A Greenwich Labour councillor was the landlord of a house which was “infested by rats” while occupying a council home in Plumstead, a jury heard today.
Tonia Ashikodi wrote to a tenant requesting possession of the home in Nickleby Close, Thamesmead, from 1 October 2014 to enable repairs to be carried out, the prosecution said. The letter was signed by her as a landlord, and was found in the records of Greenwich Council’s housing benefit office.
The Glyndon ward councillor, who was first elected in 2016 and sits on the housing scrutiny panel, had been living in a council property in Robert Street, Plumstead, since 2012. She is alleged to have owned three properties while applying for and accepting council housing.
Ashkodi, 30, is charged with two counts of fraud by false representation in applications to Greenwich Council for housing in October 2008 and May 2012, which she denies. With her father Tony, 50, she is also charged with committing an act intended to pervert the course of justice in May 2018. Both daughter and father deny this charge.
The defendants insist that Tonia Ashikodi was merely holding the properties in trust for her father. Jurors were told today that both prosecution and defence agree that all bills on the properties had been paid by Tony Ashikodi or private tenants.
- Day 1: Greenwich councillor lied about owning homes, fraud trial told
- Day 2: Greenwich Council boss ‘sought to protect councillor from press’
- Day 3: Councillor’s father ‘kept kidney disease from daughter’
The fourth day of evidence in the trial saw Mark Rowe, an investigator in Greenwich Council’s fraud department, give evidence.
Robert Fitt, for the prosecution, produced a tenancy agreement from June 2011 letting out the Nickleby Close property for £850 per month, along with associated council tax documentation, in which the landlord was given as Tonia Ashikodi, who was said to have been living in Epstein Road, Thamesmead, at the time.
He also produced a letter to the tenant received by Greenwich Council’s housing benefit department in September 2014, requesting the property be taken back.
“I request possession of the property from 1 October 2014 to enable repairs to be carried out,” the letter read. “You will agree the property is infested by rats,” it said, adding that the property suffered from burst pipes and electrical faults. The letter was signed “T Ashikodi, landlord”.
“We have seen the name of the landlord given on the tenancy agreement as Tonia Ashikodi?”, Fitt asked. “Correct,” responded Rowe.
The jury was also shown a number of tenancy agreements for properties which had been submitted to Greenwich’s housing benefit department.
A previous tenancy agreement for Nickleby Close, dated 6 January 2008, was signed by Tonia Ashikodi and gave her address as being in Elder Road, West Norwood. The agreement lasted for 12 months, but Ashikodi’s application for a council home was dated October 2008. The jury has previously heard that she said in that application that she had been living with her aunt in an overcrowded flat in Glenalvon Way, Woolwich, since 2001.
Council tax phone call
Another tenancy agreement, for the home in Epstein Road, was signed the day after the date on her form applying for council housing. This agreement gave a Nottingham address for Ashikodi. The tenancy term ran until 3 April 2009.
“The jury will know Miss Ashikodi’s application for housing was received on 17 April 2009, the same month as the tenancy would have ended,” Fitt said.
Jurors were also shown a tenancy agreement for a flat in Valiant House, Charlton, beginning on 1 June 2012, with the landlord’s name given as Tonia Ashikodi, with her address given as Epstein Road. Jurors have also heard that she signed her own tenancy agreement with Greenwich Council two days before that, and that she transferred the Valiant House flat to another individual later the same month.
Rowe was also taken through a transcript of a phone call from Tony Ashikodi, who called Greenwich Council’s contact centre on 17 May 2018, at 3.22pm. He was asking if he could register for council tax, and told the call operator that his daughter had been “in charge” but now he was back to “take charge”.
“I was sick, dealing with kidney and dialysis, but I am well now,” he told the operator, adding that he had been poisoned in Africa.
Rowe said the investigation into Tonia Ashikodi’s property affairs began on 8 March 2018, when it was initially suspected she had been overpaid housing benefit. He told Adam Gersch, representing Tony Ashikodi, that it began after Mr Ashikodi, who was studying for a PhD, submitted a student certificate “in relation to a house at Nickleby Close”. “From the checks undertaken by the council tax team, they had concerns that the identified owner of the property was Tonia Ashikodi,” he said.
Under cross-examination by Notu Hoon, for Tonia Ashikodi, Rowe said he had visited both the Epstein Road and Nickleby Close properties on 19 May 2018. Tony Ashikodi was at Epstein Road, while the Nickleby Close property was unoccupied with post piling up.
Gersch put to it Rowe, who had been in charge of filing the council’s documents to the court, that documents showing Tony Ashikodi had been paying bills on the properties had not been submitted by Greenwich Council – which is the prosecutor in this case – until August 2019, two months after the case was originally due to begin.
“The properties were, on the face of it, still in the name of [Tonia Ashikodi],” Rowe responded. “In terms of the housing application, the question was asked whether or not you own a property. The question doesn’t ask about beneficial interest, and clearly from the entries on the register, it showed that Tonia was the registered owner of those two properties.”
When it was put to Rowe that a witness from the Land Registry had said that beneficial interests do not need to be recorded on the register, he replied: “Housing only asks if you own a property.”
Gersch said: “Is it the case that you have cherry-picked all the evidence which assists the prosecution’s case, but have been less than forthcoming about evidence that point to my client’s complete innocence?”
Rowe responded: “I don’t agree with that assertion.”
The case, before Judge Benedict Kelleher, resumes on Monday.
Warning: 853 was the only media outlet represented today at the trial. On behalf of the readers who fund this website’s journalism, we will pursue any outlet plagiarising this story or using elements without credit.
853 produces public interest journalism for Greenwich and SE London and is part-funded by its readers. If you would like to help keep it running, please…
– NEW! Join our new membership scheme – now there’s need to pay in dollars. Sign up at presspatron.com/853
– switch power supplier! Low-cost renewable Bulb energy will pay you and this site £50 each if you switch
– buy the author a coffee at ko-fi.com
– find us on Patreon at www.patreon.com/853.