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Apsana Begum MP cleared of fraud

27th Aug 2021
Apsana Begum MP cleared of fraud

Photo: Apsana Begum (Credit: David Woolfall/UK Parliament)

Elham Asaad Buaras

Labour MP Apsana Begum was cleared of housing fraud on July 30. Begum, 31, who represents the constituency of Poplar and Limehouse, was accused of three counts of making dishonest applications for council homes to Tower Hamlets Council.

She told Snaresbrook Crown Court her “controlling” husband was in charge of her finances and she was “shocked” to discover the paperwork was in her name. Begum said the accusations had been “driven by malicious intent.”

Begum fled her family home in 2013 after an argument during which her brother claimed she was “possessed”, leading her to fear honour-based violence. Not only a survivor of domestic abuse, but Begum has also been the victim of sexist, racist and Islamophobic abuse online since the case against her began 18 months ago.

The court heard Ms Begum, who won her seat in the 2019 general election, had applied to go on the council’s social housing register on July 22, 2011.

Her charges related to separate periods, between January 18 and May 21, 2013; May 21, 2013, and March 23, 2014, and October 28, 2015, and March 21, 2016.

It is alleged Begum attempted to gain social housing in the first period by claiming she lived in an overcrowded three-bedroom house, making her a higher priority in the social housing queue.

However, according to a social housing application made in 2009 by her aunt, the house had four bedrooms.
Begum maintained there had only ever been three bedrooms in the house, and that she had never had her own bedroom while living there.

She later moved into a different property with her then-partner Ehtashamul Haque without informing the council where she lived for over two years. Begum claims Haque was “controlling and coercive” and took over her finances.
During this period, bids for housing were made in Begum’s name, bids she denied making.

“I’m shocked to see these records,” she told the court. Commenting on her acquittal, 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-19 decisions made by 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.”

In a statement to The Muslim News, a spokesman for Tower Hamlets Council said it is duty-bound “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 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.”

Begum was represented by Raj Chada, Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, who added, “I am delighted that Apsana has been found not guilty. Prosecutors and investigators need to better understand and consider how victims of coercive control and domestic abuse behave and how they are treated by the criminal justice system.

“Thankfully, Apsana can continue serving her constituents and highlighting the issues that are important to them.”

Labour MPs swiftly rallied to Begum’s defence, saying she had endured heightened criticism during the court battle due to her sex and religion.

Imran Hussain, Shadow Employment Rights Minister, said she faced “sexist, racist and Islamophobic abuse” as she fought to clear her name. Grahame Morris, the MP for Easington, said she had been the “victim of a malicious, politically motivated prosecution that has sadly generated much online abuse against her, causing much needless distress and discomfort.”

The former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, tweeted his congratulations, writing: “I always knew you to be a woman of amazing strength and fortitude, and yet again that has been proven.”

The former Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, said he had been proud to give testimony in support of Begum in court – and did it “because, in my opinion, this young woman has displayed integrity, sincerity and dedication to upholding what is right all the time I have known her.”

He called her an “excellent MP and a superb socialist,” echoing praise from the former Shadow Justice Secretary, Richard Burgon, who said he was “very pleased for my friend and comrade Apsana. Throughout all of this, and everything said about her, she has never stopped working for her community and for what is right and standing up for her principles.”

Others also sent messages of solidarity, including the former deputy leadership contender, Dawn Butler. She said that as a domestic abuse survivor, she should be truly admired and that to have had that exposed in public “compounds that abuse.” She urged Begum to “take time out to rest and recuperate.”

Sarah Champion, Chair of the Commons Select Committee on International Development, said Begum could hold her head high and added, “I’m, so deeply sorry for what you have had to endure.”

Questions were raised over the decision to launch legal action against Begum.

Jon Trickett, another former frontbencher, said there were “serious questions about this flawed prosecution” that needed answering in light of Begum being cleared of wrongdoing. Nazir Afzal, a former regional chief prosecutor, also said Begum had confided in both him and the council that she was the victim of domestic and “honour”-based abuse, but that the local authority’s decision to proceed with the case had been proven to be “a waste of public money.”

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