Doubts linger over Tory inquiry letter claim

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As the scandal over the handling of historic child sexual exploitation (CSE) by Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council rumbles on, and, mostly, played out on partisan right-wing news channel, GB News, calls for an independent public inquiry have been made by the two mainstream opposition parties.

The Leader of Oldham Liberal Democrats, the long-serving Cllr Howard Sykes, was first off the blocks with a concise, pointed letter, dated 20th July, 2022, that was published on social media and on their own website. It is reproduced in full here:

“Dear Home Secretary,

“RE: Independent inquiry into child sex exploitation failings in Oldham

“I am sure you will have read the Newsam and Ridgeway report into historic cases of child sex exploitation in Oldham published on June 20th this year. I am sure you will have been as horrified as I was, to read about how victims of those most heinous crimes were further let down by the serious failings of Oldham Borough Council and Greater Manchester Police.
Quite understandably, the reaction to the report in Oldham has been one of deep anger. People here feel that some of the most vulnerable young people in our society have been let down by the very institutions that exist to protect them.

“GMP were also found guilty of similarly serious and serial failings in the first Newsam and Ridgway report, looking into Operation Augusta in South Manchester and Rochdale. A further report is due into Rochdale, and there is little evidence to suggest that this will not find the same failings again.

“It is clear from the authors’ very own words that GMP did not cooperate with the production of the review and so many questions remain unanswered. A full and independent public inquiry into the findings of the Newsam and Ridgeway reports is now needed in order to get the answers that victims and their families deserve; and to ensure that every organisational, procedural, and professional failing is identified to ensure these awful failings can never be repeated.

“I am writing to you, as Home Secretary, to ask you to grant the full and independent inquiry that Oldham and Greater Manchester need.

“I hope you will use your position to show people in Oldham that failure to protect children can never be accepted in our public institutions. It is only through meticulously investigating these failings that we can have true accountability and begin to earn back the trust of the people of Oldham.

“If you are unable to grant this enquiry, please could you explain your reasoning? I look forward to your reply with interest.

“Yours Sincerely,

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE”

On 21st July, 2022, and seemingly not to be outdone, a post on their local Facebook page announced that the four of the elected Conservative Members of the Council, Cllrs Arnott, Barnes, Quigg and Sharp, had also written to their Home Secretary to demand that same inquiry.

Cllr Robert Barnes had previously appeared on GB News on 17th July, 2022 to complain that the ruling Labour Party on Oldham Council had blocked a motion calling for a further inquiry, following the recent publication of the sub-optimal, widely criticised Oldham CSE Assurance Review commissioned by the Greater Manchester Mayor in January, 2020 and referred to in his own letter by Cllr Sykes.

But it appears that, to date, no-one else has seen the Oldham Conservatives letter, including, it seems, the five other Conservative councillors who say they were not invited to sign it: Cllrs Sheldon (their Group Leader), Byrne, Lancaster, McManus and Woodvine.

A post dated 7th August, 2022, on the infamous Recusant Nine Facebook page run by discredited Tameside-based conspiracy theorist, Raja Miah, asserts that repeated requests made to his close friend, Cllr Lewis Quigg, for sight of the subject letter have been rebuffed – and it appears that the refusal may signal the end of their friendship. A bitter blow to Miah as, without his relentless smearing of Cllr Quigg’s political opponents, the latter almost certainly would not have been elected to represent the Royton North ward (read more here). Particularly, when Cllr Quigg’s previous record of long years of continuous election failure are placed in context.

Miah now also contends, from a position of unusual privilege, that the four Oldham Tories have no genuine interest in the plight of CSE victims in the town, but it is merely a bandwagon that Cllrs Arnott, Barnes, Quigg and Sharp, all very recently elected to the Council, have jumped upon for personal and political gain.

Robert Barnes is another Tory who owes his seat entirely to the ugly and long-running smear campaign orchestrated by a local group of discontents known as ‘The Rabble’ (or Raja’s Rabble). He also had a lengthy record of election failure before finally winning his seat in Chadderton South in May this year.

In an attempt to bring clarity to this increasingly concerning issue, and obvious lack of transparency, a press request was made on 9th August, 2022, to the four Tories who say they sent the letter. They were invited to produce a copy of the letter and given right of reply to the allegations made by Raja Miah.

It has, so far, drawn a blank, despite being copied to Cllrs Sheldon and Byrne who is Deputy Tory Leader on Oldham Council). For a political party that constantly carps about the alleged lack of candour of its opponents in the council chamber it is, on any independent view, an extraordinary position in which to place themselves.

As a result, the matter has now been escalated to the Home Office’s senior press officer and, in parallel, a request under the Freedom of Information Act has been made to the Home Office Information Rights team for lawful disclosure of the letter.

The same press office provided a comprehensive statement, upon request, to Neil Wilby Media last week that strongly suggests that any requests made to the Home Office for a further independent inquiry into CSE in Oldham will, in any event, be fruitless (read more here).

The next Full Council meeting in Oldham is scheduled to take place on 7th September, 2022. It is likely to be another controversial renewal, not least as four protesters, who formed part of some ugly scenes in the council chamber during meetings in June and July this year, have been issued with Anti Social Behaviour Injunction (ASBI) warning letters (read more here).

One of those ‘protesters’ to receive an ASBI warning was Lynne Kovacs, a resident of Lees who stood as a Conservative candidate in the Waterhead ward in the local elections last May. She is quoted on Facebook last Sunday as saying: “We are used to the Conservatives exploiting us here in Oldham”.

Ms Kovacs is a very prominent member of The Rabble and, just over three months ago, was happy to deliver the smear leaflets that effectively increased the Tory presence on Oldham Council by at least two elected Members.

She later added; ​”Absolutely disgusted by the local Conservatives, they are truly despicable. I feel I have been shafted by Lewis Quigg”.

Page last updated Wednesday 9th August, 2022 at 1415hrs

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Picture credits: Oldham Council/MEN

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Published by Neil Wilby

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

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