The Westminster Scandal: Questions led to 'spiel' over a flat: The Buyer

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The Independent Online
COLLEEN NOMURA first realised she was being 'selected' when she filled out her application for Westminster's Home Ownership Scheme.

'I thought, 'gosh, they really want to know if there is any pattern of wealth and ambition in the family. They really want to know if I am a Conservative voter',' she said.

Mrs Nomura, 38, had an 18-month-old child and was living in one room with her husband near Edgware Road.

She had been told there was little chance of renting a council house because her husband's pounds 11,000-a-year wage was too high.

'They asked us to go along to the Home Ownership offices where they gave us a spiel about capital assets and how worthwhile it was buying your own home. Nothing was mentioned about major repair works.'

The Nomuras were just one of many couples hoping to sidestep the housing list. 'They took the application forms away, worked out the likelihood of you being a Conservative voter and offered homes on that basis,' Mrs Nomura said yesterday.

In July 1989, the Nomuras were offered a home on the Grosvenor Estate, Victoria. The previous tenants had been relocated, Mrs Nomura said, after being put under 'great pressure' to buy or move.

'When they called us to offer the flat . . . they gave us the impression that if we refused the flat we would be put at the bottom of the housing list.'

The Nomura family signed the contract and moved in. When they saw the flat for which they had paid pounds 41,900 they were devastated. There was no central heating, no kitchen, no bath. Then a bill for pounds 12,000 arrived. The building was in need of major repairs, and as owner-occupiers they were obliged to pay.

'We have lived under the shadow of that bill for the last three years. My husband lost his job twice. My marriage has broken down under the pressure. As far as I can see we were bamboozled into taking this place for our vote and to pay the builders' fees. It is really frightening,' Mrs Nomura said.

'We can't sell now. No building society will touch us. No estate agent will put us on their books. The council offered to buy the flat back for pounds 75,000. But they wanted us to make the decision and be out within weeks. I have two children now and we had nowhere to go. I couldn't make such an important decision so fast.'

Before Mrs Nomura moved to Westminster she had never been on the electoral roll. But she registered for the 1987 election and did as the council expected. 'It was assumed that you would vote Conservative after such a 'wonderful' deal. And I did exactly what they wanted.'

At the next election Mrs Nomura did not vote. 'I feel too bitter,' she said. 'I've been tricked.'

(Photograph omitted)