Another leaked section of Assurance Review identifies more police and council failings

Greater-Manchester-Police-headquarters

On Thursday, 3rd February, 2022 the author of this article, Neil Wilby, received an email from Khazir Rehman (or Kaiser as he is much more commonly known) as part of the follow up to an article published earlier that day that reported on a libel and harassment claim in which he was the unsuccessful defendant (read more here).

Included amongst the email recipients were the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Stephen Watson, the Chief Executive of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Liz Treacey, the Leader of Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, Cllr Arooj Shah and her Chief Executive, Harry Catherall, and the General Secretary of the Labour Party, David Evans.

Attached to the email was a letter and document that was headed ‘Fair Process – Oldham Review’ and dated 11th January, 2022. The contents were largely familiar as this was the second such ‘leak’ made to Neil Wilby by a stakeholder in the Review. The first being from a child sex abuse survivor whose story has since been featured in the Sunday Mirror and on Sky News, amongst other media outlets. A decision was taken at the time not to run an article on this website: Firstly for ethical reasons; secondly because those disclosures could bear, disproportionately, on the rest of the Assurance Review; thirdly, and peripherally, because much of what was in the disclosures was already known and in the public domain if one knew where to look and, indeed, the Mirror’s Geraldine McKelvie had run an extensive, and excellent, piece in May, 2021 that related to the same survivor.

The fact that this survivor, raped and abused multiple times as a 12 year old and codenamed ‘Sophie’ in the leaked report, was treated appallingly by both Oldham Council and, more particularly, GMP, is well rehearsed and a matter of the gravest concern. The promised joint letter of apology, from the police and the council, does not even go remotely close to an appropriate remedy. 

In contrast, the class of disclosure leaked by Kaiser Rehman, does not come close to those of the survivor, Sophie. His section in the Assurance Review concerns his role in reporting an allegation of child sex abuse against a fellow councillor, very serious if true, of course, and the consideration of his treatment as a ‘whistleblower’, thereafter. 

The reason given by Kaiser for disclosing the confidential report to this journalist is that it would aid his understanding of the background to the libel and harassment claim and influence the reporting of it. Which he described in his email to the various authorities, without specification, as ‘jumping the gun’ and ‘defamatory’. Neither allegation having any basis in facts or evidence: The subject article is based almost entirely upon a published High Court judgment.

Nevertheless, distilling the email into its useful parts, Kaiser is correct on both counts: A better understanding of the police and council investigations referred to in that same judgment is very helpful and appropriate context can, and will, be added to the contemporaneous reporting of Master McCloud’s findings of fact.

For those reasons, taken together with the presumption that these issues involving Kaiser Rehman fall some distance away from what both the terms of reference, and public perception of what the Assurance Review is about; the ‘cover-up’ of large scale grooming and child sex abuse, involving young white girls, by police, council and partner agencies and in return for Asian block votes in local and general elections, the decision is taken to report on these matters now, and serve the public interest, rather than wait for the publication of the full, but much delayed, Oldham-centred report.

It is a matter of considerable concern that the Review team, headed by Malcolm Newsam and assisted largely by Gary Ridgeway, both well recognised as leading specialists in their field, found failings by GMP and Oldham Council in respect of their treatment of Kaiser Rehman and the allegations he made at the material time. The police did not take him seriously and, although the report doesn’t say it, he appears to have been treated as an agitator or trouble causer, rather than taking his allegations, made in September, 2015, at face value. The council appear guilty of much the same, although rather more hamstrung by process and constitutional issues than their police counterparts.

Allegation and counter-allegation

The Rehman allegations were brought first to the attention of Council Leader, Jim McMahon, another Councillor anonymised as ‘W,’ and Chief Executive, Carolyn Wilkins, in respect of Cllr Riaz Ahmad and the alleged grooming of a minor. The latter has consistently, and vehemently, denied these allegations and continues to do so.

The Assurance Review team has looked in detail at those allegations and reviewed copies of emails between the responsible detective inspector and the chief executive. Senior officers in Oldham Council and Greater Manchester Police have also been interviewed about the investigation they undertook.

It is believed that there were failings in how both the council and GMP investigated this allegation. For legal reasons they are unable to set out the details of these failures, but they are contained in a confidential appendix to their full report to which a very limited limited number of interested parties will be given access.

No evidence was found that the failures, either separately or collectively by GMP and the council, were politically motivated or with the intention of protecting a senior councillor from being appropriately investigated for serious allegations. The Review team goes on to say that they have been provided with no evidence that the failures within the investigations were influenced by Jim McMahon, as Leader, or any other elected Member of Oldham Council.

