‘No agreement’ reached on Borough Solicitor exit say ‘cover-up’ council

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It is trite to report that 2022/23 has been another calamitous municipal year for the Metropolitan Borough Council in Oldham. The low points being, very arguably, the clumsy ill-judged post-report handling of an Assurance Review into historic child sexual exploitation in ‘Odious Oldham’ as one television channel dubbed the town  and the failure, yet again, to take robust, proportionate but very necessary restraining action against, Raja Miah, a notorious, unemployed, Tameside-based conspiracy theorist who smears and harasses large numbers of council officers and elected councillors, at will, without, on all known evidence, any fear of redress, whatsoever.

Correctly, for a change, working out that the Council’s political and paid officer leadership is so weak he can get away with just about any slur. such as the bald assertion made over and over again that Paul Entwistle, a practising lawyer and Oldham’s Borough Solicitor, is ‘bent’.

In other words, in the ordinary meaning, he is ‘dishonest’, ‘untrustworthy’, ‘corrupt’ to draw on only three of the dictionary definitions. For the avoidance of doubt, Neil Wilby does not in any way regard Mr Entwistle as bent in the crude, brown envelopes, cash for favours way that Raja Miah does. Allegations with which he and his supporters smear other councillors and paid officers almost routinely and without a scrap of viable evidence.

Apart from writing about Mr Entwistle’s alleged tendencies, Bradford-born Miah posts images which have an exponentially greater effect on the viewing public. If this type of depiction, with its unambiguous message, had not been posted many times on the various Recusant Nine social media and internet channels, unchallenged by its intended target, then it would have been seriously unwise to repeat that sin of defamation, even by imputation or innuendo.

It is now, however, as a result of the Borough Solicitor accepting the assertion over and again, that he is ‘bent’, very much in the public interest to do so here. Not least, because he has absolutely no right to keep accepting salary, perquisites and benefits from the public purse under the present circumstances and those colleagues who tolerate, seek to defend or cover up that situation, in adjacent offices on the executive floor or alongside him in meetings, should genuinely hang their heads in shame. They, too, have no right to be in public office.

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Following publication of an article headlined ‘LibDems slow to accept doctor’s remedy after failing ‘smear’ test’ elsewhere on this website on 25th March, 2023 (read in full here), a right of reply was offered to that same senior member of the executive management team (EMT) of Oldham Council on the basis of the measured, factual criticisms within these concluding paragraphs in that exclusive piece:

“The Borough Solicitor, Paul Entwistle, has been previously and exclusively identified by Neil Wilby Media, and not for the first time, as the senior paid officer at whose door the blame can be laid for the misunderstandings over Dr Chauhan’s declarations of interests (read full story here). He made a similar mistake over declarations of interest of former Leader of the Council, Arooj Shah. Although that was four years ago, she still receives abuse and defamatory remarks over the matter to this day”

“Both serious matters over which there has been no investigation – and the lawyer has received no sanction, whatsoever, whilst continuing to sit in judgement of others as the Council’s Monitoring Officer. A role in which he repeatedly disappoints and over which other senior paid officers, and particularly the Council’s chief executive, Harry Catherall, and his assistant chief executive, Shelley Kipling, are content to take no action.

An email was sent to Paul Entwistle on 25th March, 2023, by the author of this article. For completeness and to aid reader understanding it is reproduced in full here:

“Good morning. You are afforded the standard courtesy of right of reply to the below article:

“On what may be a connected matter, a source has told me that you have reached agreement to leave the Council’s employment.

“In order to avoid unhelpful speculation, particularly in the light of the forthcoming local elections, may I please request a statement to clarify your position?

“It is respectfully requested that such statement reach me before 10am on 28th March, 2023.

“Thank you, Neil Wilby”.

It was copied, as a stakeholder matter, to the Council Leader, Cllr Amanda Chadderton, and as a courtesy, to the Council’s press office. Put forward in a routinely courteous, respectful, ethical, professional manner.

An objective observer might express surprise that Mr. Entwistle, who costs the Borough’s council tax payers in the order of £120,000 per annum, is not capable of constructing a reply to those measured criticisms and answering the other questions about his future as Borough Solicitor himself.

Instead, relying on another member of the Council’s EMT, Assistant Chief Executive, Shelley Kipling, costing the taxpayer a similar amount, who was also roundly criticised in that same article.

More subjectively, Shelley Kipling and Neil Wilby have been at odds for some weeks over the former’s unethical and unprofessional, sometimes lazy or even absent approach to matters of significant public interest. A number of them related to the sub-optimal performance of the Communications team at OMBC, over which she has portfolio responsibility, and  the dismal quality of responses when they were actually made after almost inevitable reminders.

Others over reports to her of concerning conduct of such as the Borough Solicitor – and the Head of Constitutional Services  – and where absolutely nothing is done about them, except to shield, make the lamest of excuses and then rally the rest of the EMT in the inevitable ‘wrap around’ or ‘cover-up’.

To dismiss a journalist in this way whom, according to the region’s leading conspiracy theorists, is on the council payroll, and with not inconsiderable leverage by dint of his vocation and consequent audience reach and penetration, should make every single taxpayer in the Borough fear how they will be treated if they report a problem or a miscreant officer to their Council.

Indeed, it could be reasonably posited that a significant number of those notorious malcontents and axe-grinders so grimly attached to Raja Miah and the Recusant Nine narrative, very likely started out with either considerable, or at least some, merit in issues raised with the Council – and were treated in the same cavalier manner from the outset and then worn down by either poor quality responses or no answers at all.

