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Friday, 9 March, 2001, 16:15 GMT
Vote-rigging councillors face jail
Hackney Borough Council
Councillors added phantom voters to the electoral roll
Two councillors from the London borough of Hackney are facing jail after being convicted of the country's "largest" vote-rigging conspiracy.

Isaac Leibowitz, a Conservative, and Liberal Democrat Zev Lieberman, created phantom voters to influence the outcome of local government elections in May 1998.

It is thought their widespread fraud may even have cost Labour control of the north London borough in the election.

A jury at Wood Green Crown Court rejected the pair's claims that they had acted in "good faith" and that any mistakes had been honest ones.

The effect may have been to deprive Hackney of the council the electorate truly voted for

John Bevan QC
Lieberman, 29, a school administrator from Stoke Newington, north London, and 36-year-old Leibowitz, a child carer, from Clapton, east London, fraudulently added names to the electoral roll.

American nationals were put down as local voters and disused properties were used as fake addresses, in an attempt to get Lieberman elected in Hackney's Northwold ward.

One dilapidated garage was listed as a bungalow, while a boarded-up house became the home of seven people.

The voting rights of individuals were also abused.

One pensioner, a Labour voter for 57 years, was tricked into giving her proxy vote to the Lib Dems.

Two other pensioners signed away their votes believing they were supporting a petition to clear rubbish.

Leibowitz even registered one of his brothers as two people.

'Substantial scale'

The fraud is believed to have been so widespread that it was largely responsible for a 2000% increase in proxy voting levels in the local election.

In 1994, 12 people were registered as proxies in Northwold, but in 1998 there were 241, with 75% of those voting Lib Dem.

In the election Labour won 29 seats, leaving them two short of an overall majority. The rest went to the Lib Dems, Conservatives and the Green Party.

The "substantial scale" of the deception suggested the "real possibility" that the election result did not reflect the voters' will, the court heard.

John Bevan QC, prosecuting, said: "This is not about the odd bit of cheating here and there. The effect may have been to deprive Hackney of the council the electorate truly voted for.

It is certainly the largest attempt to subvert the democratic process that I am aware of

Detective Inspector Robert Garratt
"Those involved were no doubt convinced that the end justified the means, but on the way they lost sight of the principle that elections should be decided by voters and not by those seeking to be elected to office."

Lieberman and Leibowitz were each found guilty of two charges of forgery.

They were also convicted of conspiracy to defraud the borough's deputy returning officer between May 1994 and May 1998, by fraudulently placing names on the electoral roll.

Leibowitz was also found guilty of a second conspiracy charge involving the use of bogus voters.

'Honest mistake'

Detective Inspector Robert Garratt, who headed the police inquiry, said: "It is certainly the largest attempt to subvert the democratic process that I am aware of. We made attempts to look for similar occasions but found nothing on this scale."

Earlier in a two-month trial, Lieberman was cleared of one count of conspiracy and a forgery allegation, while Leibowitz was acquitted of three forgery charges.

A third defendant, Chananya Gross, 22, from Clapton, faced one conspiracy charge but was acquitted after putting forward a "good faith and honest mistakes" defence.

Two others, who cannot be named for legal reasons, may face a retrial after the jury failed to reach verdicts against them.

Judge Jeremy Connor extended bail for Lieberman and Leibowitz, and adjourned the case until 6 April so that pre-sentence reports could be prepared.

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