On 22nd December, 2021 Bolton-based The Oldham Times belatedly, and dramatically, reported on two peripheral matters that had been discussed at a Full Council meeting seven days earlier, writes Neil Wilby.
The headlined screamed: ‘Oldham Council probe after allegations of leaks to ‘malicious blogger‘.’ and, setting aside the absence of any interrogatory process that might substantiate the claims made within his article, chief reporter, James Mutch, presumably, in his anxiety for precious clicks on the newspaper’s website, and a lurid debate on their Facebook page, failed to offer a fellow NUJ-accredited journalist the basic courtesy of a right to reply.
For I am the ‘malicious blogger’ to whom the Times refers.
The derogatory term, oft-repeated by a disgraced Tameside political activist, Raja Miah, currently on police bail, and subject to night time curfew, over suspicions of public order, malicious communication and harassment offences, and a group of cultist followers whom self-style as ‘The Rabble’, is, of itself, highly defamatory. In an article, published elsewhere on this website, in April, 2021, and headlined ‘Bare Faced Lies‘ it explains why (read in full here). This is the relevant extract:
“The ‘malicious blogger’ slur is repeated often and I will rehearse what was written in an earlier piece on this website and ignored by Raja MIAH: The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) spent almost £150,000 (figures obtained via Freedom of Information request) trying to silence my criticism of the disgraced watchdog. The headline in the Huddersfield Examiner, that reported on interlocutory proceedings, correctly, had the ‘malicious blogger’ allegation framed in quotation marks. I was neither present nor represented at that first hearing. Once my barrister was instructed, matters took on an entirely different hue. That allegation was not repeated, either in witness evidence from the IPCC caseworkers or in submissions made by the watchdog’s counsel. On the last working day before a final court hearing, that I was absolutely determined would go ahead, the IPCC capitulated and a compromise agreement was signed on terms that were favourable to me. At their insistence, a confidential annex was attached to the consent order which prevents me articulating exactly what those terms were. The temporary injunction was lifted and there is no final finding of malicious blogging. That leaves Miah, and his acolytes, who frequently post the ‘malicious blogger’ term, very exposed in terms of defending either defamation or harassment proceedings”.
The tedious and associated claim that I am not permitted to contact the police watchdog, re-named the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) as the previous IPCC brand had become too toxic, has no basis in fact or evidence. It was agreed, by consent, that I would not contact three caseworkers at the very bottom of the IPCC food-chain, without showing good cause. In the event, there has never been the need. But that leaves an organisation with over 400 other staff with whom I am free to interact almost every working day, via the usual journalistic gateways and my [diminishing] role as a police complaints advocate.
Subsequent case law, McNally v Saunders  EWHC 2012 (QB), is proof positive that I would have succeeded against the IPCC at trial (read full judgment here). I was always confident that would be the outcome before the watchdog, sensibly, sought a compromise.
Jimmy Mutch and The Oldham Times would have been better served acquainting themselves both with those matters, and the facts about the alleged ‘leaks’ that follow in the ensuing paragraphs of this piece. As things stand, it appears as though their readers have been misled, deliberately so in my respectful, but informed, submission.
The first of those alleged ‘leaks’ was articulated in the temporary Council chamber (a modified Queen Elizabeth Hall) by way of a public question from Matthew Smith, a committed member of Raja’s Rabble and, on the evidence of his Twitter feed, a stranger to the truth and completely immune to facts, evidence and reasoned argument: Raja Miah (and Paul Errock, the Leader of the Proud of Oldham and Saddleworth Party), are right, everyone who criticises them is wrong. He is also, it seems, part of a Twitter group that call themselves “Warriors of Oldham”, which has very close links to another hyper-local entity, the Failsworth Independent Party.
The issue he raised did have some merit, but was absent of some crucial facts. The core allegation is that personal information about a fellow Rabble and Warriors member, Anita Lowe, was ‘leaked’ to me. There was no mention in Matt’s public question about the many Council leaks to Messrs Miah and Errock, about which they both brag, frequently, on their respective and multi-faceted social media channels.
The facts relating to the first of the alleged ‘leaks’ to me, regarding Anita Lowe, are these:
1. Anita Lowe is, or has been, involved with, or running, a number of stalking, trolling social media accounts over the past couple of years or so. The ‘Warriors of Oldham’ group is central to those activities. Also a leading Raja Miah cultist, she appears to be discontented with her life on benefits; her Council; the Labour Party; its former Leader, Sean Fielding, who was her ward representative until she moved to a different ward in 2016; and, obsessively, me. Her posts are frequently outrageous and defamatory and she has recent sanctions by both Facebook and Twitter over standards violations relating to harassment and abuse. If she wasn’t living on State handouts, in a rented council bungalow, a defamation claim would have been issued last year. The express purpose for which I obtained her home address at that time, via one of two databases to which I subscribe as part of my journalistic portfolio.
