‘Get the white vote angry’

In October, 2020 I published an article on this website headlined ‘Search for the truth‘. An overview of an investigation into allegations of a multi-agency cover-up of child sex abuse in Oldham, Greater Manchester (read in full here).

The genesis of those highly emotive accusations, and indeed now its centrepiece, oft-repeated on social media, is an email sent by a BBC journalist to the Council’s leader at the time, Jim McMahon.

A subset is a reply that Oldham Council sent to a letter from the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) dated November, 2012. Its Chair, and author of the HASC letter, Keith Vaz MP, had met, immediately prior to its sending, a child sex abuse survivor from Oldham, Samantha Walker-Roberts (who has waived her right to lifetime anonymity) and her campaigning husband, the now deceased Steven Walker-Roberts. The latter also made written submissions to the Committee as part of a wider Parliamentary inquiry into child sex abuse.

Together, the email and the letter are alleged to prove that McMahon, now the MP for Oldham West, is complicit in the cover up and, due to his position at the time, central to it.

The accuser is Raja Miah, a local political activist (pictured above), whose output on social media and his other internet platforms frequently attracts the attention of the police and litigation lawyers.

These are, by any measure, grotesque allegations to make against anyone, let alone a family man with two young children who lives in the town he has served since 2003 and, of course, works in his constituency office there. He was brought up a short step away in Middleton, just beyond the Oldham Borough boundary.

Miah is best known as the founder and former Chief Executive Officer of two spectacularly failed schools, which led to him being blacklisted by the Department of Education and an investigation by the National Economic Crime Centre (NECC) into alleged misappropriation of millions of pounds of public funds. This followed a referral by the Serious Fraud Office.

The deep dive into the schools finances, strongly championed by the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Angela Rayner MP, has now been passed back to Greater Manchester Police by the NECC. To add to at least six other criminal investigations following complaints brought against Miah, and his closest supporters, by prominent local politicians.

Police sources say that both the Deputy Mayor, Bev Hughes, whose portfolio includes policing, and the chief constable, Ian Hopkins, are now both watching matters in Oldham much more closely. Better late than never, one might say.

Raja Miah strongly denies any wrongdoing. He was, however, kicked out of the Labour Party two months ago, a matter to which he has not alluded at all, amongst his quite prodigious social media ramblings.

It is no coincidence that Jim McMahon instigated and led the investigation into safeguarding, financial and governance irregularities at those schools and that the Miah ‘vendetta’ (Raja’s own word) began soon after the publicity outfall from that blacklisting and his consequent fall from public grace.

The MP told a local newspaper at the time:

“I have no doubt that the campaign of harassment and abuse [by Miah] is intended to intimidate me into withdrawing from the long-standing and ongoing investigation into allegations surrounding Collective Spirit Free School and the Manchester Creative Studio School – a matter which has been widely reported, debated in Parliament and subject to review by the Department for Education.

“I am thankful for the messages of support [I have received], but equally disappointed that such a sensitive and distressing issue [child sex abuse] has been used for political gain by others, and that some feel it appropriate to share wider.”

A great deal of time has been spent looking at the merits of the two core allegations – and the documents that Miah relies upon to underpin them. As with so much of the Miah output, there is little or no substance to them. That is also, on any independent view, clearly the case here.

The Keith Vaz letter was, I’m told, addressed to Charlie Parker, who was Oldham Council’s highly-rated chief executive at the time. In terms of protocol, that was entirely correct: A council chief executive is also one of its two statutory officers, paid a very generous salary to deal with, and co-ordinate, the response to such serious enquiries.

It was Parker who also wrote the reply to Vaz just over four weeks later. The contents are highly sensitive and cannot be repeated here. It can be stated with certainty, however, through the lens of this journalist at least, that the response was measured and appears to answer, in some detail, the two questions put to the Council by the HASC Chair. It is obvious that there was also input, as one might fairly expect, from a number of other officers concerned with child care and safeguarding in Oldham.

Miah, in an article he published without the specific authority of its subject, the child abuse victim referenced above, states that the letter was addressed to McMahon and copied to Parker. It wasn’t. It is further claimed that the Council refused to answer the questions asked by the HASC. That, again, is, quite simply, untrue. A further lie is that the letter references Paul Waites, now a convicted sex offender. It didn’t.

