Can democracy trump chaos?

Raja Miah and The Rabble holding upCover-Up flyers at OMBC meeting

Over the past month there have been unprecedented scenes of serious disorder during two meetings of Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council.

The first of those was an Extraordinary Meeting called in the wake of a controversial and much delayed ‘Assurance Review’ into historic child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the town.

The second was a scheduled meeting of Full Council that featured, at its core, a motion brought by a minority opposition group, the far-right Failsworth Independent Party, calling for a further independent inquiry into failings identified in the Review’s final report, which was published on 20th June, 2022.

At both meetings, the public galleries around the civic chamber were packed with a group that self-style as The Rabble, very closely associated with Raja Miah, a disgraced, unemployed conspiracy theorist whom relentlessly spews his own brand of hate and division from his lair in neighbouring Tameside.

His supporters include an unhealthy conglomerate of some of Oldham’s notorious criminals, thugs and perverts, as well as the expected collection of axe-grinders with collateral issues; all hiding behind what appears to be feigned concern for children sexually exploited in the Borough.

Indeed, Miah (now known on social media as ‘The Malicious Beggar‘) has been roundly rejected, and ridiculed, by two of the highest profile CSE survivors whose cases feature in the Assurance Review. They both feel exploited by him and assert that his only interests are his ego and making money for himself at the expense of their pain and suffering.

Miah attended the first meeting and, surrounded by key members of The Rabble, proceeded to lead the noisy disruption. At one point interrupting the proceedings by taking up a position behind a lecturn and making offensive remarks during an unscheduled ‘speech’. The Mayor, chairing the meeting and other members of the panel at the front of the room were harangued and heckled, throughout. Some, it must be said, with ample justification. Not least the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, and the District Commander of Greater Manchester Police, Chief Superintendent Chris Bowen. Both of whom performed dismally, either not answering questions at all or providing evasive, largely pointless answers.

The latter sat for almost four hours witnessing some disgraceful scenes of harassment, intimidation and public disorder and didn’t stand up once to invite the perpetrators to desist on pain of removal or arrest. It was a discomfiting abdication from the most basic of police officer duties: To Keep The Queen’s Peace.

The former fanned the flames of disorder by attempting to take over the platform for his own political ends, and in order to promote a false narrative about the efficacy of the Review report, in a setting where the strict protocol was: Speak when you are invited to, if at all.

The disorder at the second meeting very much followed the template of the first: Shouting, screaming, heckling, harassing, foot stamping, shaking on the safety screens that enclose the public galleries in an attempt to break them down, incursions by protestors into the council chamber itself.

Leaving, in particular, female councillors and paid officers in fear of their personal safety at this ugly demonstration of dissent against the ruling Labour Party whom The Rabble, against all the evidence, still maintain are covering up child sexual exploitation in return for Asian block votes at local and general elections.

At the end of that meeting a sanitiser bottle was thrown over those same screens by a member of The Rabble, convicted criminal Gary Leese, striking a female council officer sat in the chamber who was left shaken and fearful that it could, for example, it could have been a bottle of acid, or worse, that was thrown (read more here).

There have been several public denunciations of this appalling behaviour by both the Labour Leader, Cllr Amanda Chadderton, and the Liberal Democrats Chief Whip, Cllr Mark Kenyon (read more here). The other two opposition parties, the aforementioned FIP and the strife-ridden Oldham and Saddleworth Conservatives, have been notable only for the silence on the topic. Very probably, because the reprehensible behaviour of the FIP Group Leader, Cllr Brian Hobin, and the Conservative councillor, Robert Barnes, contributed significantly to the mayhem (read more here). Both those Councillors are, tellingly, noted members of The Rabble. Cllr Hobin is a convicted fraudster.

But apart from the welcome denunciation of The Rabble, and their unacceptable behaviour, there has been no announcement from either Oldham Council’s senior paid officer contingent, or its political hierarchy, as to what steps have been taken to sanction the disorder offenders from the last two meetings or create a safe space for the next Full Council meeting to take place on 7th September, 2022.

Several sources have said that the Mayor, Cllr Elaine Garry, has threatened to resign if adequate measures are not in place by then.

