Chelsea, Merton, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Barnet with officers working in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service, the Electoral Commission and relevant local authorities.

The accusations of vote-rigging came from George Galloway's Respect party who submitted a dossier containing "dozens" of cases to the electoral fraud unit.  A spokesperson for the party claimed the fraud "amounts to an attempt to steal the election".

A spokesman for Hounslow Council told Neighbournet "The Metropolitan Police are conducting enquiries into postal vote application irregularities reported by the Council, whose checking systems are clearly working. All postal votes must be sent to the Returning Officer through Royal Mail in the envelopes provided, or delivered to the Returning Officer at the Civic Centre in person by the voter wherever possible."

He continued �It is of course also possible to hand in postal votes at the polling station for the appropriate ward on 4 May, and again this should be by the voter in person if possible. All postal voters have been advised of the correct process to adopt when casting and delivering their vote.

"The Electoral Commission�s national code advises that no candidate or their helpers should touch or handle any postal votes. If candidates and their helpers wish to avoid any suspicion of postal vote irregularities, they will follow the national code. Checking systems are in place in relation to receipt of postal votes."

Leader of the Council, Cllr Colin Ellar added "All candidates for this election have received written advice from the returning officer as to what is the law with regards to conduct during the election campaign. In turn our election agent and myself have made it clear to all labour candidates that they must conduct themselves according to the highest legal and moral standards. Any Labour Party candidate that is guilty of any misconduct risks being expelled from the party. That said, I am not aware of any allegations of misconduct against any of our candidates or any member of the local Labour Party being investigated."

He continued "I welcome any scrutiny, as I believe it is important that our democracy is robustly defended against any individual that would put their own prospects above that of the interests of the residents of the Borough."

Hounslow Council came under fire earlier this year following an inquiry launched into the administration procedures employed by the Council in the lead up to the May 2005 general elections.

An independent report highlighted a number of flaws in the electoral process which left a large number of Hounslow residents unable to vote.   The Council was accused of a catalogue of errors which stemmed mainly from the fact that staff employed to carrying out canvassing (in this case meaning to confirm details were correct on the register to vote forms) were predominantly temporary staff with little or no training.

The true extent of the situation was discovered too late when a number of Hounslow residents, mostly Irish, who were eligible to vote had not received their polling cards. Postal voters had received polling station cards and vice versa. According to Hounslow Council, there was insufficient time left to issue the affected residents with a correct polling card resulting in a large number being unable to vote in the election.

April 28, 2006