The allegations linking McMahon to the letter and a ‘cover-up’ are contrived and fatuous. Anyone stating otherwise is simply not adjacent to the facts, or is running a quite evil agenda. Or both. His parliamentary office holds no copy of the letter and he does not have any recollection of having had input into it. The allegation that he deliberately withheld circulation of the letter is completely without merit. Simply because it was not his letter, or reply, to control.

It is a similar story regarding what is now widely known as ‘the Lee Rigby email’. Further evidence, Miah claims, that the MP was, at the material time and when Council leader, orchestrating a cover-up and preventing a wider broadcasting of concerns over alleged grooming of girls in local shisha bars.

In another lengthy piece on his Recusant Nine website he recycles documents from ‘a dossier’ given to him by former councillor and local Justice of the Peace, Hugh McDonald. Another with a deep grudge against McMahon, following his supension from the Labour Party in July 2013. McDonald was said at the time to have leaked sensitive police information to the press and to a safeguarding organisation. He later admitted his actions to council officials and apologised.

The fact that he has now released that same information, and more, to Raja Miah, in what seems a further pursuit of a common grudge against McMahon, can be fairly characterised as reprehensible.

It also goes to show that there was no genuine contrition at the time McDonald made his admisssions of guilt – and what now looks to be a very hollow apology. Indeed, he told the Oldham Times in November, 2019 that he ‘had no regrets’ about the incident and that ‘leaking information was a a good thing’. The fact that McDonald sat as a magistrate for 35 years makes his actions even more unconscionable.

It is said that the ‘dossier’, to which Miah refers frequently, is the Standards Pack provided to McDonald, by the Council, during the investigation of the complaints against him.

This is the email at the heart of the present McMahon controversy, drawn from the dossier:

As a journalist, and also from the more detached, neutral perspective of an investigator, I’ve read this email many times. It doesn’t say what Raja Miah, and ‘the Rabble’ with whom he has surrounded himself, want to believe.

I am also aware, via policing contacts, that there was a Gold Group running alongside the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) set up in 2006 in the wake of Operation Messenger. That investigation reported, publicly, in 2010 that ‘child sexual exploitation is rife in Oldham, with police dealing with 26 individuals in the past 12 months’. 

Messenger was a dedicated Greater Manchester Police squad ‘battling a dark underworld of child rape and abduction in the Borough’. The force, working in tandem with other partner agencies, also said at the time that ‘in many of the local cases they had dealt with, the young people do not see themselves as victims. Drugs, money or housing could be received in exchange for sex’. 

Apart from the BBC investigation led by Jonathan Ali, it is in my knowledge that Andrew Norfolk of The Times (in 2012) and Geraldine McKelvie of The Daily Mirror (in late 2019) have both spent time in Oldham making journalistic enquiries, conducting interviews with a view to publication. In both cases no story ensued. These two journalists had, to their eternal credit, shone the first light on grooming scandals in Rotherham and Telford, respectively. Exposing police and council cover-ups in both cases.

Sally Chesworth, renowned former producer of BBC’s File on 4, and now producer of BBC’s Newsnight, has also taken a preliminary look at Oldham. She was born and brought up in the town. We have spoken regularly about the difficulties in grounding a story about the alleged CSA/CSE scandal in Oldham when there is a dearth of victims willing to come forward. It was Sally whom, along with Maggie Oliver, broke open the Rochdale grooming scandal in 2013 by way of an iconic File on 4 edition (listen here).

I spoke at length with Maggie about Oldham in a meeting in Manchester at the end of August, 2020. She elected not to get involved with the allegations of a CSA/CSE cover up in the town because of the questions surrounding the integrity of the main proponent, Raja Miah. A wise and propitious stance to take.

Returning to the Miah allegations, it was the Gold Group referred to above, headed at the time by Oldham’s Divisional Commander, Chief Superintendent Catherine Hankinson (now an assistant chief constable with West Yorkshire Police), that received credible intelligence regarding potential disruption at the funeral of Lee Rigby by far-right political activists and the attendant racial tensions. It was that to which Cllr McMahon (as he was then) alluded in his dealings with Kevin Fitzpatrick.

