PRESIDING over a continuation of the case against Labour MP Apsana Begum, Judge Martyn Zeidman QC set down the case for a four-day trial to start on the 21st July – stating that he believed it was in the public interest.
He said some cases, including those involving sensitive sexual allegations and where defendants are in custody, are currently being prioritised during the pandemic, when the number of jury trials being held is limited.
Due to backlogs in the system, some non-priority trials are now being listed in 2022, with others expected to eventually reach court in 2023.
“I’m inclined to say this case should be given a degree of priority because there’s a public interest in these issues being resolved as quickly as possible” the judge stated.
Begum, a close associate of disgraced vote-rigger Luthfur Rahman, was not present at today’s hearing in London, with lawyers representing her via videolink.
Her barrister, Judy Khan QC, confirmed Begum will enter not guilty pleas to all charges.
The MP said in a statement last month: “I am vigorously contesting these charges. The ongoing legal proceedings mean that I cannot and will not be making any further public comment during this process. I want to thank my lawyers and supporters at this difficult time.”
Allegedly using her contacts at the council, Begum is thought to have applied for a council flat while living with her family in 2011. Begum moved in with her husband in 2014 but the couple split a year later.
Within just six months Ms Begum was offered the one-bed Isle of Dogs flat in a riverside block – jumping her own constituents; families and vulnerable residents, some of whom have been waiting desperately on the list for years.
Tower Hamlets only has the capacity to house 1,700 people per year, on a list of over 18,000 applicants.
A source from a political organisation in Tower Hamlets said: “She’s still in the flat despite earning £82,000 plus expenses a year as MP, and yet has the audacity to complain about housing shortages. The council are taking their time to ensure all their ducks are in a row. It has the potential to be bigger than the Onasanya saga”.
Fiona Onasanya, a former Peterborough Labour MP, was outed by her constituents via a recall petition after being caught and convicted for lying about a driving offence.
Begum isn’t the only Labour MP currently in legal hot water. Claudia Webbe, who was elected Labour MP for Leicester East in December 2019, was charged with one count of harassment against a woman on September 28th of last year.
The 55-year-old from Islington made numerous abusive unwanted telephone calls to the female, a court has heard, and has pleaded not guilty to one charge of harassment during a 20-minute hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
VoteWatch will provide updates on both trials in due course.