Bungling Borough Solicitor blamed for Bardoc blunder

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One of the biggest controversies to spill out of Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council in this municipal year has been an alleged smear campaign waged against one of its most prominent and best known politicians. It has led to a flurry of legal letters and ferocious arguments waged on social media, and in the local press, over conflict of interests and their declarations on official Council documents.

Dr Zahid Chauhan MBE, a general practitioner and nationally known health campaigner, is at the centre of the dispute following the breaking of a story here on Neil Wilby Media early last month: Two Liberal Democrats accused their council chamber colleague of not properly declaring, on his Register of Interests, his association with a community, not for profit doctors’ co-operative styled as Bardoc Ltd (read the article here).

Any wrongdoing was robustly denied by Dr Chauhan in a public statement (read more here) and in legal letters to his principal critics who assert otherwise (read more here). The Oldham Chronicle is a recipient of one of the letters issued by a top Manchester firm, JMW Solicitors.

The Council Leader, Cllr Amanda Chadderton, also issued a robust statement in support of her senior Labour Party colleague (read more here).

In an email to the Liberal Democrats, the council’s chief executive, Harry Catherall, confirmed that Dr Chauhan was without blame, but omitted to tell Cllr Louie Hamblett and Cllr Mark Kenyon about his own lawyer’s blunder. ‘Sir Harry’ (or, more irreverently, ‘Dirty Harry’), as he is known amongst his large number of critics across all Opposition benches in the civic chamber, and a growing number amongst the ruling Labour Party and other influencers in the Borough, also failed to declare his friendship with Paul Entwistle and his emerging role as protector-in-chief of his incompetent, ineffective, disaster-prone right hand man.

It can now be exclusively revealed that the doctor, a former Cabinet Member whom this year is serving the Borough as Deputy Mayor, is, in fact, correct to deny wrongdoing. If blame is to be attached to anyone it is the Council’s Borough Solicitor, Paul Entwistle. Unimpeachable sources say that he was the senior paid council officer whom gave the specific and confounding advice to Dr Chauhan over his entries on the Register.

Paul Entwistle was also directly responsible for the misconceived advice that, in effect, led to a mis-declaration by the former Leader of the Council, Cllr Arooj Shah, in 2019 over her directorship of dormant company, Gelato’s Ice Lounge Ltd. Which has led to years of smears and torment for her at the hands of an infamous, unemployed Tameside-based conspiracy theorist, Raja Miah (read more here). Who claims almost single-handed credit for Cllr Shah losing both her Chadderton South seat and the council leadership in May, 2021, following a grotesque and sustained smear campaign against her (read more here).

The same Raja Miah who humiliated Paul Entwistle and his Legal Services Department at an information rights tribunal in October 2021 at which Oldham Council, astonishingly, managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory over a series of refused freedom of information requests (read more here). Miah, in his familiar hyperbolic style, claimed it was ‘a victory over tyranny that would be talked about down the years‘. His supporters, whom appositely self-style as The Rabble (or Raja’s Rabble), called for a statue of their leader to be erected in Oldham’s Parliament Square to mark the event.

Just two months earlier, in August 2021, another exclusive Neil Wilby Media exposé shone light on the Borough Solicitor’s role in deceiving a local politician over a freedom of information request made by Simon Hodgson of the now defunct Proud of Oldham and Saddleworth Party (read more here). It is an unappealing tale of the Council’s incompetence, deceit and attempted ‘cover-up’.

There are also concerning reports of other Register of Interests defects, or delayed declarations, impacting on elected Members across the political spectrum. But it is unclear whether they directly involve Paul Entwistle – or he is merely adjacent to them as the officer having statutory responsibility for accurately and efficiently maintaining that Register.

In August, 2022 following a verbal abuse incident in Oldham town centre involving Paul Entwistle, a hasty, catastrophic, and, frankly, mind-numbingly stupid decision was made by the Council’s executive management team to remove all video recordings of past council and committee meetings from its popular and hugely valuable YouTube channel. Whilst the story was broken here first on Neil Wilby Media (full article here), the outcry became a regional and national issue. The inevitable and humiliating climbdown – and the restoration of the OMBC YouTube channel – was accompanied by a mealy-mouthed Council statement that didn’t come close to revealing the real knee-jerk reason for the removal of the archive (read more here).

At the September, 2022 Full Council meeting, the Borough Solicitor, supported by his chief executive, appeared, to many people in the civic chamber, the public gallery and those viewing the proceedings via live broadcast, to give erroneous constitutional advice to the Mayor over a motion brought by the Failsworth Independent Party (FIP) and amended by Labour. To an independent arbiter, the FIP’s cries of ‘foul’ were, perhaps for the first time in their history, justified. Either way, it left a sour taste and further cemented Oldham’s alarming reputation as a ‘cover-up’ council.

Much more recently, it has emerged that the bungling lawyer, again backed by his chief executive, gave the quite astonishing advice to the Standards Committee Chair, Cllr Steve Williams, that the number (not the names) of councillors against whom complaints had been made, following two notably stormy meetings in June and July, 2022 could not be revealed publicly. A decision that will most certainly be overturned before a tribunal, unless Paul Entwistle capitulates before the dispute reaches that stage. By which time, thousands of pounds of public funds and countless officer hours will have been wasted on another ‘cover-up’ hill that simply is not worth dying on.

A Standards Committee meeting planned for 8th December, 2022 has been cancelled. It is not known if this action is connected to this present controversy but what is interesting is that there is no other meeting of this committee planned before May, 2023, at the earliest. At least one member of their group is, unsurprisingly, said to be unhappy at the adverse publicly now attaching to them.

For those already shocked at these latest revelations, and wondering how this officer is still in a job that costs the taxpayer well over £120,000 per annum, the Borough Solicitor’s wall of shame is far from complete: A further exclusive article, which specifically tests the ethics, professionalism and integrity of the beleaguered lawyer and those shielding him, as opposed to plain incompetence and poor judgement, is expected to be published early next week.

Perhaps it will be the trigger for those whom, themselves, risk being dragged under by these scandals to take appropriate action?

Paul Entwistle and Harry Catherall were offered right of reply. A statement concerning what has been disclosed, exclusively, in this article was requested from the Council Leader, via her press office.

In a short statement, a Council spokesperson said:

“The Borough Solicitor and the Chief Executive are aware of the story and are declining to exercise their right to reply.

“The Leader of the Council would also decline to comment on the piece”.

Page last updated Wednesday 7th December, 2022 at 1405hrs

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Published by Neil Wilby

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

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