Council Leader calls for ‘wider representation of views’

Oldham’s Council Leader has urged residents of the Borough to join in the Public Question Time sessions at Full Council meetings, writes Neil Wilby.

Cllr Arooj Shah‘s call came during July’s session at which queries had been raised by four politicians, with no unaffiliated members of the public taking part.

Two Conservative Party members, Robert Barnes and Lewis Quigg, and two from Proud of Oldham and Saddleworth Party (known locally as the POOS), Mark Birchall and Debbie Barratt-Cole asked questions

All stood, unsuccessfully, as candidates in the recent local elections, although Ms Barratt-Cole dropped out before polling day. She had previously stood for election to Parliament in the 2019 General Election, losing her deposit after contesting the Oldham West and Royton seat held by the Labour Party’s Jim McMahon.

Three of the four (Messrs Birchall, Quigg and Ms Barratt-Cole) have very strong links to Raja Miah, a Tameside political activist whose online activities have caused the town great damage to its reputation, both regionally and nationally. He is presently on extended police bail over suspicions of racially aggravated public order and malicious communications offences.

His disgraced Recusant Nine platform is also serving yet another ban over what are, routinely, harassing, hate-filled, divisive posts. Miah denies any wrongdoing and has claimed, repeatedly, that his arrest is ‘politically motivated’ (read here).

Two of the Public Questions, both addressed to the Council’s Deputy Chief Executive, Helen Lockwood, related to protests at the Elbit Ferrari factory in the town. The concerned disorder and appeared to be matters that should have been directed at the local police force rather than the council, or the Labour Party, in particular.

The others, one, again, addressed to Mrs Lockwood, the other to Cllr Shah, related to proposed street patrols, or neighbourhood watch schemes as they might otherwise be termed, in certain crime hit wards in the Borough. The Manchester Evening News opted to call them ‘vigilante groups’ which may have got them the extra clicks they crave but scored zero marks for accuracy, and even less for scurrilous sensationalism. The Public Question from Ms Barratt-Cole reflected the paranoid obsession of both herself and her close friend, Raja Miah, over a childhood friendship between Mohammed Imran Ali, better known locally as ‘Irish Imy’ and Cllr Shah.

This is how Mrs Lockwood responded to the question from Lewis Quigg, who asked the Council ‘to condemn the actions of a convicted criminal (Mr Ali) who is planning to carry out street patrols in Oldham and Chadderton’. He was also asking for the Council ‘to support Greater Manchester Police in asking for more street patrols and funding for our Police from the Mayor’?

“As a council we would not seek to condemn any member of the public who wishes to improve their local area. People’s concerns about the levels of crime in their area are very real and something that all members hear about from their local residents very regularly. We would, however, question whether street patrols of this nature are the best or most appropriate solution to the issues residents raise. As a result the council does not currently offer any support or funding to these types of groups and has no plans to do so.

“GMP work closely with individuals or groups looking to establish local neighbourhood or street watch schemes like the one this question refers to. They engage directly with these groups to support and advise them on best practice including ensuring adequate insurance is in place, the establishment of codes of conduct for volunteers and making sure effective safeguarding procedures are carried out which could include Disclosure and Barring Service Checks on volunteers where required.

“We have passed on details of this proposed scheme to Greater Manchester Police so that they can engage with the individuals involved directly to provide this advice and support.

“We will, as we have always done, continue to fight for better funding for our police services to increase visible policing in our neighbourhoods. The Greater Manchester Mayor has taken action to increase the funding that GMP receives locally through the police precept, but more than 75% of the force’s funding comes from Central Government. It is not a secret that years of Central Government cuts to police funding have led to over 20,000 fewer police on our streets over the last ten years and we will continue to highlight this and lobby for more resources for our local police”.

Ms Barratt-Cole’s question was more personalised, but very much on the same theme: ‘Can the leader please tell me if she agreed with her long time friend Mohammed Imran Ali ( Irish Imy) setting up groups of people to patrol the streets at night in Chadderton and Werneth and will she be making available funds for equipment needed for night time street patrols?’

Cllr Shah’s response was short, but to the point:

“This question is a repeat of the previous one.

“I would just note, Madam Mayor, that a lot of noise was made last year, in the darker corners of Facebook, when a resident who was a member of the Labour party asked a question as part of Public Question Time”.

“I’ll be interested to see if the same noise is made this time when of the four questions we’ve had, two are Conservative election candidates and two are Proud of Oldham and Saddleworth election candidates.

“This section of the agenda is an important opportunity for the public to raise issues of concern and I would encourage any members of the public watching to submit questions next time so we have a wider representation of views” [Emphasis added].

Ms Barratt-Cole, Raja Miah and the Proud of Oldham and Saddleworth Party have all continued, since that Full Council Meeting in July, to misrepresent the answers to the questions provided by both Mrs Lockwood and Cllr Shah in the clearest, most unequivocal terms. The POOS and the Recusant Nine social media platforms continually referring to council-funded vigilante groups populated by gangsters, mobsters, Pakistani goons and Asian cartels.

Mohammed Imran Ali is known, most recently, to the local police as a charity worker providing aid to the needy and hungry in Oldham and being central to the despatch of truck-loads of aid to refugees in Greece and war-torn Yemen. At the local elections in May he was the agent of the independent candidate for the St Mary’s ward, Cllr Aftab Hussain, who comfortably topped the poll. ‘Irish Imy’ is pictured here at the election count at Oldham Civic Centre with Moheeb Uddin and Paul Errock, Raja Miah’s two closest friends and allies.

PHOTO-2021-05-11-23-26-47

The next Council meeting is scheduled for Wednesday 8th September, 2021. The full agenda can be read here and includes details on how to ask a public question.

The relevant email address is Constitutional.Services@oldham.gov.uk

Page last updated at 1445hrs on Thursday 2nd September, 2021.

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

Photo credits: Oldham Council and Proud of Oldham and Saddleworth

© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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