A Labour MP appeared in court for the first time yesterday at the beginning of her trial for fraud.
Apsana Begum, the Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse, began her trial yesterday after she was accused of housing fraud allegations. It is alleged that Ms Begum hid her living conditions in order to get a council flat from 2013 and 2016.
Ms Begum was given a flat on the Isle of Dogs. The Tower Hamlets authorities are claiming that the MP caused the Council to lose £64,000 due to her claims. It is also alleged that she used her connections as a housing advisor to gain access to housing out of turn. Ms Begum was able to gain a flat in four months, compared to the usual three year queue.
The MP claimed that that she was living in overcrowded conditions. She was living in a four-bedroom house at the time, with three other people.
Begum claims that the Council knew of her living conditions when the claims were made.
Ms Begum said when the charges were brought: “I am vigorously contesting these charges. The ongoing legal proceedings mean that I cannot and will not be making any further public comment during this process. I want to thank my lawyers and supporters at this difficult time.”
The prosecution said in court:
“The basis of her application was that she was living in overcrowded conditions in her family home. In making the application, Ms Begum was under an ongoing duty to inform the relevant department of London Borough of Tower Hamlets of any changes in her circumstances. The Prosecution case is that over three distinct periods of time, Ms Begum deliberately and dishonestly did not inform London Borough Tower Hamlets Housing Options of significant changes in her circumstances. The Prosecution say the reason she didn’t tell London Borough of Tower Hamlets Housing Options was that she knew that, if she did, it would negatively affect her application.”
On her the strength of her defence, the prosecution said: “She withheld the information in order to gain a social housing tenancy. The defence response, in a sentence, is that at no point was she acting dishonestly.
“She said she kept London Borough of Tower Hamlets informed as best she could, including whilst going through some difficult moments in her life, including in relation to her family and partner. Ms Begum worked for Tower Hamlets Homes, a public organisation set up specifically to work with London Borough of Tower Hamlets in relation to social housing. Ms Begum worked in roles including as a housing advisor. The position of housing advisor was to provide a first point of contact for residents contacting Tower Hamlets Homes. The prosecution say that, in undertaking that role, Ms Begum must have had a good understanding of the social housing system and how it operated.
“Indeed, investigation into her work e-mail accounts held with London Borough of Tower Hamlets showed examples of her working in relation to queries specifically related to banding, including overcrowding, as early as 2012.”
The trial is expected to continue for a further week.