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.”