POLICE are investigating allegations of postal voting fraud in Dewsbury South ahead of next Thursday’s polls.
Officers said yesterday (Thursday) that inquiries were ongoing but no arrests had been made after a Savile Town voter complained about supporters of Labour candidate Abdul Patel taking unopened postal votes and filling them in.
The local resident contacted Conservative candidate and sitting councillor Khizar Iqbal on Tuesday morning describing how a couple had visited on Monday evening to check if postal voting forms had arrived.
“They asked if the family had received their postal vote and were told yes, but that the forms had not yet been opened,” said Coun Iqbal. “I was told these people opened and completed two forms, one for a person who was not even in the house.”
Coun Iqbal is aware of the identity of the alleged visitors, both known to be close to Labour candidate Abdul Patel.
He added: “I was told these people were wearing gloves when they were completing the forms.”
He immediately contacted the Elections Office in Huddersfield and the police were called in.
And Coun Iqbal, who has been a ward councillor for 14 years, believes the incident is the tip of the iceberg.
“I think serious postal fraud is taking place,” he said. “It’s sometimes very difficult to prove things, but on this occasion I think I am close to getting some evidence. I hope there’s a chance here to expose these people who are doing it.
“It started a couple of weeks ago when I realised postal vote registration in Savile Town has increased significantly.”
The scope for postal voting fraud has been identified as a problem nationally in recent years.
Indeed Coun Iqbal issued a campaign leaflet to that effect, warning voters about the risks of going to prison if found guilty of malpractice.
He said he had been told of numerous instances of Labour party supporters encouraging people to register for postal votes then going to their houses to collect the forms.
Postal registrations have increased in recent weeks to nearly 1,200 in Savile Town – out of 3,500 people on the electoral roll – compared to around 800 postal registrations in Thornhill, which has about 5,500 voters.
Coun Iqbal said he experienced a situation when out canvassing on Monday evening, which suggested members of the Labour team had already visited a house and collected their forms.
All election candidates are given details of which residents in their ward get postal votes.
Coun Iqbal said he understood why many people were unwilling to speak out – and praised the constituent who did.
“It’s okay for me as an elected member to speak out, but the ordinary man in the street often does not want to get involved,” he added.
“This is about criminality, it is not about race or colour. But the fact is the people doing this are defrauding the system. This story needs to be focussed on the individuals involved in criminality – they are giving the community a bad name.
“If anything we should commend the community for coming forward and having the courage to report postal vote fraud.
“The card these people play is that the press is against the Asian community. But this is a news story targetting people who are criminal, who are getting the community a bad name.”
Coun Iqbal added: “Whatever happens in the election next week, I want the police and Kirklees Council to get to the bottom of this. It has to stop.”
Labour candidate Abdul Patel, the postmaster for both the Dewsbury town centre and Savile Town Post Offices, flatly denied any wrongdoing and said the police had not spoken to him.
His election agent, Yunus Gajra, said: “We are fully aware of the code of practice on postal voting and we would never put anyone under pressure to vote for us – it is entirely at the individual’s choice.
“We would not participate in any postal voting fraud and it is entirely improper. It is something that we would never condone.”
Council Chief Exectuive Adrian Lythgo, the Returning Officer for Kirklees, said: “Postal votes are an important part of the democratic process in the UK.
“I ensure that information is included in all postal vote packs advising electors about the regulations in relation to postal voting and what is and is not appropriate.
“The council, along with all other local authorities, has arrangements in place to monitor postal voting.
“Where specific information is received the public can be clear that it will be fully investigated. However, electoral services and the Returning Officer will not comment during any such investigation.”
A West Yorkshire Police spokesman commented: “We have received an allegation of election fraud taking place in the Dewsbury South ward and are currently investigating the report. No arrests have been made and enquiries are ongoing.”