Six weeks ago, the SKWAWKBOX published claims from Labour insiders in the London borough of Greenwich that a key ally of the council leader – whose majority in the group was a single vote – was mired in a property scandal that was being kept quiet.
This blog had been investigating the issues for over three weeks before that, following multiple reports from the borough that a Labour councillor had been interviewed about her property affairs and declarations.
When the SKWAWKBOX first contacted the council, the borough’s press office flatly denied:
- that the councillor had been interviewed by the council
- that the councillor had been interviewed by Labour whips
- that the councillor had been interviewed by anyone
- that there was any investigation relating to alleged property fraud or failure to declare interests
By early June when this blog contacted the council again after tips of further developments, the story had changed. Instead of a flat denial, the council’s communications officer refused to confirm or deny that any investigation was underway, although it was confirmed that the councillor – whose name the SKWAWKBOX did not publish at that time – was a supporter of the council leader.
The council’s leader, Daniel Thorpe, refused to comment at any point when contacted.
Sometime yesterday, a notice was published on the council’s website without fanfare or announcement – locals describe it as ‘buried’ – a ‘Public statement regarding Councillor Tonia Ashikodi’, the councillor that the SKWAWKBOX had been discussing with the council since mid-May:
Public statement regarding Councillor Tonia Ashikodi
Following the conclusion of a detailed criminal investigation carried out by the Council’s Internal Audit & Anti Fraud Team regarding Tonia Ashikodi’s council tenancy and the ownership of a number of properties, the Council has decided that there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to charge Tonia Ashikodi with the following criminal offences:
- Two offences of fraud by false representation, contrary to sections 1 and 2 of the Fraud Act 2006.
- Jointly with another, an offence of perverting the course of justice, contrary to common law.
Informations relating to these offences have been laid at Bromley Magistrates’ Court today and these will be served upon Ms Ashikodi in due course. Ms Ashikodi will be summoned to appear before the Magistrates’ Court on 6th August 2018 and the prosecution will be in the hands of the Court.
Given Ms Ashikodi’s position as a Royal Borough of Greenwich Elected Councillor, there has been media speculation and public/press enquiries received by the Council. This statement is being made now in the interests of transparency/clarity and in order to avoid further speculation which is harmful to both the Royal Borough and the reputation of local government generally.
Clearly, it is of paramount importance that Ms Ashikodi’s fundamental legal rights to both respond to these charges and receive a fair hearing are respected. Therefore, the Council will not be making any further comment on the matter which will continue to be dealt with by the Chief Executive and Head of Legal Services.”
Head of Legal Services
Ms Ashikodi, who has not responded to any requests by this blog for comment, is entitled to due process and a fair hearing, so this blog makes no comment on the charges against her except to note the existence of “a detailed criminal investigation” by the council’s own investigators and the fact that perverting the course of justice carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, with fraud by false representation carrying up to ten years (or twelve months, depending on type of conviction).
But the council’s comment that “This statement is being made now in the interests of transparency/clarity and in order to avoid further speculation which is harmful to both the Royal Borough and the reputation of local government” is astonishing.
Contacted today by the SKWAWKBOX, the a council spokesperson agreed that this blog had asked questions about interviews and investigations, including any kind of interview or investigation – which the blog knew were already underway because of inside information – but flatly denied misleading in response.
Yet now the council has announced that – after a ‘detailed criminal investigation’ by its internal team – charges have been laid.
The council also denied that there had been any cover-up.
Locals say that Ms Ashikodi is being supported by Cllr Linda Perks, one of the Labour group whips who was herself at the centre of controversy a few years ago after being heavily criticised by a judge for her part in the scandal surrounding the re-election of Unison general secretary Dave Prentis.
As Ms Ashikodi has been administratively suspended from her position, the council leader has now lost his majority. Further turmoil – and possibly investigations – are expected by local party members.
The claim that yesterday’s statement was made in the interests of transparency stretches credulity given the circumstances. But the council had one thing right – the damage being done to its reputation and that of local government generally by its handling of this matter.
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