‘Inexpicable’ decision leads to more ‘cover up’ accusations

Screenshot 2022-08-26 at 11.15.09

A series of what can only be objectively viewed as poor decisions is leading beleaguered Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council further into what is already a dark hole, with a large sign headed ‘Cover-Up’ at its entrance.

In June this year, a long-delayed report into the handling of historic child sex abuse in the Borough was published. It revealed grotesque shortcomings both of the Council and, more particularly, Greater Manchester Police.

The strategy that emerged almost immediately afterwards, cultured, apparently, by Council chief executive, Harry Catherall, and Director of Children’s Services, Gerard Jones, and adopted enthusiastically by the Council Leader, Cllr Amanda Chadderton, was three pronged – and briefed to all the Council’s political Group Leaders and then, in turn, to the rest of its elected Members prior to its execution:

– It all happened a long time ago

– Here’s an apology (and nothing else) to the victims and survivors

– The Council is now doing much better in its safeguarding of children. Let’s move on.

A significant number of councillors expressed misgivings at the time and, subsequently, criticism from all the political parties represented in the council chamber, except the ruling Labour group, has been loud and long.

Particularly as the strategy has been refined ‘on the hoof’, as it were, through two stormy and highly publicised Council meetings on 27th June and 13th July, 2022 (read more here):

– We will do everything possible to avoid giving prompt and straight answers to straight questions about the failings identified in the report, or about the sub-optimal nature of the report itself. Either from journalists, members of the public or elected Members of Opposition Parties

– We will resist any court action against the Council and will not mediate any settlements with legal representatives of any victims or survivors whom appear, from the report’s contents, to have prima facie civil claims. At least one, very arguably, may well have cause for criminal action.

– We have avoided taking action against those officers identified in the report as failing CSE victims, for almost a year since the first draft of the report was published, and will give the strong impression that we will continue to do so (see also ‘Let’s move on’).

– The Council’s leadership, both political and paid officer, and aided by the town’s MPs, will frustrate every attempt for an inquiry into the report’s multitude of failings. Indeed we will continue to avoid admitting that there are any.

The publicity outfall from that strategy has, unsurprisingly, been horrendous: On social media, in the regional press and on network television; and, most notably, from the more niche, right wing channel, GB News, who have dubbed the Council as ‘Odious Oldham’.

It has, regrettably and avoidably, given the ‘overlooking mass rape by grooming gangs in return for Asian block votes’ conspiracy theorists, and rabble-rousers, all the ammunition they craved: The Council absolutely needed to acknowledge the CSE report failings, robustly challenge its authors, Malcolm Newsam and Gary Ridgway, on them – and order each and every one of its identified failings to be further and more thoroughly investigated. It’s not radical, or rocket science; it is simply what any right-thinking, fair minded person would expect.

But still the Council blunder on: The latest ill-starred move is to remove all broadcasts of past Council meetings archived on its YouTube channel. An absolutely vital resource to journalists and political commentators, not to mention those of Oldham’s 232,000 residents who do not happen to be available at 6pm on Wednesdays and have, in the past, chosen to watch the Borough’s democratic process unfold at a more convenient later time or date.

This, presumably, is in response to widespread sharing on social media of a ‘cut and shut’ section of the YouTube broadcast from the Council’s 13th July meeting in which Cllr Chadderton is portrayed as having little or no sympathy with CSE victims or survivors . A position she robustly deflects (read more here).

The next meeting of Full Council, scheduled for 7th September, 2022, is guaranteed to be a stormy one. The Labour Party will, once again, reap exactly what they have sown. Very likely to be played out before a vastly increased audience, taping equipment at the ready in order to preserve their own record of proceedings.

A public question, set by the author of this article, Neil Wilby, will be read out at that meeting. The response from Amanda Chadderton is likely to create uproar, whichever way it falls.

