5.45pm update: Greenwich Labour councillor Tonia Ashikodi was spared prison this morning after a judge gave her an 18-month sentence, suspended for two years, for housing fraud.
Judge Benedict Kelleher told the Glyndon ward councillor she had denied a family a council home as he sentenced her at Inner London Crown Court. She will also have to carry out 250 hours of unpaid work.
Ashikodi, 30, resigned from her £10,415/year council role this afternoon. A by-election will take place in Glyndon ward, which covers parts of Plumstead and west Thamesmead, on Thursday 9 April.
She declined to resign after her conviction three weeks ago but the length of her sentence brought her political career to a close. While she could have clung on and appealed against the conviction, she faced criticism from her former colleague, council leader Danny Thorpe, for continuing to stay in post. The court heard her councillor’s allowance was her only income.
Ashikodi was found guilty of two charges of fraud by misrepresentation on 12 February. A jury decided that she had applied for and accepted council housing in Robert Street, Plumstead while owning three other properties; in Epstein Road and Nickleby Close, both in Thamesmead, and at Valiant House, Charlton.
Two days before, the jury had been directed to find both her and her father, Tony Ashikodi, 50, not guilty of perverting the course of justice in relation to a trust deed handed to Greenwich Council’s head of legal, John Scarborough.
Noting that the rental income from Ashikodi’s properties had been paid to her father’s bank account, Judge Kelleher referred to the fact that she had declined to give evidence in the trial. “It may well be a sense of loyalty to your father prevented you from doing so,” he said. The trial had heard that Tony Ashikodi – who was not present in court today – had transferred the three properties to his daughter as he was suffering from end stage diabetes. “As a result of your actions, another family will have lived in temporary accommodation unnecessarily,” he said.
- 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
The judge also noted that she was the mother of three young children – an eight-year-old and five-year-old twins – and that she was the only regular earner in her family. In mitigation, defence counsel Notu Hoon told the judge that her “ostensibly sick” husband was suffering from type 2 diabetes and hypertension, which had made him leave his job.
853 revealed evidence of Ashikodi’s fraud in June 2018, when this website discovered she was the registered owner of the house in Epstein Road, which had not been declared in her role as a councillor.
Addressing the judge, Hoon said that Ashikodi had no other income other than the £10,415 she earned as her councillor’s allowance and that her rent was being paid for out of social security benefits.
“She is now working on an organic skincare venture – she makes the products at home,” Hoon said, adding that the venture currently “runs at a loss”.
Hoon said the court had “sufficient perspicacity to realise where the real fault lies”, referring to Ashikodi’s “filial devotion to her father”. “Apart from Epstein Road, the properties were never seen by her,” he added.
He pressed for a sentence that would not involve a spell in prison, noting that her responsibilities included “the school run” and “taking the children to church”, adding that the court had been sent a reference by the pastor of her church.
“She sought election not to aggrandise her own position, but to serve others,” Hoon said. “She accepts her time in office as a councillor has come to an end. She simply has no means to pay compensation – she has huge liabilities in relation to her husband and children.”
The court heard that the loss to Greenwich Council had been £67,000 – the cost of putting up a family in temporary accommodation in the six years she had lived in Robert Street before being charged. However, prosecution counsel Robert Fitt said that, if market rents were taken into account, the cost to taxpayers could be as high as £90,000.
But after hearing of Ashikodi’s circumstances, and hearing that there were charges on her father’s properties that would mean the council could lose money if it tried to confiscate them, the judge opted not to make a compensation order against her. “I can’t make an order if there are no means to pay it,” he said.
Stood in the dock, Ashikodi had tears in her eyes as the judge said he would not consider her position on the council as an aggravating factor as her election in 2016 had occurred after she had committed the offences. However, he said that her continued occupation of the flat in Robert Street “could be seen as an absence of remorse”.
“Given your current circumstances, you could be entitled to a council tenancy. You are a mother of three, live as a family with your husband, and you are the primary earner. I do not accept that your husband is is unable to assist to a substantial degree in caring for your children,” Judge Kelleher said.
“I accept that your election as a councillor was entirely well-intentioned and demonstrative of a positive side to your character, which is amplified in the references before the court. The sentence you will receive will inevitably bring your career as a councillor to an end.”
“Many might say an example might be made of you,” the judge added. However, he said “to approach the case in that manner would be to ignore to the background” and would also ignore the fact that Ashikodi may have been entitled to a council home for at least some of the period in question.
Ashikodi was warned that she must complete her 250 hours of unpaid work or she could face prison.
‘She should move on for sake of her family’
Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe said after the sentencing: “I’m glad that this case has finally been concluded, and would like to thank the council officers who had to speak in court as witnesses in the case. As an elected councillor, Tonia knows that there are 20,000 households on our housing waiting list and over 1,000 families in temporary accommodation.
“The judge said that, due to her dishonesty, a family has been denied a place in a secure council home for more than seven years.
“Tonia will be disqualified as a councillor 29 days from now if she does not appeal against the sentence. This means we would have to hold a by-election after the London mayoral election, at a significant additional cost. At the sentencing her own defence barrister said that it is clear that her time in office as a councillor must come to an end.
“I am therefore once again calling on Tonia to stand down as a councillor immediately so the residents of her ward can elect someone to represent them as soon as possible. As the judge noted when handing down a suspended sentence – Tonia is a young woman and mother of three children. I hope she accepts the verdict, carries out the community service and moves on from this for the sake of her and her family.”
However, at 5.30pm, the council confirmed she had resigned and a by-election would take place on 9 April – four weeks before the mayoral poll. Thorpe said in a further statement: “I’m glad that Tonia has listened and is standing down now so the residents of Glyndon can elect a new councillor to represent them as soon as possible.”
How the fraud unfolded
Tony Ashikodi transferred the ownership of three properties – in Epstein Road and Nickleby Close, Thamesmead; and Valiant House, Charlton – to his daughter in September 2007, when she was 18.
In October 2008, Tonia Ashikodi applied for council housing, and in May 2012 she was offered and accepted a home in Robert Street, Plumstead.
The jury was shown a number of documents relating to all three of the private properties naming her as the landlord, including a tenancy agreement for Valiant House dated 30 May 2012 – the same day she signed up to move into the council flat at Robert Street. The defence argued that she did not sign the documents herself, and that the properties had been transferred into her name without her knowledge, which is possible under English property law. The prosecution had argued that she owned an empty home the day she signed a document stating that she had nowhere else to live. The home at Valiant House was transferred to another individual a few days later.
Ashikodi was selected as Labour candidate for the Glyndon ward in a by-election, which she won in May 2016. However, in March 2018, a investigation into her property holdings began when Tony Ashikodi applied for a student discount on council tax at the home at Nickleby Close, the jury heard. Checks found the home was registered to his daughter. The houses at Epstein Road and Nickleby Close were transferred to her father after they became aware an investigation was under way.
When she was charged in June 2018, she was suspended from the council’s Labour group, but continued to sit with the party in meetings. The court heard she that remained a member of the party. She also retained her position on the council’s housing scrutiny panel.
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, become a member:
- Join us on Steady at steadyhq.com/853 – donate monthly amounts in pounds
- Find us on PressPatron at presspatron.com/853 – donate monthly or annual amounts in pounds
- We’re also on Patreon at patreon.com/853 – donate monthly amounts in dollars
Want to make a one-off donation? Buy the site editor a coffee (or other beverage) at ko-fi.com.
Thank you for your support – the site would not exist without it.