A former Wycombe mayor and councillor knew about campaigning by the allies of an alleged election fraudster and was worried about “public perception” if people thought he was involved, a court has heard.
Ex-mayor and former Labour councillor Khalil Ahmed has been named in the trial of Israr Rashid, who is accused of cheating a 2019 by-election through a conspiracy to defraud.
According to 41-year-old Rashid, of Hobart Close, Mr Ahmed knew about potentially unethical campaigning by Rashid’s allies, and was worried about the public’s reaction if he was seen to be involved in it.
Rashid had earlier told the court that his team were using questionable methods by taking filled-out postal votes from residents and posting them on their behalf – a breach of the council’s election code of conduct, but not technically illegal.
The defendant had also asserted that he was not involved in this practice himself.
The prosecution has made the case that Rashid and his allies also “harvested” blank postal ballots and fraudulently cast them in his name – something Rashid strongly denies.
Whatsapp messages between Rashid and Mr Ahmed, who was saved in Rashid’s phone as “Speedy”, and was a serving Labour Councillor at the time, were read out in court by prosecutor Guy Ladenburg.
The messages read:
Israr Rashid: “Any chance u can spare 1 hour at 6pm tomorrow
Israr Rashid: “Knock some voters on Hicks Farm rise plz cant get to everybody
Speedy (Khalil Ahmed): “I can but me and you should not be involved in this process at all. I told you that.
Speedy (Khalil Ahmed): “We can do non-Asian households where we are only requesting support
Israr Rashid: “Yes agreed hicks farm and windrush.”
After reading the messages out, Mr Ladenburg asked Rashid what Mr Ahmed meant when he said he did not want to be “involved in this process.”
Rashid said: “He’s worried about public perception and what people are going to be saying about him, he’s a Councillor.
“He doesn’t want to be involved in something like that in case someone comes up on social media against him.
“He doesn’t want the public to think he’s out asking voters and voters handing him the vote saying can you post this.”
When asked if he knew that this campaigning was going on, Rashid said: “There was not a plan but I do know people were picking up their friends’ and families’ completed postals and casting them.”
Khalil Ahmed was mayor of Wycombe in 2014 and also ran against Steve Baker as Labour’s parliamentary candidate in 2019, running the Conservative close by earning 20,522 votes compared to Mr Baker’s 24,766.
Mr Ahmed then lost his seat as a councillor in the Downley ward in the 2021 local elections, missing out on victory by just 28 votes.
While he was mayor, Mr Ahmed came under pressure to resign after making controversial comments about the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in Paris.
Condemning the attack, Mr Ahmed also commented that “insulting the prophet Mohammed… is a grievous matter.”
The text conversation between Rashid and Mr Ahmed became further confused when the jury was told that the text exchange between the pair took place on January 24, 2019. This was the day after the deadline for postal vote applications, but before postal ballot papers would have arrived for voters to fill in.
The court heard that this meant it would not have been possible for the pair to pick up “postals” at this time.
When Judge Catherine Tulk quizzed Rashid on what he was asking Mr Ahmed to help him with, he said: “I think what he’s trying to say is that he’s seen text messages on the group chat and seen that people on the group collecting postal votes.
“He understands this very well, he’s a Councillor.”
Israr Rashid is charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud. He denies the charge against him.
The trial continues.