“Does the Council Leader agree with me that the decision to remove all past recordings of Council meetings from their YouTube channel is crass, undemocratic and, rightly or wrongly, adds fuel to the CSE ‘cover-up’ rhetoric. Does she also agree with me that it should be reversed at the earliest possible opportunity?”

In the meantime, the Oldham Council press office has been contacted for comment. Also approached is Martyn Torr of New Image (Public Relations) Ltd., who hold the contract to film the live broadcasts of Oldham Council meetings and have, previously, hosted and archived them on their own YouTube channel.

UPDATE: The Leader of the Opposition on Oldham Council has provided a copy of a letter he has sent to Harry Catherall on this topic:

“Dear Harry

“I am writing in light of the council’s decision to stop posting recordings of meetings online and to remove past recordings of council meetings from YouTube.

“I am deeply dismayed by this decision, which I feel represents a very unwelcome backwards step in terms of openness, accountability and trust; all at a time when we as councillors should be striving to demonstrate good practice across those three key pillars of local democracy.

“Oldham Council has described its ambition to become a ‘listening council’ that brings residents closer to decision making. Ensuring that residents, businesses and journalists have access to council meetings should be of paramount importance to Oldham Council as part of this ambition. We cannot call ourselves a listening council if we are preventing people listening to council processes.

“Without a robust and formal process for capturing what is said at council meetings and committees – in the way that Hansard does in Parliament – recorded meetings play a vital role in our democratic process.

“I am writing as Leader of the Opposition to urge the council to reconsider this move, to ask how the council reached this decision and what the reasons and motivations were in doing so.

“I look forward to your urgent response.

Best wishes,

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE

At the same time, a response from the Council’s press office attributed these lines to Sayyed Osman, Deputy Chief Executive, who says:

“It has sadly come to our attention that some people have been video editing and using footage from public meetings out of context. This has in our view then been used maliciously in communication to unfairly target and illicit (sic) hate and harassment towards people.

“This has meant that it was necessary to review all our policies and procedures around public meetings, including webcasting and web hosting of videos. We value transparency and democracy and we are keen to ensure we look at best practice to get this right whilst ensuring we meet our duty of care towards our staff who are being impacted unfairly.

“In the meantime, please be reassured that public meetings will continue to be made accessible via a live stream on our website.

“The minutes of each public meeting can be accessed via the Council’s website.”

The Conservative councillor for Saddleworth North, Cllr Luke Lancaster, has also voiced a protest in a letter written directly to the Council Leader:

“Good afternoon Cllr. Chadderton,

“Earlier today it came to my attention that the Council’s present intention is for Meetings of the Council and its various Committees to only be available to be viewed live, and that recordings will not be provided for public view after the conclusion of said Meetings. I also understand that this arrangement has already taken effect with respect to yesterday evening’s Planning Committee Meeting.

“I would ask please that this new arrangement is reviewed with urgency, and that the provision of recordings is resumed immediately for all forthcoming Meetings. The Council ought to encourage greater interest in local government amongst the residents of our Borough, and this change is wholly contrary to that, with access being restricted.

“Furthermore, all residents have a moral right to know the activities of their Councillors at public Meetings, and by removing the provision of recordings, those residents who have commitments (personal, professional or otherwise) at the same time as the proceedings of Meetings are being denied that right.

“I look forward to receiving your response.

Yours,

Luke”.

Cllr Bethany Sharp, another Conservative councillor, posted on her St James ward Facebook page that she strongly supported her colleague’s action:

“It is astonishing that OMBC full council meetings will no longer be available online afterwards for those who could not watch live or attend in person.
“Once more, our Labour council is not allowing the people of Oldham to hold them to account and scrutinise decisions being made”.

The responses to those letters will be published in a separate article on this website as soon as they are available.

Page last updated Sunday 28th August, 2022 at 0725hrs

Thank you for reading and a polite request: If you wish to make a contribution to the running costs of this website it would be very much appreciated. Donations can made securely, via PayPal at this link.

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

Picture credits: Neil Wilby Media

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

© 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.

