A smear campaign to stop a Liberal Democrat candidate from being elected to Birmingham City Council was underpinned by corruption within the highest reaches of the West Midlands Labour Party, an election court was told yesterday.
Labour officials operated an "institutional policy" of inventing false allegations as a device to justify sacking their own properly selected election candidates who had fallen out of favour with the regional party, it was claimed.
The allegation was put forward on the second day of a trial to consider claims that Labour councillor Muhammed Afzal was unfairly elected in Aston at this year's city council elections after he and his supporters spread false claims about the conduct and character of Liberal Democrat candidate Saeed Aehmed.
One of the untrue claims, according to barrister Graham Brodie, concerned applications for disability grants made by Mr Aehmed which Coun Afzal and his supporters said were fraudulent.
Mr Brodie told the court disability grant payments were first questioned in 2002, after Mr Aehmed had been selected as the Labour candidate for Aston.
There was no truth in the allegation and Mr Aehmed was subsequently cleared of any wrong-doing by city council auditors and by a Ladywood Labour Party inquiry, Mr Brodie said.
But that did not stop Labour's regional director for the West Midlands, Ian Reilly, recommending Mr Aehmed's suspension from holding office, effectively preventing him from contesting the 2002 election as the party's official candidate, Mr Brodie added.
Five years later, with Mr Aehmed having switched sides and now contesting Aston for the Liberal Democrats, Labour began to repeat claims about the disability grant applications. Coun Afzal, members of his family and supporters visited a number of polling stations where they told voters that Mr Aehmed had committed fraud and was not to be trusted, it is claimed.
It was also stated falsely that Mr Aehmed had been arrested for postal vote fraud, Mr Brodie said.
In all, Coun Afzal and his supporters are alleged to have committed 14 illegal practices contrary to the Representation of the People Act.
Mr Brodie added: "This trial will have to consider the matter of corruption within the West Midlands Regional Labour Party. The original allegation of disability grant fraud was simply a device used by the party to prevent Saeed standing as a Labour candidate in 2002 and to impose on the branch party a candidate favoured by the regional office."
Similar tactics, levelling unsubstantiated allegations of misconduct, had been used before to get rid of council candidates including two high-profile Birmingham Asian politicians, Raghib Ahsan and Talib Hussain, Mr Brodie claimed.
Mr Reilly, in a written statement read to the court, accused Mr Aehmed of failing to co-operate fully with an investigation into the disability grant applications. He said Mr Aehmed suffered from asthma but had no problems with disability.
The statement went on: "Once I had seen the contents of the grant applications I was appalled. It appeared that Saeed had lied about appearing to be severely disabled in order to obtain money to improve his home from the council he now wished to serve."
Gavin Millar QC, representing Coun Afzal and the Labour Party, said all of the allegations about his clients would be refuted.
The case continues.