Tonia Ashikodi, a Labour councillor, was found guilty of fraud at London Crown Court after she lied to Greenwich counsel regarding her ownership of 2 houses in Thamesmead and a flat in Charlton when she applied for a council house in 2008 which she received four years later.
Her fraudulent behaviour was discovered in 2018 and the council launched a private prosecution claiming that she has perverted the course of justice and committed fraud by false representation. The case highlights that those in positions of responsibility can be brought to justice when fraudulent activity is suspected by bringing a private prosecution.
During Ashikodi’s trial she claimed that she had only held the properties in trust of her father, Tony, who received the rent from the properties as well as paying the bills. The jury, however, were shown several documents which clearly showed that she was the landlord.
Greenwich Council’s chief executive, Debbie Warren, welcomed the verdict and said:
“We also should not forget why we had to prosecute. There are 20,000 residents on our housing waiting list and more than 1,000 households in temporary accommodation. Cllr Ashikodi would have known this as a councillor elected to represent the interests of our residents. The jury has found that she lied in her application for council housing and also when she signed her tenancy agreement. As well as breaking the law, she denied someone with a genuine need for a secure home.”Debbie Warren (who issued the private prosecution on behalf of the council)
What consequences will the fraudster face?
Labour counsellor Tonia Ashikodi who represented Glydon Ward has been convicted with two counts of housing fraud by a jury at Inner London County Court. She will be sentenced and could be sent to prison.
Ashikodi was originally aquited of perverting the course of justice, however was later, on the 12th February 2020 she was convicted of fraud. Asikodi will also be forced to give up her seat in the Glydon ward if she is sentences to three months or more.
On 12 February Judge Benedict Kelleher shared that, “All sentencing options will be open to me, but I will take into account everything I have been told and you must see a probation officer”. Judge Benedict Kelleher also ordered a pre-sentence report and she was bailed to return to court for sentencing on 4 March.
Why did the council bring a private prosecution?
Prosecutor, Robert Fitt, told the court at the beginning of the trial that the council had in fact lost £67,000 as a result of the fraud which would have been the cost for the council for someone to be living in Miss Ashikodi’s home.
Matt Hartly, a Tory Opposition Lease on the Greenwich Council commenting on the trial calling it a “damning verdict, particularly for someone elected to represent others as a councillor. “
Therefore, the prosecution was brought because of both financial losses to the council and also to bring to justice under the Fraud Act 2006 an elected official who had fraudulently abused their position.
What is a private prosecution for fraud?
A private prosecution for fraud is a criminal prosecution brought by individuals or companies that are the victims of crime and public prosecuting authorities are unwilling to act. Individuals and companies have the right to bring a private prosecution under section 6 (1) Prosecution of Offences Act 1985.
The main fraud offences are in the Theft Act 1968 and the Fraud Act 2006. To prove a fraudulent offence has been committed, it is necessary to show that that a person acted dishonestly, intending to make a gain for himself or another or cause loss to another.
Why commence a private prosecution for fraud?
To get justice for criminal offences committed against victims that have not been taken on by the police, CPS, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) (investigation of serious and complex crime) or HMRC (investigate tax fraud). The media have reported that private prosecutions are on the increase due to police and CPS budget cuts which has limited the ability of the enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute crime effectively. These cuts have created a trend among individuals to fund their own criminal actions against fraudsters due to a failure of the police to investigate or the CPS’s unwillingness to press ahead to trial.
If an offence under the Fraud Act 2006 is not the priority of the CPS, then private prosecutions are a necessary tool allowing a victim to take control of proceedings and actively pursue a conviction against the fraudster.
Some victims of fraud feel that civil proceedings may be prohibitively slow and a private prosecution would offer a speedier resolution. In addition, the civil damages awarded may not adequately compensate for the harm suffered whereas private prosecutions have the availability of tougher penalties which includes unlimited fines and imprisonment.
Many corporate entities have launched private prosecutions having been victim to fraud, rather than leave their rights to be protected by public law enforcement agencies.
Victims of crimes consider starting a private prosecution for a number of reasons, for example:
- to deter future criminal conduct by the suspect;
- to send a clear message to potential fraudsters that a company that has been defrauded will take strong action;
- as a necessary tool when the public prosecution authorities are unwilling to act;
- potential compensation for the victim.
- to establish a precedent for future conduct;
- to protect society; and
- a private prosecutor can access specialist expertise which many public prosecuting authorities cannot utilise, which can increase the chances of prosecution.
Private Prosecutions under the Fraud Act 2006
The Fraud Act 2006 provides the legislation for fraud offences and in the majority of cases, fraud will overlap with theft offences. The Private Prosecution Service have the expertise to advise you which offence reflects the true level of criminality concerned because it is important to differentiate between theft and fraud offences (the actus reus for fraud is less and theft carries a lower sentence).
A private prosecution for fraud must establish first and foremost that there was a false representation. The Fraud Act 2006 establishes three main offences:
- Fraud by false representation (Fraud Act 2006, section 2), which is an implied or express representation made by a person which is misleading or untrue and the person making it knows this to be the case. There have been private prosecutions for example in circumstances where a person fallaciously asserts that there had been an accident or misrepresents their position on a witness statement for an adverse possession application.
- Fraud by failing to disclose information where there is a legal duty to do so (Fraud Act 2006, section 3). This covers offences where a person has dishonesty omitted to provide information, examples include a person failing to declare a heart condition when making an application for life insurance or a solicitor fails to disclose vital information during the course of his retainer.
- Fraud by abuse of position (Fraud Act 2006, section 4), where a person occupies a position he is supposed to safeguard the financial interests of another, but fails in this duty. An examples include a care home employee with a vulnerable person in their care, abusing their position by accessing that person’s bank accounts.
When is a private prosecution for fraud more suitable than civil proceedings?
The borderline between civil liability and criminal liability for Fraud Act 2006 offences is relatively thin. The CPS advise that “prosecutors should guard against the criminal law being used as a debt collection agency”. The Private Prosecution Service ensure that at the outset of considering a private prosecution for fraud, that the offence alleged reflects the true level of criminality; that the evidential stage of the Full Code Test is met and that the public interest stage of the Full Code Test is established.
Are private prosecutions for fraud cost effective?
Yes, a private prosecution for fraud can also be a cost effective solution to recovering any sums fraudulently taken. The state bear the cost of investigating and prosecuting a fraud offender during a public prosecution. In addition, if a private prosecutor is unsuccessful, it is unlikely that the court will make a costs order against the prosecutor if the case was conducted diligently and carefully. In this case, the Defendant would be entitled to compensation from central funds.
However, for a private prosecution it is also possible for a Court to order payment out of central funds to compensate a private prosecutor to recover a significant proportion of their legal costs.
The Private Prosecution Service: Experts in helping individuals and corporates prosecute fraud
The Private Prosecution Service [“PPS”] is a leading legal services provider that specialises in providing high quality legal advice to businesses, governments, government organisations and individuals. Private prosecution cases for fraud are our expertise. Private prosecutions can be a powerful, speedy and clinical means of obtaining justice from a fraudster. It is important to have as much evidence to hand for a private prosecution as the traditional law enforcement agencies have powers to gather evidence that are not available to private prosecutors.
Instruct Specialist Private Prosecution Lawyers
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