Nonetheless, the failures in responding to the allegations against Cllr Ahmad contrast with the robust action taken by the Council in respect of Cllr Rehman (as he was then) who first brought the allegations to the attention of the council: Kaiser was formally advised of his safeguarding duties in writing on two separate occasions; first by the chief executive and subsequently by the executive director responsible for safeguarding. GMP gave the council detailed information in respect of his complaints which could be seen neither as justified nor necessary. There is also evidence that the investigating officer considered Cllr Rehman as being, potentially, the primary instigator of these issues rather than focusing on the substance behind the allegations. For these reasons, the Review team concluded that the investigations by GMP and Oldham Council into allegations against Cllr Ahmad fell short of what was required by the procedures in place at the time. They do emphasise, however, that their conclusion that these investigations were flawed should not be taken to imply any view on the part of the Review team about the guilt, or otherwise, of Cllr Ahmad.

Was Kaiser Rehman punished for being a ‘whistleblower’?

As mentioned elsewhere, the Review’s terms of reference do not include providing assurance on the handling of Standards complaints made to the Council, nor any disciplinary action taken by the Labour Party. Nonetheless, the team did seek assurance that none of the actions taken were designed to cover up the issue of child sexual exploitation, nor unreasonably punish any individual who had legitimately raised concerns.

Jim McMahon, Kaiser Rehman, Dr Wilkins, and the Council’s Monitoring Officer (and Borough Solicitor), Paul Entwistle were all interviewed and the Review team scrutinised the independent report produced by solicitors, Bevan Brittan, into their investigation of two complaints that Members breached the council’s members’ code of conduct. These were a complaint by Cllr Rehman about Cllr Riaz made in May, 2016 and a complaint by Cllr Riaz about Cllr Rehman made the following month.

All reports, minutes of meetings emails and communications held on the various council’s systems between September 2015 & 2017 concerning this investigation were also reviewed. No evidence has been uncovered that supports a perception, or an allegation, that either Jim McMahon or Dr Wilkins promoted the complaint submitted by Cllr Riaz against Cllr Rehman.

However, the Assurance Review team do conclude that there were some inconsistencies and false assumptions in the independent report produced by Bevan Brittan and delivered in May, 2017. The independent investigator concluded that the conduct complained about in respect of Cllr Rehman occurred as part of his official duties. Official capacity is defined in the Members’ Code of Conduct and includes whenever a councillor conducts the business of the council including the office to which the Member is elected or appointed, or “act, claim to act or give the impression you are acting as a representative of the Council”.

The investigator concluded that Cllr Rehman was acting as a representative of the council and set out four reasons why she took this view. Having considered these reasons, set out in the confidential appendix, the Review team are not persuaded that any of these arguments are compelling evidence that Cllr Rehman was, in fact, acting in an official capacity. Concerns about these conclusions were put to Oldham Council, whom, in turn, also presented them to Bevan Brittan. The solicitor firm correctly pointed out that there is a recognised legal uncertainty in determining when the Code of Conduct applied.

The Review team sought independent legal advice from counsel on this matter who agreed with the views expressed by Bevan Brittan. They, therefore, concluded that, whilst they remain unconvinced of the arguments put forward by the independent investigator, and are surprised that she concluded that Cllr Rehman was acting in an official capacity, there are no grounds in public law to suggest this conclusion was unreasonable.

It has also been considered, in the light of concerns expressed about the conclusions of the Bevan Brittan report, whether Oldham Council could reasonably have been expected to have intervened in the process at this point. The relevant procedures are set out in the council’s Standards arrangements (read in full here).

It is clear from the those arrangements that Paul Entwistle, was obliged, if no local resolution could be reached under the council’s process, to submit the investigation report to the Standards Committee for consideration at that stage. It was not within Mr Entwistle’s remit, nor was it within his discretion, to take a decision, in advance of the hearing, that the report may contain either inconsistencies or false assumptions, nor could a view be taken by the him at that stage as to whether Cllr Rehman was acting in his official capacity, as the findings of the report suggested: This was a determination that only the Standards Committee could make, at a local hearing, based upon the evidence and advice available at that hearing.

The Council has also pointed out to the Assurance Review team that any other decision by the Monitoring Officer to intervene would have been ultra vires, and in breach of the Council’s procedures.

In the event, none of the three standards panels set up to hear the allegations against Cllr Rehman actually proceeded to a hearing. There is no explanation in the report as to why.

The finding of the Review team on this issue is that whilst they do not agree with the conclusions arrived at, within the independent report, the Council was not responsible for its content; had not approved, or endorsed, it in any way; and was, in any case, not in any position to require the independent investigator to reconsider or amend her view.

Accordingly, whilst the Assurance Review doesn’t specifically spell it out, this part of Kaiser Rehman’s complaint is not upheld. He did, undoubtedly, suffer some minor injustice but, if fingers must be pointed, then it may have to be in the direction of Bevan Brittan and the Labour Party, by whom he was suspended in early 2016.