2. The alleged ‘leak’ was an email from an individual with legitimate interest in matters concerning myself, Mrs Lowe and Raja’s Rabble – and was sent from an Oldham Council email address on 25th October, 2012. The identity of that person will not be disclosed publicly by me. Having balanced the public interest in doing so, against the very considerable harm that person would most certainly suffer at the hands of The Rabble, the scales weigh heavily in favour of shielding that individual from a torrent of unwarranted and, very probably, malicious, defamatory and harassing abuse.
3. The subject email from the Council domain (oldham.gov.uk) simply said ‘FYI’ (For your information). Nothing more. Below it was a short email thread that comprised a freedom of information (FOI) request from Anita Lowe and a finalisation from Oldham Council’s information management team. But an important part of the matrix here is that the sole named subject of the FOI request was none other than myself. This is the full text:
Dear Information Manager
I would like to request any documents emails – memos – phone call transcripts
Including all dates of the requested as above – that reference Mr Neil Wilby or have been and continue to be in dialogue with him.
Between any Councillor’s – MP’s – Officers and employees of OMBC.
From dates September 2020 – to current dates.
Your’s (sic), Mrs Anita Lowe
4. The request was, unsurprisingly, refused in its entirety and in these terms:
“FOI [reference number] 16434 Response
“Under the [Freedom of Information] Act, Oldham Council has a duty to supply any information on request, unless there is an exemption. It is the Council’s policy only to apply the exemptions where there is a genuine risk of harm or prejudice. In such cases, we will still provide information if it is in the public interest to do so. With regards to your request, there is the risk of identification of individuals, and consequently, your request is considered exempt from disclosure under Freedom of Information 2000 Section 40, Personal data.
“Personal data is defined in Article 4 of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and further clarified under Part 1(3) of the Data Protection Act 2018 as information relating to an identified or identifiable living individual.
“This exemption allows the withholding of personal data if the data protection principles would be breached by its disclosure. Article 5(a)of the GDPR and part 1(2) of the Data Protection Act 2018 requires that personal data is processed lawfully and fairly. In order to be ‘lawful’ a condition must be met from Article 6 of the GDPR and although your request evidences a legitimate interest in requesting the data, this request cannot be fulfilled without prejudice to an individual’s rights and freedoms, in particular their right to privacy and hence a condition in Article 6 cannot be met. Consequently, as Article 5(a) of the GDPR cannot be met, the exemption under Freedom of Information Act 2000 is engaged.
“If you are dissatisfied with the handling of your request, you have the right to ask for an internal review. Internal review requests should be submitted within two months of the date of receipt of the response to your original letter and should be addressed to:
If you disagree with the any of the exemptions applied to this information, you may appeal to: Legal Services, Oldham Council.”
In my respectful submission, the Council could also have relied on Section 12 (1) of the Act which is, in effect, an over-cost exemption. The scope of the Lowe request was too wide and retrieval, processing of the information sought for disclosure, very likely, too burdensome.
A further exemption could also have been considered, which is Section 38 of the Act, where disclosure could endanger an individual by placing his health and safety at risk. The information sought by Anita Lowe gives all the appearance of attempting to obtain ammunition with which to continue both her own campaign of harassment and abuse and, with very little doubt, in concert with the stalking and harassing groups with whom she is closely associated, notably The Rabble and The Warriors.
5. There was also some connected FOI history, immediately prior to that request being submitted by Mrs Lowe. Indeed, viewed from this quarter, it would seem that the request for my personal data resting with the Council was a continuation of it. She had made three ludicrous, vexatious and defamatory complaints to the What Do They Know platform (see here) about information requests I had made to Oldham Council. These complaints by her were quickly dismissed by both WDTK, and the Council, but the former refused to sanction and remove her, in the face of the most appalling behaviour. Which, regrettably, has led to a parting of the ways: After seven mutually productive years, I no longer use their public platform to make FOI requests and not only risk such mindless and unwarranted abuse by an obsessive stalker/troll, but spend countless unproductive hours dealing with it.
6. I had also drawn to the attention of the Council’s Information Manager the fact that her own requests on What Do They Know were, plainly, and on any independent view, not written by Anita Lowe. She, or, much more likely, an unknown person assisting her with writing the requests, was, to all intents and purposes, simply propagating enquiries as a proxy for her friend and hero, Raja Miah, who was having great difficulty in having his own requests answered by the same Council. Six of them being refused as ‘vexatious’ (read more here).
