Maybury and Sheerwater

IN THE RED CORNER - Mohammad Ali is a step closer to having a controversial election result overturned

IN THE RED CORNER – Mohammad Ali is a step closer to having a controversial election result overturned

A LABOUR candidate is a step closer to having a controversial election result overturned after winning a High Court battle.

Mohammad Ali has filed a civil case against Liberal Democrat Mohammed Bashir after losing the Maybury and Sheerwater local council election by just 16 votes.

Mr Ali is alleging that election fraud took place and is petitioning to have the May 3 result declared null and void. He is seeking a new election for the ward.

Rather than defend the fraud allegations, Mr Bashir – represented by Mr Philip Goldenberg – and Lib-Dem supporters, applied to have the petition struck out.

This is just the first stage. Next is for the court to appoint a commissioner and conduct scrutiny of votes

Counsel for Mr Ali, Mr Gavin Millar QC, argued that as a matter of great public interest, the petition should proceed.
Woking Borough Council representatives – Timothy Straker QC, head of legal services Peter Bryant, and electoral manager Charlotte Griffiths – did not oppose scrutiny of the votes.

Mrs Justice Slade and Mr Justice Nichol presiding at the High Court at the Royal Courts of Justice on Strand in London endorsed this and dismissed the Lib-Dem application.

Former Lib Dem councillor Mr Goldenberg said: “The advice of a senior barrister specialising in election law said the Labour Party’s petition was seriously defective. In particular, it gave no valid reason why the election
result should be overturned.”

But Mr Bashir was ordered to meet the costs of both Mr Ali and Woking Borough Council (which could be £20,000 to £25,000).

After the appeal was dismissed Mr Bashir said: “Of course I am disappointed by the result.”

But Labour agent Liz Evans said: “The result was better than we could have hoped. It came good.”

Victory at the court last Friday means the Lib-Dem party are likely to foot the bill.

Party leader at the council Denzil Coulson said: “We respect the High Court decision. We are committed to conducting free and fair elections and if the court should find any Lib-Dem member, or persons acting on behalf of the party, guilty of any wrongdoing, the Liberal Democrats will act swiftly against them.”

Mr Bryant said: “Following the decision, an election commissioner will be appointed to consider the petition.”

The level of scrutiny will need be decided – and whether it will be in the council offices or at the High Court in London – but the costs could total £500,000.

Mr Bashir, who will now have to act on his own behalf and will be applying for Legal Aid, said: “I don’t want the taxpayers to have to pay. It is a waste of money.”

Mr Ali said: “This is just the first stage. Next is for the court to appoint a commissioner and conduct scrutiny of votes.

“This shows the court does see merit in our case.”

The High Court hearing is likely to go ahead in early September.

BID – Mohammad Ali (right) with Labour agent Elizabeth Evans and candidate Tom Crisp

BID – Mohammad Ali (right) with Labour agent Elizabeth Evans and candidate Tom Crisp

A CANDIDATE for Maybury and Sheerwater has petitioned the High Court to declare a Woking Borough Council election result null and void and is seeking a new election for the ward.

Labour candidate Mohammad Ali says: “I have filed a civil case against councillor Mohammed Bashir (as respondent) and his supporters for being involved in electoral fraud.”

At the count on May 3, tensions were high as the Maybury and Sheerwater results had to be verified and then recounted twice.

It may be interesting to note that there are eight people registered to vote in Mr Bashir’s own house

Mr Ali narrowly missed gaining Labour a seat in the civic offices, with 1,072 votes counted, while Lib-Dem candidate Mr Bashir managed to hold on to his seat by 16 votes.

Mr Ali said: “The allegation is not because I lost by just 16 votes but we could see suspicious activities and registrations.

“I allege that electoral offences were committed by the winning candidate or his agents (supporters). These range from multiple registrations to ghost voters. Initially 73 such cases have been identified and the list has since grown.”

Mr Ali claims categories of fraud identified include:

  • Postal votes cast while the voter was out of country.
  • Voters pressurised into handing over their postal votes.
  • Ghost voters – those who do not live at the addresses specified.
  • Close relatives of Mr Bashir known not to be resident in the ward but registering last-minute to vote for him.
  • Multiple new registrations close to the election period in houses not even registered as homes with multiple occupants.

Mr Ali added: “It may be interesting to note that there are eight people registered to vote in Mr Bashir’s own house.”

Mr Bashir has declined to comment on the case until after the proceedings. Mr Ali says the High Court has passed on his case to the Crown Prosecution Service for investigation.

Although Mr Ali says he has nothing against the council and that his case is against Mr Bashir, because he is requesting a re-election for the ward, the council says effectively it is a case against their returning officer responsible for overseeing elections, chief executive Ray Morgan.

A procedural hearing is due to take place in the Royal Courts of Justice in London on July 27 with Cllr Bashir and Woking Borough Council’s barrister representing respondent Mr Morgan.

Mr Ali concluded: “Myself and my supporters are also collecting our own evidence. This time I hope to prove electoral fraud and get the result overturned as we feel democracy must be restored.”