An emotional Labour MP wept in court after today being cleared of housing fraud after she blamed her ‘hard-drinking’ ex-husband for making bids for council properties behind her back.
Apsana Begum, 31, was on trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court in
Tower Hamlets Council, which brought the prosecution, alleged that the cost to the local authority was £63,928, because someone else on the housing list had to be given accommodation elsewhere.
She successfully gained a social housing tenancy in under four months, rather than the average three-year wait, due to her claims, a court heard.
As jurors found the Poplar and Limehouse MP not guilty of all charges on Friday, she collapsed and wept in the dock.
Speaking after her acquittal, Ms Begum claimed the ‘malicious’ case against her had caused ‘great distress’.
She said: ‘As a survivor of domestic abuse facing these vexatious charges, the last 18 months of false accusations, online sexist, racist, and Islamophobic abuse, and threats to my safety, have been exceedingly difficult.’
Labour MP Apsana Begum, 31 collapsed and wept in the dock at Snaresbrook Crown Court, London after she was cleared of all three charges of housing fraud
Apsana Begum (left and right in court), the MP for Poplar and Limehouse in east London, claimed she was living in ‘overcrowded conditions’ with her family when she was in a four-bedroomed house, jurors heard
Begum denied three counts of fraud dating between 18 January 2013 and 31 March 2016 and was cleared by the jury.
She sobbed and fell to the floor as the not guilty verdict was announced this afternoon.
Begum, who had been on trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court, later blamed her partner, local councillor Ehtashamul Haque, for making an application to Tower Hamlets Council in her name, it is claimed.
She claimed she had twice fled from ‘honour based’ abuse at her family home in Woodstock Terrace, Poplar and then from her ‘controlling’ councillor husband Ehtashamul Haque, at St Bernard House, Toynbee Street, Whitechapel.
Begum said Mr Haque was a heavy drinker while her brother believed she was possessed and read chapters of the Qur’an to her.
She moved in him in June 2013 and no longer needed to apply for social housing but bids continued to be made on her account.
Begum had split from her ex-husband partly due to his ‘coercive and controlling behaviour’ and reported him to police for harassing her, jurors heard.
The MP, who won the east London seat of Poplar and Limehouse with a 28,904 majority in the general election in December 2019, contested ‘malicious and false allegations’ that she failed to tell the council that she was no longer living in overcrowded conditions when she made her claims.
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the not guilty verdict, writing on Twitter: ‘Congratulations @ApsanaBegum; Always knew you to be a woman of amazing strength and fortitude and yet again that has been proven.’
During the trial, the court heard Ms Begum had applied to go on the council’s social housing register on July 22, 2011.
She was placed on the priority housing list after claiming to be living in an ‘overcrowded’ three-bedroom house in Poplar with five members of her family and without her own room.
However, the prosecution said the property in Woodstock Terrace had four bedrooms, according to both a housing application made by Begum’s aunt in 2009 and a council tax form submitted by her mother in 2013.
Prosecutor James Marsland said Ms Begum had deliberately lied about the number of bedrooms in order to move higher up the housing register and also failed to tell the council that by January 2013 there were only four people living at the address after her father died and her aunt moved out.
Ms Begum maintained there had only ever been three bedrooms in the house and that she had never had her own bedroom while living there, and could not explain why her family members had said there were four bedrooms.
She also said it was a period of turmoil during which she was struggling to come to terms with her father’s death and her Bangladeshi-heritage family’s disapproval of her relationship with her then-partner, Tower Hamlets councillor Ehtasham Haque.
Mr Marsland said in November 2015, Mr Haque began harassing Begum and had threatened to kill himself.
‘Ms Begum told police that she was currently staying with a female friend.
‘Police heard that Mr Haque was following her. He was constantly calling and texting her.
Jurors heard in November 2015, Begum returned to her family home. She was awarded the one-bedroom studio flat in March 2016.
Begum informed police Mr Haque was harassing her in April 2016.
Ms Begum’s defence lawyer, Helen Law also claimed that the complaint which triggered the investigation of Begum, made in 2019 by Sayed Nahid Uddin – Mr Haque’s brother-in-law – was ‘false’.
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted his support after the not guilty verdict was passed
The MP, who won the east London seat of Poplar and Limehouse with a 28,904 majority in the general election in December 2019, contested the ‘malicious and false allegations’
In a statement provided after her acquittal, Ms Begum claimed the case against her had been driven by ‘malicious intent’ and had caused her ‘great distress’.
She said: ‘I would like to say a sincere thank you to all my legal team and all those who have shown me solidarity, support and kindness.
‘As a survivor of domestic abuse facing these vexatious charges, the last 18 months of false accusations, online sexist, racist, and Islamophobic abuse, and threats to my safety, have been exceedingly difficult.’
She added: ‘I will be consulting and considering how to follow up so that something like this doesn’t happen again to anyone else.’
The court heard Ms Begum left the property in May 2013 due to her family’s growing hostility towards her desire to marry Mr Haque, who was seven years her senior and twice divorced.
Giving evidence during the trial, an emotional Ms Begum said she had visited a police station to make a report about her brother following her to work and said she feared becoming the victim of honour-based violence.
She told the court she returned home on the same day and was locked in the living room by her brother, who said he thought she should visit an imam because he believed she was ‘possessed’.
Ms Begum said she managed to call 999 and fled the house with only her handbag. Days later she was told to pick up her belongings, which had been put in black bin bags outside the house.
Ms Begum and Mr Haque then were married in an Islamic ceremony before she moved in with him.
Mr Marsland had argued Ms Begum had been fully aware of the housing register policies and the fact she was no longer eligible for social housing due to her experience working in the town mayor’s office and then as a housing adviser for Tower Hamlets Homes.
But Ms Law said her client had only worked at a low level in both jobs, mainly as a call handler, and had no special knowledge of the housing register.
Begum was one of 26 new Labour MPs elected in 2019, winning her seat with a majority of nearly 30,000.
A supporter of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum, she has spoken in Parliament about the impact of coronavirus on ethnic minorities and sits on the Commons education committee.
She is also notable for being the chair of an all-party committee on domestic abuse and violence and has spoken in the House of Commons about being a survivor.
A Tower Hamlets spokesperson said in a statement: ‘We have a duty to investigate any allegations of housing fraud in order to ensure public money is spent correctly and that those waiting on our housing register are treated fairly.
‘After reviewing the evidence with the benefit of independent legal advice, it was found it to be strong enough to bring the matter to court where it was agreed there was a case to answer.
‘We fully accept the verdict, that justice has run its course and that the matter is now closed.’
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