Will hate campaign claim second local council Leader?

Image 19-03-2022 at 13.31

With the countdown to the local elections in May, 2022 now well under way, the biggest question in the Greater Manchester Region, and possibly the whole of the North West, is will Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council be saying ‘goodbye’ to its Leader, Cllr Arooj Shah, who is up for re-election in the Chadderton South ward, a seat she has held since 2018 (read more here). She is the first Muslim woman in the North of England to hold a Council Leader role – and intensely proud of such an honour.

Cllr Shah took up the leadership reins at Oldham in May, 2021 following the shock defeat of her predecessor, Sean Fielding, who fell victim to a sustained and well organised hate campaign orchestrated by an unemployed political activist from the neighbouring Borough of Tameside, Raja Miah (read more here). Fielding lost his Failsworth West seat to a close ally of Miah, Mark Wilkinson who represents a hyper-local party run by his wife, Kathleen.

The Failsworth Independent Party (FIP), who now have three elected Members on the Council, including Cllr Wilkinson, has become notorious, regionally and nationally, as being a haven for local racists and the far-right as well as an unhealthy collection of criminals, thugs and perverts amongst its key supporters. Particularly, its main propaganda channel, a community forum by the name of Failsworth Matters founded and run by Kathleen Wilkinson. Also a Raja Miah cultist. As is the FIP Group Leader, Cllr Brian Hobin, a convicted criminal whose unpleasant demeanour and unwillingness to conform to either Council Standing Orders or relevant statutory frameworks has made him an unpopular and in places, a despised figure in the Chamber.

A Party without politics and any semblance of moral compass, the FIP were easy prey for Raja Miah and his rabid anti-Labour narrative, centred upon an alleged, but very sketchily grounded, ‘cover-up’ of child sexual exploitation in return for Asian block votes (read more here). Heightened by the intense, and highly personalised dislike of Cllr Sean Fielding, as he was then, exhibited by the Wilkinsons and Cllr Hobin (read more here). The latter three have all appeared on Miah’s infamous Sunday evening podcasts.

So it is, with Fielding having moved on with his life and now enjoying a career renaissance as a PR executive with a top Manchester firm, that Miah and his core supporters, whom quite appositely self-style as The Rabble, have turned the focus of their hate onto Arooj Shah.

On an almost daily basis, for over nine months, she has been the subject of another deeply unpleasant, targeted campaign much, in the same depressing, largely fact-free style, as before. Made all the more regrettable by the, undoubtedly, remarkable start that Cllr Shah has made as Leader, proving both popular and very effective with her own indefatigable appetite for work and the ability to bring out the best in those around her being notable features.

Being on the receiving end of the Miah hate machine, fronted by his disgraced and frequently banned Recusant Nine social media platforms, is nothing new for Cllr Shah (read more here) but it is the intensity and persistence with which the attacks now come that raises eyebrows. As does the seeming inability, or unwillingness, of either Greater Manchester Police, the Council’s senior paid officer team or Labour Party HQ to bring it to a halt.

Indeed, GMP officers are also taunted, variously, as incompetent,  ‘corrupt’,  or ‘paedophile protectors’ on a very regular basis by Miah, singling out two officers in particular; Detective Inspector Kenneth Blain and Detective Sergeant Chris Dean. A situation that would not, very arguably, be allowed to continue in any other policing area in the country and most certainly not in neighbouring forces such as Lancashire Constabulary or West Yorkshire Police.

These shocking insults rain down on officers deployed with the second largest force in England, and utterly without evidence in the cases of D/Insp Blain and D/Sgt Dean, despite the fact Raja Miah is presently on court bail awaiting trial on what GMP say are harassment and malicious communications charges (read more here). He has also been warned over witness intimidation (read more here), which appears to have had little or no effect, claiming the arrest, in a dawn raid on his home in July, 2021 was ‘politically motivated’ (read more here) and robustly denying any form of wrongdoing,

The latest strand in the Miah campaign to de-stabilise the Labour Party and the Council leadership involves, it seems, a much vaunted plan to deliver leaflets to homes in Cllr Shah’s ward in Chadderton South. A sum of £1,000 was raised from The Rabble to fund the enterprise, late last year. One of Miah’s closest allies in recent times is Conservative Party candidate, Robert Barnes, the main opposition to Cllr Shah in the local election. Another key Miah ally is Lewis Quigg, the Political Chair of the same Conservative Party. Barnes is his Vice-Chair.