There have also been suggestions that a number of notable, and now identified, members of The Rabble, past and present, will be banned from future meetings. These include: Raja Miah; BNP/Tommy Robinson supporter, Debbie Barratt-Cole; Oldham’s most notorious and prolific burglar and, more recently the Borough’s most dangerous on-line stalker and troll, Garry Dunkerley; convicted football thug, riot-starter and stalking, trolling partner of Dunkerley, Stephen Walsh; a close ally of those already mentioned, and Oldham’s biggest and self-admitted public nuisance, Warren Bates. Recently back from a prior ban, and a police investigation, over allegedly harassing and verbally assaulting a council officer.

All those four have close ties to the Failsworth Independent Party (three of them live in that town) whose Chairwoman, another, along with her two daughters, noted and deeply unpleasant on-line stalkers and trolls, is also set to be banned. Kathleen Wilkinson was caught on microphone shouting “Sit down you fat b*****d” to former Labour councillor, Pete Davis, who represented Failsworth West until losing his seat earlier this year.

Bottle thrower, Gary Leese, will also be banned and, despite earlier reports to the contrary, may now also face criminal prosecution.

Accordingly, the author of this article, Neil Wilby, has put forward a question to the Council Leader to be addressed this evening (25th July, 2022) at a meeting of the Cabinet at the Civic Centre:

“Following the widely condemned scenes of disorder at the last two Council meetings, both in the public galleries and within the Chamber itself, can the Council Leader, on behalf of the Cabinet, please confirm what steps have been, or are being, taken to create a safe working environment for those members of the public not part of the disorderly group whom self-style as ‘The Rabble’; paid council officers; security staff; film crews; journalists; elected Members and, of course, the Mayor. Thank you”.

The answer from Cllr Chadderton, by any measure, was robust and comprehensive. A great deal of activity has already been under way behind the scenes to create the desired safe space. This is the full text of her answer:

“Thank you for this question. The behaviours of some of the public in the council chamber at our last meeting were utterly disgraceful and we have acted swiftly to ensure that we keep staff, elected members and members of the public safe.

“We have had a number of complaints from elected members, staff and members of the public about both the behaviour of people in the public gallery and the behaviour of a small number of opposition members. These complaints cover incidents where people threw missiles in the chamber, shouted abuse and used foul language, were threatening and aggressive and disrupted the meeting to the point where it was difficult to conduct the business of the council.

“We have security cameras in the chamber and were live streaming the meeting so much of this activity was captured.

“We welcome and encourage local people attending public meetings because we know that resident input, involvement and reasonable challenge is an essential part of improving what we do. We also know that some of the issues that we discuss or decisions we make aren’t always popular with the public and its right that people have an opportunity to give us feedback and tell us what they think. But that has to be done in a reasonable manner that doesn’t threaten, harass or bully staff or elected members doing their jobs.

“The sorts of behaviour we saw at the last two council meetings will not be allowed to continue and will not be tolerated. We are taking action against those small number of people whose actions amounted to criminal and anti-social behaviour.

“We are also looking to implement enhanced security measures for future meetings to better protect those taking part in or observing them and to reduce the opportunities for the types of behaviour we saw last time. These include more stringent sign in processes, stricter security checks for people attending and better security camera coverage.

“These will apply to all public meetings. These measures are currently being finalised and agreed by key partners including Greater Manchester Police. All four Group Leaders have been briefed on these measures and have agreed to them.

“You’ll see that some additional measures. Including us being here in the Council Chamber this evening [for the Cabinet meeting which is normally held in a committee room in the civic centre], have already been implemented, others will follow over the coming days and weeks”.

It is understood that there has been one arrest and that a number of letters warning of applications for civil injunctions under the Anti Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act, 2014 have been personally served, by police and council officers, upon the perpetrators identified, so far. They may not, necessarily, be the ones identified earlier in this article.

Those wishing to review the broadcast of the Cabinet Meeting can do so at this link, via Oldham Council’s YouTube channel. The Agenda for the meeting can be read here.

Page last updated Monday 25th July, 2022 at 2125hrs

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Picture credits: Oldham Council/MEN

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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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