IT has taken over two years for a Labour Councillor charged with serious electoral fraud offences to be given his court date, but today that date was finally set in stone.
Israr Rashid, 40, was a Wycombe Labour candidate who stood in the 2019 Totteridge and Bowerdean by-election – winning the election with 40.8% of the vote.
Rashid was later charged with conspiracy to defraud the electoral services manager at Wycombe District Council by submitting fraudulent postal voting statements, and was also charged with two counts of committing, aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring in the commission of voting by post as some other person – i.e. postal vote fraud.
In an Aylesbury Crown Court plea hearing held via Skype in which Mr Rashid was not present but was represented by barrister Rhys Rosser – the former Labour candidate pleaded not guilty on all three charges.
As part of his bail conditions, Mr Rashid is not allowed to contact five specific people, who may be called as witnesses, or go within 100 feet of Cambridge Crescent in High Wycombe, or go to a specific address in Adelaide Road in High Wycombe – to prevent “interference” with witnesses.
Because not guilty pleas have been entered, a trial, which is expected to last four to five days, will now have to go ahead – all at the expense of the taxpayer.
Judge Francis Sheridan, who presided over the plea and trial preparation hearing at the time, said it was in the public interest that the trial is arranged “as promptly as we can”.
Yet due to the Covid-19 pandemic and other undisclosed reasons, the date for the trial has been hugely delayed.
Causing further frustration, however, although the date has been set, the trial won’t take place until January 10th 2022 at Aylesbury Crown Court.
The area of Wycombe, and in particular Totteridge, where Rashid himself stood, has a history of crooked politics and vote fraud.
Today, just hours before Rashid’s court date was announced, police confirmed that they have opened an investigation into allegations of more postal vote fraud in the area, this time during last week’s local elections.