Council Leader makes crisis meeting U-turn as Mayor throws her ‘under a bus’

Screenshot 2022-06-24 at 16.39.18

In the wake of a damning and widely reported child safeguarding report, beleagured Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council announced that an Extraordinary Meeting will take place on Monday 27th June, 2022 at the Civic Centre (read more here).

This followed a press conference hosted by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), who first commissioned region-wide ‘Assurance Review’, in 2017, and from which the author of this article, Neil Wilby, was controversially excluded following the publication of an article, elsewhere on this website, in the 24 hours before the media event (read here).

Oldham’s Council Leader, Cllr Amanda Chadderton, had betrayed her inexperience (and exposing her trademark impatience) by breaching a GMCA embargo by announcing on Friday 17th June, 2022, via her official Facebook page, that the report was to be released on the following Monday. Mistakenly claiming that an announcement had been made by GMCA to that effect. There was also no official announcement anywhere else, including on the Council’s own website.

Nevertheless, she was allowed to take her place at the press conference whilst agreeing to Neil Wilby’s invitation being withdrawn. Viewed objectively, by a number of insiders, politicians and professional associates, as a poor judgement call in what appears to be a rapidly increasing number.

Further calamities, and not just from the Leader, have followed this week as repeated attempts to have been made to force important detail from Oldham Council about the Extraordinary Meeting into the public domain. To be frank, it must have been easier dealing with East Germany prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Apart from Cllr Chadderton, the line-up at the GMCA press conference included The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham; Deputy Mayor Beverley Hughes, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Stephen Watson; and Malcolm Newsam and Gary Ridgeway, the authors of the subject report which is rather grandly titled ‘Independent Assurance Review of the Effectiveness of Multi-Agency Responses to Child Sexual Exploitation in Greater Manchester – Part Two: The Review into Historic Safeguarding Practices in the Borough of Oldham’.

Part One was a Review of Rochdale and South Manchester, published in January, 2020, where the outcome was even worse for GMP and Manchester City Council also came in for sustained criticism over safeguarding failings and alleged cover-ups.

At the start of this week it seemed, to this journalist at least, a straightforward task to establish who was going to be present, representing the various key stakeholders, at the Extraordinary Meeting. The published Agenda gives no clue and there have been no official announcements made on either the GMCA or Oldham Council websites. Invitations to local taxpayers, made on OMBC’s social media pages, to ask public questions at the meeting appear to be limited to seeking answers from councillors. It is a reasonable assumption, based on the televised press conference, that the public are more likely to need answers from the police and the Independent Reviewers.

The first journalistic request to the Council press office was made on in the knowledge, from very reliable policing and political sources, that none of Andy Burnham, Bev Hughes, Stephen Watson, Malcolm Newsam or Gary Ridgway intended to be present. An extraordinary situation if it turned out to be true, not least as insiders say that CC Watson had previously indicated that he would be present in Oldham but, with a change of leadership at the Council, his willingness had ebbed away. Messages between a victim/survivor and one of the two Independent Reviewers, and seen by Neil Wilby, made clear that the latter two did not expect to be at the Oldham meeting. The consensus amongst councillors, across the political divide, was that Burnham and Hughes were happy ‘to throw the Council under the bus’.

This is the full text of that first press request:

“May I invite your attention to the final two paragraphs of the below article?

New Council Leader faces baptism of fire

“Accordingly, a statement is requested from the Council leader regarding the intended absence of CC Watson, Mayor Burnham, Messrs Newsman and Ridgway from next Monday’s Extraordinary Council Meeting. The reaction to the article already suggests there will be widespread dismay, both politically and from members of the public.

“If I can put a deadline on this of 4pm that would be most helpful. If it is necessary to seek the answer via Public Questions then I do not wish to lose a place in what is likely to be a lengthy queue for this particular meeting.

“It would also be helpful to know if the Deputy Mayor is intending to be present next Monday. A matter also likely to create great controversy”.

The response came later on that same day attributed to Cllr Chadderton:

“I have called an Extraordinary Council Meeting this Monday, 27 June at 6pm, to allow residents the opportunity to question myself and other representatives from the Council, as well as GMP’s Chris Bowen, Oldham’s Chief Superintendent.

“Malcolm Newsome (sic) and Gary Ridgeway (sic) have not been invited to attend as their role was to carry out an independent review, which is now complete and available for the public to read in full.

“Oldham residents are invited to submit questions before 12noon on Sunday, 26th June, and we will be fully prepared to answer them. Questions can be submitted via our website at”

Apart from the spelling errors, it was a surprise to learn that the reason Messrs Newsam and Ridgway were not attending was that Cllr Chadderton had neither invited them, nor insisted they attend. The reason given was vacuous and made no sense at all. In the meantime, multiple sources had been in contact with Neil Wilby to say that Andy Burnham had been asked to attend the Oldham meeting but had not responded to the invitation.

