“Political colluding” could have resulted in a Greenwich Labour councillor being charged with housing fraud, a jury heard today.
Summing up in the trial of Tonia Ashikodi, the Glyndon ward councillor who is facing two charges of fraud, her defence counsel Notu Hoon referred to an allegation that council housing data had been breached. He also suggested that tenancy agreements in Ashikodi’s name may not have been signed by her.
Ashikodi, 30, is accused of applying for and accepting a council home in Robert Street, Plumstead, while owning three homes – two in Thamesmead and one in Charlton. She is on trial on two charges of fraud by false representation in applications to Greenwich Council for housing on 2 October 2008 and 30 May 2012. She denies both charges, and the defence has insisted that she was only holding the homes on trust for her father, Tony, 50, who was receiving rent and paying the bills on the properties.
Both she and her father have already been cleared of a separate charge of perverting the course of justice, with Tony Ashikodi walking free from court yesterday.
Tonia Ashikodi has chosen not to give evidence in the trial, which is being heard by Judge Benedict Kelleher.
- 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’
- Day 4: Councillor ‘let out rat-infested house while a council tenant’
- Day 5: Councillor and father cleared of perverting course of justice
Inner London Crown Court has already heard that Greenwich Council had suspected a data breach after a left-wing website, Skwawkbox, made a press enquiry about a confidential investigation into Ashikodi’s housing affairs in May 2018.
Summing up the defence case for the jury, Hoon said: “Tonia Ashikodi is of good character with no reprimands. She has a very important role, she is a councillor.
“Do you think there might have been some political colluding in this case? You have heard about the data breach. You’ve even heard the name of the person suspected, although not charged.”
The trial heard last week that there had been an investigation into a potential data breach alleged to have involved Averil Lekau, the Thamesmead Moorings councillor who was then the housing cabinet member, who was described as “not fond of Ms Ashikodi” by a defence counsel. Lekau, who is now in charge of health and adult social care, has not been called as a witness in this case.
Hoon also questioned the signatures on the tenancy agreements and other documents which have been produced as evidence. “There’s no evidence that any of the signatures on the shorthold tenancies are hers,” he said, and suggested Ashikodi was unaware the properties had even been transferred to her.
“Where is the evidence to show that on 2 October 2008 and 30 May 2012 Tonia Ashikodi knew that the properties had been transferred to her name? In order to be dishonest, you must know that you own the property,” he said.
‘Not a jot of evidence’
Pointing out Ashikodi’s age when the properties were transferred into her name, Hoon told the jury: “She was just 18. You will be concerned as to what she could or know about those matters at that age – when I was that age I knew less than nothing, a woman of that age wouldn’t have a clue what was going on.”
Hoon also claimed that Greenwich Council’s director of housing, Jamie Carswell, was not present for a meeting that the chief executive, Debbie Warren, had with Ashikodi, as both he and Warren had told the court. “We accept there were meetings, but not with Mr Carswell, he was not present as he says he was. He was walking out of Ms Warren’s office at the time, he didn’t stick around because he was having discussions with Berkeley Homes.”
Questioning Warren’s evidence, he said: “It’s what Ms Warren’s recollection was – everybody’s fallible, it may be she was mistaken about it, it may be she was lying about it.”
“There is not a jot of evidence that she had any financial relationship with any of the three properties,” he said.
‘Her property was sitting empty’
For the prosecution, Robert Fitt showed the jury Ashikodi’s application for council housing from October 2008, and the question asking if she owned any residential property.
“It’s a matter for you what that means but I suggest that is perfectly clear and straightforward – the answer to that question ought to have been yes, because we know that Ms Ashikodi did own three properties,” he said.
Even if she was only holding the properties in trust, he said, “this question doesn’t ask about that, it just asks if you own residential properties. There is a space below, she could have said ‘I have property in my name but I hold them in trust for my father’, but she did not, and that is what an ordinary and decent person would have done.”
“I would suggest to you that what Ms Ashikodi has done on this form is at the very least misleading. You will have heard she would have not been entitled to a council property if she had owned three properties, and her application would have been suspended while the council mounted an investigation.”
Fitt told the jury that on the same day that Ashikodi had signed a tenancy agreement to obtain her flat in Plumstead, 30 May 2012, her name also appeared on a tenancy agreement letting out a flat at Valiant House in Charlton from 1 June 2012.
“This suggests on the same day she signed her tenancy, she rented out one of the properties she owned to someone else. That suggests the property at Valiant House was empty on 30 May but ready for someone to move on 1 June. On the face of it, that property she owned was sitting empty waiting for someone to live there,” he said.
“She had three properties and one was ready and waiting for someone to move in.”
‘She does not have an answer’
Referring to a trust deed signed in May 2018 stating that she had owned homes in Nickleby Close and Epstein Road, Thamesmead on behalf of her father since 2007, he added: “This doesn’t talk about Valiant House, which she owned when she signed both of the two forms in this case.
“How does Ms Ashikodi explain Valiant House? She doesn’t. She’s not given evidence, you haven’t had an explanation from her on Valiant House. From the evidence, she was the owner of that property, and there is nothing to suggest she was not the beneficial owner of that property.”
Pointing out that the trust deed contradicted evidence that Ashikodi had told senior council officers in May 2018 that the properties had only been transferred to her a few weeks before, Fitt said: “Whatever way you look, Ms Ashikodi has lied. You will know you are not dealing with an honest individual.”
Ms Ashikodi had also declined an interview with council officers when she was being investigated by them, Fitt added. “You know that the lady you are trying is an elected councillor of the borough. You may think therefore that she would be very keen to co-operate and set out her stall to you.
“You are not dealing with someone shy and retiring and scared of public speaking, she is a councillor and that comes with the role. The only reason she is not giving evidence is that she does not have an answer that would stand up to scrutiny. She can’t answer the questions a barrister would ask her if she went into the witness box.”
The jury spent 25 minutes deliberating before being sent home for the night. They will resume their deliberations on Wednesday morning.
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