Those looking or listening in to Recusant Nine, over the past six months, have been exhorted to vote Conservative, tactically in the main, as a means of taking away power from the ruling Labour Group on the Council. A sea change from last year when Miah avidly supported all independents, most notably the FIP and the Proud of Oldham and Saddleworth Party (POOS), who fielded candidates in eight of the twenty wards without success. The POOS Party Leader, Paul Errock, was previously a close friend of Raja but they had a spectacular and very public dispute over Miah’s new found love for the Tory ethos.

Previews of the Chadderton South leaflets on Recusant Nine suggest that the core message seeks to undermine Arooj Shah personally, with reference to her long-standing friendship with reformed criminal, Mohammed Imran Ali, better known locally as ‘Irish Imy’, and the grotesque, unfounded smear that she is somehow engaged in the aforementioned ‘cover-up’ of child sex abuse in order to curry favour with those whom, allegedly, control block postal votes. A remarkable claim given that she lost her St Mary’s seat in 2016 to local taxi driver, Aftab Hussain, after a bitter election campaign in which Miss Shah claimed she was subjected to misogynistic male members of her own Party actively working against her. Cllr Hussain has retained his seat, twice, since. Latterly, with Irish Imy as his election agent.

What is not yet known is in whose name these leaflets are being sent out and who takes legal responsibility for them in the event of a complaint to the police, the Electoral Commission or the civil courts. The name ‘Recusant Nine’ can be seen clearly enough on them at the top of the page, but that Facebook handle is a not a legal entity, and it is what is on the small print at the foot of the leaflet, known as the imprint, that counts.

The Electoral Commission’s rules on leaflet imprints are clear enough:

“Throughout the UK, printed election campaign material must include the name and address of:

  • the printer
  • the promoter
  • who it’s being promoted for (for example, the candidate or party)

“Where election campaign material is promoting a party or campaigner, the Commission is responsible for enforcing the imprint rules. If it’s promoting a candidate, the police are responsible”.

The Electoral Commission also goes on to say:

“The most important thing to remember is that your vote belongs only to you. It’s up to you to decide how you want to use it. No one should pressure, blackmail or bribe you to vote a certain way – this is against the law.

“For all elections, you should choose the candidate that you feel would be the best person to represent you. They might share your views or prioritise issues that you think are important”.

The beneficiary of such leafleting is plainly going to be the Conservative Party and Robert Barnes and both they, and he, have been approached for comment as to what they consider to be the legal status of the Raja Miah/Recusant Nine leaflets and if they have considered the impact on their Party and the Barnes candidacy if they are deemed to be unlawful, or the subject of other form of legal restraint.

To the author of this article, Neil Wilby, decidedly a journalist and not a lawyer, the leaflets would appear to fall foul of the Electoral Commission’s rule against pressuring voters. Also, given the routine Miah output on Recusant Nine they are almost certain to be highly defamatory, in terms of their content, and publication and distribution direct into people’s homes is, anecdotally at least, much easier to prosecute, by way of a High Court claim, than Facebook posts.

But whichever way that falls, it is certain to put the darker side of Oldham’s politics back in the regional and national spotlight for the worst possible reasons.

UPDATE: The imprint on the leaflet states: ‘Published and promoted by Raja Miah on behalf of Recusant Nine, PO Box 326, Ashton-under-Lune (sic) OL6 0HD.’ An address that appears to be associated with Ashton-Under-Lyne Delivery Office, 35 Fleet St, Ashton-under-Lyne.

The address published by Greater Manchester Police at the time of Miah’s charging over the harassment and malicious communications allegations is Stamford Street, Mossley, Tameside. His full address and postcode is available simply by searching Google with ‘Raja Miah, Mossley’. It is unclear why he would choose to conceal that. The Electoral Commission and GMP have both been approached regarding the legality of the leafleting enterprise.

Page last updated: Sunday 20th March, 2022 at 0705 hours

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Published by Neil Wilby

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

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