Labour MP on trial for housing fraud weeps as she describes fleeing family home
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A Labour MP accused of housing fraud wept in court as she described the “traumatic” moment she called police and fled her family home after an argument with her brother during which he claimed she was possessed.
Apsana Begum, 31, who is on trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court, said she went to a police station on May 21 2013 out of fear she could become the victim of honour-based violence after her brother followed her to work.
On the same day, the Poplar and Limehouse MP said an argument erupted at her family home in east London when her brother locked her in the living room.
He thought I was possessed and said he wanted me to get checked
She said: “He told me he wanted me to see an imam because I wasn’t registering their concern about (her partner) Ehtashamul (Haque).
“He thought I was possessed and said he wanted me to get checked.
“I refused and said I’m not under a spell, this is my choice and I just wanted them to support me. But he started reciting the Koran. He had his hand over my head.
“I started shouting for my mum but she wasn’t responding. I didn’t know what was going to happen next.
“I thought he might beat me up.”
Begum said she managed to call 999 and when officers arrived she fled with only her handbag.
A court clerk passed Begum tissues as she said she had to collect her belongings which her family had placed in black bin bags outside their house on Woodstock Terrace.
Giving evidence on Monday wearing a white shirt and grey headscarf, Begum told the jury her Bangladeshi-heritage family disapproved of her relationship with Mr Haque, who is now a Tower Hamlets councillor.
Begum met Mr Haque while doing a community leadership post-graduate diploma. He was seven years older and had been married twice before, and her family did not see him as a suitable match for her.
She denies three counts of housing fraud for allegedly withholding information about her living circumstances to jump the queue for a council house between January 2013 and March 2016.
Tower Hamlets Council, which is bringing the prosecution, alleged it cost the local authority £63,928.
Begum is accused of not notifying the council that she was no longer living in overcrowded accommodation – as she claimed when she applied for social housing – after she moved in with Mr Haque.
She claims she rang the council to notify it for council tax purposes and believed it would share the information.
She said it was a period of “turmoil” due to the breakdown of her relationship with her family and having lost her father months before.
Begum also claims Mr Haque was “controlling and coercive” and had taken over her “matters and affairs”.
“We had started a new life together – it wasn’t easy but it’s what we had chosen. He said he would tell everyone,” she added.
During an interview with the council’s fraud investigations team on January 21 2020, a transcript of which was read out in court, she said: “I was going through a lot of turmoil at the time, escaping from an abusive situation and later on realising he (Mr Haque) was very, very abusive.
“He told me he was handling my matters and affairs. He had my details, bank details, he was making transfers and all that.”
In response to evidence that her account had been making bids for houses while she was known to be living with Mr Haque, she denied making the bids and said: “I’m shocked to see these records.”
Asked if the bids could have been made by Mr Haque, Begum said: “It must have been him. He had access to the accounts.”
Last week, Begum’s defence lawyer Helen Law said investigators failed to “join the dots”, including that the complaint about her applications in 2019 was made by a relative of Mr Haque, Sayed Nahid Uddin.
She said she split with Mr Haque after he cheated on her in mid-2016. She added that she had also become concerned that he had a drinking problem.
In November 2016, Begum called police to report that Mr Haque had been following her from her workplace in his car, after constantly calling and texting her.
The prosecution says Begum attempted to gain social housing at first by claiming she lived in an overcrowded three-bedroom house with her family and did not have a bedroom of her own, which made her a higher priority in the queue.
However, according to a social housing application made in 2009 by Begum’s aunt, the house had four bedrooms. Begum insists there were only three when she lived there.
Prosecutor James Marsland claimed she “must have had a good understanding of the social housing system and how it operated” because she worked for Tower Hamlets Homes (THH), a public organisation working with the council to arrange social housing, between October 28 2013 and August 3 2016.
The MP, who sits on the Commons Education Committee, entered Parliament with a 28,904 majority in the 2019 election.