Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe has said he is “frustrated” by disgraced Labour councillor Tonia Ashikodi’s refusal to resign from her £10,415-a-year position on the council despite her conviction for housing fraud.
Ashikodi, who represents Glyndon ward, has so far not stood down from the council, two weeks after she was found guilty of two counts of fraud. Greenwich Council says she cost local taxpayers £67,000 after applying for and accepting a council home in Robert Street, Plumstead while owning three other homes in the borough.
Her conviction does not yet disqualify her from the council. Councillors heard on Wednesday night that her future on the council will depend on the length of her sentence and whether or not she appeals against it. She will be sentenced on Wednesday at Inner London Crown Court.
853 revealed evidence of Ashikodi’s fraud in June 2018, when this website discovered she was the registered owner of a house in Thamesmead which had not been declared in her role as a councillor. It later emerged she also owned a second property in Thamesmead and a flat in Charlton.
“I share the frustrations of everyone who has called for her resignation but the council has no powers to remove her,” Thorpe said in a written response to Conservative leader Matt Hartley.
- 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
- Day 6: ‘Political colluding’ could have led to councillor’s fraud trial
- Day 7: Greenwich councillor guilty of housing fraud
Thorpe said he had written to the 30-year-old councillor to ask her to stand down, which would enable a by-election to be held – possibly on the same date as May’s mayoral election.
She will be disqualified from office if she is sentenced to three months or more – even a suspended sentence would force her out. However, she will then have 28 days to appeal, and she could remain a councillor – and continue to draw her allowance – for the duration of any appeal.
She did not attend last night’s full council meeting, which began with the ceremonial mayor Mick Hayes warning councillors that “this situation remains ongoing”.
“Both the conviction and the sentence are subject to the right of appeal,” he said, outlining the situation.
“At this time Councillor Ashikodi remains a councillor of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, and the council has no legal powers to disqualify her. The situation is being kept under review and a statement will be issued after sentencing and when the appeal deadline has passed.”
Later in the meeting, the Conservative leader Matt Hartley – who has also called for Ashikodi to stand down – asked if there was any more Thorpe or his Labour colleagues could do.
“I know everybody will agree with me on this, it really is intolerable that she is still a councillor,” Hartley said. (watch here)
Thorpe told Hartley: “I don’t think there’s anything more I can do at this stage. I’m not in contact with Councillor Ashikodi. Clearly my letter has gone and has hopefully been received. Until the sentencing happens no further action can be taken.
“I’m not in a position to comment on what the Labour Party nationally may or may not be able to do.”
Thorpe was not asked why Ashikodi still sat with Labour councillors in meetings despite having been suspended from the group when she was charged in June 2018.
During the trial, jurors heard that an investigation into Ashikodi’s possible property ownership had been under way since March 2018 – three months before she was charged. The then-housing cabinet member Averil Lekau’s name was mentioned in connection with a leak of this investigation to the left-wing website Skwawkbox, which later used it in a story about “centrist council leader” Thorpe. The website has close connections with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party.
Thorpe said in the written response: “The media outlet were asked to reveal their source at the time of the initial enquiry and refused to do so. At the same time, council officers carried out an investigation but were unable to identify the source of the information.”
He also said the council was restricted in the information it could gather on council tenants to see if they were telling the truth when they said they owned no property.
“There are limits to the council’s powers to make reasonable and proportionate enquiries when assessing a person’s entitlement to housing. As an example, the council does not have the power to make speculative enquiries of HM Land Registry regarding an individual’s property ownership except in the course of a criminal investigation,” he said.
“All applicants are made aware of their legal obligation to ensure that they provide truthful accurate information and don’t withhold relevant information. Failure to comply with these requirements will result in prosecution and proceedings to recover possession of any property fraudulently obtained.”
The trial heard that the council had begun proceedings to repossess the home Ashikodi illegally obtained in Robert Street.
On site at Robert Street to see the construction of our brand new, modular built council properties: four 2 bed homes that are zero-carbon, energy efficient, with air source heat pumps. #GreenwichBuilds pic.twitter.com/c8K7nGeH0K
— Chris Kirby (@ccakirby) February 27, 2020
By coincidence, the current housing cabinet member, Chris Kirby, yesterday launched the start of work on the borough’s new council house-building programme – also in Robert Street.
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