7. The Council declined to act on that information, and continued to answer her requests, but the truth does usually out and so it has proved in this case. Whilst researching this article, a further freedom of information request, using Anita Lowe’s What Do They Know account, revealed another stampede of Raja Miah hobby horses. But, extraordinarily, and quite apart from being in breach of the Freedom of Information Act, and What Do They Know’s own user terms, it was signed by ‘Christopher Lowe’ (read here). This would be Mrs Lowe’s husband, Chris Lowe, one of Raja Miah’s very closest allies and said to be the operator of the disgraceful ‘Oldham Eye’ Twitter account. In the event, the request was refused by the Council, albeit after an unjustifiable and unexplained delay, and the Lowes (pictured below) appear to have taken it no further.
8. Returning to the Anita Lowe freedom of information request forwarded to me on 25th October, 2021, her complaint comprises the appearance of her email address and home address within it. There can be no complaint about the freedom of information request as disclosure under the Act is ‘to the world’. That is not personal or private information, as explained to Mrs Lowe in a letter to her dated 26th November, 2021 from Oldham Council, a redacted copy of which I have now obtained: More particularly, as the sole aim of the request was to obtain information about Neil Wilby. As I already had her home address, for the contemplated purpose of issuing legal proceedings against her, the breach comprises, solely, of the unauthorised and improper release, to me, of her email address. It is very doubtful indeed that the one I have seen is her only one, given the number of social media accounts she has, or had, in the recent past.
9. For such a complaint to gain any traction, beyond a thorough, proportionate investigation by the Council’s leadership team, Anita Lowe would have to show harm has come to her over that data breach, or prove distress. The hard truth is that she has not, nor is ever likely to produce evidence of either. Moreover, the prospects of me processing her data, that is to say in layman’s terms, sharing her email with other persons, is zero. The only interest I have in Mr and Mrs Lowe is establishing whether they have sufficient funds to meet my legal costs in a defamation claim, and/or drawing their abusive, harassing social media posts to the relevant platform operators.
10. The Council wrote again to Anita Lowe on 10th December, 2021 setting out the outcome of their investigation into the alleged leak: Their letter had, correctly, sought assurances from me that her data was not processed or retained. To which they have, subsequently, received the appropriate assurances. They have further informed her of the process being followed regarding steps taken to avoid repetition of such ‘leaks’ and the sanction that will be applied to the person inadvertently disclosing that data. It is, given the relatively minor breach, expected that ‘words of advice’ will be offered to that person by the Council’s Monitoring Officer, Harry Catherall.
Having spoken to the Information Commissioner’s Office, as a member of the public rather than a journalist and information rights practitioner very well known to the statutory regulator, they say that it is not a matter that meets the threshold for the ICO to get involved. A view with which Oldham Council agree.
I would go further and say that, whilst regrettable and avoidable, it doesn’t come remotely close to a matter that warrants referral. Almost anyone else, other than someone hell-bent on causing trouble, would have been more than satisfied with the communication, investigation and steps taken by Oldham Council in, for them, record time. It is a matter that they have treated at the appropriate level and with due proportionality. In all truth, and viewed independently, Anita Lowe couldn’t ask for more on their part.
A peripheral issue as to the eligibility of Matt Smith to ask a public question has been raised with Oldham Council. He posted on Twitter, unequivocally in July 2021, that he had left the Oldham area, yet claiming, within the last few days when challenged on that point, that he had actually lied in that post and he does still live in the Borough.
Part two to follow
The second part of The Oldham Times hatchet job will be dealt with in a separate, but linked, article due to be published within the next week or so, dependent on responses from press enquiries that I have sent out concerning the smears propagated by disgraced councillor, Brian Hobin of the Failsworth Independent Party.
A convicted fraudster, Cllr Hobin is very closely linked to Raja Miah, the Warriors of Oldham run by Mr and Mrs Lowe and a number of seriously unsavoury characters that appear to form the ‘praetorian guard’ for his Party. The working hypothesis is that the two separate attacks on Neil Wilby, the first from the public gallery and the second from what he must have believed was the safety of the council chamber, were co-ordinated by his Party Chairwoman, Kathleen Wilkinson, and designed to prevent publication of further exposés such as this one, headlined ‘Disgraced hyper-local party mired in yet more controversy’ (read in full here).
As every other similar attempt has done before, it has backfired spectacularly on Brian Hobin, and his co-councillor, Mark Wilkinson and Mrs Wilkinson – and opened up a another series of controversies from which he, and they, will find it very hard to recover.
A Party built almost entirely on lies is finding truth and accountability very uncomfortable bedfellows.
Page last updated at 1345hrs on Wednesday 19th January, 2022
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