Conservatives lose Barnhill by-election recount where ballots went missing

A ballot box. Picture: PA

Barnhill by-election recount result has stayed with Labour - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Two Conservatives have been ordered to pay £68,000 in costs to Brent Council after losing the Barnhill by-election recount. 

Stefan Voloseniuc and Kanta Mistry narrowly lost the by-election to Labour candidates on January 23 last year.

Barnhill Conservatives Kanta Mistry and Stefan Voloseniuc. Picture: Barnhill Conservatives

Barnhill Conservatives Kanta Mistry and Stefan Voloseniuc. - Credit: Barnhill Conservatives

Mansoor Akram received 1,194 votes while Gaynor Lloyd won 1,152 against Ms Mistry's 1,082 and Mr Voloseniuc's 1,018.

The losing Conservatives believed that votes were incorrectly allocated and put in a petition to the High Court for a recount.

They claimed that on election night, they were not allowed a recount by the returning officer for Brent Council, Carolyn Downs, nor was their agent allowed to "flick through" bundles to check.

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On February 19, a High Court judge declared the ballot correctly returned and ordered costs of £38,000 to be paid to Cllr Lloyd and Cllr Akram and £30,000 to Ms Downs.

Carolyn Downs chief executive of Brent Council and returning officer

Carolyn Downs, returning officer and chief executive of Brent Council - Credit: Brent Council

A Brent Labour Group spokesperson said: “It is disappointing that this case has taken so long to resolve since the election over a year ago.

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"We are glad that Cllr Gaynor Lloyd and Cllr Mansoor Akram can put this costly and time-consuming distraction behind them and continue to advocate for the residents of Barnhill with the mandate that was rightfully given to them.”

However, court papers revealed that a bag of election ballots could not be found before the recount.

They were eventually located with no markings to show which election they related to, in an unsealed sack labelled "23/5/19 EU Elections BP.s”.

Ms Mistry and Mr Voloseniuc said despite this, they were advised to keep pursuing the recount: "Obviously, we are not happy with the order against us but we feel vindicated in exposing the manner in which the elections are conducted in Brent as far as the count and storage of the votes is concerned.

"This does not bode well for free, fair and transparent elections, the backbone of democracy."

A spokesperson for Brent Council said: "The Returning Officer has always been confident that the result of the Barnhill Ward by-election, held on 23 January 2020, was declared correctly.

"The High Court has dismissed the election petition challenging the result and ruled that Mansoor Akram and Gaynor Lloyd were duly elected and correctly returned as councillors of the Barnhill Ward.

"Mr Justice Holgate stated in his judgment dismissing the election petition that no possible criticism could be made of the returning officer.

"The Judge added that the council gave a full and frank explanation and the council discharged its duty of candour to the court.

"The Judge also stated that the recount had only served to vindicate the returning officer of the soundness of her judgement."

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