‘Scared of his own shadow’

it-support-oldham

A number of leading politicians and influencers in the town have, it seems, finally lost patience with a top lawyer charged with protecting their interests and, more crucially, those of the taxpayers who fund his generous remuneration package.

Paul Entwistle, Borough Solicitor for many years at Oldham Council, is facing increasing pressure to leave the role: ‘Weak and ineffective’; ‘scared of his own shadow’; ‘much too slow and overly defensive’; ‘doesn’t know the applicable law’ and ‘error prone’ are just some of the accusations being levelled against him.

He is also blamed, rightly or wrongly, for not appropriately addressing the reign of ‘online terror’ that Raja Miah, an unemployed conspiracy theorist from neighbouring Tameside, has visited upon Oldham for well over three years.

Miah irreverently, unkindly, and almost certainly inaccurately, refers to the Borough Solicitor as ‘Paul Bentwistle’. No-one has ever produced a scrap of evidence to Neil Wilby Media that this lawyer is either ‘bent’ or corrupt, as is inferred: Being viewed as rubbish at a job does not come remotely close to what would, in any event, be a very high threshold for such a charge to sustain.

But one of the widely held concerns is that the impact on staff and councillors alike is both adverse and profound when a very senior paid officer is derogated and defamed in such a way, without any challenge to the accuser from someone with the locus, qualifications and financial wherewithal to deal appropriately with it.

Morale in the Civic Centre is known, publicly, to be at dangerously low levels with around half of the Council’s staff lacking confidence in their employer. That is likely to continue to fall without a senior officer complement able to discharge its collective responsibilities, statutory or otherwise, in an efficient, effective, courteous and respectful manner.

Which includes dealing robustly, via the courts, with those who frequently cross the line from fair criticism and free speech into defamation and harassment.

Neil Wilby, the author of this article, comments:

“The amount of criticism aimed at Paul Entwistle, from contacts whom I respect highly (and a similar number whom I don’t), has now reached concerning levels. To the point where one might fairly say his position is close to untenable. Particularly, as criticism comes from all corners of the council chamber.

“From my own point of view, and based on dealings with him and his Legal Services Department as an information rights practitioner, rather than a journalist, it can be said that he either doesn’t have a sufficient grasp of the Freedom of Information Act, or the Data Protection Act, or is content to treat Parliament with contempt. Responses to information requests are, in other respects, too often sub-optimal.

“More recently, there has been cause to correspond with him over a Standards complaint which involved answering three simple questions. Sent on 17th November, 2022, and bearing on weighty matters, it has not, to date, been deemed worthy of even an acknowledgement, let alone a substantive response.

“That is not acceptable, on any level, but chimes with the interminable delays in dealing with other matters. It also rails against the oft-repeated OMBC narrative, almost entirely evidence-free, that they are an open and transparent, customer-friendly authority.

“But, perhaps, most crucial of all is how the derogation of the Council, many of its paid officers and elected Members, and the Borough Solicitor himself, on the various Recusant Nine social media platforms run by Miah, seriously and negatively impacts on staff and public confidence: Oldham’s reputation is darkly stained regionally and nationally – and will continue to be so without stronger management from an executive team in which he is central.

“Those that care about the town, and want to see it grow and prosper once again, are, in my respectful submission, quite rightly calling for change”.

Paul Entwistle has been offered right of reply.

He took over the role as Borough Solicitor in November, 2008 having previously served Oldham as Assistant Director of Legal Services for a number of years. If the Council’s political and paid officer leadership were so minded, and a compromise was proposed over an agreed departure, it would, very likely, cost local taxpayers in excess of £500,000 given his six-figure salary and length of service. A sum that might scupper such a deal.

UPDATE: This article, surprisingly to its author at least, has produced an extraordinary number of telephone calls and messages. Both from stakeholders and members of the public. As such, a follow-up, which will include Paul Entwistle’s right of reply, is planned to be published here on Neil Wilby Media early next week.

Page last updated Thursday 1st December, 2022 at 1650hrs

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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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