As an investigative journalist, an essential requirement is to develop a thick skin and the ability shrug off both criticism and resistance to what is being probed, writes Neil Wilby. Particularly, from subjects of those enquiries and their circle of friends and associates who may feel threatened by what may, potentially, be exposed.
This can, on occasions, spiral down into ad hominem and highly personalised attacks. A good example is chronicled in an article published elsewhere on this website in August 2020 following an extensive investigation into the innocence claim of a convicted murderer (read in full here).
But that abuse, serious enough as it was, pales into insignificance compared to what has resulted from an overlapping journalistic investigation into claims that, in a famous old East Lancashire mill town, the police, Labour politicians, paid council officers and safeguarding partners were all involved in a cover up of child sexual exploitation (CSE) in return for Asian block votes at local and general elections.
It was always going to be a challenging assignment – and so it has proved. This is a non-exhaustive list of the appalling accusations to which I have been subjected since I wrote my first article concerning what was, back then in October 2020, a local scandal in the Borough of Oldham but has now, of course, expanded nationwide over the past few months. Largely due to the output from partisan, right wing TV channel, GB News:
A drunk; a drug user (numerous and separate references to ‘weed’ and cocaine consumption); a psychopath; a murderer, a convicted criminal (a regular assertion but without specification); an arsonist; a nonce, a paedophile or paedophile protector (many times but, again, without specification); a pervert, a creep (for being photographed having my arm around the shoulders of a close and dear female friend); arrested in connected with offences in connection with a minor in the 1990s; a wife beater (allegedly putting her in hospital on two separate occasions with multiple and very serious bone fractures); involved in a sexual assault incident with a female in a Pennine public house; a police informant; a coward; a bully and, of course, the ever-present ‘malicious blogger’ trope (read more about that here).
Very many of these vile untruths, without a single shred of evidence supporting them, are made from behind a block on social media or in private groups on Facebook. Often from low- or no-follower anonymised accounts created for that single purpose. They are then shared many times over and the damage, understandably, is incalculable. Not least on my physical and mental well-being.
For clarity, I have reached the age of 67 with no criminal record, and never been subject to report or investigation for any of the crimes alleged. They emphatically didn’t or would ever be likely to happen. A known lightweight drinker, I have never even smoked a cigarette, let alone touched any recreational drug.
For the moment, at least, I do not even have points on my driving licence although it is necessary to confess to six speeding convictions in just short of 50 years driving.
Fake social media accounts have been created using my picture in their profile and, in several cases, pictures of my National Union of Journalists (NUJ) press card have been used in the same way. With the sole purpose of undermining my investigations and reporting.
Conversely and perversely, on different days my accreditation as a journalist is challenged. Even though I am a committee member of the largest NUJ branch in the country (Leeds and West Yorkshire) and a member of the International Federation of Journalists.
Photographs of what the harassers, stalkers and trolls believed to be my car and my family home have been published. Along with what they asserted was my home address, now occupied by a young couple with a young daughter. My ex-wife, a very private person who has no social media presence whatsoever, has also had her name and photograph published by the stalkers and trolls, for nefarious reasons.
Accused of being corrupt, and accepting bribes from either Oldham Council, the Labour Party, at least one of the town’s MPs or the Greater Manchester Mayor, or all four, is a routine, predicable trope from the stalkers and trolls. It also ignores the many articles written on this website, or posts on social media, that are fiercely, but fairly, critical of the Council, Labour and Andy Burnham in particular. An excoriating, and very widely read and shared example, which the Mayor and his team hate. can be read here.
But no-one ever challenges, on the facts, what is written on this website about the CSE scandal in Oldham – and all that goes with it. It is all about smearing the author: ‘He’s the most awful criminal, or incapacitated, so take no notice of what he writes’. To the stalkers, trolls and harassers, evidence, the law, precedent or applicable regulations are their kryptonite.
That has pertained since the very first article connected to Oldham was published just short of two years ago. Headlined ‘If only Madam Mayor‘, it chronicled the career and mindless abuse of a high profile, widely admired politician, Arooj Shah. Whom, at the time, was Deputy Leader of Oldham Council (read full article here).
The horrific outfall from that piece of assiduously researched, carefully written journalism was like nothing I’d ever seen, let alone experienced at first hand, in a newspaper/publishing career that started at the Humberside Weekly News in 1981.
The impact on my family and close friends (my dearly loved ex-wife falls squarely into both categories) has been devastating. I’ve been pleaded with, regularly, to remove myself from the orbit of the thoroughly obnoxious group responsible for many of these appalling slurs. Whom, collectively and appositely, self-style as The Rabble (or Raja’s Rabble).
The leader of The Rabble, a well known, thoroughly disgraced, unemployed, Tameside-based conspiracy theorist, Raja Miah, has stated on his frequently banned Recusant Nine social media platforms that if I attended his home/office, on a legitimate doorstep interview, I ‘would leave in a body bag’ (he asserts that he sleeps with a large knife under his pillow). Other physical threats are regularly implied or stated openly: ‘He’ll be punched from pillar to post if he ever shows up here‘ would be just one example.