In June this year, a long-delayed report into the handling of historic child sex abuse in the Borough was published. It revealed grotesque shortcomings of the Council and, more particularly, Greater Manchester Police.

The strategy that emerged almost immediately afterwards, cultured apparently by Council chief executive, Harry Catherall, and Director of Children’s Services, Gerard Jones, and adopted enthusiastically by the Council Leader, Cllr Amanda Chadderton, was three pronged – and briefed to all the Council’s political Group Leaders and then, in turn, to the rest of its elected Members prior to its execution:

– It all happened a long time ago

– Here’s an apology (and nothing else) to the victims and survivors

– The Council is now doing much better safeguarding children. Let’s move on.

A significant number of councillors expressed misgivings at the time and, subsequently, criticism from all the political parties represented in the council chamber, except the ruling Labour group, has been loud and long. Particularly as the strategy has been refined on the hoof, as it were through two stormy and highly publicised Council meetings on 27th June and 13th July, 2022 (read more here):

– We will do everything possible to avoid giving prompt and straight answers to straight questions about the failings identified in the report, or about the sub-optimal nature of the report itself. Either from journalists, members of the public or elected Members of opposition parties

– We will resist any court action against the Council and will not mediate any settlements with legal representatives of any victims or survivors whom appear, from the report’s contents, to have prima facie civil claims. At least one, very arguably, may well have cause for criminal action.

– We have avoided taking action against those officers identified in the report as failing CSE victims, for almost a year since the first draft of the report was published, and will give the strong impression that we will continue to do so (see also ‘Let’s move on’).

– The Council’s leadership, both political and paid officer, and aided by the town’s MPs, will frustrate every attempt for an inquiry into the report’s multitude of failings.

The publicity outfall from that strategy has, unsurprisingly, been horrendous: On social media, in the regional press and on network television; and, most notably, the more niche, right wing channel, GB News who have dubbed the Council as ‘Odious Oldham’.

It has, regrettably and avoidably, given the ‘overlooking mass rape by grooming gangs in return for Asian block votes’ conspiracy theorists all the ammunition they need. The Council absolutely needed to acknowledge the CSE report failings, robustly challenge its authors,. Malcolm Newsam and Gary Ridgway, on them and order each and every one of its identified failings to be further and more thoroughly investigated. It’s not radical, or rocket science; it is simply what any right-thinking, fair minded person would expect.

But still the Council blunder on: The latest ill-starred move is to remove all broadcasts of past Council meetings archived on its YouTube channel. An absolutely vital resource to journalists and political commentators, not to mention those of Oldham’s 232,000 residents who do not happen to be available at 6pm on Wednesdays and have, in the past, chosen to watch the Borough’s democratic process unfold at a later time or date.

This, presumably, is in response to widespread sharing on social media of a ‘cut and shut’ section of the YouTube broadcast from the Council’s 13th July meeting in which Cllr Chadderton is portrayed as having little or no sympathy with CSE victims or survivors (read more here).

The next meeting of Full Council, scheduled for 7th September, 2022, is guaranteed to be a stormy one. The Labour Party will, once again, reap exactly what they have sown. Very likely to be played out before a vastly increased audience, taping equipment at the ready in order to preserve their own record of proceedings.

This public question, set by the author of this article, Neil Wilby, will be read out at that meeting. The response from Amanda Chadderton is likely to create uproar, whichever way it falls.

“Does the Council Leader agree with me that the decision to remove all past recordings of Council meetings from their YouTube channel is crass, undemocratic and, rightly or wrongly, adds fuel to the CSE cover-up rhetoric. Does she also agree with me that it should be reversed at the earliest possible opportunity?”

Page last updated  Friday 26th August, 2022 at 1105hrs

Thank you for reading and a polite request: If you wish to make a contribution to the running costs of this website it would be very much appreciated. Donations can made securely, via PayPal at this link.

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

Picture credits: Neil Wilby Media

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

© 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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