London

Tower Hamlets count reviewed by Electoral Commission

Winning councillors
Image caption The returning officer declared the two seats for Bromley South ward went to Labour

The Electoral Commission is to launch a review into vote counting for the local election in Tower Hamlets.

Counting for the new Bromley South ward finished after it resumed on Monday evening for the third time.

Earlier the commission said it would be sending observers to the count and "looking closely" at the process.

Halal Uddin and Danny Hassell, both from Labour, were elected after the recount. Labour has the most seats - 20, but no party has overall control.

The re-elected mayor Lutfur Rahman, from Tower Hamlets First, will take the decisions for the council with his executive body, which is also made up of the deputy mayor and eight lead members.

Following the Bromley South ward result, Labour has 20 seats, Tower Hamlets First 18, the Conservatives have four, while three seats are vacant.

Allegations of intimidation

It may be some time before the final result is declared as the results for the final three seats in Blackwall and Cubitt Town could take longer to be revealed.

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Media captionCounting finishes in Tower Hamlets after two suspensions

A by-election for the vacant seats will take place next month after a candidate died ahead of last week's polling day.

Officials at the east London borough council have attributed the delay to the mayoral and European elections being held together, a large turnout and recounts.

The Electoral Commission review comes after the body said it was aware of reports of intimidation at counts and polling stations.

Speaking to the PM programme on BBC Radio 4 earlier, John Williams, the returning officer for Tower Hamlets, said the council had not received widespread allegations of intimidation on polling day.

"We found there were numbers of people outside polling stations," he said.

"But we didn't find people inside the polling place, and we didn't find the people outside the polling stations were intimidating voters."

Shouting crowds

The Electoral Commission said it was too early to say what the issues at the count were but stressed people should be able to vote "free from intimidation".

Earlier in a statement, a spokesperson said: "Clearly there have been issues at the Tower Hamlets count and we need to make sure we understand what happened, and the reasons for it, before reaching any conclusions.

"As part of our review, we will be talking to the returning officer and regional returning officer.

"We will be looking closely at what happened during the count, as well as the planning that took place beforehand."

Mr Williams defended the process saying new measures had been put in place after about 100 allegations of fraud were made in the borough after the 2012 election for London mayor, but added none of the allegations had been proven.

He added that the Electoral Commission had not raised any issues on polling day and officials from the body had been in the borough all day.

Politicians said they witnessed crowds shouting at people as they arrived to cast their votes and they claimed leaflets were left in booths to influence voters.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Met stationed an officer at each polling station on Thursday

Labour Mile End councillor Rachael Saunders told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There is a real worry from a lot of people that the police committed there would only be two people per party allowed to be outside the polling stations.

"But in fact there were huge crowds at some, shouting at people or encouraging them to vote in a particular way."

She added that presiding officers should have ensured leaflets were removed from booths but failed to do so.

'Out-of-hours' count

Leader of the Conservative group Peter Golds said: "They were picking on certain residents and going up to them trying to persuade them to vote right up to the moment they entered the room to vote."

The Met said "no major incidents" were reported.

Acting Supt Helen Lewis, of Tower Hamlets borough police, urged anyone who may have witnessed behaviour that could amount to criminal activity to come forward.

She said: "Although we have received no allegations of harassment, intimidation or fraudulent behaviour at polling stations, we would, of course, be keen to speak with anyone who has concerns."

The council had to complete the count "out of hours" because of staffing issues, a spokesman said.

Counting was first suspended on Saturday, a day after it began, by the returning officer because of the delay processing votes for the borough's mayoral election.

It was suspended again on Monday.

Correction 17 June 2014: This story has been amended to make clear that the mayor and executive body take decisions for the council rather than the cabinet.

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