Tory motion to refer CSE Review to Home Office is defeated

Screenshot 2022-03-16 at 20.26.43

At a Full Council meeting held last night a motion set down by the local Conservative Group was defeated, despite being supported by the Liberal Democrats and three independent councillors.

The Labour Party Group on Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, which holds a comfortable 20 seat majority, voted it down after a short and surprisingly calm debate and a recorded vote.

The motion in full, headed ‘Oldham CSE Motion’, and the background to it, can be read here.

Cllr Dave Arnott, who also acts as the Conservative Group’s media relations officer, moved the motion

He said ‘it has hung over Oldham like a dark cloud for years’. But the [Conservative Party] want to present their concerns about the Oldham Strand of the Greater Manchester Mayor’s CSE Assurance Review and make suggestions. He emphasised that it is an ‘assurance review’, which should mean that ‘the management of the review should have been exemplary, but residents are not reassured’.

Cllr Arnott went on to ask whether, since the report was commissioned in 2019, an interim report had been written. The people of Oldham need reassurance, he says, as the allegations are not minor: “These allegations relate to horrible, disgusting and unbelievably cruel crimes” and how council officers and police officers handled them. This review has failed to deliver with the urgency and expediency that concerned residents demand and deserve.”

He concluded by asserting that the Council should invite what he terms a ‘full independent inquiry’ using Home Office resources.

The motion was seconded by the Conservatives’ Deputy Group Leader, Cllr Beth Sharp. She opened her remarks by saying that handing over the Assurance Review into the Mayoral remit was an abdication of responsibility by the Council, and further claimed that [Mayor] Andy Burnham made it clear at a recent question time session that ‘tackling CSE was not a priority’.

She concluded by saying: “Most importantly to my women colleagues in this Chamber – please support this motion and let’s get justice for the victims”.

Conservative councillor for Saddleworth North, Luke Lancaster, added that the mistrust in the institutions, which are supposed to serve the public interest, may now be irreversible because of the delays in publishing the Assurance Review.

But the most measured and powerful contribution came, unsurprisingly, from the Liberal Democrats’ Cllr Sam Al-Hamdani. He opened his remarks by saying that there are parts of the motion that he dislikes and parts he supports. He says the Terms of Reference for the Assurance Review make it clear that the timeframe for publication is set by the independent investigators [Malcolm Newsam and Gary Ridgeway] and, based on that, he does not think Andy Burnham should have offered projected dates for when the CSE review is likely to be published.

He added that if the Home Office could support the Review being carried out then the Council should ask for that support. “Either the people didn’t know what the process was or they have misled people. [The victims] have to relive the most traumatic experiences of anyone’s lives to do this.

“On the principle of can we ask the Home Office for any support then I think we should. In time, the investigation will come and people will see what is being done in their names and for them.”

He concluded by saying that the Operation Augusta report, by the same two investigators and part of the Mayor’s Region-wide CSE Assurance Review, had exposed many failings by police and local authorities.

The Labour Leader, and Leader of the Council, Cllr Arooj Shah, opened her response by saying that no Member should seek to make ‘political gain’ from the Review as all share a desire to publish the report and want to rebuild trust in services [associated with child safe safeguarding]. But, she added, the Council need to ‘have trust in the Review team’ who want to make sure that victims are given every opportunity to speak to them and full support should be given to that proposition: “Child abusers do not abuse based on who is in control of a political area,” she concluded after pointing out that the Council had been in control of political parties other than Labour during the period under investigation.

In typical fact-free, self-serving style, Cllr Brian Hobin of the Failsworth Independents said that every Party has used it as a ‘political football’. He went on to say that [nationally known CSE campaigner] Maggie Oliver has accepted the delay but he is disappointed that it’s taken two and a half years to get to this point. A motion put down by Cllr Hobin in November 2020, effectively accusing every other councillor of covering up child sex abuse, saw that meeting end in uproar.

Cllr Arnott, as proposer of the motion and accepting the right of reply, said, pointing out Cllr Al-Hamdani in particular, that he found it objectionable to be accused of scoring political points over what he described as a horrible episode: “I don’t care whether this [investigation] looks at a Labour, LibDem or coalition Council, let’s help these people [the victims] and get it over the line in quick time.”

A ‘peaceful protest’, by a group of local agitators whom self-style as The Rabble, took place and the meeting, which lasted almost 4 hours, after several agreed extensions beyond the 9.30pm cut-off point, was constantly interrupted by shouts from the public gallery. They had said, last week, that they were going to call for the arrest of councillors (read more here). Unsurprisingly, no police were in evidence in the Chamber to make such detentions.

Page last updated: Thursday 17th March, 2022 at 0955 hours

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Picture credit: Oldham Council

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Published by Neil Wilby

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

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