Trial: John McDonnell is character witness for Poplar MP

Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell has appeared in court as a character witness for Poplar and Limehouse MP Apsana Begum, who is on trial accused of housing fraud.

Begum, 31, has appeared in Snaresbrook Crown Court charged on three counts of dishonestly failing to disclose information in order to make gains for herself or another, or expose another to a loss.

The prosecution alleges she failed to disclose information to Tower Hamlets Council in housing applications between January 2013 and March 2016 in an attempt to jump the housing queue. 

She has “vigorously denied” all the charges. 

They say she claimed to live in an overcrowded three-bedroom house when the property had four bedrooms, and they allege she did not tell the authority when she moved into a new residence with her then-husband Ehtashamul Haque in 2013.

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The court heard she stayed there until March 2014 and moved back to her family home in 2015. She was given a social housing studio flat in Tower Hamlets in March 2016. 

Begum said she called Tower Hamlets Housing Options in 2013 and 2015 to update them on her changing circumstances and thought it would be passed on, but the prosecution said there is no record of this.

She has also said the bids could have been made by her partner, Tower Hamlets councillor Ehtashamul Haque, without her knowledge.

During the trial, the court has heard Begum split from her ex-husband partly due to his “coercive and controlling behaviour”, and has previously reported him for harassing her.

On the fifth day of her trial, Mr McDonnell called her “honest, sincere, and extremely caring”.

He added that had the Labour Party been elected, he would have considered appointing Begum to the role of parliamentary private secretary.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell outside HMP Belmarsh in London, where he is visting Wikileaks found

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell

– Credit: PA

Under cross-examination by the prosecution, Begum said that Mr Haque must have gained the details for the application by finding it in a notebook which she has since lost.

Prosecuting, Mr James Marsland argued that Mr Haque could not have gained an advantage in social housing acting alone.

Mr Marsland asked why he is “making many, many bids for no reason” and Begum replied: “I can’t explain his behaviour.”

He added that although the average waiting time for council housing is three years in Tower Hamlets, Ms Begum received her studio flat within four months.

The trial continues. 

READ MORE: Trial of Poplar and Limehouse MP opens on ‘housing fraud’ charges

READ MORE: Apsana Begum’s ex-husband may be behind housing bids, trial hears

READ MORE: MP reported ex-husband to police for alleged ‘harassment’, trial hears

READ MORE: Poplar MP tells court: ‘I fled home when brother said I was possessed’

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