Author of his own misfortune

As rehearsed earlier in this piece, the fact that Greater Manchester Police played the man and not his allegations – and the rather more opaque issue of the differential treatment he appeared to have meted out to him by the Council, compared to that of Cllr Ahmad, is profoundly disappointing, But that must be tempered with how Kaiser Rehman routinely presents himself: He is thought by a significant number of his peers, opponents, and those who know him more peripherally, to be an arrogant, self-absorbed, oppressive, obsessive, know-it-all individual who airily dismisses any criticism or advice, however well founded and intentioned. That was doubtless a piece in a complex matrix, for both the police and the Council back in 2015, but is assuredly not advanced as an excuse for either public body not performing as they should. Rehman is owed an apology, at the very least, from GMP.

But, more worryingly, Kaiser is, it seems from the evidence at Tameside Magistrates’ Court, where he was convicted of harassing Dr Zahid Chauhan, a nationally recognised Oldham councillor, and the Royal Courts of Justice, where he lost a libel and harassment claim brought by Cllr Ahmad, quite open to relentlessly pursuing misconceived complaints, claims, arguments and defences against those whom he perceives have wronged him. 

After the judgment was handed down in the libel and harassment claim yesterday (Thursday 3rd February, 2022), his first response was to double down on the attack on Cllr Ahmad. Within a couple of hours, he asserted that he had reported an alleged offence of perverting the course of justice to the Metropolitan Police. A crime number has been provided, but he has refused a request to share the specification of the complaint that matches it.

He contends, separately, the leaked section of the Assurance Review report, and the subject of extensive analysis in the preceding paragraphs of this article, undermines the submissions made by Cllr Ahmad’s legal team and the consequent findings by the judge, absent of cogent counter-arguments from Kaiser. One of the thrusts of Master Victoria McCloud’s findings was that Cllr Ahmed was exonerated by the police and the Council after their investigations into the Rehman allegations. Both of which are now criticised, of course, by Messrs Newsam and Ridgeway.

The new Rehman argument is that, on the basis of the excerpt of the Assurance Review provided to him, Cllr Ahmad wasn’t ‘exonerated’, and there is now, it must be said, some merit in that proposition. Except the judgment is dated 26th December, 2021 and the excerpt is dated 11th January, 2022.

Neither the legal team acting for Cllr Ahmad, or indeed the magistrate and past Mayor himself, or the judge, could know anything other than what the police and Council had told them after the ‘investigations’ concluded – and had been pleaded, accordingly, in evidence.

Overlaid onto those matters is the fact that in April, 2021 Kaiser Rehman, of his own volition, resiled from ‘truth’ as a defence to the libel claim. At the heart of which were the allegations by him that there was impropriety between Cllr Ahmad and a minor. As the judge notes early in her judgment, ‘nor especially did he [Khazir Rehman] seek to argue truth as to Mr Ahmad ever having engaged in any form of abuse with this or any other young man’.

His defence to the harassment claim, even after two written attempts, and a third in oral submissions at a hearing in October, 2021, before a judge seemingly minded to give every assistance to a lay litigant, was so muddled and unfocused that it was inevitable his defence to the claim would fail on every point. 

In a legal challenge to his expulsion from the Labour Party, proceedings were settled with Rehman accepting that his actions, in effect the allegations against Cllr Ahmad, had been a “serious error of judgment”.

It seems to this journalist/court reporter, at least, that the McCloud judgment is not at all likely to be dislocated by the contents of the Assurance Review excerpt and the fact that Cllr Ahmad was not ‘exonerated’. The burden lay squarely on Kaiser Rehman to prove that those grotesque allegations he had made were true. There neither was, nor is, a legal requirement for Riaz Ahmad to prove they were not true. In lengthy court proceedings, before a judge minded to give him every opportunity, Rehman has not produced a scintilla of evidence.

Similarly, the proposition that the Rehman complaint to the Metropolitan Police will reach the high threshold for an arrest, or request for a voluntary interview, connected to a perverting the course of justice complaint of this class would appear far-fetched. Muddied even further by Kaiser’s own submissions to the High Court. This is a passage taken from transcripts and reproduced from the judgement: “I had every right to give my side of the story. I just want to make it very clear, the point I was making was that I can publicly say if somebody has been accused of a crime. I can say that provided [Cllr Ahmad] has been accused of it and there is a public interest, and the public interest does arise here because the police have taken it very seriously.”

But, very regrettably, this latest blind alley pursuit may be enough to stall further the publication of the full report of the Oldham Strand of the Child Sexual Exploitation Review, already delayed, it seems, by the Kaiser Rehman farrago. It would be a tragedy for the victims, witnesses, their families, and all other stakeholders, and, of course, the Review team, if that was the case. 

UPDATE: Having declined a right of reply, Rehman then posted on Twitter above a link to this article: “I don’t know how Wilby and his Labour friends will square the circle that Riaz Ahmad after being accused of sexual abuse allegations, made false allegations of being “ framed,” by me for years to divert attention from the allegations, believed, then claim exoneration”.

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Page last updated at 0925hrs on Saturday 5th February, 2022

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

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2022. 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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