Examination of Witnesses (Questions 184-199)|
16 MARCH 2004
Q184 Chairman: I understand that you
do not want to be individually named. That is perfectly all right.
Do you want to say anything by way of introduction or are you
happy for us to go straight to questions?
Representative A: I am quite happy
to use my name in here; it is just that we have asked obviously
that it does not go beyond these four walls if that is possible.
Q185 Chairman: Right. Do you want to
say anything by way of introduction or are you happy for us to
go straight to questions?
Representative A: No, thank you.
Please go on.
Q186 Mr Betts: I must apologise that
I am going to have to leave shortly after I have asked my questions.
It is nothing that you will have said that causes me to leave
the room. Is the reality of the situation not that in most police
forces up and down the country there is not a great deal of knowledge
about electoral fraud and probably even less interest in it?
Representative A: If I may take
the last part of your question first. On interest, I would disagree.
I think there is interest. There is often, you are quite right,
a lack of knowledge, so there is often a slight fear: When one
of these jobs comes across your desk and you have never dealt
with one before, your first reaction is probably to say, "Good
heavens! What's this all about?" Just a quick word of explanation:
The actual investigation of these offences is not necessarily
constant throughout the country. The fact that Special Branch
does it here in London is a London affair solely; that is a decision
by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. In other forces,
it is often a fraud squad or often a general CID unit. It may,
for example, only be a local unit, so the experience of those
cases is often very, very limited indeed, especially, of course,
because the incidence of actual fraud, as far as we know, is not
particularly heavy compared with other offences.
Q187 Mr Betts: Do you think with the
introduction of all-postal ballots there is potential for greater
fraud? Do you think the police service nationally ought to be
looking collectively at how it starts to address these issues,
by maybe having a national database and maybe having a unit nationally
where individual forces could go and get the expertise you are
talking about which they often do not have themselves?
Representative A: Yes, I totally
agree with that suggestion. It is something we have discussed
in the past with the Electoral Commission, for example, and it
was mentioned in their report last year. We would totally support
those suggestions. The police, as you know, will often come together
in a variety of fora to discuss items of general interest. I think
this is something that ought to be addressed nationally. I am
not saying it is a huge, serious issue but it is something that
is a specialised issue that deserves a bit of wider coverage.
There are often techniques about which we can learn from each
other, for example, and, yes, a database of previous offences
would often be quite useful, bearing in mind that the offences
themselves are not necessarily recordable and therefore do not
necessarily appear on the police national computer.
Q188 Mr Betts: Do you think electoral
returning officers, the Crown Prosecution Service and others ought
to be now giving serious consideration to the potential for fraud?
Are you talking to them about joint workings on these sorts of
Representative A: Obviously I
cannot talk for the CPS. The CPS nationally really are the only
body which has any oversight at all of the national picture concerning
electoral fraud, because all allegations have to be reported to
them in the first instance. We do talk to the CPS obviously quite
a lot and they have been party to some of those discussions with
the Commission as well. I think, yes, everybody has a role in
this. It has certainly been our experience that the CPS, assuming
that there is some evidence on which to proceed, would generally
direct that these cases be investigated because in the main they
are in the public interest. If they are investigated and insufficient
evidence is found, then clearly it is a CPS decision to terminate
that investigation. It is an unusual matter in this particular
case because the police do not necessarily have at all complete
oversight and complete decision-making over these investigations.
Q189 Christine Russell: What do you see
as the problems in trying to pursue allegations under the existing
rules and regulations?
Representative B: It is almost
unique in the criminal justice system, where the CPS have the
power to direct police investigations for election fraud. Procedure
therefore is that if an election offence comes to light by the
returning officer, it is reported to us initially and then we
have to refer it to the Crown Prosecution Service to ask them
whether we should carry out the investigation or not. Therefore
there is a delay of time in doing that. The normal time limit
for investigation of election offences is 12 months and I think
there is probably a case for extending that time up to maybe two
years. Of course, that would mean that witnesses may be interfered
with at a later stage of the investigation, so I would argue for
the time limit to be extended after the 12 months should there
be a requirement for it.
Q190 Christine Russell: In the evidence
you have put in you seem to imply that powers of search and arrest
would help. Do you want to elaborate on that?
Representative B: It would help
indeed. The only power of arrest we have for election offences
at the moment is for personation, but even then that is within
a polling station, where the election candidate or their agent
have to say to the presiding officer, "Mr Presiding Officer,
I believe that person is impersonating," and the presiding
officer then has to say to the constable, "Please, Constable,
arrest that person." Even then the person voting is allowed
to vote of course.
Q191 Chairman: In the past it was normal
to go into a polling station and see a policeman there on duty,
was it not?
Representative B: Yes.
Q192 Chairman: My impression is that
a policeman now goes round perhaps seven or eight polling stations
and puts in brief appearances during the day.
Representative B: Absolutely,
sir. I think that is perhaps a different issue we need to discuss.
