Archive | July, 2011

Hacking the Opposition

11 Jul

Last week the “London Borough of Newhamgrad” blog site was hacked into and 3 months’ worth of recent posts were deleted. A headline was posted declaring “You’ve been hacked”.

For anyone not familiar with the Newhamgrad site, it describes itself as “an insight into the most dictatorial local authority known to Britain.” It is run by an anonymous group (I’m not one of them and have no idea who they are) who have enough connections inside Newham Dockside to come up with the occasional juicy tale, though mostly it’s bitchy political gossip.

Websites get hacked all the time, but this was no drive-by attack by a bored teenager – this was a deliberate and targeted act.

The intolerance of the Wales regime and its supporters for any kind of dissent or challenge is legendary in the borough – former councillor Alan Craig once described it as “Mugabe without the bullets“. The usual response to any criticism of Newham Labour is to label the opponent a Tory or a Trot (oddly, some people have difficulty distinguishing between the two) and expect that it is enough to damn them, but this surely represents a new low. Whoever did this went beyond politically illiterate abuse and committed an offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990. Such offences are punishable by up to 12 months in jail.

Why would anyone want to risk that kind of penalty, just to remove some political tittle-tattle from the web?

The posts that were removed might have been a bit embarrassing for those concerned, but nothing fatal to anyone’s political career. And certainly nothing worth going to prison to suppress. They covered:

  • Cllr Armarjit Singh’s voting for the West Ham stadium loan without declaring that he had received hospitality from the club 
  • Cllr Ayesha Chowdhury’s living in social housing despite owning (or having a significant interest in) a property portfolio that the site claims is valued at £2.4 million 
  • The recent Sunday Times allegations about payments by West Ham to an executive at the Olympic Park Legacy Company 
  • Lyn Brown MP’s hiring of an unpaid intern when she had previously campaigned for a ‘living wage for all’ 
  • The Newham Campaign Forum – a fund into which all Labour councillors are said to pay a percentage of their allowances 
  • Cllr Unmesh Desai’s desire to succeed Sir Robin as Mayor * Plans to establish a ‘free’ school in Newham 
  • Cllr Richard Crawford’s portfolio of responsibilities 
  • Newham’s failure to investigate a Freedom of Information request that it said it would investigate 
  • Cllr Paul Schafer being referred to the council’s Monitoring Officer 
  • A Charity Commission decision not to investigate a local charity over its relationship with Newham Labour Party

On Thursday a notice appeared on the Newhamgrad site stating “This site has been the target of hacking attacks for weeks as well as been subjected to an attempt by spammers to ‘scrape’ IP addresses from our website and set up spiders to trawl it. Newhamgrad will be down until it carries out further investigations. We will be back.”

I hope they will, if only to prove that the regime’s critics will not be silenced so easily. And I hope that next time someone takes exception to something that appears on the site they deal with it via the comments section. Of course, if they think Newhamgrad goes too far they always have recourse to the law – but taking the law into your own hands is never the answer.

 

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More Fun and Games in the Mayor’s Palace of Varieties

4 Jul

The Sunday Times carried a detailed story yesterday alleging that West Ham United made payments totalling £20,000 into the bank account of Dionne Knight, a director of the Olympic Park Legacy Company. This arrangement was put in place by Ian Tompkins, who is the director of West Ham who masterminded its Olympic stadium bid and Ms. Knight’s lover. In a previous life Mr. Tompkins was director of Communications at Newham Council, where he worked closely with the Mayor, Sir Robin Wales.

West Ham claims that the payments were for ‘consultancy work’ helping to prepare procurement documents for contracts to convert the stadium after the Olympics and that, as far as they were aware, the OLPC had given permission for Knight to do the work. They also claim the payments were on behalf of the Legacy Stadium Partnership, the joint venture entity with Newham Council that will own the 250-year lease on the stadium; as the partnership didn’t have a bank account set up they paid Knight directly. 

According to records at Companies House, Legacy Stadium Partnership LLP was first set up on 12 April 2011, but the Sunday Times says that the first payments were made to Ms Knight in the month before the OLPC made its decision in February. Quite how West Ham could have made payments on behalf of an entity that did not even exist is not explained.

Since the story emerged both Knight and Tompkins have been suspended from their jobs, pending internal investigations. Knight has admitted she hadn’t told OLPC about her work for West Ham.

The Sunday Times, perhaps predictably, has billed this as a “corruption scandal” and local anti-Labour blog London Borough of Newhamgrad uses the same word in its summary. That’s going too far, at least on the evidence to date.

But there are a number of fairly obvious questions that arise from all this about what Ms Knight knew about the status of the bids to take over the stadium and what she might have discussed at home with Mr Tompkins, and what he may then have communicated on to his employers at Upton Park to help them construct a winning tender. The OLPC says ‘chinese walls’ were in place and Ms Knight had no access to key information, or influence on the outcome. But as she was working for West Ham without their knowledge it is unclear how much of a grip OLPC had on the situation. One might also ask why West Ham, on behalf of the joint venture, felt it necessary to hire a consultant to work on stadium conversion procurements before it knew the outcome of the OLPC process and why it thought there would be no conflict of interest in hiring an OLPC executive to do it while the bidding process was ongoing. 

Of course Newham residents will have an interest in finding out the answers to these questions, as we are the ones on the hook for the £40 million loan being made to the Legacy Stadium Partnership (to the principle benefit of West Ham United FC), should the whole thing go horribly wrong. And if the 20 grand paid to Ms Knight was on behalf of LSP, as WHU say, half of it is our money – for which the Mayor is accountable.