A Labour MP has been found not guilty of housing fraud.
Apsana Begum, MP for Poplar and Limehouse, was cleared of three charges of dishonestly failing to disclose information relating to her Tower Hamlets council housing application by a jury at Snaresbrook Crown Court.
The 31-year-old collapsed and wept in the dock as the verdicts were announced.
Issuing a statement afterwards, Ms Begum said the trial had caused her “great distress”.
Tower Hamlets Council brought the prosecution, alleging that the cost to the council was £63,928, because someone else on the housing list had to be given accommodation elsewhere.
Ms Begum, who sits on the House of Commons’ education committee, was elected to parliament with a 28,904 majority at the 2019 general election.
The court heard during the trial that the Labour MP has applied to go on Tower Hamlets Council’s social housing register on 22 July 2011 and was placed on the priority housing list after claiming to be living in an “overcrowded” three-bedroom property in Poplar with five members of her family.
The prosecution argued, based on both a housing application made by Ms Begum’s aunt in 2009 and a council tax form submitted by her mother in 2013, that the property actually had four bedrooms.
Prosecutor James Marsland said Ms Begum has deliberately lied about the number of bedrooms in the house in order to move herself higher up the council register.
He added that the Labour MP had failed to disclose that there were only four people living at the address by January 2014 after her father died and her aunt moved out of the property.
But Ms Begum repeatedly claimed there had only ever been three bedrooms in the house and that she had never had her own bedroom.
She added that the events occurred during a period of hardship in her life following her father’s passing and her Bangladeshi-heritage family’s disapproval of her relationship with her then-partner, Tower Hamlets councillor Ehtasham Haque.
The Labour MP’s defence lawyer, Helen Law, claimed a complaint made in 2019 by Mr Haque’s brother-in-law Sayed Nahid Uddin – which triggered the investigation into Ms Begum’s conduct – was “false”.
During the trial, the court heard that Ms Begum left the house in May 2013 due to her family’s hostility towards her desire to marry Mr Haque who was seven years her senior and twice divorced.
Ms Begum said she feared becoming the victim of honour-based violence and had reported her brother to the police after he followed her to work.
The Labour MP told the court her brother locked her in the living room in the same day when she returned home and that he had told her to visit an imam believing she was “possessed”.
Ms Begum said she rang 999 and fled the property with just her handbag. She collected her belongings which were in bin bags outside a few days later.
The MP for Poplar and Limehouse 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.
In a statement following the verdicts, Ms Begum thanked those who stood by her during the trial.
“This case has been driven by malicious intent and has caused me great distress and damage to my reputation,” 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.
“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.”
A Tower Hamlets spokesperson said the council accepted the jury’s verdict.
“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,” a statement released by the council said.
“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.”
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the verdicts.
He posted on social media: “Congratulations. Always knew you to be a woman of amazing strength and fortitude and yet again that has been proven.”
Sir Keir Starmer faces possible probe over claims he put pressure on Speaker over Gaza debate
Sir Keir Starmer is facing a possible parliamentary investigation over allegations he put pressure on the Speaker in a debate on Gaza last week.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle is facing a backlash for allowing a vote on a Labour amendment to an SNP motion calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
Parliamentary convention dictates that there would usually only be a government amendment to an opposition motion, but Sir Lindsay said he selected the Labour amendment to allow as broad a debate as possible.
However, critics within the SNP and the Conservatives have claimed he bowed to pressure from the Labour Party to select the amendment with the aim of staving off a potential rebellion among its MPs who could have voted for the SNP motion if denied the opportunity to vote on their own.
Following the outcry, reports circulated that Sir Keir had put pressure on Sir Lindsay, a Labour MP before taking on the Speaker role, to select his party’s amendment in order to stave off a potential rebellion – thus bringing his impartiality into question.
While Sir Keir has “categorically” denied the claims, Sky News has learned that the Commons leader, Penny Mordaunt, believes there could have been a “breach of privilege” and an investigation is one of a number of potential options being considered.
Asked on Monday if he regretted the way things had panned out, the Labour leader said: “My focus is on the awful situation in Gaza. Not the parliamentary process, the awful situation.
“And we all want to see an end to the thousands of people being killed in Gaza. We want to see those hostages out, and we want a pathway to a peaceful settlement.”
Sir Lindsay has also rejected accusations he was put under pressure by Labour and has insisted the safety of MPs was the main reason for his move. He later issued an emotional apology admitting he had made a “mistake”.
On the prospect of a privileges committee probe – first reported by the Times – a Labour spokesperson said it was “desperate stuff from a Tory party trying to distract from their own troubles by repeating lies about Keir Starmer”.
Sir Lindsay is facing a battle to save his job following the debacle, which has led to the SNP – the third largest party in the Commons – losing confidence in him.
A total of 81 SNP and Conservative MPs have now signed a petition of no confidence in Sir Lindsay.
The SNP’s anger was stoked further when the Speaker rejected an application from the SNP for an emergency debate over a ceasefire in Gaza – something Sir Lindsay himself had proposed as an olive branch following the scenes last week.
Sir Lindsay said the government planned to “make a relevant statement” around the situation in Gaza on Tuesday, meaning there would be a “very relevant opportunity for this matter to come before the House”.
But the SNP’s Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn, accused parliament of “failing the people of Gaza by blocking a vote on the urgent actions the UK government must take to help make an immediate ceasefire happen”.
“The Speaker broke the rules last week – and this week he has broken his word,” he said.
“How can MPs have any trust in the Speaker when he makes a public commitment one minute, only to rip it up the next?
