Council Leader condemns ‘Punch and Judy’ show

Amanda Chadderton and Harry Catherall
Troubled Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, mired in controversy over the long-delayed publication of the Assurance Review into child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the town, has issued a statement, via its Leader, Cllr Amanda Chadderton (pictured above), setting out its strategy for tackling both the findings of the report and the ongoing CSE problem in the town.
Cllr Chadderton is, also, not slow to condemn the behaviour of fellow councillors and members of the public whom, between them, have seriously disrupted the last two meetings of Full Council:
“Last week we saw ugly scenes in the Council chamber, with despicable conduct from some of our elected members (read more here) and also from a small number of people in the public gallery (and here).
“I believe Oldhamers deserve better than this from their Council and from the democratic process.
“I also believe that most people will want to know what we are doing to tackle child sexual exploitation in the Borough, of which, unfortunately, some Members seem to have lost sight, amid their desire to put on a political Punch and Judy show.
“After the release of the independent Review into historic CSE at the end of last month, we started to roll out our new victims’ strategy in collaboration with Greater Manchester Police; working alongside victim support, the sexual assault referral centre (SARC) and mental health services.
“Part of this strategy has involved launching a new helpline for anyone affected by issues raised in the Review, signposting to a range of support. The Council will also be providing funding through an appropriate support organisation to provide advocacy for victims, including signposting to independent legal advice and support. And we will convene a victim support advisory group, led by survivors of CSE and chaired by local organisation Keep Our Girls Safe (KOGS) to ensure the voices of these women shapes our work.
“Some members in the Chamber are calling for an independent inquiry into CSE, to follow this Review. In response to this, I want to be clear that I have in no way blocked a further inquiry, that is not within my gift to do so. Whilst I do not agree another inquiry is the best way forward to get justice for the victims, as I said last week, any Councillor or member of the public can write to the government and request such an inquiry.
“We consult on a regular basis with Ofsted and the Department for Education, in addition to this, the Home Office were kept updated during the review and then they were consulted on the findings. They have not expressed any concerns to us regarding the outcome of the review and if they were to do so, I would ensure we acted on that immediately.
“Since the review has been made public, Ofsted carried out an inspection at Rivendell, the Children’s home at the centre of some of the allegations in the review.
“What is most important for me at this point in time is to put victims and survivors first. Our victims’ strategy does this. In addition, Greater Manchester Police are running Operation Sherwood, to investigate historic allegations of sexual exploitation and bring offenders to justice.
“I will be meeting with opposition Group Leaders this week, where I will be inviting them to contribute and help improve our safeguarding responsibilities – and to do so with respect, with professionalism, and with an understanding that this is more important than party politics”.
Cllr Chadderton is likely to meet strong resistance from all three Group Leaders when she meets them later today (20th July, 2022), with the Liberal Democrats previously describing her approach as ‘tone deaf’ (read more here); the local Conservatives fiercely critical of the report and its manifest failings; and the far-right Failsworth Independent Party seeking to maintain the Labour ‘cover-up’ narrative upon which four of their five councillors were elected and to which the racists at the core of their support so desperately cling.
Neil Wilby, the author of this article and adjacent to the political scene in Oldham and, particularly, the CSE issue for over two years (read more here), says:
“The stubborn refusal of the Oldham Labour Group, and the Council’s senior leadership team, to accept the wholesale, and fundamental, flaws in the Assurance Review, written by Malcolm Newsam CBE and Gary Ridgway, is profoundly disappointing. As is the heavy reliance on what was a genius public relations stroke with the inception of Operation Sherwood by the chief constable of GMP, Stephen Watson, on the day the report was unveiled.
“It is unarguable that GMP cannot be relied upon to investigate their own failings robustly, thoroughly and proportionately. They remain in Special Measures for a reason, nineteen months after that draconian step was taken by the Home Secretary in December, 2020. The choice of ACC Sarah Jackson to head up Operation Sherwood merely underscores that informed view (read more here).
“Political oversight of GMP (or to be more accurate the complete lack of) should have been provided by Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, who came to Oldham Civic Centre on 27th June, 2022 to defend the woeful Assurance Review that he commissioned and paid for. He was booed and shouted down with chants of ‘Shame on you’, throughout.
“Recently asked to provide a breakdown of resources and manpower allocated to Operation Sherwood, together with terms of reference, the force either couldn’t or wouldn’t respond – and so it begins.
“What is needed is another metropolitan force to investigate (there are six others apart from GMP), without fear or favour, the failings already identified by Newsam and Ridgway, together with those where they appear, for whatever reason, to have stopped short of adverse findings. Criminal offences were very plainly committed by a significant number of police officers – a number of whom I can identify – and CSE victims need both justice and closure. Trusting an officer with the record of Stephen Watson, at his most recent Durham Constabulary and South Yorkshire Police postings, to get to the core of these issues is, quite frankly, futile.
“With regard to failings of Cllr Chadderton’s own staff, I have already suggested to her executive team that a QC, with extensive regulatory experience, should be engaged to look into specific, identified misdemeanours. They do not appear, to me at least, to warrant criminal investigation. But it is crucial, for the sake of victims past and present, that appropriate action is taken and collective heads removed from their present positions in the sand.
“Finally, the prospect of the Home Office sanctioning a further independent inquiry into CSE is remote to non-existent. This was made clear by the (then) Minister for Safeguarding, Rachel Maclean, in her response to Jim McMahon’s opening speech in an Adjournment Debate held in Westminster on 30th June, 2022 (read more here). A point that does not appear to have been made clear enough by Cllr Chadderton either in her recent statement or in the council chamber last week”.

Page last updated Wednesday 20th July, 2022 at 1240hrs

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Picture credits: 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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