In a statement published on the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) website on Friday 30th July, 2021, the Mayor of Greater Manchester announced that the long-awaited Oldham Strand of the Child Sexual Exploitation Review will be published in November 2021 or, at the latest, by the end of the year.
This Review chiefly concerns historic child sexual exploitation (CSE) allegations, and any Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council failings, and those of partner agencies, that may have been associated with them.
The full Terms of Reference for the Assurance Review can be read here. Briefly, it will consider allegations of historic abuse that have been made on social media involving shisha bars, taxi companies and children’s homes. Principally propagated by Raja Miah, whom, apparently, re-invented himself as a ‘child sex abuse campaigner’ in order to disguise his own catastrophic failings as a free schools operator which were made public in early 2018 (read more here).
Also included in the Review is the nature and extent to which adults had inappropriate access to children and young people resident in childrens’ homes in the Borough, putting them at risk of harm. It will also look at the extent to which historical actions of Oldham Council, and employment records, have been adequately investigated in the case of what are termed as known offenders, previously employed within the public sector.
One such known individual is jailed Rochdale grooming leader, Shabir Ahmed, who worked at Oldham Council until 2005. An insider says that the report will identify some council failings in this regard, but no child is known to have come to harm as a result.
The framework of the review says ‘particular reference’ will be made to concerns that statutory agencies were ‘aware of this abuse, failed to respond appropriately to safeguard the children and subsequently covered up these failings’.
The Review team’s report is ‘owned’ by the Mayor’s office (GMCA). Upon completion, it will be published by them, following the pattern of the Rochdale and South Manchester (Operation Augusta) Strand that was made public at a press conference in January, 2020. The efforts of the investigators, two of the country’s leading experts in this field, Malcolm Newsam and Gary Ridgeway, were, justifiably, widely acclaimed by victims, campaigners such as Maggie Oliver, and the media, for an exceptionally thorough, excoriating investigation (read in full here).
The Oldham Strand of the Assurance Review was brought about by the then Leader of Oldham Council, Sean Fielding, and Henri Giller, Chair of Oldham Child Safeguarding Partnership, who wrote jointly to the Mayor and Jane Shuttleworth, Chair of the Greater Manchester Safeguarding Standards Board to request a merging of the Council’s own investigations into the wider Independent Review being conducted by Messrs Newsam and Ridgeway.
In November, 2020, at a stormy meeting of Full Council, Cllr Fielding had given the first update:
“Since the commencement of the Review a substantial amount of written evidence has been submitted to the Independent Review Team comprising of minutes, reports, emails, intelligence and performance information relating to the Council and Safeguarding Partnership’s response to historic Child Sexual Exploitation in Oldham.
“The Review Team are also undertaking interviews with a number of individuals who have been identified as relevant to the scope and purpose of the Review. These interviews are being conducted ‘virtually’ through video conferencing due to Covid-19 restrictions on face- to-face contact. The Team has interviewed a number of individuals including current and previous Council employees and one former Councillor. It is understood that there remains a relatively small number of people that the review team will still seek to interview.
“The Council is continuing to support the Independent Review Team with the identification of other individuals who can contribute to the Review and further interviews are scheduled to take place. Prior to an interview taking place, in accordance with Data Protection legislation, consent is requested from the individual identified by the Review Team prior to their contact details being shared and each interviewee receives a draft transcript of their interview for approval.
“The Council is also supporting the Review Team to make initial contact with individuals who have expressed concerns, either on social media or through other channels, regarding the effectiveness of the Council’s response to CSE. This is in order to establish if they wish to speak to the independent reviewers.
“The Review Team are also seeking the views of survivors of CSE who feel able to share their personal experience. It is recognized by all concerned that this requires a sensitive approach. The Council is collaborating with the Review Team to ensure that this request is managed appropriately.
“A log of all requests for information, documentation and interviews is being maintained by the Council and progress in the timely provision of these is monitored by the GMCA”.
Cllr Fielding concluded:
“The Review team are expected to report their initial findings to the GM Steering Group by the end of the calendar year 2020. This is an independent review and Oldham Council do not have any direct ability to influence the timing of this report”.
