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Deafening silence and bizarre rambling greet “no fraud probe” news

It was interesting to hear that the Met had decided not to investigate Mayor Lutfur Rahman and/or the Town Hall for committing fraud or other criminal offences on the basis that “no credible evidence” had been supplied to “provide reasonable grounds to suspect that fraud or any other offence has been committed”. It was even more interesting to hear the response – or, in some cases, lack of it.

First came the Town Hall itself, playing a bat so straight Geoff Boycott would have been proud:
“The news from the Metropolitan police is to be welcomed and Tower Hamlets will continue to work with the auditors and DCLG.”

Eric Pickles’s Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) was similarly to the point: “A wide-ranging investigation of Tower Hamlets by Pricewaterhouse Coopers is ongoing.”

The response from the BBC was less taciturn. Their flagship programme had made a series of allegations about Tower Hamlets. Eric Pickles was interviewed for the programme and promised to look at Panorama’s evidence and to take further action if the material warranted it. He sent inspectors into the Borough just days after the programme was broadcast. It was not suprising that the public linked the two.

However, a spokeswoman for the BBC told The Guardian: “We continue to stand by the programme’s findings, which uncovered serious concerns about the use of public money, which are still being investigated by the government. Our programme did not say there was evidence of criminality. The allegations relate to potentially unlawful expenditure, not to a criminal matter. For the avoidance of doubt, the Metropolitan police were not investigating allegations made within the Panorama programme, and any such claims are misleading.”

This is really quite strange. “Potentially unlawful expenditure” is fraud. You can’t spend public money in an unlawful but not criminal manner (unless it’s MPs’ expenses – but that’s another story). The BBC may not believe the Met were investigating allegations made by Panorama – but the Met thought they were.  Their statement (reprinted in full below) was quite clear that the files they were looking at contained material sent to the DCLG by Panorama.

Incidentally, the files also make it clear that some of the material the DCLG had was supplied by a “member of the public”. To date, the identity of the “member of the public” has not been revealed and nor has there been any clarification of the nature of the material he or she has supplied.

Eric Pickles has said in public that the two Tower Hamlets MPs – Rushanara Ali and Jim Fitzpatrick – both raised concerns they had about the Council with him. The MPs have not clarified what concerns they raised, but we can only assume that the “concerns” must have included factual information. MPs don’t go round raising anecdotes and speculation with government ministers – that would be silly. We don’t know if the “member of the public” refers to one or both of the MPs: it is unlikely, as the MPs would not be described as “members of the public”. Neither MP has denied being the “member of the public” – but then again they are unlikely to know if they have been mentioned as, presumably, they have not read Panorama’s files themselves.

Most unexpected of all, however, has been the silence from the Labour Party. Many leading local Labour members were quick to tweet when Pickles sent the inspectors in, including the following.

On 4th April, Jim Fitzpatrick MP tweeted “DCLG Sec of State Pickles has sent an inspection team from Price Waterhouse Cooper into LBTH today to report back by June 30th”. He did this at 12.59am, some hours before the actual event and apparently before letters were delivered to the Town Hall.  He was also one of the few tweeters to mention the 30th June report date. He’s clearly a man with his finger well and truly on the pulse. On 16th April, by 17.30, Fitzpatrick had not got round to tweeting the police statement that they were not going to open a criminal investigation.

Rushanara Ali MP also managed a tweet on 4th April – “Auditors sent into Tower Hamlets as CLG sends files to the police” – but at least she was one of the earlies, tweeting at 5.38am (apparently passing on a tweet from the local Labour Party). On 16th April, there are no tweets.  Perhaps Rushanara was too busy not tweeting to tweet about the police statement.

Another Labour man with his finger on the pulse is John Biggs. On his @johnbiggs4mayor twitter account, he tweeted on 4th April to say: Shocking events at Town Hall today. Serious qs have been asked. Inspectors can inspect but voters must decide. Again this was tweeted early: apparently at 5.30am, still before the letters were delivered to the Town Hall. On 16th April, Biggs only tweeted about his manifesto: perhaps he was too busy with it to have heard that the police had made a statement.

Labour Group Leader Cllr Sirajul Islam did not tweet about the inspectors coming in or about the police statement. This Bangladeshi man appears to be alone among Tower Hamlets Labour leaders in not having tweeted about the inspectors. This is a shame or, as Cllr Anwar Khan might have put it, “a further example of Labour not being interested in what Bangladeshi councillors have to say”.

Cllr Islam’s Deputy, Cllr Rachael Saunders, managed to tweet about the inspectors coming in on the 4th (“Auditors sent into Tower Hamlets as CLG sends files to the police”). On 16th April, she tweeted about local health matters only: again, she was probably too busy with these campaigns to have picked up that the police had made a statement.

However, for the most comprehensive coverage of the inspectors going in, one does have to check out the twitter account of Cllr Joshua Peck. His tweets on 4th April are as follows.

3.46am (? What time is this to be tweeting?)
Cllr Peck quotes Evening Standard announcement “fraud swoop in Tower Hamlets: Inspectors seize files at Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s HQ”.

Cllr Peck quotes BBC News announcement “Inspectors appointed over Tower Hamlets fraud claims”.

Cllr Peck retweets “Love Wapping”’s statement that “eye witnesses report Price Waterhouse inspectors now removing computers and boxes of files from TowerHamletsTown   Hall”.
[It’s good to see Cllr Peck following “Love Wapping”. The “Love Wapping” website is run by Mark Baynes, who used it to report, last November, that he had been canvassed by people who claimed they worked for Tower Hamlets Homes, and who is also behind the twitter account of this name. What a lucky break that Cllr Peck spotted Love Wapping’s comments on the inspectors.]

Cllr Peck then retweets a tweet from Evening Standard journalist Robin de Peyer, which states that “Interestingly, DCLG statement uses the word “fraud” in relation to the Mayoral administration in Tower Hamlets. Very strong stuff.”

So there we are. Keen to let us know as soon as government inspectors come in; terribly busy with other things as soon as the Met Police announce there is no credible evidence on which to base an inquiry into criminal activities. That’s Labour!

Statement from Met Police
Update following BBC Panorama on London Borough of Tower Hamlets
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.

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