The claim by Raja Miah that the funeral of the fallen soldier was used to prevent the disclosure of CSE taking place at shisha bars in Oldham is not true. An email briefing was sent by GMP to councillors and officers of Oldham Council outlining an early stage investigation, and premises under surveillance. There are no circumstances where the police, or council, would have made this public during an intelligence gathering phase, and where the leaking and proposed reporting could have compromised an ongoing police investigation.

Discussions took place between the BBC and the police about the intelligence and it was agreed that once a fuller picture emerged, that it would be shared. It was during these discussions where the intelligence that the far right could use the funeral of Mr Rigby to protest was revealed. Whilst it is correct that this was shared, as it would be in normal circumstances, it is not the case that the information relating to shisha bars would have been made public at such an early stage in a covert investigation, in any circumstances.


Once a clearer picture developed about the risk of venues, such as shisha bars, the usual process was followed to ensure local parents, such as colleges and other with safeguarding responsibilities, were informed. Further, the practitioner’s guidance (read here) was updated to include shisha bars on the list of high-risk venues. GMP also interacted with media enquiries and the matter was reported by the Manchester Evening News, BBC Manchester and Radio 5. at the very least. The MEN ran this piece about the shisha bars, for example (read here).

Enquiries have revealed that the leaking of the confidential email to BBC reporter Kevin Fitzpatrick was done via a long term associate of Hugh McDonald, Joe Fitzpatrick (Kevin’s father). He was central to the Phil Woolas Representation of the People Act court case (read more here) in which emails were disclosed wherein it emerged that Fitzpatrick senior had sought to create community tensions to ‘get the white vote angry’. He later became the chairman of the United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP) in Oldham.

As to the proposition that McMahon, and other Labour councillors, were either engaged in, or part of, a longer term ‘cover-up’ of child sex abuse in the town, there is no apparent basis to support such an inflammatory, damaging allegation: A high profile GMP investigation had been running for seven years, a safeguarding hub was active in the town and, from inspection of other documents in the Miah ‘dossier’, it is clear that the local police inspector running CSA matters, Haydn Roberts, was very much on top of the job and was an active, and lucid, communicator.

That is not to say that everything was, or still is, perfect. Far from it. Mistakes and poor decisions will have been made in individual cases, or on a wider systemic scale. That is the nature of the job, and particularly so when dealing with highly sensitive, very personal caseloads where most, if not all, the actions or remedies require a judgement call from officers or social workers operating in a difficult, stressful environment.

The present leader of Oldham Council, Sean Fielding, says:

“Child sexual exploitation is abhorrent. It would be naive to think that cases of child sexual exploitation do not take place, and the council and our partners must be equipped to prevent and detect them in all their forms.

“I am grateful to the survivors who have spoken about their experiences and am confident that if the Council, or our partners, could have done more to protect or support them, and others, that Malcolm [Newsam] and Gary [Ridgway] will identify this.”

Messrs Newsam and Ridgway are, of course, two of the most renowned child sex abuse investigators in the country. Both presently engaged on an Oldham strand of a wide-ranging, independent Assurance Review commissioned by the Mayor of Greater Manchester. Their report on the Rochdale and South Manchester strand, published earlier this year, was very widely acclaimed in the media and by public officials. Maggie Oliver also has great confidence in the capabilities and integrity of those two investigators. Not a view shared by ‘Raja’s Rabble’, who frequently seek to undermine them.

The most recent update on the Oldham Assurance Review can be read in full here. Their work spawned two high profile police investigations, Operation Green Jacket and Operation Exmoor (read more here).

Former ally of Raja Miah, and himself a former Labour councillor in Oldham, Khazir Rehman, has this to say about the allegations against Jim McMahon:

“In 2014, at the height of Jim McMahon’s reign in Oldham, I was an Assistant Cabinet Member, part of the administration. These were my words after Shabir Ahmed [a leader of a Rochdale grooming gang better known as ‘Daddy’] was put away [sent to prison], ‘If supporting Keeping Our Girl’s Safe (KOGS) can save one girl from being abused, I would have done my job’. My ward areas, Fitton Hill and Hathershaw, had extensive work done in them, with Oldham Council funding, your money, it was my sole decision where these funds went to PREVENT grooming, by upping the game in raising awareness so that we could get more intelligence and train young people to recognise abuse.

