In an extraordinary letter addressed to the chief executive of Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, Helen Lockwood, the Group leader of the troubled Failsworth Independent Party (FIP) has demanded an emergency recall of Full Council, writes Neil Wilby.
The communication was copied to three journalists and another unknown individual. It was also published on a Facebook page, which adds weight to the proposition that the letter is a speculative publicity stunt. Even if the letter had a semblance of merit, it is very unlikely that the chief executive, or the Cabinet, would attempt to convene an ’emergency meeting’ on this basis, during the holiday season and a pandemic, when there is already a Full Council session scheduled for 8th September, 2021.
Interestingly, it follows almost exactly the lines of dissent that have been pushed recently by disgraced ‘political activist’, Raja Miah, currently on police bail, who is very closely aligned to the FIPs. The two leading figures in the Party, Kathleen Wilkinson and Mark Wilkinson, have appeared as star guests on the infamous Recusant Nine podcasts. Brian Hobin is also recognised as a strong ally of, and collaborator with, Miah.
Cllr Hobin, regrettably, has history on this class of conduct: He brought a badly-drafted motion to the Council in November last year which, effectively, accused everyone else in the Chamber of covering up child sex abuse, notably the Leader at the time, Cllr Sean Fielding. There were angry scenes amongst his fellow councillors and the motion was heavily crushed. But the aftermath of that, well covered since in the local, regional and national press, and elsewhere on this website, was the loss of Cllr Fielding’s seat in the recent local elections (read here).
The questionable conduct of the FIPs during the election also raised very serious concerns (read here). As did some of the palpably false claims made on the Party website.
It is very likely that Raja Miah, along with the rest of a group that now aptly refer to themselves as ‘The Rabble’ have had a strong hand in the latest attack, from within, on Oldham Council. With particular reference by Cllr Hobin to the police treatment of an alleged ‘whistleblower’, absent of any contact with the police or complainants. For whom he appears to have scant regard.
This is the full text of the email sent by Cllr Hobin to the chief executive:
“Dear Ms Lockwood,
“I write on behalf of The Failsworth Independent Party to formally request that you, as acting Chief Executive of OMBC, convene an emergency meeting. We ask that you recall Council from recess in order that Councillors have the opportunity to discover the truth behind some very disturbing issues which we feel are bringing this Council into disrepute.
“It is the duty of elected members to be open and transparent with residents and protect the interests of all those living in the Borough.
“I list the issues of concern, some of which are now being reflected in the National Press below;
“Currently we have a Council without leadership following the unexplained and sudden departure of the long-standing Chief Executive, Dr Wilkins.
“The Conservative Opposition and other residents concerned enough to write to the Home Secretary asking for Central Government intervention.
“Disturbing reports of a vigilante group patrolling borough streets containing unregulated members with questionable motives and the tacit permission of the current administration.
“A recent firebomb attack on the Council Leaders’ property leaving questions unanswered and casting security and personal safety concerns on all other council members and indeed constituents.
“A Police service (already in special measures itself) seeming to act at the behest of the Labour administration, too closely linked, with questionable actions taken against a whistle-blower daring to oppose the council.
“All these issues are very damaging to the reputation of the Borough and will do little to encourage investment so sorely needed to build back from the Covid crisis.
“An emergency recall is in the best interests of all residents across the borough and I sincerely hope that you will grant this urgent request.
“I expect your response by return email.
Cllr Brian Hobin
Failsworth Independent Party Councillor
Leader of Failsworth Independent Group”
Setting aside the poor drafting, none of the matters raised appear to directly concern residents in Failsworth. Unlike the Independents recently, and utterly remarkably, voting to concrete over the green belt bordering the town (read more here). It was part of their published pledges to protect that same green belt.
The Council’s paid officers are being led by Mrs Lockwood, which, if Cllr Hobin had been paying attention, he would have noticed that she has been in that position for the past twelve months. The notional chief executive, the soon to depart, Dr Carolyn Wilkins, has been absent on secondment, fulfilling a national role addressing the COVID pandemic, for almost all of that period.