Never one to give up, Neil Wilby responded, within the hour, in what, one might say, robust terms:

“The statement is ok as far as it goes, but does not, for example, deal with the absence of CC Watson and The Mayor from the Extraordinary Meeting.

“It is bound to provoke high controversy as Messrs Newsman and Ridgeway attended a press conference on Monday, the fact of which has already been widely reported upon by others. It also begs the question of who took the decision – bizarre taken at its face – not to invite those principals from the Review team.

“Once again, I would submit, most respectfully, that the political leadership is being badly advised by the Executive Management Team – and will frame my next article accordingly. Fobbing off the public is what has landed the Council in the mess in which it now finds itself. It is no longer acceptable in any shape or form and in those circumstances perhaps you would be kind enough to ask the Council Leader, and her advisers, to make a second and better attempt at a statement?

“Separately, I did ask for confirmation of whether the Deputy Mayor will be present at the meeting, or not. That appears not to have been dealt with and ought, really, to be dealt with in the revised statement”.

That produced no response at all from the press office or Cllr Chadderton, despite two written reminders to different officers deployed there, the latest of which was sent early on Friday morning after being sighted the previous evening, several times, in a copy of an all-councillors communication sent by Elizabeth Drogan, Head of Constitutional Services:

“May I have a substantive response to the below email?

“It is concerning that arrangements for Monday’s meeting have now been finalised, but no-one in OMBC has bothered to let the press know (see attached image).

“Please manage my observations upwards in your organisation to the effect that the run-up to Monday’s meeting, viewed objectively, has been very poorly handled. I’m also told, authoritatively, that there is considerable political concern over the line the EMT is taking in projecting its response to the CSE Review. A matter upon which I will be reporting later today”.

That key line, communicated by the Council’s chief executive, Harry Catherall, and Gerard Jones, Managing Director of Children’s Services, at briefings, firstly, with political Group Leaders, followed by all other Oldham councillors, is that the child sexual exploitation issue was ‘all a long time ago and things are much better now’. It will be interesting to watch how that strategy stands up to scrutiny from dissenting councillors in the Chamber and the more informed sections of the public and press.

Viewed through the lens of this journalist, it is a sleepwalk to oblivion for those promoting it: Victims and survivors of child sex abuse, together with others failed by Council or police, have to be placed front and centre of accountability and remedial actions. That does not appear to be part of the thinking in Oldham, which expressed concisely is: ‘We are all very sorry, here’s an apology, let’s move on’. There is simply no notion of ‘we will leave no stone unturned in identifying those who failed so badly in their duties and let children down so disgracefully and, if criminal offences or tortious (or vicarious) liability are disclosed then those responsible will face prosecution and/or appropriate civil action’.

On a more positive note, pressure applied from this quarter, via those communications Oldham Council’s press office, has brought about a significant change: Malcolm Newsam will now be in attendance at Monday’s meeting, albeit appearing via video link. None of the Executive Management Team, or Cllr Chadderton, have had the good grace to acknowledge the sound advice they were offered on the subject.

The intelligence received by Neil Wilby, about the non-attendance of CC Watson, the Mayor and his Deputy, proved to be spot on, of course. But the press and public still have no explanation from Oldham Council as to why those three are ‘missing in action’. Or the change of heart over Malcolm Newsam’s attendance. Or the reason for the political Group Leaders agreeing to Harry Catherall reading out the public questions, instead of the Mayor who performs that function at all other meetings (a move with which most informed informers would agree). Information vacuums create suspicion and allow yet more conspiracy theories to abound, which is precisely what has happened in the darker corners of the Borough’s internet. Those handling matters for the Council really should have done very much better and it does not augur well for what is likely to transpire in the Council Chamber next Monday.

The meeting is expected to be preceded by several public protest marches starting in different locations from around the Borough. Those organising them, self-styling as The Rabble, appear to be very closely linked to an unemployed, discredited conspiracy theorist from Mossley, Tameside. The Assurance Review in Oldham followed his repeated claims on social media that councillors, and the Labour Party in particular, were covering up child sex abuse in return for Asian block votes at local and general elections.

That money-making Raja Miah trope, designed very much to appeal to a notably racist and far right audience on his frequently banned Facebook and YouTube platforms, was comprehensively dismissed by Messrs Newsam and Ridgway. One of the very few bright spots in their report.

Greater Manchester Police, whilst represented inside the Civic Centre at the meeting by District Commander, Chief Superintendent Chris Bowen, will have a heavy presence in and around all council buildings and near the Annie Kenney statue in Parliament Square, the expected rallying point for The Rabble.

It is expected that at least one Tactical Aid Unit will be deployed as part of that public order initiative. Disruption inside the meeting is widely expected but there have, so far, been no appeal for calm or warnings, from either the Council or the police, as to the threshold beyond which protesters will either be removed from the meeting or arrested.

Neil Wilby will be providing a live feed on this website throughout the meeting which starts at 6pm.

Page last updated Sunday 23rd 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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