The East London Advertiser’s Nadia Sam Daliri has the story:
Here’s her report:
Cllr Shelina Akhtar, an independent for Spitalfields and Banglatown ward, pleaded guilty to three counts of dishonestly claiming housing and council tax benefits for a property in Blackwall Way, Poplar.
She was actually living somewhere else during the time of the offences – which ran for two periods between November 2009 and September 2010 – and sub-letting the first property.
This is the second time the 33-year-old has committed such an offence.
During today’s hearing at Snaresbrook Crown Court, His Honour Judge J Platt indicated that her sentence could be tougher than would normally the case because of her past actions.
He told her: “I make you no promises today. This is the second time you have committed fraud against the state regarding benefits to which you are not entitled. The court needs to know more before deciding on the appropriate sentence.”
Akhtar, of Blackwall Way, was handed 100 hours of unpaid work and ordered to pay £250 costs after being found guilty of dishonestly claiming jobseeker’s allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit during a case at Thames Magistrates’ Court in July 2010.
Prosecutor Michelle Fawcett said: “She is a local councillor and the case, therefore, was more serious. This defendant has previous convictions for identical matters.”
The housing benefit falsely claimed totalled £1,085 the council tax benefit £29.
The independent councillor won her seat in the May 2010 elections, where she originally stood as a Labour candidate but later defected to become an independent to work alongside mayor Lutfur Rahman.
Earlier in the day a warrant was issued for Akhtar’s arrest after she failed to turn up at court.
She submitted a doctor’s letter saying she was unwell and therefore unfit to stand trial but the first judge threw it out and threatened to issue a warrant for her arrest if she did not turn up by the afternoon.
The warrant was later withdrawn when Akhtar surrendered herself.
Her sister, Hazera Akhtar, 22, of Glasshouse Fields, Shadwell, faced similar charges but they were all dropped.
She is due to be sentenced on February 6.
Electoral Commission rules state that a councillor will only be automatically barred from office if they are sentenced to three months in jail or more. It is down to Tower Hamlets Council to decide what action will be taken against Akhtar.
Akhtar, who also for some reason spells her name Aktar, works at Tower Hamlets College as a part-time “Youth and Enrichment Worker” for 20 hours a week, according to her register of interests.
The background to her arrest can be traced through this link here. I fully expect Mayor Lutfur Rahman to issue a strongly worded statement condemning her and saying that she should stand down as a councillor. We’d then have a very interesting by-election.
Note, though, I used the word ‘expect’…
UPDATE, Jan 9, 6.45pm
I’ve just had a look at the time-sheets Akhtar (pictured next to the Mayor at last year’s anti-EDL march) has submitted to the council for her work as an upstanding representative of the people. They’re here. She claims to work between 53 and 90 hours a month. Ahem. But what’s really interesting is that despite news of her arrest in November 2010 (at which time we also learned of her previous conviction for benefit fraud), she continued to attend “group meetings” and “mayoral engagements”.
She was expelled from Labour in October 2010, so the only “group meetings” she can refer to are those of the Lutfur Rahman independents. Although they’re not classified as a group, they do meet for “group” discussions on a regular basis.
Last month, she spent two hours at group meetings and six hours on mayoral engagements; in November it was two and five hours respectively; in October, it was four and eight. In total, since December 2010, she has attended 34.5 hours of group meetings and 38 hours of mayoral engagements.
Assuming her claims are true (yes, yes, that is a big assumption), it seems she has been an integral part of Lutfur’s inner circle since she was arrested. That would be an incredible misjudgment by Lutfur, if true.