“Jim McMahon said to me, ‘you are a bright lad and your heart has always been in the right place on many issues.’ Only a person whose own heart is in the right place would say this about someone else. Jim supported me in this work and congratulated me, after Ann Coffey MP, Parliamentary Chair for Missing and Runaway children, came to Oldham and took evidence of our response to the Rochdale grooming scandal, after the report was published.

“The press descended on Oldham to speak to us about the work we were doing, it was innovative; pumping cash into local organisations and generally supporting crackdowns on grooming gangs. Jim and I were two people that took no prisoners when it came to grooming, we said it how it is. Oldham was the only place in the WHOLE COUNTRY where we fought the hardest in this way against grooming gangs. Does this sound like an administration covering up grooming? No, we went after it and spent thousands of pounds on prevention. Here is the Coffey Report (at this link), commissioned by Police and Crime Commissioner at the time, Tony Lloyd, now the current Rochdale MP. Does this sound like an administration that was hiding child abuse? Please read the report, I know it does not fit with some people’s narratives, but I request if this is going to be a trial by social media, then give us a fair hearing as I was part of that council administration that certain people are accusing”.

With specific reference to the ‘Lee Rigby email’, this is what Kaiser (as he prefers to be known) has to say:

“If Jim McMahon is guilty of stopping a news report to protect the town from violence from the far right, and other thugs, that may have reacted at a sensitive time in our country’s history, then I am guilty also, as I supported him. The balancing act of public safety, public order, trumps disclosure of sensitive information. The investigation did not stop into the grooming allegations, which was only [police] intelligence at that point. Public order and protecting people’s lives and property will almost always trump any other consideration. Jim did his job correctly.”

On the issue of child safeguarding, the last words go to Jim McMahon:

“I take safeguarding very seriously and if others have concerns about it, they should be reported to the appropriate authorities immediately.

“Throughout my time as a councillor, and latterly as council leader in Oldham, I acted in the public interest and did my utmost to ensure that the leadership and culture was in place to protect vulnerable people.

“Any suggestion to the contrary isn’t just offensive, but more actively seeks to undermine public confidence. Moreover, it is blatant defamation.

“I find it incredible that Raja Miah, the failed former CEO of the crisis-hit Collective Spirit Free School and the Manchester Studio School feels qualified to make judgements about matters of safeguarding.”

Regrettably, Jim McMahon is far from alone in those views, as will be more fully articulated in another excoriating piece, solely concerned with those failed schools, which will be published on this website next month.

Interestingly, a co-director of Miah in one of a labyrinthine web of companies, Cllr Shoab Akhtar, was in the copy line of the ‘Lee Rigby email’. The company was RISE 2010 Community Interest Company (CIC). Cllr Akhtar says:

“I was invited by Raja Miah to be a director of the CIC in 2011. At the time I was Deputy Leader and lead for community cohesion in Oldham. Raja at the time had enjoyed success in his role with PEACE and, whilst I was reluctant to take on other commitments at that time, I did so. However, there were no meetings called during the year or so I was a Director of RISE and, in an unpaid advisory role, I had nothing to do with its running. My resignation followed the news that Raja was to became involved in free schools. I was, and am, opposed to that concept. I later became aware that over £40,000 had, apparently, been transferred from one of those schools [Manchester Creative Studio] into RISE. As there were no board meetings, it is difficult for me to see how that transaction [or transactions] came about”.

The former Mayor of Oldham added: “At all times, everything from my part was transparent and the connection with Raja Miah’s company was included on the Council’s Register of Business Interests and registered at Companies House”.

On the wider issue of CSE, and in the context of grooming, it is often said, and it forms a key part of the false narrative shared by Raja Miah, and his attendant Rabble, that grooming gangs are left unchallenged because of the reliance of the Labour Party on votes from the Asian community.

