Four men jailed after a jury found them guilty of a General Election postal vote scam in a marginal Yorkshire constituency have had their convictions quashed.
Former councillors Jamshed Khan, 66, and Reis Khan, 41, and co-defendants Mohammed Sultan, 53, and Mohammed Rafiq, 71, did not get a fair trial, Court of Appeal judges ruled.
The men were convicted at Leeds Crown Court after a jury heard that they plotted to get Conservative candidate Haroon Rashid elected in the Bradford West seat in the 2005 General Election.
Prosecutors told the trial that the men tried to “rig” the election with the support of fraudulent postal vote applications, many from people who did not exist or had no idea an application had been made on their behalf.
It was alleged that the men were responsible for 213 false applications between them. Prosecutors said they had looked at about 900 in the constituency involving at least 50 different writers, many of whom had not been traced.
The men, from Bradford, were each jailed for 21 months in September last year, but yesterday their convictions were ruled “unsafe” and overturned by Lord Justice Pitchford, Mr Justice Holroyde and Mr Justice Wilkie.
The three were absent as the appeal judges concluded that flaws in the trial judge’s directions and summing up of the case undermined the fairness of their hearings.
Various grounds of appeal were pursued by the men’s lawyers, including alleged non-disclosure of evidence, claims that a fair trial was impossible owing to the aborting of two previous hearings, and criticisms of the trial judge’s handling of the case.
In Reis Khan’s case, Lord Justice Pitchford said the “underlying theme of his defence had been confirmed by several witnesses” and faults in the trial judge’s summing up of the case “had the effect of undermining the fairness of his trial”.
In Mohammed Rafiq’s case “there was no evidence fit to be left to jury” that he was the author of a batch of postal votes and the prosecution case against both him and Jamshed Khan was fatally undermined, he added.
Jurors should have been directed to “exercise caution” in Mohammed Sultan’s case and the trial judge’s failure to remind the panel of a crucial part of his evidence also made his conviction unsafe, Lord Justice Pitchford concluded.
Mr Rashid, who was acquitted of conspiracy on a judge’s direction last year, lost the election by more than 3,000 votes to the Labour candidate, Marsha Singh.