How to triumph over adversity; first, take a Sudanese refugee who inspite of the difficulty of his circumstances chooses to advocate, on behalf of orphans caught up in a conflict in the Sudan. Then add an altercation with two police officers, resulting in an arrest and two convictions for assault (later quashed). Stir a little, then mix in the confiscation of the refugee’s car plus the charity documents contained therein, and so the dissolution of the charity he was trying to set up. Sprinkle with a liberal dose of court action taken against the police (for wrongful arrest and defamation) add a dash of things going right-he was finally rehoused- and you should have the makings of a happy ending.
I say should have, because as this Sudanese refugee (we’ll call him Faisul Akintola ) found out, when Southwark Council is in the mix the path of true happiness never runs smooth. Faisul was very happy in his little flat, it was the first real home he had, true, the Housing Benefit payments did not cover all of his rent, but because he was certain that ‘things could only get better’ he didn’t worry about that too much. The important thing was that he had a home, fast forward a few years and we find Mr Akintola in three thousand pounds of rent arrears (constantly negotiating through the years to get this sorted with Southwark council).
Fast forward still further, and we find him walking down to Chicken Cottage for some take out; only to return to his flat and find that the locks on his door have been changed and his belongings have been despatched to the local dump. Apparently Southwark council had notified him of the action they intended to take via email. an email which he might well have read, had not his laptops been illegally confiscated along with the rest of his belongings by the housing department. Mr Akintola was homeless, devoid of all identification, which as a refugee in this country he would have needed, devoid of all personal possessions. He spent a year sleeping on the floors and sofas of various friends, but he did not despair, instead he sued the b’jesus out of Southwark Council. At the conclusion of Mr Akinola’s case the judge had this to say,
‘Mr [Brian] Davis, Ms [Christiana] Okwara and Ms [Johanna] Ashley [council officers] exercised their powers as public officers in relation to a local authority secure tenancy for an improper motive. They each acted with the intention of harming AA be evicting him when there were no reasonable grounds for evicting him and by arranging for his possessions to be seized and destroyed unlawfully. Each is, in consequence liable for misfeasance in public office and the London Borough of Southwark is vicariously liable for the commission of that tort.” (Para 294)
He was scathing about two of the officers’ behaviour: “Mr Davis and Ms Okwara were determined to obtain AA’s eviction whether it was lawfully obtained or not. Their motive in acting as they did was demonstrated to be an ‘eviction at all costs’ motive. There is no other explanation for Ms Okwara’s delay in attempting to notify AA of the date of the eviction, in only half-heartedly attempting to carry out a home visit, in apparently hiding the relevant documentation from the Housing File and in making no attempt to obtain the permission of a judge to apply for a warrant.
“Equally, there is no other explanation for the series of lies that they told Mr Matthews about the telephone calls they made during the eviction and in deliberately engineering an eviction at which neither the income nor the resident officer were present and in making no effort to identify AA’s possessions, prepare an inventory of them and then remove them safely to storage.” (Para 281)
The moral of this tale? Every devious cloud has a silver lining, in this case the hefty lump- sum compensation paid to Mr Faisul Akinola by Southwark Council.