...Khan was found guilty at a special High Court election hearing in Slough council chamber of corrupt and illegal practices to secure his election. He was stripped of his seat and banned from standing for office for five years. He now faces a police inquiry.
Khan, 50, won his marginal seat in Central Ward after his team registered hundreds of “ghost voters” in the month before the election and cast votes using fraudulent postal ballots.
He and his team compounded the fraud with a botched cover-up that included poorly forged tenancy agreements and statements from bogus voters, and an attempt to intimidate a witness. Thames Valley Police said that it would widen its inquiry into the case in light of the judge’s accusations of perjury and attempts to pervert the course of justice by supporters of Khan.
Three people have been arrested in connection with the case. Police have interviewed another three. The Times understands that they include Khan and a leading figure in his campaign, Mohammed Basharat Khan.
The election team registered fictitious voters at derelict houses and claimed that as many as 12 voters were living at two-bedroom flats or three-bedroom houses. Khan beat Lydia Simmons, his Labour opponent, by 120 votes but Labour contested the result by bringing an election petition to overturn the result after almost 450 voters were added to the electoral register in the final weeks before the poll, almost all of whom voted by post for the Conservatives.
Labour succeeded in striking 145 “ghost voters” from the electoral roll. The judge accepted that the true figure was likely to run into hundreds.
Witnesses included a handwriting expert, Kim Hughes, who said that 198 of the postal ballot forms were filled in by Mohammed Basharat Khan, described by the judge as “a serial forger”, and another 79 were in the handwriting of the candidate.
Once Labour began to identify ghost voters, Khan and his team produced forged tenancy agreements. Ten of these were produced on the same computer. Khan’s team also produced 46 statements by individuals claiming that they lived at the disputed properties.
Two Polish women were accused of lying by Khan’s allies when they said that they knew nothing of the six and seven Kashmiri voters registered at each of their homes. One witness, Nighat Khan, who was due to give evidence that the five Kashmiris registered at her flat were fictitious, received a visit from a man claiming to be a lawyer. He produced a typed letter that he asked her to sign, saying that she would then not have to attend the hearing. The court received a letter allegedly from Ms Khan claiming that she was too ill to attend.
This case illustrated two particularly common themes in vote-rigging cases. The first is the potential for misuse offered by the postal voting system. Richard Mawrey QC, who presided over Khan's case, said that the present system whereby one can obtain a postal vote on demand (first introduced by Labour in 32 areas in 2000, and subsequently expanded) was "lethal to the democratic process". The Electoral Commission has also called for tighter controls on postal voting, as has Sir Christopher Kelly, the Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Clearly, postal voting is a problem - if nothing else, it makes vote-rigging easier, for those inclined to engage in it. It's also completely unnecessary, since the vast majority of people can quite easily vote in person, if they want to. Personally, I see no reason whatsoever not to go back to the pre-2000 system, where postal votes were only ever given to those who were genuinely unable to make it to the polling station.
However, there is another feature common to almost all of the various instances of vote-rigging that have been exposed over the past few years. Arguably, this second feature is found even more frequently than postal vote fraud (not, of course, that the two are mutually exclusive). But, while everyone is prepared to point out the problems associated with postal voting, no one seems willing to acknowledge the other, still more common, feature of these cases. I'll give you three guesses...
Postscript: When I first wrote about the allegations against Eshaq Khan, I also mentioned the trial of the former Labour Mayor of Peterborough, Mohammed Choudhary, who was on trial, together with his colleagues Tariq Mahmood and Maqbool Hussein, in relation to another vote-rigging conspiracy, which also involved postal voting. Well, last month Mahmood was convicted of 14 counts of forgery, and Choudhary and Hussein of four counts each. They now face likely prison sentences. Clearly, they weren't such highly skilled vote-riggers as Eshaq Khan, because, despite their spot of electoral fraud, they still lost the election!
Amusingly, seven of the twelve comments made by members of the public about the Peterborough case, on the website of the town's Evening Telegraph newspaper, have been deleted, as "unsuitable". Perhaps they drew the link that must not be drawn...