Following the update, a poorly drafted motion brought by Cllr Brian Hobin of the Failsworth Independent Party which essentially decried the Assurance Review as a Council led, multi-agency cover-up of child sexual exploitation and demanded an ‘independent inquiry’. Many of his fellow Councillors expressed their distaste and anger at the accusation by Cllr Hobin and the motion was comprehensively voted down. He was essentially fronting the campaign for a small but vocal group of anti-Labour malcontents, led by friend and ally, Raja Miah.
That campaign was to see Cllr Fielding controversially lose his Council seat at the recent local elections. A reversal that has attracted a welter of regional and national press coverage over the infiltration of large Facebook groups in Oldham, by the far-right, and the disproportionate impact on voters (read more here). Miah is seen as the totem for that activity.
The following month, Greater Manchester Police published an update on Operation Hexagon in the local press, a wide-ranging probe set up alongside and to support the Assurance Review with criminal investigations instituted if that was where the evidence led (read more here).
Last month, Oldham Council’s new Leader, Cllr Arooj Shah, gave a verbal update to Full Council. She told the Mayor, Cllr Jenny Harrison, and the rest of the Chamber that the first draft of the report should be completed by September, 2021 and then undergo several processes including data protection compliance, lawfulness and stakeholder checks.
This is the full text of her speech:
“In November 2019 Oldham Council and Oldham’s Safeguarding Board wrote to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to commission an independent Review into the effectiveness of multi-agency responses to Child Sexual Exploitation in Oldham.
“The review’s remit is to look at historical allegations relating to child sexual exploitation and to consider whether the council and its partners provided an appropriate response to protect children.
“The Greater Manchester Combined Authority appointed Malcolm Newsam and Gary Ridgeway to oversee this review. Both Gary and Malcolm have extensive experience in social care and policing and have carried out reviews in other areas including Northamptonshire and, more recently, Manchester.
“I recently wrote to Baroness Beverly Hughes, Deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester to ask her to provide an update on the progress of the review.
“Baroness Hughes has confirmed that the review is progressing well and that they continue to receive the support and access to information that they need to complete their work effectively.
“She has confirmed that the Review Team have so far reviewed hundreds of documents, reports and files, interviewed over 45 people and received 9 written submissions relating to their enquiries.
“Baroness Hughes has provided assurances that a first draft of the report should be completed by September, but that a number of procedural steps must then be taken, including review by legal counsel to ensure the report is appropriately anonymised and in line with data protection legislation, and review by individuals mentioned to give them the opportunity to make representations. She has informed us that given the complexity and scale of this work this could take ‘a number of months’.
“We all share a desire for the Review to be published as soon as possible, but we cannot rush them and risk jeopardising the ability of the Review team to complete their work diligently, thoroughly and transparently.
“I can confirm that the council will do everything in its power to support the swift publication of this report once it is finalised. Our biggest responsibility as a Council is to keep our children and young people safe. The review team are leading experts, so I have no doubt they will identify areas where our work in the past has fallen short.
“Nothing should be said today which seeks to either pre-empt or undermine the review. I am acutely aware that those who seek to make political capital will portray whatever is found as part of a conspiracy, if it falls short of completely slamming all that was done at the time to protect young people. We must not allow that to guide us, or to blind us; in that we must take its findings, even where if it offers challenge, and use that to ensure lessons are learnt. Nothing, I repeat nothing matters more than the protection of young people and bringing abusers to trial. And so I ask each and everyone of you in Oldham, firstly help us instil confidence so that victims feels supported to come forward. Help us educate and go into every community to teach young people what positive relationships are, and what signs of abuse to watch out for including control, grooming and inappropriate behaviour at home, in the community or online. Secondly, there is no hierarchy of victim or offender based on race, religion, social class, gender or anything else. All victims must be supported equally and all offenders must be dealt with robustly and with the full weight of the law. I will not shy away and I hope I have the support of the whole chamber and the wider community. And finally, all of us in public service are here to serve the community to the best of our ability and judgement. It is a fact, and a horrible fact at that, that abuse takes place. Protesting, abusing and marginalising those of us fighting to put it right does not help victims nor encouraging decent people into public service.
