Labour MP Apsana Begum found not guilty of housing fraud

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 (PA)
(PA)

Labour MP Apsana Begum broke down in tears in the dock after she was found not guilty of housing fraud.

Ms Begum, 31, was accused of concealing her true living conditions from town hall officials in an effort to secure a social housing flat.

But the MP, elected in 2019, insisted she faced a “vexatious” prosecution which was “driven by malicious intent”.

At Snaresbrook crown court, jurors found Ms Begum not guilty of three charges of dishonestly failing to disclose information relating to her Tower Hamlets council housing application, during three periods between January 2013 and March 2016.

The Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse in east London collapsed and wept in the dock as the not guilty verdicts were delivered.

In a statement after her acquittal, Ms Begum said: "This case has been driven by malicious intent and has caused me great distress and damage to my reputation.

"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.

"I also thank the jury for vindicating me, and the judge for presiding over this trial. I will be consulting and considering how to follow up so that something like this doesn't happen again to anyone else.

"I would now like to get on with my job of representing my constituents - opposing the negligent Covid decisions made by (Prime Minister Boris) Johnson's reckless Tory Government which has caused so many families to lose loved ones who should still be with us today and so much hardship that could have been avoided.

"My comrades and friends, in Poplar and Limehouse, and beyond, have stood by me, I have and will always stand by them."

The court heard Ms Begum first made an application for housing to Tower Hamlets Council in 2011, when she was living at her overcrowded family home.

She was placed on the priority housing list after saying she was living in a three-bedroom house in Poplar with five members of her family and without her own room.

When she left the property in May 2013 to live with her then-partner, Tower Hamlets councillor Ehtasham Haque, when she said her family had grown hostile towards her relationship with 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.

It was alleged Ms Begum had failed to declare her change in circumstances, costing the council £63,928 by retaining her ‘high-priority’ housing status.

Prosecutors claims Ms Begum had been aware of housing register policies due to her experience working in the town mayor’s office and then as a housing adviser for Tower Hamlets Homes.

But Ms Begum’s defence lawyer, Helen Law said the MP had only worked at a low level in both jobs, mainly as a call handler, and had no special knowledge of the housing register.

Ms Law also suggested the complaint which triggered the investigation of Begum had been made by Sayed Nahid Uddin – Mr Haque’s brother-in-law – and was “false”.

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