By Manal Ahmed | Political Editor
Apsana Begum, Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse, was cleared of three counts of housing fraud on Friday, July 30.
Begum was accused of filing false applications to gain social housing between January and May 2013, May 2013 and March 2014, and October 2015 and March 2016. During the first period, Ms. Begum was said to have attempted at gaining social housing by claiming she lived in an overcrowded three-bedroom home.
At Snaresbrook Crown Court, she described the events occurring during a difficult period in her life. Her father had just passed away and her family disapproved of her budding relationship with her future husband, Ehtasham Haque – a Tower Hamlets councillor.
Begum told the court she fled her family’s home in May 2013, after her brother had followed her to work and locked her in the living room when she returned. She called 999, explaining her fears she may experience honour-based violence.
Upon moving into her then-husband’s residence in 2014, allegedly without informing the council, Begum informed the court of her financial dependency on her husband and described him as a “controlling and coercive” figure. Begum expressed her “shock” at seeing the applications in her name.
After the results, Begum released a statement on Twitter, expressing that the case had been “driven by malicious intent”, which had caused “great distress” and damage to her reputation. Ms. Begum went on to say that “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.”
Among those who congratulated Begum were fellow MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn. Claudia Webbe, Zarah Sultana and Diane Abbott were among the many calling for an investigation into the council itself.
Calls for an investigation into Tower Hamlets council
A recent article by Shami Chakrabarti of the Guardian has kickstarted calls by members of the public and MPs to investigate the Tower Hamlets council.
Chakrabarti exposed strange details behind the investigation that occurred shortly after Begum was selected to be an MP, such as the complaint being lodged by the brother-in-law of Mr. Haque, Begum’s ex-husband.
Mr. Haque denied ever behaving in a “controlling” manner towards her and expressed that their separation “had been amicable” on Twitter after the trial. However, Chakrabarti explained, this does not explain his decision to campaign against her as the parliamentary Labour candidate for Poplar and Limehouse.
The fervour to which this case was dealt with may also have encouraged the significant Islamophobic, sexist and racist abuse Begum experienced.
The abuse was prominent enough that Justice Whipple issued warnings for her protection, including the omission of Begum’s address from the charge details.
A spokesman for the Tower Hamlets council stated, “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.”
They went on to say: “We fully accept the verdict, that justice has run its course and that the matter is now closed.”
However, the investigation has raised concerns over the true independence of bureaucratic organisations from politicians and public figures and whether they can be trusted when investigating “imprisonable offences.”
As Shami Chakrabarti stated, “Begum’s true crime may have been that she was a left-wing Muslim female MP.”
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