A council ward in an East Lancashire borough has been compared to Zimbabwe under former ruler Robert Mugabe amid a row over postal voting.

Councillors in Pendle claimed the sheer number of postal votes issued in Nelson’s Bradley ward – and the large number returned on one particular day – were unlike any other ward in the borough.

The claims came amid allegations candidates or campaigners had collected postal votes from homes, which is now illegal.

The meeting heard how 2,502 postal votes were issued in Bradley – one-third of the electorate. In Fence and Higham, there were only around 300 postal votes.

Lancashire Telegraph: Cllr Iqbal has questioned postal votingCllr Iqbal has questioned postal voting

Independent Councillor Mohammed Iqbal and Liberal Democrat Cllr David Whipp both put forward a motion on electoral abuse calling for investigations and new powers, which was supported by all political parties.

Cllr Iqbal said: “We could argue the people of Bradley in that election didn’t make up their minds until the last minute. But nowhere else was like that.

"The nearest ward is Brierfield East and Clover Hill. There, just over 200 postal votes were returned that day. That was 800 less in comparison.

He added: “One could say the postal vote collection was based on how Robert Mugabe used to run elections.”

Cllr Iqbal also said: "I watched postal vote returns every day, and  I congratulated the returning officer where she made it clear she was going to seal the post box outside the town hall three days before polling day.

“Last year, more than 1,000 postal votes were bundled through. This year, four days before polling day, 1,059 postal votes were returned.

"That’s 50 per cent of the postal votes in one day.”

He told the meeting some people had called for investigations by the returning officer and police, but this was not forthcoming because of witnesses.

He added: “Either we have extra powers or we scrap postal votes, but we can’t have two years running where thousands of postal votes are returned like this. There is something going wrong.”

Lancashire Telegraph: Chief executive Rose RouseChief executive Rose Rouse (Image: Pendle Council)

Lib-Dem Cllr David Whipp, the borough's deputy leader, said: “The significant difference between previous years and this year is the handling of postal votes by candidates and campaigners became illegal.

"No longer was it guidance. The law says campaigners should not touch other people’s postal votes."

The meeting was told allegations had been raised with returning officer and Pendle Council chief executive Rose Rouse, and there were concerns the matters had not been properly investigated.

Councillors backed the motion calling for the returning officer to write to the UK’s Electoral Commission and the government.

Later Ms Rouse said: “I will be writing to the Electoral Commission asking for an independent investigation by all authorities concerned to ensure no irregularities have occurred.

“I will also be contacting the government to request new legislation giving returning officers the power to reject postal votes where suspicious activity is taking place in a particular area.”