Mystery of fake leaflets in North Richmond

The leaflet below appears to be normal Lib Dem election literature. It was one of three distributed widely over night on May2nd/3rd for the council by-election in North Richmond, in the London borough of Richmond upon Thames. You may wonder why it is titled Comments instead of Focus, but that is what Lib Dems have always called their leaflets in Richmond.

Indeed, the layout and photos are exact copies of earlier Lib Dem election leaflets. The bar chart, grumble sheet and contact details all look authentic. The writing style is credible.

But a closer inspection reveals something very worrying. The main story is completely false.

North Richmond fake leaflet

North Richmond fake leaflet (click to see larger legible version)

It states:

Jane Dodds will be campaigning with local Lib Dems to increase social housing in North Richmond by bringing forward plans to develop the Sainsbury’s Supermarket site at Manor Road.

The Sainsbury’s site offers an ideal opportunity for a high rise development to significantly expand social housing, building a further 550 one and two bedroom apartments on top of the Manor Road Sainsbury’s.

This is quite outrageous. The local Lib Dems were certainly not campaigning for 550 flats to be built above their local Sainsbury’s. The leaflet is a fake.

Two more similar fake leaflets were circulated before polls opened.  In one the Lib Dem candidate apparently supported the use of the local Premier Inn for emergency homeless accommodation for migrants, and in the other proposed converting a pub into hostel accommodation for drug or alcohol dependent young people and for recently released prisoners, neither of which was true. We can all see where the narrative is going: references to social housing, EU migrants, homelessness,  addiction and ex-cons are coupled with ‘bleeding heart’ Lib Dem concern for the vulnerable.

The leaflets do not, of course, carry an imprint, but that is a minor legal issue compared with the damage done to the democratic process. A number of local voters have admitted that they were taken in by the leaflets, decided not to vote Lib Dem as a result and voted Conservative in protest. This was a seat that we were hoping to take back from the Conservatives, but Jane Dodds lost by 146 votes.

Jane’s agent was Roger Hayes (one of Mark Pack’s local liberal heroes) and he spent much of polling day talking with the police from Special Operations and Anti-Terrorism, which we all still refer to as Special Branch. The police are taking the matter very seriously and are treating the leaflets as fraudulent.  The Representation of the People Act 1983 created an offence of “undue influence” which may be relevant to this case.

Anti-terrorist officers are examining CCTV footage to try to identify who delivered the leaflets. It is most unlikely, though not impossible, that one of the main political parties would carry off a stunt like this, but it is a challenge to work out who would go to the trouble of designing, printing and distributing such convincing and subtle fakes.

* Mary Reid is the Tuesday Editor on Lib Dem Voice.

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20 Comments

  • Tracy Connell 10th May '12 - 4:24pm

    Call a by election once you’ve found the culprits.

  • Joseph Donnelly 10th May '12 - 4:37pm

    I was going to say I’d be very surprised to see another one of the big parties do this, considering you assume their agents know basic electoral law…but then again Oldham East and Saddleworth…

  • To my eyes it looks like the counterfeiter scanned the top and bottom part of a genuine leaflet and added the central section themselves.

  • Duncan looks to be spot on. It is a colour scan with the central bit printed over.

  • Roger Hayes 10th May '12 - 6:08pm

    I’d encourage others to spread the word – there should rightly be a sense of outrage. I have no doubt that whichever enemy of democracy perpetrated this mass deception cost us the election. I will do all I can to see that these forces of darkness are brought to book and the injustice righted – in the meantime the campaign continues with an action day this coming Saturday in the ward from 11am at 20 Rosedale Road, Richmond, TW9 2SX sign up on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/events/300924846652930/permalink/301346439944104/

  • Paul McKeown 10th May '12 - 6:12pm

    Prosecute the culprits and void the result by election court.

  • Outrageous abuse of democracy, and perpetrator deserves prosecution. But… anti-terrorist police???

  • I can’t imagine that this was something that was done by a single individual. I (probably like many other people) found these in letter boxes while delivering the Good Morning. They had clearly been delivered late the previous evening. Initially I thought they were our literature and was mildly annoyed to see them since so many people would think it was a double delivery with the Good Morning.

    From the reports of multiple editions and the late discovery of the fraud it would seem that this was widely distributed at the last moment.

  • Duncan Borrowman 11th May '12 - 1:07am

    Incredibly similar to leaflets delivered overnight on eve of poll in the Kelsey Park by-election of Bromley in the 90s. I got Special Branch involved. Afterwards they said the perpetrators wouldn’t do it again.
    One of my main suspects now lives I believe in the right part of the world to have done this.

  • Tony Dawson 11th May '12 - 7:16am

    On a related subject (vicious dishonest leaflets), I was amazed to see that Joe Fitzpatrick, Phil Woolas’ election agent who published some of the vilest leaflets around against both Elwyn Watkins and me, stood in the recent Oldham Council elections.

    Fitzpatrick was spared from criminal prosecution after the Woolas ‘election trial’ because the CPS felt his boss had already suffered enough as a result of losing his seat etc and said they would not be prosecuting Woolas ‘in the pubic interest’ (sic). The CPS seemed to forget that the agent is separately culpable (and, in Fitzpatrick’s case, particularly so from his own trial evidence) and, because his boss was not prosecuted, they also declined to prosecute him. Hence, Fitzpatrick was able to stand in this local election as if he had never done anything wrong. The CPS are really not fit for purpose.

  • The famous Lucius Cassius, whom the Roman people used to regard as a very honest and wise judge, was in the habit of asking, time and again, ‘To whose benefit?’

  • Whilst the reproduction may not have been of really top quality, there is no doubting the work that has gone in to making the text look plausible. It is a skilful job by somebody who knows the local politics well (there has been, for example, an active debate locally about whether developments should be required to have a certain proportion of affordable housing).

    The distribution also seems to have been widespread so it really doesn’t look like the actions of one rogue individual. I can only hope that the police do catch the culprits.

  • Andrea Gill 15th May '12 - 8:02pm

    It seems a bit sad that supporting affordable housing, the homeless and addicts is viewed as not reflecting party policy. It may not be popular, but it strikes me as right.

  • Did anything come of the police investigation into this?

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