Firstly, as one prominent local leader has articulated frequently, ‘That is seriously divisive and hugely offensive to the Asian community in Oldham; to suggest that we are all, somehow, complicit in sexual abuse. It is a matter of fact that the vast majority from all communities in the town find abuse abhorrent’. Unsurprisingly, other influential Asians I have spoken to about this smearing are outraged by what the Miah supporters are propagating on social media, unchecked by the local police.


Secondly, it is not the case that child sexual exploitation crimes had been allowed to go unpunished. Though there were, plainly, serious mistakes made in the early stages of the Rochdale grooming scandal and the Operation Span police cover-up that followed, it is a fact that the abusers were, ultimately, held to account for their actions. The role played by Malcolm Newsam and Gary Ridgeway cannot be overstated in shining a bright light on the Rochdale (and South Manchester) failings.

For those prepared to put in the hard yards, rather than simply rely on a lazy, tailored Raja Miah narrative that suits a particular, and mostly far right political agenda, there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that Oldham Council were open about the characteristics of this type of abuse, and covered it in blog posts (read here and here) and in Council meetings (read here) at that time. There was, it appears through this lens at least, no hiding from the crimes, information withheld or the crisis not fully acknowledged. In short, no cover-up.

As rehearsed earlier in this piece, there is also evidence available of significant work undertaken to review practices around CSE, the introduction of the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH), and the expansion of best practice across the Greater Manchester region. Moreover, funding was provided for the performance of the play “Somebody’s sister, somebody’s daughter” in secondary schools to inform young people of the lurking presence of CSE.

Project Messenger, running alongside the police operation of the same name, became an enlarged Project Phoenix team, which kickstarted a week of action to raise awareness of CSE, at which time the ‘It’s Not Okay‘ website was launched (see here). Included in that initiative was a Practitioners Guide to High Risk Venues (read more here). This includes the shisha bars that were at the centre of the concerns in 2013 and led to the covert police operation. Stalls were also placed in Oldham Market to raise wider public awareness of the problem.

A freedom of information request made last year shows that in the 10 year period between 2008-18, Greater Manchester Police recorded 502 alleged cases of child sex exploitation. It is not clear how many related to grooming or how many resulted in convictions. The police have been asked to clarify.

If any person or organisation has any other evidence of child sexual abuse, past or present, they are urged to get in touch with the police or the specialist unit at Oldham Council. Or, if mistrust of authorities is present (not unusual) then please contact the Maggie Oliver Foundation where specialist help is also available (see here).

Right of reply has again been offered to Raja Miah. He has declined all previous invitations.

Page last updated: Wednesday 2nd December, 2020 at 2255 hours

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

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 2015-2020. 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.



By Royal Warrant

A freedom of information request has revealed that there are 157 part-time judges sitting in the North Eastern Circuit, which encompasses court centres in Newcastle, Middlesbrough, York, Hull, Bradford, Leeds and Sheffield.

The list includes seven district judges and one immigration judge.

The Circuit has its own website (see here) and its current Leader is Richard Wright QC whom, some years ago, became one of the youngest ever to be appointed as a deputy (part-time) district judge.

The Courts and Tribunals Judicial Appointments Team based at the Royal Courts of Justice, responding to the information request on behalf of the Ministry of Justice, also confirmed that Recorders are appointed by Royal Warrant, following recommendation by the Lord Chancellor.

Once appointed, Recorders sit for four or five years, and their tenure is usually extended, automatically, by the Lord Chancellor for further successive terms up until their retirement date. Usually, their 70th birthday.

One of the youngest and one of the oldest Recorders were both involved in the same long running civil case about which much is written elsewhere on this website (see here). The appeal following the county court trial, heard at the High Court in Leeds, was upheld by one of the two Presiding Judges on the Circuit, Mr Justice Lavender (Mr Justice Goss is the other).

Ben Nolan QC is the longest serving Recorder on the circuit, having been appointed on 3rd March, 1989. He is due to retire next year.

The most recent additions were last month (October, 2020) when five Recorders were all newly appointed on the same day.

A Recorder receives a fee of £668.04 per sitting day (read full judicicial fee list here).

