The election of Lutfur Rahman as mayor of Tower Hamlets in May has been declared void, after the politician and his aides were found guilty of election offences.
The vote will have to be re-run, Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey has said, following an extraordinary and rare case brought at the High Court. Rahman has been banned from standing in the next election. He has been ordered to pay £250,000 costs.
In his verdict, Mawrey said Rahman and his colleagues in the Tower Hamlets First party, had carried out vote-rigging, used local imams to influence voters, and had falsely accused rival — Labour candidate John Biggs — of being a racist.
The case was brought by four voters, who were praised by Mawrey for their bravery for making the complaint despite knowing they'd be accused of racism and Islamophobia.
The High Court heard the complex case over 10 weeks before Easter.
Tower Hamlets First said in a statement: "Today’s judgment has come as a shock — the mayor strongly denies any wrongdoing and had full confidence in the justice system, and so this result has been surprising to say the least.
"We are seeking further legal advice on the matter in relation to a judicial review.
"A more detailed statement clarifying our response will be released shortly."
Labour's John Biggs, who was beaten by Rahman in last year's election by 3,000 votes, said he hopes to stand in the new election.
In a statement, he said: "Today’s ruling is a victory for honest politics. By setting out to break the rules and going to extraordinary lengths to win last May’s mayoral election, Lutfur Rahman and his allies robbed the people of Tower Hamlets of the free and fair mayoral election they deserved and betrayed everyone in our community who trusted and voted for him.
"People from across our community have been badly let down by the mayor. After five years of abuse of public funds and public trust, it’s time that residents have a council that is again on their side, that restores faith in free and fair elections and heals divisions in our community.
"The mayoral election will now be re-run. It will be an opportunity for all the people of our borough to vote to reject, once and for all, the kind of corrupt politics that the petitioners, this Election Court and the Commissioner’s judgment has exposed.
"I will do anything I can to help restore trust and confidence in local democracy in Tower Hamlets and bring about reconciliation in our diverse community, to heal the rancour and bitterness that has built up in the borough in the last five years."
A Tower Hamlets council spokesperson said: "Today, the election commissioner, Judge Richard Mawrey, found in favour of the arguments presented by the petitioners in this case.
"Mr Mawrey also presented a judgement which cleared the council’s returning officer, John Williams, and council staff of all allegations related to fraudulent practice in the delivery and administration of the 2014 elections.
"We welcome recognition that the council’s strong electoral processes – which have been subject to further intense scrutiny during this petition hearing – are sound and Tower Hamlets Council will now take the steps necessary to hold an election for executive mayor of Tower Hamlets."
The government stepped in to intervene at Tower Hamlets council last year following a report by accountants PWC into allegations of fraud. Civil servants were parachuted into the organisation to take control of certain functions.
To read more about the proceedings against Rahman, see Ted Jeory's excellent and comprehensive coverage.