There may be trouble ahead

The last Full meeting of Oldham Council, held as recently as 2nd March, 2022 descended into chaos as the ruling Labour administration sought to have its Budget approved by the required majority of elected Members (read more here).

The meeting scheduled for next week, looking at what is a very dense Agenda, may well see a repeat. The eye of Neil Wilby, the author of this article, is drawn, in particular, to Item 10 ‘Notice of Opposition Business’. Motion 3, set down by the Oldham and Saddleworth Conservative Group (the Tories) reads as follows [with detail added in parentheses]:

Councillor [Dave] Arnott to MOVE and Councillor [Beth] Sharp to SECOND:

Oldham CSE [Child Sexual Exploitation] Motion

The Council notes that.

–          After a number of significant delays, Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham made a firm commitment in December 2021 [it was actually in November, 2021], that the independent report by Malcolm Newsam CBE and Gary Ridgeway into the response to historic Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in Oldham, would be published in week ending 28th January 2022. 

–          Just days before this latest deadline for publication, Mr Burnham released a further short statement, to the effect that the report would not be released in time to meet the deadline, with no further date for publication suggested.

–          This series of delays causes considerable emotional distress to the victims and their families and a lack of trust in the integrity of the report from the public in Oldham.

–          There is a growing feeling of unease amongst the residents of Oldham, and a suspicion that this latest delay of nearly eight weeks, is an indication that Mayor Andy Burnham is seeking to delay the publication of the report until after the local elections in May.     

This Council resolves that:

–          This council has lost its confidence in the ability, or ambition of the Mayor of Greater Manchester to publish the results of the review into CSE in Oldham with the urgency and expediency that the victims, their families, and the residents of Oldham deserve.  

–          The Chief Executive of Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council write to the Home Secretary asking for urgent and immediate direct Government intervention and assistance in ensuring that the report is published as quickly as possible and without any further delay.

–          The Home Secretary is further requested to establish whether previous delays could have been avoided, and to establish whether there had been any direct or indirect influence exerted to delay the publication of the report until after, or until a date very close to, the local government elections in May 2022.

An article published elsewhere on this website yesterday (8th March, 2022), chronicles the history of the various delays and the reasons given for them (read more here).

This motion is a more cultured version of a badly-drafted effort brought by Failsworth Independent Party‘s (FIP) Group Leader, Brian Hobin, in November, 2020, when he, effectively, accused the rest of his fellow councillors in engaging in the ‘cover-up’ of CSE. That meeting also ended in uproar and it was fortunate, in some respects, that it was held remotely, via Zoom, during the COVID-19 crisis.

Cllr Hobin, and the FIP, are very closely aligned to Raja Miah, an unemployed, failed charity and free schools operator from the neighbouring Borough of Tameside, whom relentlessly propagates a narrative to the effect that Oldham Council, paid officers and elected Members, the police, their partner agencies, and at least one MP, engaged in a joint and several ‘cover-up’ of child sexual exploitation in the town in return for Asian block votes. 

It is widely believed that the 2020 Hobin ill-starred and heavily defeated motion was a Miah proxy (it was also amateurishly drafted, in a way that actually encouraged the Council to cover up CSE). A hypothesis fuelled by appearances either side of that Council meeting on the infamous Recusant Nine podcasts. Two other FIP leading lights, Party Chair, Kathleen Wilkinson and Mark Wilkinson (before he was elected as a councillor), have also appeared as star guests on the disgraced, frequently banned social media platform. 

Now the talk in local political circles is of a link-up between FIP and the Tories in a bid to become the official Council Opposition in 2022/23. At present, having 8 councillors each, the Tories are joint Opposition with the Liberal Democrats. The Tory Chair and Vice Chair, Lewis Quigg and Robert Barnes, neither of whom are councillors, are both Raja Miah associates who obsess about, and seek to exploit politically, the alleged child sexual exploitation ‘cover-up’.

Another bridge between Miah, the Tories and FIP is the recently convicted Kaiser Rehman (read more here), currently serving an eighteen month suspended prison sentence after being found guilty of harassing an Oldham Labour councillor. Rehman changes his story, and allegiances, like the wind but is, for the moment at least, the Tories’ best known local activist, and self-styled ‘electioneering expert’, and, currently, in favour with Raja Miah. The latter is awaiting trial on harassment and malicious communications offences and is next due to appear at Manchester Magistrates’ Court on 12th April, 2022 (read more here). That may be another shared interest that is behind their renewed, but turbulent, association.

The Tory motion is certain to result in some spirited debate but, from this journalist’s highly informed perspective, it is, in parts speculative, and its core theme is misconceived:

 – It is difficult to comprehend how the Tories can speak for either victims or the voting population of Oldham – and it is certain that councillors representing other Parties will test them on that.

– The Home Secretary has no locus to intervene directly in the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Assurance Review and the Council’s Borough Solicitor and Monitoring Officer will, doubtless, advise the Chief Executive accordingly. 

 – The role of Oldham Council in the Review is passive, at best. A matter patiently explained in the Council Chamber a number of times in the past. They are key stakeholders, of course, and hosted the Review Team at the Civic Centre as a convenient, but highly secured base – and provided them with all the requested council documentation and records. But the lead investigators, widely acknowledged as the best in the country, are deployed by the Mayor, who owns the report the independent team will ultimately publish. Intervention, or interference, by the Council is simply not permissible or possible. It is an affront to Malcolm Newsam and Gary Ridgeway to suggest otherwise. 

 – The approach of the Conservative Party centrally, and that presumably includes the Home Secretary, is, perhaps, not what Oldhammers would be looking for in terms of getting to the heart of the CSE issues in the town. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, considers such historic investigations as “spaffing money up the wall” (see YouTube interview here).

There is, however, some merit in the widespread concern, on social media, that the latest delay in publication of the Assurance Review is a wily scheme to circumvent public scrutiny before the local elections in May, 2022. A matter, one might very fairly say, that should have been addressed, head-on, by the Mayor in his statement released yesterday (read more here). But, that relies on the assumption that the Review will find in favour of the ‘cover-up’ conspiracy theorists which, as an article published elsewhere on this website in November, 2020 shows, is far from certain. Headlined ‘Get The White Vote Angry‘ (read in full here) it was referred to by Miah in one of his ’emergency broadcasts’ earlier this week.

Added to that, the Maggie Oliver Foundation has issued a robust statement which cogently explains at least one main reason for the delay and, unequivocally, backs the two independent investigators, Messrs Newsam and Ridgeway. 

The Council meeting is available for public viewing, remotely, via their excellent broadcast medium which can be accessed at this link. The Conservative motion will be heard, according to the Agenda (read here) approximately 2 hours into the evening’s business.

Page last updated: Thursday 10th March, 2022 at 1935 hours

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Picture credit: Illustration by John Tenniel

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© 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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