There ought to be more security at polling stations.
Representative A: The deployment
of officers at polling stations is clearly a matter for local
borough commanders or their equivalents in county forces. It is
not something that we as investigators can necessarily influence,
unless, for example, we have some intelligence in advancewhich
has been the case on a number of occasionsthat something
is likely to go a bit astray. But I have been making a few inquiries
recently and the sort of incidence of public disorder or any election
related offence actually at the polling station itself is perceived
as very, very small. The biggest problems do tend to come from
attempts at committing fraud in connection with proxy votes or
with postal votes as well.
Representative B: We would like
to have a power of arrest and search. For example, if somebody,
especially some of the ultra right parties
are in a street trying to get proxy votes, people to sign them,
we would like to have the power of arrest, and therefore search
as wellto search their vehicle perhapswhich at the
moment is not available and therefore we have to rely on other
powers to overcome that.
Representative A: Corroboration
is often very, very difficult in these investigations because
often proxy voters are totally unaware of what is going on, that
they have been duped, and they cannot help that much. We do try
to apply as much science to these investigations as we can, and
that includes fingerprints and maybe in the future even DNA profiling.
At the moment we do not necessarily have powers to ask for DNA
or fingerprints, unless we can claim that we are investigating
a forgery or a conspiracy to defraud, for example, so a few extra
powers to look at what people are carrying at the time can be
quite useful and can get that little bit of evidence that is so
vital to the investigation.
Q193 Christine Russell: Do you think
it would help if the public had access to marked registers and
could go along and see if someone has stolen their identity?
Representative A: I certainly
think it would be very useful to have some method of alerting
a bona fide voter that his or her identity has been taken or that
their address has been misrepresented on another form somewhere
else, in the same way that I would be looking if possible for
a database enabling us actually to analyse the addresses that
are being used in common, maybe across whole electoral borders,
across counties, which are being used for the manipulation of
votes in this way. In this modern age I think it should be possible
at least to create something. There are others issues as well
of privacy and so on.
Q194 Christine Russell: A national electoral
Representative A: I cannot speak
about that in detail but anything that helps us in concluding
an investigation would be very helpful.
Q195 Mr Clelland: Would it be useful
to have that informationwho has returned their postal voteas
the election is progressing? Would it be more useful to have it
at that stage than waiting until after the election was all over?
Representative B: Yes, that would
be useful, sir, but the problem is that the recent postal vote
offences that we have investigated tend to be mostly in the Asian
communities, where the head of the household has persuaded the
rest of the family to apply for postal votes and therefore vote
for a particular candidate. The family structure is very patriarchal
anyway and therefore it is very difficult, and even if we had
a register it probably would not make any difference to that.
Q196 Mr Sanders: Could electoral returning
officers do more, particularly in ensuring that names submitted
for registration are genuine and not submitted fraudulently?
Representative B: I think we would
welcome that. I think we have made that submission before, that
returning officers should scrutinise postal voting type offences,
and perhaps look at if there has been more postal voting than
before or they think something funny is going on. I think they
need to be given perhaps more powers to do that. Given they are
dealing with a very complex arrangements of election offences,
whether they will have the time to do that I do not know, sir,
but I would welcome them to have that power.
Q197 Mr Sanders: If a returning officer
came to you to say, "I think something questionable has gone
on here," are you more likely to take that seriously than
an aggrieved political party activist saying, "I think that
party is cheating here"?
Representative B: We would take
all allegations seriously. It is within the system in fact of
the election. Because the Crown Prosecution have the power to
direct the investigation, we have to take everything seriously
before we can put any form of evidence before the Crown Prosecution
Service. I would say all offences are taken seriously. In fact,
I personally would welcome in the Special Branch for the police
to have discretion in very minor technical offences, as long as
no further serious illegal or corrupt practices are revealed,
for us to make a decision at an early stageif it is purely
a technical offenceto say we are not going to take this
any further because it does not serve the public interest.
Representative A: It does not
really make any difference whether the allegation came from an
ERO or a candidate at the time. It is always helpful to have those
sorts of allegations early on because there is quite a lot we
can do while this process is taking place. Once the election has
actually been held it starts to fade in people's minds. Of course,
if a suspected fraud is actually ongoing there are many, many
things we can do to increase the flow of evidence or even to stop
it happening before polling day itself. But that presupposes that
EROs are able to gather sufficient information to help us as well
and that they have enough resources to give us the time to sparebecause
these investigations can take quite a lot of time and a lot of
effort on everybody's behalf.
Q198 Mr Sanders: The Electoral Commission
has recommended implementation of individual voter registration
as a safeguard in all-postal elections. This will not be in place
Representative A: The European
Q199 Mr Sanders: There are local elections
as well and there will be all-postal ballots in some parts of
the country. Are you concerned about that?
Representative A: It would certainly
have helped to have it, but then again we have not been used to
it to date, so it is something we are going to have to live with,
I am afraid.
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