Analysis News

Greenwich council ‘sought to protect’ fraud-accused centrist councillor from SKWAWKBOX enquiries

Evidence given by senior council officers in trial of councillor charged with housing fraud

Senior council officers in Greenwich have told the Inner London Crown Court that their primary concern was to protect a councillor now accused of housing fraud when the SKWAWKBOX enquired about an investigation into her in preparation for a 2018 exclusive.

The SKWAWKBOX had contacted Tonia Ashikodi to ask whether she was under investigation – but was contacted by the council’s communications head and told repeatedly that there was no such investigation. Then-new centrist council leader Danny Thorpe refused to comment when approached.

Two months later, the council announced charges against Ashikodi:

Ms Ashikodi, 30, is charged with two counts of fraud by false representation in applications to Greenwich Council for housing in October 2008 and May 2012, which she denies.

Senior communications officer Katrina Delaney told the court that she had received a SKWAWKBOX enquiry asking whether Ashikodi had been or was about to be interviewed under caution about the alleged fraud and had denied that this was the case.

She also reportedly said that the SKWAWBOX had sent the same enquiry the following day. In fact, the following day’s enquiry was amended to ask more broadly about the matter, but still received a negative response.

Three weeks later, on 6 June, the SKWAWKBOX sent in yet another enquiry:

I’m assured that Cllr Ashikodi has indeed been interviewed about her property affairs and that the investigation is still open/ongoing.

Please provide by return:

– the council’s comment on the matter
– any measures already taken/planned against her
– the planned timetable for a conclusion regarding any potential wrongdoing
– any comment or corrective action by the councillor
– your explanation as to why I was repeatedly told there was no issue and no investigation

This time, the response was different:

The Council does not comment on internal matters

or on any investigation that ‘might or might not be taking place’.

In mid-July, the council published a statement on its website that charges were being brought.

Council chief executive Debbie Warren told the court that when the SKWAWKBOX enquiries came in, as reported by 853 London:

At this stage, I wasn’t particularly alarmed from what I had heard, it was more about protecting Tonia from the press enquiry.

Warren also described Cllr Ashikodi’s reaction to the news of the SKWAWKBOX enquiry:

as I opened the door, she was there. She was in a very anxious state, clearly very worried, and she wanted to talk about her council tenancy on this occasion…

After [the council’s director of housing] left, she was still very anxious and agitated…

[Her explanation of the legal arrangements of the property ownership] was muddled, she was very, very anxious, almost distressed, I would say.

Warren also confirmed that Delaney and council leader Danny Thorpe were involved in discussions about the SKWAWKBOX enquiry.

But in June, three weeks after the initial SKWAWKBOX enquiries, the council’s media team told the SKWAWKBOX that Thorpe had no involvement in the council’s handling of the Ashikodi situation, when local sources had alleged that the council had ‘kept quiet’ the Ashikodi scandal because of his extremely narrow majority among councillors and the fact that Ashikodi was a supporter:

if there were something that has happened, the Leader of the Council never gets involved in those issues… and I’d be surprised if the Labour Party was aware of anything that may or may not be happening“.

The media officer confirmed that Ashikodi had voted for Thorpe in the council leadership election – which he won by a single vote.

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