Page last updated: Thursday 26th November, 2020 at 065 hours

Photo credits: North Eastern Circuit logo

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

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 2015-2020. 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.

Pledge loses its shine?

Following the introduction of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, 2011, police authorities, comprised very largely of elected councillors, were dissolved. Replaced by a new elected policing body, known as Police and Crime Commissioners.

It was a controversial move, rejected almost entirely by the electorate, and one that has been dogged by ineptitude and scandal ever since.

During the very first election campaign in 2012, a number of prospective PCCs made promises regarding re-distribution of what were considered excessive salaries.

One of those was Labour politician Mark Burns-Williamson, who was duly elected in West Yorkshire. He had previously served, without distinction, as chairman of the police authority for the previous nine years.

His pledge was confirmed via the local media, in these terms, during the week after his election victory:

“The salary level has been set by a pay review body, independently.

“I will set aside £5,000 for a separate account to support victims of crime”.

Not a particularly generous offer compared to, for example, Andy Burnham, who donates 15% of his £110,000 salary as Greater Manchester Mayor to the homeless. A gesture fulfilled every year since he was elected in 2017.

Nevertheless, if PCC Burns-Williamson had kept his promise, over the intervening 8 years, then a not insignificant sum of £40,000 would have been donated.

Via a freedom of information request, it has been established that the Burns-Wiliamson promise has not been kept. Far from it.

This is a list of all the donations he has made since 2012:

2012/13 National Police Memorial Fund £500 
2012/13 Care of Police Survivors £100 
2013/14 Bradford Safeguarding Board £1000 
2013/14 Shelter £50 
2013/14 War Memorial Trust £100

Total donations made: £1,750

Total set aside and donated to victims of crime, as pledged: Zero

Total unaccounted for: £38,250

A further information request has been made regard the status of the ‘separate account’, who administers it and its present balance.

The PCC’s press office has been contacted separately, requesting an explanation from Mark Burns-Williamson over the discrepancies. Burns-Williamson’s representative claims that he has made other donations via a private bank account but refuses to provide dates, amounts recipients.

When challenged further about the unsatisfactory response and failure to meet a high profile public pledge a curt response stated that no other information would be provided.

A complaint is being prepared with a view to submission to the Police and Crime Panel for West Yorkshire. A poorly run ‘scrutiny body’ hosted by Wakefield Metropolitan District Council, that is, itself, frequently caught out when failing to meet its statutory obligations on disclosure.

Page last updated at 0715hrs on Wednesday 2nd December, 2020.

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

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.

Photo credit: Stephen Bradbury

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. 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, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cover-up at all costs

There are many thousands of words written elsewhere on this website about the so-called ‘police watchdog’ in England and Wales, most recently here. Currently known as the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), having previously existed as the Independent Police Complaints Commission (2004-2018), the Police Complaints Authority (1985-2004) and the Police Complaints Board (1977-1985). Each of those ‘brands’ becoming more toxic than their predecessor (read more here).

The latest incarnation, the IOPC, is already regarded by those involved closely with the police complaints system as even worse than the thoroughly disgraced IPCC. Despite the high hurdle that undoubtedly presented, with its legacy of gratuitous self-congratulation, poor leadership, interminable delays, flawed decision making, and the inevitable partisan outcomes of ‘investigations’ carried out too frequently by inexperienced, under-qualified ‘casework managers’ or ‘lead investigators’ who had completed a six-week remote learning course to earn their badge.

Matters now made much worse by the controversial appointment of an inexperienced, under-qualified (in the police complaints arena) chief executive, Michael Lockwood, with, it appears, an unhealthy appetite for dining at the same table as those he is charged with holding to account. Most notably, his unctious currying of favour with the Police Federation of England and Wales, blowing an ill wind for those making complaints against the Fed’s members. Who just happen to account for over 80% of all warranted police officers.

Knowing whom the Home Office passed over for the job simply makes that situation almost unbearable. A no-nonsense, high-achieving criminal justice practioner with a proven track record of leadership and putting right great wrongs. Made to measure for an organisation so badly in need of a change in culture and the elimination of so many questionable practices.