“My personal commitment to you is honestly, hard work and accountability”.
The Mayor’s recent statement is an advanced version of the timetable indicated by Cllr Shah. The need to remove speculation as to both the nature, depth and outcome of the Assurance Review is overwhelming: Raja Miah is still pushing the ‘grooming gang cover-up’ narrative on an almost daily basis in what appear to be racist, hate-filled, divisive attacks on the Pakistani community in Oldham, overlaid with lurid gangster tales perpetrated he says by Asian Cartels and their ‘Pakistani, or Glodwick, Goons’ and, he claims completely absent of evidence or plausible motive, alleged murder threats against him. The latest in a long series that no-one, including the police, attaches any credibility, except the small group of oddballs around him now known collectively as ‘Raja’s Rabble’.
Miah refused to co-operate with the Assurance Review and has continually sought to undermine both it, and Messrs Newsam and Ridgeway. His positing that they would be party to an investigation that would be less than rigorous and independent is offensive and, very arguably, defamatory, given the extraordinarily effective and hugely respected output on the Rochdale and South Manchester Review.
Asked many times to produce evidence of his CSE ‘cover-up’ narrative, he has consistently refused. Similarly, asked to justify why the investigators would take an entirely different approach in Oldham, compared to neighbouring Rochdale, he has no answer.
An extensive, detailed journalistic investigation, conducted last Autumn by Neil Wilby, firmly concluded that there was no council/police ‘cover-up’ (read more here). The Assurance Review is expected to uphold that overwhelming finding.
Glodwick is the area in central Oldham where Cllr Shah has lived all her life. Her car was firebombed outside her parents’ home in the early hours of 13th July, 2021. One day before the update on the Assurance Review. Raja Miah has, in the face of prejudicing any future trial and contempt arising from that, repeatedly published, and caused to be re-published, CCTV film of the incident. Accompanied by scarcely disguised accusations that the arson attack was an ‘inside job’ masterminded by Cllr Shah and Jim McMahon MP in order to obtain political capital from it.
Cllr Shah has replaced Sean Fielding as the focal point of Miah’s attention on his various social media platforms with a series of highly personalised attacks. There is no suggestion here that he is, or was, involved in the attack although a number of leading political figures, and other local commentators, have made a connection with his constant stream of hateful, divisive output on social media and what has all the appearance of a politically motivated attack on a council leader’s personal property.
Two men have been arrested and bailed in connection with the car torching incident. No charges have been laid at the time of publication. An update has been sought from GMP.
On Friday 23rd July, 2021 Raja Miah was arrested in a dawn raid on his Mossley home. Six GMP officers attended and seized electronic devices and notebooks. He was taken to a local police station and questioned on suspicion of of racially aggravated public order and malicious communications offences. He was released on conditional bail and without charge later the same day. He is due to surrender bail on 20th August, 2021 where it is expected he will be questioned further. He gave a form of ‘no comment’ interview on the day of his arrest, he says.
The police said in a statement that he was arrested in connected with Operation Hexagon. A proposition to which Miah has taken serious exception. Particularly, to a local newspaper headline that has led to the Mossley man organising, via his Facebook page, complaints to the press watchdog on his behalf.
He robustly denies wrongdoing and has made a number of Facebooks posts and YouTube broadcasts theorising that his arrest was ‘politically motivated’ and engineered by Mr McMahon (read more here).
Miah also says that he will elect a trial by jury if charged and later prosecuted. His rationale being that he ‘wants the full story to come out’.
Beyond Raja Miah’s arrest, the police and Oldham Council has consistently refused to provide any further bulletins on Operation Hexagon, which is now approaching its second anniversary with just the single, December 2020, update to its name.
A freedom of information request made to GMP in March, 2021, seeking disclosure of basic information relating to Operation Hexagon, together with two connected investigations, remains unfinalised five months later (read here).
The Mayor, who has, in theory at least, oversight of the Greater Manchester force, also omitted any mention of the Hexagon investigation in his update on 30th July, 2021.
Page last updated at 1445hrs on Friday 6th August, 2021
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