The other three issues raised are policing matters. Two of them concern live investigations and the other has already involved Greater Manchester Police liaising with proposed organisers of neighbourhood watch groups. The Council would be ultra vires in seeking to interfere with operational policing. Not even the Home Secretary can tell a Chief Constable what to do, or not to do, as the case may be. Matters with which a competent, properly briefed elected representative should, in all truth, be familiar.
But the law is not something to which either Brian Hobin, or the FIPs, have due regard. He has a spent conviction for a particularly despicable fraud, which, under normal circumstances would not be referred to in an article such as this, but his behaviour requires it to be put forward as a matter of balance when he is being so fiercely critical of others from what appears, at first blush, to be moral high ground. He also breached the Localism Act for almost a year, when failing to declare an interest in a limited company. That was only remedied when brought to light on social media by Neil Wilby.
The Data Protection Act was, very likely, breached when he claimed, publicly on social media, that his Party was ‘harvesting email addresses for the purpose of making complaints’.
There are FIPs election expenses irregularities that remain unaddressed, as well as an alleged ‘long firm fraud’, involving a very substantial sum, that was associated, before and during the local elections, at an address registered as FIP HQ. The Wilkinsons, using their daughters, Rachel Brotherton and Sarah Radcliffe, as spokespersons on social media, claim that Companies House records do not represent the full picture. They have declined to elaborate on that proposition. Numerous requests, for a full statement, have been stonewalled for over three months.
It could, therefore, be well argued that Cllr Hobin, and his fellow ‘Indy Party’ members might just exercise due caution before rushing to criticise others. None of these matters have ever been raised on the Recusant Nine platform, or by The Rabble, when voicing criticisms of the Council or its Members.
The Council press office was approached for a statement. This is what their spokesperson has to say:
“In response to Cllr. Brian Hobin’s letter to Interim Chief Executive Helen Lockwood, she will be responding directly to inform Cllr. Hobin of the correct process for calling an extraordinary council meeting under the Council Procedure Rules [read here].“
These are the relevant extracts:
3. EXTRAORDINARY MEETINGS
3.1 Calling Extraordinary Meetings
An extraordinary meeting of the Council may be called at any time by:
a) the Council;
b) the Mayor;
c) any five Members of the Council if they have signed a requisition
presented to the Mayor and he/she has refused to call a meeting or has
failed to call a meeting within seven days of the presentation of the
d) the Monitoring Officer or the Chief Finance Officer in pursuance of their
Any request or requisition for an Extraordinary Meeting of the Council shall
specify the reason for the calling of the meeting and give notice of a motion to
be debated, unless the purpose is to receive reports or adoption of
recommendations of Committees or Officers or any resolutions following from
them. No business other than that specified in the summons to the meeting
may be considered at an extraordinary meeting.
A series of questions has been put to the Failsworth Independent Party regarding their communication with the chief executive and the manifest failings referred to in the preceding paragraphs:
1. Have you self-reported to Information Commissioner’s Office over data breach?
2. Have you rectified false claims on FIP website?
3. Have you remedied FIP election expenses irregularities?
4. Are police investigating allegedly unlawful FIP conduct during local elections?
5. What internal sanctions were applied to Brian Hobin’s Localism Act breach by FIPs?
6. Will FIPs be issuing a public statement regarding alleged ‘long firm fraud’?
7. Why did FIPs vote to concrete over green belt adjoining Failsworth ?
8. Has Cllr Wilkinson faced any complaint(s) over the defamatory email he circulated to all Members after the last Full Council meeting?
9. Do the FIPs have a published social media policy. Or is ad hoc trolling of critics approved and condoned?
10. Why does Cllr Wilkinson use his stepdaughters as spokespersons, representatives on social media?
Kathleen Wilkinson, the Party Chairperson, said: “If you have any evidence of wrongdoing, take it to the police. There will be no further comment, as this is now with our legal team”.
Both her and her daughters continue an unpleasant campaign of snearing and smearing on social media, but absolutely refuse to answer a single straight question. Including, yet again, the whereabouts of the definitive statement over the alleged ‘long firm fraud’.
Page last updated at 0725hrs on Thursday 19th August, 2021.
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