Labour candidates and agents were discovered operating a "vote-forging factory" at midnight in a deserted warehouse on the eve of the 2004 Birmingham City Council elections, a court heard yesterday.
Two police officers arrived at the Riley Industrial Estate at Witton to discover six Asian men sorting through 275 unsealed postal ballot papers.
The men, alleged to include Labour's three election candidates in the Aston ward, said they were checking the documents to make sure they had been filled in correctly before submitting them to the council elections office.
But an election court sitting at the Birmingham and Midland Institute heard claims that the six were part of a determined effort to cheat the system by forging postal votes in favour of the Labour candidates.
An election petition brought by Liberal Democrat supporters alleges the candidates owed their election victories to a campaign of malpractice and fraudulently obtaining postal ballots.
The court heard that police officers seized the 275 ballot papers and sought further clarification about the voting process from Birmingham City Council's elections office.
The police subsequently handed the forms to elections officials where they were included with thousands of other postal votes and allowed to stand.
Deputy High Court judge Richard Mawrey QC, sitting as the election commissioner, said the decision meant forged votes might have been placed "into the system" and then counted in the normal way.
Two of the Labour candidates - Mohammed Islam and Mohammed Kazi - admit to being present at the warehouse but deny any wrongdoing. The third candidate, former council cabinet member Muhammad Afzal, denies being present.
Ravi Sukul, for the petitioners, said evidence transcribing Coun Afzal's mobile phone calls on the night would prove he made a number of calls from the scene.
The court heard from Pc Lynsey Grundy, who attended the warehouse. She identified Coun Afzal in court as being present on the night.
Pc Grundy said she recognised Coun Afzal as a "chubby and bald man" who had been wearing glasses and was obstructive.
" He was speaking in another language. I told him to speak in English but he refused," WPc Grundy added.
Mr Sukul described what happened when the two officers arrived. "In a large room the police saw a 10ft long table and six Asian men present. Hundreds of documents and unsealed envelopes were scattered all over the table.
"The two officers became quite suspicious about this. Well, who wouldn't be?
"A deserted, grimy warehouse in the middle of the night, six Asian men sitting in a room, with 275 ballot papers in their midst."
Jerry Hayes, representing Coun Islam and Coun Kazi, pointed out that police witness statements were only taken by the petitioners' lawyers on Tuesday of this week. It was unlikely the officers could accurately remember an incident that happened almost nine months ago, he said.
The hearing continues.