“If 30,000 dead Palestinians aren’t worthy of an emergency debate, what is?”
Labour’s role in last week’s saga came back into focus this week following an interview shadow minister Chris Bryant gave on Channel 4 News, in which he admitted to filibustering – a delaying tactic – ahead of the opposition day debate to allow Sir Keir and the Speaker time to talk.
The SNP’s Kirsty Blackman said Starmer’s party had been “caught red-handed following the admission by Chris Bryant”.
“There must now be a full, independent investigation into the appalling behaviour of Keir Starmer and his colleagues, who are no better than the Tories when it comes to manipulating the broken Westminster system,” she said.
MPs set to debate Gaza ceasefire again as SNP take up Speaker’s offer after Commons chaos
MPs are set to hold another debate on a ceasefire in Gaza after the SNP said it would take up the Speaker’s offer following last week’s chaotic scenes in parliament.
It comes after Sir Lindsay Hoyle faced a backlash last week for breaching convention by allowing a vote on a Labour amendment to an SNP opposition motion calling for an immediate halt to the fighting.
His move was interpreted by critics as an “overtly political decision” designed to help Sir Keir Starmer fend off a rebellion from his own backbenchers, and there were angry scenes as both SNP and Conservative MPs stormed out of the Commons chamber in protest.
Sir Lindsay denied the claims and insisted the safety of MPs was the main reason for his move.
But he apologised twice and offered to grant an emergency debate on a fresh ceasefire motion in acknowledgement that MPs never got a chance to vote on the SNP’s amendment amid the chaos.
The party’s wording last week called for the release of all hostages held by Hamas, but also accused Israel of the war crime of “collective punishment” of the Palestinian people – which Labour’s amendment did not do.
On Sunday the SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn confirmed he would take up the debate offer and table a motion this week that will press the Commons to back “concrete actions” to achieve an end to the fighting via pressure at the United Nations.
He said: “More than 29,000 Palestinian children, women and men have been killed, huge swathes of Gaza have been obliterated, and the population faces a worsening humanitarian crisis.
“The SNP will seek to refocus the discussion away from the Westminster circus and on to what really matters – doing everything we can to actually secure an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and Israel.”
Mr Flynn added: “While the appalling spectacle at Westminster has been deeply unedifying, some progress has been made. Public and SNP pressure has forced the next prime minister, Sir Keir Starmer, into a U-turn – now we need to work together to force the UK government to change its position too.”
The SNP said it would publish details of its new motion following discussions with the Speaker on the terms of the debate.
However, it is not clear what the format of the debate will be and if the SNP will be allowed to force a vote.
Sir Lindsay’s offer on Thursday came under the Standing Order 24 rule of the Commons – which grants an emergency debate for MPs to “consider” a topic – which may not be enough to satisfy the party.
More than 70 MPs have signed a no confidence motion in Sir Lindsay following last week’s scenes.
Critics of the Speaker included Mr Flynn, who said last week that his position was “untenable” and said he “no longer retains the confidence of SNP MPs”.
Meanwhile a fresh debate on the issue could renew and heighten divisions within Labour over its stance on the war.
Labour’s amendment last week called for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” but avoided accusing Israel of war crimes.
Israel has faced growing criticism of its actions in Gaza and there are fears over civilian causalities if it launches a ground offensive in the southern Gazan city of Rafah, where around 1.4 million Palestinians have sought refuge.
More than 29,000 Palestinians have died, according to the Hamas-run healthy ministry in the region, since Israel launched its latest military action in Gaza last year.
It came following Hamas’s attack on 7 October, in which around 1,200 people were killed, including more than 800 civilians, according to Israeli officials.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) last month called on Israel to do everything in its power to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza – but stopped short of ordering an end to its offensive.
Tory MPs believe Lee Anderson suspension was a mistake, leaked WhatsApps reveal
Tory MPs have complained that suspending Lee Anderson may have been a mistake, WhatsApp messages leaked to Sky News have revealed.
After one of the most toxic weeks in Westminster, the Sky News and Politico podcast, Politics at Jack and Sam’s, examines the attitude of all sides to the controversies of the last few days.
The future of Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, remains in the balance – the podcast explains – while both Labour and Tory MPs have got increasingly trenchant in their views ahead of a by-election in Rochdale this Friday which could see George Galloway elected.
Rishi Sunak suspended Mr Anderson on Saturday after the former Tory deputy chair failed to apologise for telling GB News that the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, had “given our capital city away to his mates”.
Simon Hart, the Tory chief whip, suspended him the next day.
As part of this, the podcast exclusively obtained WhatsApp messages in which Tory MPs complain that the suspension of the high-profile Tory MP is the “final nail in the coffin” and will harm support.
The WhatsApp forum is called the “109 group” of Tory MPs elected in 2019.
Julie Marson shared a news story showing Nigel Farage calling on “cancelled” Lee Anderson to join the Reform party and “destroy” the Tories.
Her colleague Tom Hunt replied: “This isn’t good at all.”
Jill Mortimer shared messages from constituents saying that they would not vote Tory again and that “Lee Anderson’s suspension is the final nail in the party’s coffin”.
Sarah Dines reinforced this, saying she’s had “loads” of similar messages from “random” constituents, not known supporters.
Sarah Atherton said she’d lodged her concerns about Mr Anderson “due to an instant backlash from members”.
Peter Gibson then says the “inbox [is] very positive for Lee”.
Mr Farage, the founder of Reform, has said that Mr Anderson should defect to the party but Richard Tice, the current leader, pointed out that Mr Farage is not the leader.
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