It is a matter for that person to reveal how, and why, he was passed over. To do otherwise would necessitate an unconscionable breach of confidence.

Lockwood has, since his appointment, been embroiled in a ‘cronyism’ scandal over the appointment of Tom Whiting, his former number two at Harrow Council. Board minutes recorded that the £140,000 per annum appointment was ‘not previously budgeted for’ and Mr Whiting was not ‘financially qualified’.

A qualified accountant, Lockwood also hired his former personal assistant from the same council, but denied any impropriety in both cases.

He also lost his Deputy, Jonathan Green, in yet another embarrassing scandal after Green, who was recruited by the IOPC from the dental profession, was caught having an affair with a junior colleague. He headed up an inquiry that cleared five detectives of misconduct after Scotland Yard’s botched investigation into false claims made by jailed fantasist Carl Beech. The infamous Operation Midland.  One of the matters in issue was detectives misleading a judge in the course of obtaining search warrants.

In the face of well-rehearsed concerns of two prominent judges, the IOPC dismissed the misconduct allegations. The lead investigator on that probe, much younger than him, was said to be Green’s love interest. She admitted the relationship, but the married Green had denied it when first approached by The Times newspaper.

One of the main critics, retired High Court judge Sir Richard Henriques said he was ‘alarmed by the lack of knowledge of relevant criminal procedure’ of those within the IOPC, lamenting the fact that an ‘error-ridden’ criminal inquiry was ‘followed by such a lamentably slow and inadequate process’.

Green’s lover was replaced as lead investigator by another young female who had joined the IOPC, 16 months earlier, from Topshop, a leading clothing retailer. Not noted, of course, as a training ground for major police corruption investigations.

Against that troubled background, and being adjacent to current high profile and seriously unsatisfactory IOPC investigations involving such as the spectacularly failed Operation Resolve probe into the Hillsborough Disaster; outfall from the nationally known Anthony Grainger Inquiry; another high profile police shooting that resulted in the death of Yasser Yaqub on a slip road off the M62 near Huddersfield; and the death of Oldham man, Andre Moura, following a sustained beating in the back of a police van; a judgment was handed down at the Royal Courts of Justice this week in what appears, at first blush, to be a case of much lesser significance: A Section 18 search warrant, obtained by way of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984 (PACE) was followed by the mishandling of the partially disabled detained person, by a group of Hertfordshire and Thames Valley officers, that resulted in relatively minor injuries.

The incident happened in 2013. It has taken seven years of determined struggle, against the police and their gatekeeping ‘watchdog’ for the complainant, Julian Watson, to reach the stage where matters are heard, for the first time, before an independent arbiter. Almost three of those years have been spent waiting for a hearing of his judicial review application. The decision challenged was made by the IPCC in December 2017, and permission was granted by noted police action lawyer, Clive Sheldon QC, sitting as a High Court Judge, in July 2019. No explanation is given in the judgment as to how such an interminable delay came to pass.

The IOPC had considered an appeal by Mr Watson against a decision of the Hertfordshire Constabulary (“Hertfordshire”). He had complained about two of their officers. The force had decided that one of them, Police Constable Lobendhan, should face disciplinary proceedings, but the other, Police Sergeant Jinesh Solankee, had no case to answer. The watchdog decided not to uphold the appeal against the decision in respect of PS Solankee.

The background to the case is taken almost verbatim from Mr Justice Chamberlain’s concise judgment: In the early hours of 24th December 2013, PC Lobendhan and PS Solankee went to Mr Watson’s home in Milton Keynes to conduct a PACE search. Mr Watson did not want to let them in. There was a scuffle at the door during which PS Solankee discharged PAVA spray. The officers then entered and arrested Mr Watson for obstructing a constable in the execution of his duty. They handcuffed him in what is known as the “front stack position”, that is to say with his hands in front of his body. Two officers from Thames Valley Police (“TVP”), Police Constable Morgan-Russell and Special Police Constable Badshah, came to assist. A search of the house was conducted. A small quantity of cannabis was found. Mr Watson was arrested on suspicion of possession of a class B drug with intent to supply.

