Wherever the journey takes you

Screenshot 2021-09-25 at 07.41.31

That is the bold strapline of a well established firm of solicitors based in the Greater Manchester area. But the journey from their office in Failsworth to their present predicament is not one that they have likely enjoyed.

A sub-header claims that, as solicitors with offices in Tameside, Stockport and Manchester, ‘Harold Stock & Co offers a wide range of the highest quality legal services’. That is also a claim upon which the firm may wish to reflect.

Elsewhere on this website an article was published on 15th September, 2021 that exposed apparent shortcomings in both the diligence and competencies of the sole Director of the firm, Darren McGuinness. Long associated with the town of Failsworth and the resident lawyer in the firm’s offices on Pole Lane for many years.

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The article was a devastating take-down of a purported ‘cease and desist’ letter sent, ostensibly, on behalf of Councillor Mark Wilkinson of the Failsworth Independent Party to the author of this piece, Neil Wilby.

Essentially, the McGuinness letter, dated 7th September, 2021, alleged that a ‘smear campaign’ was being mounted against Cllr Wilkinson and grounded, firstly, in the fact that the same Neil Wilby is not a journalist qualified to make informed comment about his client and, secondly, in a friendship with the former Leader of Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, Sean Fielding. The politician whom Wilkinson had deposed in a bitterly fought election campaign in May of this year.

A further assertion, also palpably untrue, was that the alleged campaign against his client (or clients) had started since he was elected.

Nevertheless, based entirely on an almost fact- and evidence-free concoction, an undertaking was sought by Darren McGuinness to ‘cease the campaign against our client and his wife on all social media platforms and in any other media’.

Cllr Wilkinson’s wife is the self-styled Failsworth Independent Party Chairwoman, Kathleen Wilkinson. The oddity here is that Harold Stock and Co did not, on the evidence, have instructions from her at the material time and were, therefore, not empowered to seek any undertaking on her behalf. A matter about which a competent, experienced lawyer should be fully aware. The subject line of his letter is explicit in this regard: ‘Our client – Mark Wilkinson – Councillor for the Failsworth Independent Party‘.

A lengthy, forensic response to the purported cease and desist letter was sent to the Wilkinsons’ solicitors on 8th September, 202, pointing out its manifest legal flaws and more general inaccuracies. A request for evidence to back up the various assertions made by his client(s) was also requested. It was also suggested, respectfully, that, in the circumstances, the fee paid by his client for their legal services, said to be £400, was donated to a local food bank or homeless charity.

The Neil Wilby email was acknowledged by Mr McGuinness on the 10th, but nothing has been heard since. A follow up email was sent the following day clarifying a number of matters that was designed to assist both his, and his firm’s, wider understanding of  of the matters in issue. It included a link to another article on this website which chronicled a previous and spectacularly failed attempt to silence his client’s critics (read here). On that occasion, the Failsworth Independent Party tried to gag Sean Fielding.

In those communications, between journalist and lawyer, it was accepted that the instructions received by Harold Stock and Co may well have been deficient. Not least in the light that the Failsworth Independent Party, on ample available evidence, appear to habitually decorate the truth and attach themselves to wild conspiracy theories.

On 17th September, 2021, a further email was sent to Darren McGuinness in these terms:

“It is profoundly disappointing, given what has gone before, that your client(s) did not engage with the right to reply to what is now a published article (read in full here):

Disgraced hyper-local party mired in yet more controversy

“That is, of course, entirely his/their prerogative but the absence of response from them now brings forward what was always planned to be a follow-up piece headlined ‘As Clear As Mud’.

“Material of the highest public interest was held in reserve, for that purpose, and, as very often happens, some other genuinely shocking revelations have been unearthed following publication of the ‘Disgraced hyper local party‘ piece yesterday.

“In that regard, the following questions are put to you, and/or your firm, as opposed to your client(s):

“1. Have either you, or your firm, made the suggested £400 donation to charity referred to in two previous emails?

“2. Will either you, or your firm, be tendering an apology to me over the palpably false claims and smears contained in your letter dated 7th September, 2021?

“3. Have either you, or your firm, made appropriate enquiries as to how my personal email was obtained and used? Apparently, in breach of DPA and GDPR?

“4. Has either you, or your firm, made basic checks or called for documents to verify, or otherwise, the substance behind the various assertions that your client(s) has/have made?

“5. Can you please confirm if you are instructed by Mark Wilkinson, Kath Wilkinson or both?”

Mr McGuinness has chosen to ignore that communication, not even offering the courtesy of an acknowledgement. But as others have discovered to their cost in similar circumstances, silence is not a viable option. This matter is not going to go away until it is compromised appropriately.

In the meantime, an informed guess as to the answers to those questions is:

1. No

2. Not without being shamed into it.

3. Yes, but the answer is embarrassing.

4. Yes, but there is little, or nothing, of substance.

5. Not without, potentially, disclosing a regulatory matter.

The ‘As Clear as Mud‘ article, referred to in the third Neil Wilby email to the Wilkinson lawyers, will be published in the course of the coming week. It also forms the basis of a wide-ranging Standards complaint that is to be submitted to the Monitoring Officer at Oldham Council. Given the gravity of the matters complained of, it will be accompanied by a public call for Mark Wilkinson and his Failsworth Independent Party colleague, Cllr Brian Hobin, to stand down from local politics sooner rather than later.

The class of conduct they, and their supporters, bring to the Chamber, and the toxic social media forums in the Borough, most notably the Wilkinson curated Failsworth Matters, stands to decay the reputation of Council even further. There are already widespread concerns, according to a number of sources in the Civic Centre, as to the discomfort and damage caused by both the FIPs reckless behaviour and their obvious discontent over submitting to any form of accountability.

Darren McGuinness and Mark Wilkinson were both offered right of reply to this piece on the day it was published (26th September). Neither acknowledged the email carrying that message. In addition to the Standards complaint against Cllr Wilkinson referred to above, a complaint will also now follow to the Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority concerning the conduct of the ‘cease and desist’ matters by his lawyer.

Page last updated: Tuesday 28th September, 2021 at 1805hours

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

Picture credit:  Harold Stock and Co.

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.

© 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 Media, 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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