New Council Leader faces baptism of fire

Watson and Chadderton

Having safely negotiated a softball first appearance as the new Council Leader on May 25th, 2022 with the Mayor-making and Annual General Meeting, Cllr Amanda Chadderton faces a very different test early next week, writes Neil Wilby.

In the wake of the controversial Oldham Child Sexual Exploitation Review, published two days ago by the Greater Manchester Mayor, an Extraordinary Council Meeting will take place at Oldham Civic Centre on Monday 27th June, 2022 at 6pm. It will be broadcast live on the Council’s own media channel (weblink here).

Cllr Chadderton will face an array of questions from Group Leaders and other councillors with a dog in this particular fight. Notably, Cllr Brian Hobin who represents the far-right Failsworth Independent Party (read more here) and is closely attached to a destructive narrative propagated by Raja Miah, an unemployed conspiracy theorist from Mossley, Tameside who frequently claims to represent the views of the entire Borough of Oldham: His core allegation over the past three years, is that the Council, and the Labour Party in particular, covered up child sex abuse in return for Asian block votes. It was comprehensively dismissed by the Assurance Review, in what was otherwise a disappointing, extremely expensive and very largely inadequate process.

Cllr Hobin has twice appeared with Miah on podcasts broadcast on the latter’s notorious Recusant Nine Facebook and YouTube channels, to lend support and embellish that particular line of attack on his fellow councillors. Other Raja Miah cultists currently occupying seats on the Council are Cllrs Dave Arnott, Robert Barnes, Lewis Quigg, Bethany Sharp whom, notionally, represent the Conservative Party, but described by the former long-term Leader of the local Conservatives and past Mayor, John Hudson, as ‘not proper Tories’ (read more here).  None of the four turned up for the aforementioned Mayor-making last month and at least two of them are, presently, subject to an investigation by the Conservative Central Office.

Another Raja Miah cultist, Cllr Mark Wilkinson appears in the Council chamber, looking terminally bored, as a proxy for his wife, Kathleen Wilkinson, the disgraced Chair of the Failsworth Independent Party (read more here). Both of them, like Cllr Hobin, have appeared on Recusant Nine podcasts and were an integral part of the disgraceful smear campaign that saw Failsworth West councillor, Sean Fielding, lose both his seat and his role as Council Leader in May 2021 (read more here).

Mark Wilkinson served for over 30 years as a police officer with Greater Manchester Police, unarguably, and by some distance, the worst force in the country. GMP was very heavily criticised by the Assurance Review over grotesque investigative and disclosure failings. It will be interesting to see what Kath puts on Cllr Wilkinson’s crib sheet about that.

The contribution from a leading Liberal Democrat, Cllr Chris Gloster, will be interesting as he, too, served for over 30 years in the same force. His Group Leader, Cllr Howard Sykes, is also expected, based on past history, to have plenty to say about the Assurance Review and the police and council failings. Although he does need to exercise some caution as he was himself the Leader of the Council between 2008 and 2011. Although no wrongdoing, whatsoever, is ascribed to Cllr Sykes arising from that period when he held one of the Borough’s highest honours.

The Public Question Time section of the meeting is also expected to be very lively. The following two questions have already been submitted by the author of this article. Some of the questions from others members of the public are expected to be more pointed and, perhaps, expressed in less restrained terms:

The first question is in three parts and addressed to the Council Leader and the Executive Management Team; the second is addressed to District Commander, Chief Superintendent Chris Bowen, whom, it is expected, will be in attendance at the meeting with Chief Constable Stephen Watson declining to face the music, as it were.

“First question

“a. Has the Council leader or any of the Executive Management Team challenged the quality and content of the CSE Assurance Review? Do they agree with me that it can be most charitably described as sub-optimal and does not, as the Review Team claim, go even close to where the evidence should have taken them?

b. Does the Council Leader and Executive Management Team consider the taxpayers of Oldham and the wider Greater Manchester Region have been given value for money for a Review estimated to have cost between £750,000 and £1 million? If the answer is ‘No’, will the Leader be encouraging the Mayor to claw back at least part of the sums paid over to the Review Team and invite Mr Burnham to withdraw any further contracts from them?

c. Has the Council Leader or Monitoring Officer referred to the police any elected Council Member or paid Council officer over any suspected criminal offences disclosed by the Review? If the answer is ‘Yes’, how many?

“Second question

“Does Chief Superintendent Bowen consider that the remedy proposed by his chief constable – an apology – in respect of the grotesque failings visited upon ‘Sophie’ is remotely adequate or acceptable? Either to that survivor of child sexual abuse or the wider public of both the Borough and Region. Will the chief superintendent agree with me that the only two appropriate ways of dealing with the manifest failings of his fellow officers, past and present, is for, firstly, an outside police force to robustly investigate, without fear or favour, all those responsible for Sophie’s horrific ordeal and prosecute those responsible, if and where the evidence supports such action; and, secondly, for the chief constable, the Mayor and the Oldham Council Leader to allocate the necessary funding for Sophie to instruct a specialist lawyer to pursue a human rights and personal injury claim against the force and the Council?”

Other notable absentees from the meeting are the Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, and, even more surprisingly, the two heads of the Review Team, Malcolm Newsam and Gary Ridgway. The latter having confirmed to a key stakeholder by text that he and his colleague do not intend to be there.

The fact that Cllr Chadderton has allowed those four key figures to duck the meeting, and the elected representatives and public of Oldham, does not augur well for the remaining term of her leadership. Presently expected by many to be for just the one year. She has been asked, via the Council’s press office, for a statement on that particular issue. Failing which, it will be submitted as a further public question.

UPDATE: There are at least two public protests planned to take place in conjunction with the Extraordinary Meeting. One at, and in, the Civic Centre by one section of a group attached to Raja Miah and whom self-style as The Rabble and another actually organised by their de facto leader, Gary Tarbuck, who is organising a protest walk from the moorland village of Diggle to the meeting in the town centre. Tarbuck stood as a Conservative Party candidate in the recent local elections. Amongst his opponents in the Royton South ward was Amanda Chadderton. Both he and Miah are very confident of displacing her in May 2023 and it is an outcome one wouldn’t bet against, given the political demise of the past two Council Leaders in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

Page last updated Wednesday 22nd June, 2022 at 1055hrs

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Picture credits: Oldham Council

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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 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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