Miah has also claimed, publicly and more than once, that I conspired, along with a Shadow Minister, Jim McMahon MP, and the then Leader of Oldham Council, Sean Fielding, to murder him. A matter so utterly ludicrous that it, unsurprisingly, did not attract the attention of Greater Manchester Police.
Messrs McMahon and Fielding are also regularly subjected to much the same, and seriously shocking, smears and accusations as myself. But the article that threw Miah and The Rabble into an even more fermenting rage was headlined ‘Get The White Vote Angry‘ and published in November, 2020 (read full article here). This piece, a product of hundreds of hours of research and interviews with most, if not all, of the key players in the Oldham CSE ambit, exposed the core of Miah’s campaign as grounded in an illusion, the infamous ‘Lee Rigby email’; and as a persistent, mendacious liar over a number of his other familiar tropes.
The same GMP has consistently refused to take action against the perpetrators, reasoning that the three of us, because of our respective vocations, and public profile (journalist and politicians), we are ‘fair game’ and do not merit the protection the law affords to the rest of paying public. A curiosity given that trolls abusing Angela Rayner MP, albeit by email and not on social media, have been recently, successfully, and quite rightly, prosecuted by the same police force.
Two of the very worst stalkers and trolls, that form the front line of Raja Miah’s Praetorian Guard, already have criminal convictions. Both indulge themselves regularly with threats of violence, either implied or overtly.
Garry Dunkerley is Oldham’s most notorious, and probably prolific, convicted burglar. The specialism of the gang he led was robbing vulnerable old people in their homes (one lady he robbed was 100 years old) and he was sentenced to six years imprisonment in 2015 (read more here). He is a long term far-right activist and was recently exposed, exclusively by me, as being involved in an unregulated ‘scam’ business (read more here). The entirely false accusations that I beat my wife (as anyone who knows either of us, or both, would very readily confirm), and sexually assaulted female(s), similarly preposterous, appeared to commence shortly afterwards.
Stephen Walsh, like Dunkerley is from Failsworth, the Borough’s far-right hotbed situated on its Western extremity. He was part of the racist gang convicted over starting the Oldham riots in 2001 (read BBC report here). He was subsequently convicted of affray as a pub-brawling, football hooligan in 2012 (read MEN report here). He is notorious locally as a drunken, thuggish, thoroughly unpleasant individual who appears to spend up to sixteen hours a day creating fake accounts (often with racist connotations) and harassing, stalking and trolling those with whose world views he disagrees.
Any criticism of Raja Miah, and his perennially divisive, hate-filled narrative, or the Failsworth Independent Party (FIP) usually results in a rapid mobilisation of their small army of trolls linked together in messaging groups. One of which is named ‘Warriors of Oldham’.
FIP was identified earlier in the year by Hope Not Hate as ‘a haven for the far-right’. (read more here) Their annual State of Hate report specifically named FIP’s Cllr Mark Wilkinson and his wife, Kathleen Wilkinson, who also styles herself as Party Chairwoman. Both are slavish Raja Miah cultists. The latter appears to be at the very heart of the network of trolls.
Within the past year, Kath has been forced to delete two Twitter accounts in her own name after being publicly shamed and humiliated as a result of her use of them and, in particular being exposed as a shameless liar.
According to Cllr Brian Hobin, strongly connected to the aforementioned ‘Warriors of Oldham’, Kath Wilkinson also received, very recently, an Anti Social Behaviour Injunction (ASBI) warning from Oldham Council over her behaviour in the public gallery at a recent meeting. That intelligence also extends to Dunkerley, a family friend of the Wilkinsons, and Walsh, a trusted lieutenant and close friend of Kath’s daughter, Sarah Radcliffe, also receiving similar ASBI warning letters (read more here).
So, where does this end? At present, funding is being sought to lay an information at Tameside Magistrates’ Court against Dunkerley and Walsh. The evidence against them both is overwhelming for what is more commonly known as a private prosecution. But a suitably certified criminal barrister, or higher court advocate, is required to draft the indictment and conduct the preliminary hearings, trial and sentencing hearing. From which a spell in prison, absent of a guilty plea, would very likely result for both.
Making an appropriate example of those two would send a clear signal to the rest of their associates in Oldham Borough and beyond, notably the operator(s) of the permanently offensive social media accounts run in the name of ‘Oldham Eye‘. Who will be joining Dunkerley and Walsh on the charge sheet if and when their identity can be substantively confirmed.
It may also be something of a test case as to where the line can properly be drawn in the way of fair criticism of journalists on social media. The tragedy here is action being left to an ageing freelance journalist to push back against the trolls. Whereas, in Oldham as just one example, wealthy and powerful Reach plc, publishers of the Daily Mirror and Daily Express and a large number of influential regional newspapers, have a number of their own journalists regularly abused and threatened by Miah and his Rabble.
Shame on you chief executive officer, Jim Mullen, and your £4 million annual salary, for throwing them to the wolves.
UPDATE: A chilling reminder of what investigative journalists face came within hours of posting this article. Well known reporter, Jeff German, was stabbed outside his home following an altercation. The Guardian’s coverage of the tragedy can be read here.
Page last updated Monday 5th September, 2022 at 1040hrs
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