Tower Hamlets councillor jailed for housing tenancy fraud while owning properties
PUBLISHED: 18:38 27 October 2016 | UPDATED: 11:52 29 October 2016
A councillor once part of Lutfur Rahman's corrupt administration at Tower Hamlets has today been sentenced to five months in prison for housing fraud.
The conviction means Shahed Ali is no longer eligible to remain a councillor after pleading guilty at Snaresbrook Crown Court.
He denied the charges against him for months, only to plead guilty at the last moment—which has brought condemnation today from Labour’s mayor John Biggs who took over last year when Rahman was barred from office.
Documents tabled in the court show that Cllr Ali has cost the local authority £70,000 in legal fees.
The cost would have been less than £4,000 had he pleaded guilty when he was first charged at Thames Magistrates’ Court on December 9 last year, the council points out.
Now a by-election is to be held in the Whitechapel ward which Ali represented—first for former MP George Galloway’s Respect Party in 2006 and later for Rahman’s now-barred Tower Hamlets First party after 2010.
“It’s disgraceful that Ali chose not only to commit housing fraud—but then to lie about it,” Mayor of John Biggs said today.
“It is costing taxpayers tens-of-thousands of pounds in legal fees.
“It’s entirely right that he is kicked off the council and that there is a by-election for the voters to give their verdict on his crime.”
The former councillor has been given a 22-week sentence under the 2006 Fraud Act for not disclosing information about his changed circumstances when applying for a council house.
“It’s a shame he didn’t have the integrity to come clean and resign before he’d cost taxpayers tens-of-thousands more in legal costs,” Mayor Biggs added.
“What astounds me is that none of the Independent councillors (former Rahman members) have spoken out or apologised despite one of their colleagues being convicted of fraud.”
Ali failed to notify the council of the change between the date he completed a housing application form and the date he accepted a council tenancy, while under a duty to do so. He failed to tell the authority that he owned two properties.
His disqualification from office runs five years—just like the ban on disgraced ex-Mayor Rahman who was barred last year by the High Court for election fraud and malpractice in office and his Tower Hamlets First party being removed from the register. Ali is the second member of Rahman’s group to be jailed for fraud.
Tory Opposition group leader Peter Golds, who has campaigned for years to expose housing and election fraud on the council, told the Advertiser: “This man could have resigned from the council when his fraud became known, but instead continued to ‘trouser’ £10,000 in allowances while doing nothing for the people of Whitechapel that he was elected to serve.
“He is gone now—but the stench of the Tower Hamlets First corruption still hangs over the town hall. This corrupt man will not be missed.”
Ali is immediately disqualified from his role as a councillor for the Whitechapel ward, under the 1972 Local Government Act. The council is required to hold a by-election within 35 days of two electors giving notice. Most likely date for the Whitechapel by-election is December 1.
Tower Hamlets Chief Executive Will Tuckley, the council’s election returning officer, said: “Ali’s actions meant families in urgent need of housing could not be accommodated, compounded by his role as an elected member in a position of trust and one where he represented many of the people affected by the housing challenges we face. This is a densely populated London borough with almost 20,000 people on our housing waiting list.”
Shahed Ali’s property portfolio includes a flat at Pinnace House on Millwall’s Samuda Estate which he rented out, and the British India restaurant at Frinton-on-Sea in Essex, it has emerged.
He also inherited a former council flat at Shadwell’s Welstead House in Canon Street Road bought in 2001 under the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme by his widowed mother. Ali and his family are believed to live well outside the borough at Upney in Barking.
Ali was also expelled from the Independent group that replaced Tower Hamlets First on the council, it has emerged.
The group issued a statement to the Advertiser this week claiming: “There is an absolute zero tolerance in the Independent Group for any breach in the high standards of personal integrity and probity expected of a public servant, which is why we expelled the councillor in question and notified the Council when the matter was first brought to our attention in December.”
Shelina Akhtar, another member of the former Tower Hamlets First party, was jailed and disqualified in 2012 for housing benefit fraud. She was also named for electoral fraud, but the Met Police said there was “no public interest in prosecuting her”.