But, to return to Mrs Kipling, this is what she had to say in response to the email sent to her Borough Solicitor colleague:

“I can confirm that the Director of Legal will not be taking up the right of reply to your article but on the issue of reports that Mr Entwistle is leaving the council I agree that we need to avoid any unhelpful speculation. As a result I can confirm that no such agreement has been made. Any such agreement would have to be approved by the Council’s Appointments Committee, membership of which includes the Leader, Deputy Leader, Leader of the Conservative Group and Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group”.

Taking that email at its face, and viewed the lens of this journalist, it doesn’t actually say he is not leaving, just that the formalities are not yet complete. The information from two reliable sources is that the exit door at the Civic Centre is beckoning to Paul Entwistle and he will be replaced by his current deputy in the Legal Services Department, Colin Brittain. Whom, anecdotally and generously expressed, is another with less than complete faith in his boss. Again the Civic Centre sources are sufficiently reliable and well placed to go public with that information.

This was the reply sent to Mrs Kipling by Neil Wilby:

“Given your previous persistently unethical, unprofessional conduct towards this journalist, I genuinely couldn’t think of an officer less appropriate to provide a reply to the subject press request.

“But, there we are, that is Oldham Council’s executive management team, through and through. So, we crack on, regardless, as we say in the West Riding.

“As almost always in my vocation, the ‘cover-up’ becomes the story and will spawn at least one more Neil Wilby Media article. It simply cannot be right, or in the public interest, that an officer, costing the taxpayer circa £120,000 and widely regarded as incompetent both inside and outside the Civic Centre (including by his own Deputy), can be shielded by other senior officers in this way.

“Those, such as yourself, really do need to look inward and ask, honestly, is this persistent ‘cover-up’ and shielding of the Borough Solicitor serving long-suffering residents appropriately – and would withstand closer scrutiny either by them, most crucially, or an outside agency or regulator?

“No further correspondence on this topic is necessary. For the moment, at least.

“The Council Leader and the Leader of the Opposition are both copied in. It is entirely a matter for your own judgement as to how, and to whom else, this response is circulated”.

A reply was, of course, excused by Neil Wilby but it would have been open for Mrs Kipling’s boss to write and offer further insight, or answers even, and a promise of an external investigation, by an experienced and suitably qualified lawyer, into the numerous concerns raised over the past few months into the inner workings of OMBC. Except that Harry Catherall, the Council’s chief executive, becomes tetchy, quite quickly, when sighted with shortcomings or ethical and professional breaches of his senior team, especially if they happen to go road or trail running with him of an evening or weekend.

Notwithstanding, given what has happened earlier this week (read more here), there is simply no sign of looking inward – or outwards in the direction of those who foot the over-stuffed EMT salary cost of upwards of £1 million or vainly attempt to hold them to account.

But, setting that aside, in typical Oldham ‘cover-up’ fashion, Mrs Kipling’s reply, on behalf of Paul Entwistle, did not address three core issues: (i) Why the Borough Solicitor is not taking up the right of reply and needs someone else to speak up on his behalf? Or offering a public apology or reparation. (ii) Why has Mr Entwistle never faced investigation over two serious mistakes with such far-reaching consequences? (iii) Why, when he has been found repeatedly to be in breach of ethical and professional standards (just one of numerous  examples here), becomes confused over facts and evidence, and he, and his Legal Services Department, is deficient in key areas of the law is he still employed by the council?

There is also the relevant and permanently irksome issue, particularly to a journalist holding power to account, of Oldham Council’s Communications team publicly, monotonously, ubiquitously and falsely claiming that they are resident-focused and open and transparent.

At the last Full Council meeting of the municipal year, held on 15th March, 2023, a motion tabled under Opposition Business by two Conservative councillors, Bethany Sharp and Dave Arnott, essentially seeking a ‘clear-out’ of the senior management running Oldham Council and government intervention, was defeated (read more here).

With better understanding of local and central government mechanisms, tighter drafting, a more open approach to consultation away from their own closed circle, and more assiduous research, it might well have produced a motion worthy of more meaningful debate – and opened the public’s eyes to what goes on in the upper reaches of the Civic Centre. Where self-serving smugness, in this journalist’s very considerable and relevant experience, is at stratospheric levels.

Whoever is Leader of the Council after all the votes have been counted on 5th May, 2023 (or maybe into the early hours of the 6th given the huge number of candidates contesting seats in the ‘all out’ elections this year), and the Oldham Labour Party’s Annual General Meeting four days later has concluded, needs to address the culture problem cascading down from the very top of the Oldham paid officer tree with stern warnings and action; put Paul Entwistle out of his misery; bring in a capable, resolute and resident-focused Borough Solicitor and take whatever legal steps are necessary to injunct Raja Miah under Anti-Social Behaviour legislation, as a matter of some urgency.

Another Arooj Shah senior management purge, which as Council Leader in 2021/22 she executed with great wisdom and diplomacy in seeing off a chief executive, deputy chief executive and an executive director in the space of a few months, would be most efficacious.

If, of course, the hugely and nationally respected Labour politician does overcome the two election hurdles on 5th and 9th May and is restored as Leader.

This exclusive is plainly a story with plenty more to come: Follow Neil Wilby on Twitter (here) and Neil Wilby Media on Facebook (here) for updates.

Page last updated Friday 7th April, 2023 at 0610hrs

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2023. 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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