This morning I outlined how Ahmed Khan was in court to challenge South Tyneside Council over the recent Beacon and Bents Ward election held earlier this year. Those of us with long memories will recall that as an Independent candidate, Ahmed filed court papers claiming that a certain amount of rejected ballot papers had been erroneously classed as inaccurate, and that these votes may have changed the outcome of the election (he lost by 33 votes). He also highlighted some other related irregularities.
Like many such cases, people may have assumed with the passage of time this matter had simply gone away and Mr Khan had let the matter drop. Wrong, the whole issue came to a head today and what a nasty head it has indeed! Always fighting against the odds, Mr Khan finally saw his battle draw to a close when the presiding Judge decided that there was no case to answer. However, local claims that Ahmed lost his case are being perhaps too quick of the mark. The reason? Because the only thing that was “lost” was the ballot papers in question, and can you guess who lost them…..South Tyneside Council and its election officials. Now there’s an unfortunate event! A court case involving disputed ballot papers and suddenly they have all been lost!
After months of prevarication, South Tyneside Council were warned by Mr Khan’s legal team in October, that if they did not submit their evidence, they would have the evidence excluded. The Councils response to the request was astonishing:
Immediately after the election, all ballot boxes were removed and placed in the Town Hall for safe keeping. This is in accordance with current legislation which calls for ballot papers to be kept for a certain length of time should they ever need to be examined i.e. a criminal investigation. In a scenario murkier than a stagnant pond, it seems the boxes containing rejected ballot papers have all gone missing and cannot be found. Just in case that wasn’t clear, I’ll reword the sentence; all 18 wards rejected postal votes have gone missing and nobody knows where they are. Sadly, Mr Khan only wanted to look at the disputed ones for his ward, but they’ve gone. To make matters more problematic, the papers went missing very shortly after the election (May) but the Council failed to tell him and his legal team for 6 months.
The words national scandal, disgrace, cover up and banana republic are all phrases which I have heard being used to describe this situation.
To make matters worse, the Council applied and demanded that the case be heard in private with the public being left outside the court. I leave you to draw your own inclusions as to why.
As a member of the public with an interest in democracy, this is a matter for the police and the Electoral Commission, and a full investigation by an external body into the conduct of the Council must ensue.
I will follow this post up with further information when it becomes available. However, nobody can claim that Ahmed failed today. The only people who lost were the people of South Tyneside who as a pretty astute bunch, assume that when they cast their vote through whatever mechanism, it is counted correctly. However, by “loosing” such a number of known disputed ballot papers, South Tyneside Council has made this assumption null and void. No longer can we assume that our votes will be counted, and if there is a problem, legal recourse will allow them to be re examined.
Shame on them for casting such a shadow over the democratic process.
Shame on them for letting this matter drag on for so long before they had the honesty to reveal the truth.
Shame on them for letting an honest candidate face such legal costs when the matter could have been resolved in days rather than months
Shame on them for casting such a shadow over this Borough’s integrity.