Failings in 2014 Met investigation into Tower Hamlets electoral fraud
- Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime – on behalf of the Mayor – requested HMICFRS inspection to restore public confidence after concerns raised about original police investigation in 2014
- Inspection found uncoordinated approach to the investigations
- Second investigation, known as Operation Lynemouth, described as ‘painstaking and thorough’
An investigation requested by London’s Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime into the Metropolitan Police’s handling of electoral fraud in Tower Hamlets has revealed that a lack of oversight from senior officers led to a number of failings in the initial police inquiry in 2014.
The failings resulted in a second 16-month investigation, diverting much-needed resources from other priorities.
Sophie Linden asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) to carry out an inspection in March last year. HMICFRS found a number of failings with the original police investigation - which took place under the previous Mayoralty and did not lead to any criminal convictions - including:
- A lack of corporate responsibility;
- A lack of training and insufficient resources for the Met’s special enquiry team’s investigation;
- Potential lines of enquiry being disregarded when investigating allegations other than electoral fraud;
- An uncoordinated approach to all the investigations, with little oversight at senior officer level for the first year, which meant that opportunities might have been missed; and
- Senior officers failing to explain the challenges of a criminal investigation in comparison to an electoral hearing.
By contrast, HMICFRS found that the Met’s re-investigation was painstaking, thorough and achieved its objectives. However, HMICFRS warned against complacency and identified seven steps the Met should take to reduce the risk of the problems of the first investigation arising again.
The report ruled that any potential future investigation into allegations of electoral fraud should be given high priority and be led from the front by experienced chief officers with access to suitable resources. The importance of providing regular updates to the public and keeping accurate records of allegations, investigations and decisions was also highlighted.
The Metropolitan Police investigation has now concluded, but the force has arranged for the City of London Police to conduct an independent investigation on its behalf, due to the City of London Police’s expertise in such matters.
Sophie Linden, Deputy Mayor for Policing, said: “Upholding the integrity of our democratic processes is crucial if the public are to have full confidence in elections. That is why I used the legal powers I have at my disposal to ask HMICFRS to carry out a thorough probe of the two investigations into electoral fraud in Tower Hamlets. While it’s important our police service has operational independence, and work without fear or favour, it’s absolutely vital that Londoners have full confidence in the democratic process and in the police.
“It's clear the original investigation in 2014 was not up to the standards we would expect and it’s disappointing that there was a need for a new investigation, which came at a sizeable cost to the London taxpayer. I am pleased that the independent HMICFRS inspection found the second investigation was thorough and done properly and I’m satisfied that lessons have been learned to ensure we do not see a repeat of this in future elections in our city.”
HMI Matt Parr, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, said: “This is our final report into the investigations carried out by the Met Police (MPS) into the electoral fraud allegations in Tower Hamlets. I am satisfied that the MPS has achieved the operation’s objectives and that the remaining one line of enquiry being undertaken should not prevent the operation’s closure.
“Four years have passed since these events started and the MPS and its partner organisations have done much to improve processes and procedures in the meantime. However, in our report we highlight seven areas for continual consideration, which encompass our findings and should reduce the risk of a recurrence. They relate to prioritisation, leadership, resources (including training), consistency, communication, record keeping and legal decisions.
“Finally, we acknowledge the work of the Operation Lynemouth team. We were impressed throughout with their commitment, thoroughness and painstaking approach.”
Notes to editors
In March 2017, the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, Sophie Linden, exercised her powers provided for in Section 54 of the Police Act 1996 as amended by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 to invite HMICFRS to carry out an inspection into this case and make recommendations for future improvement.
The full report is here: https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmicfrs/publications/operation-lynemouth-final-report/
The failings of the first investigation resulted in a second 16-month investigation costing £1.7m, diverting much-needed resources from other priorities.
The seven recommendations from the report for future investigations into electoral fraud are:
- Prioritisation: the policing of elections and the investigation of electoral offences must be afforded the importance that a democratic society deserves.
- Leadership: chief officers must provide visible leadership and governance, not only during the election but throughout an investigation such as this and must ensure evidential opportunities are not overlooked or disregarded.
- Resources: adequate and suitably trained resources must be made available, both for policing elections and investigating any electoral offences.
- Consistency: planning (subject to any local needs) and training must be consistent throughout the Met, to avoid duplication and ensure that officers and staff can be redeployed to meet demand.
- Communication: the Met must communicate and engage with interested parties and, as appropriate, with the wider public, both before, during and after an election and any investigation.
- Record keeping: the Met must keep accurate records of allegations, investigations and decisions (with rationale).
- Legal decisions: the Met must consult the Crown Prosecution Service about complex legal decisions and, where appropriate, seek early investigative advice.