PC Lobendhan and PC Morgan-Russell took him to the police car and then on to Milton Keynes police station. The other two officers also travelled to the station. The custody suite was in a temporary building, accessed by external metal steps with a sharp non-slip coating. Mr Watson suffers from sciatica and trapped nerves, having fractured five vertebrae in a fall. He told the officers that he could not get up the steps with his hands cuffed in front of him. PC Lobendhan and PC Morgan Russell dragged him up the steps by his arms. He was facing down the steps in a semi-seated position. He suffered cuts and scratches on his way up. PS Solankee observed these events and did not intervene. Mr Watson was then booked into a cell.

Mr Watson was never convicted of any offence arising out of the search and arrest. The only charge to proceed was one of obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duty. That charge was dismissed by the local magistrates.

In the meantime, on 31st December 2013, Mr Watson had made a written complaint about the conduct of the officers who arrested him. It covered several aspects of his treatment on 24th December, 2013. The one that matters for the purposes of the judicial review was “unnecessary brutality and injuries sustained in dragging me up steel nonslip sharp jagged steps to the Custody Office”. Mr Watson described what happened as follows:


“At the entrance to the Custody Office I told the police officers that my mobility disabilities would prevent me from being able to get up the ten steps with only one handrail and with handcuffs on. They refused to remove my handcuffs even though they were at least four officers present and, instead, one of them said: ‘If you don’t get up those steps we will drop you and drag you up and it will not be a pretty sight’. I again said that I could not negotiate the steps with the handcuffs on and that having told them of my disability is it was their responsibility to take care of that and act in an appropriate manner.


“The next thing I was aware of was being pushed backwards onto the steps and something (probably a foot or leg) put behind my legs making the trip over backwards and land heavily on the first few rungs of the steps. My dressing gown belt became undone so the front part of my body was exposed. They then proceeded to lift my arms above my head and pull on the handcuff central connector and drag me up the steps backwards. The steps are steel and finished on the step and nosing with very sharp gravel type non-slip finish.


“I was in considerable pain when I was dragged into the front desk area of custody, and after lashing out at their attempts to pull me to my feet, I was eventually allowed to kneel and pull myself up using a bench and wall. I notified the custody sergeant again of my disabilities and medication for it. I also asked for medical attention to my injuries that hurt very badly, but that I could not see as they were mostly to the back of my legs. During this time my dressing gown belt became loose and I was unable to gather the sides together and secure the belt with handcuffs on, so much to my embarrassment everyone was sniggering my immodest exposure.”


The complaint was considered by an investigating officer at TVP, Mick Osborne. He considered Mr Watson’s account, alongside those of PC Morgan-Russell, PS Solankee and PC Lobendhan. SPC Badshah had, by that time, left TVP and, he said, without explanation, it was not considered practical to obtain a statement from her. Mr Osborne also considered the custody record and viewed CCTV footage of the custody suite at the time when Mr Watson was brought into it. Mr Osborne produced a report on the basis of which a decision-maker in TVP decided that neither of the two TVP officers had a case to answer.


Mr Watson, unsurprisingly, exercised his right to appeal against that decision to the IOPC. On 29th March 2018, Philip Harrison, a Casework Manager at the IOPC, upheld the appeal. The letter containing Mr Harrison’s reasons included the following passage:


“…there is available CCTV which does show the top of the custody suite stairs, as well as the entry area of the custody suite. It is clear from this footage that you were dragged up the stairs and then into the custody suite. I have also reviewed photographs of the injuries he sustained while being dragged by the officers. The witness statement made by PC Morgan-Russell, following your arrest, confirms that he, along with PC Lobendhan, dragged you into the custody suite. However, as PC Lobendhan is not a TVP officer I cannot consider his actions or the outcome of the investigation into him as part of this appeal.


“PC Morgan-Russell does not appear to have provided any rationale, or justification, as to why he considered dragging you up an exterior set of stairs, while you were only dressed in a dressing gown, was the most appropriate use of force. There is no available evidence to demonstrate that he considered any other options, such as supporting you as you climbed the stairs or physically carrying you into the custody suite. There is also no evidence to suggest any consideration was given as to whether there were other more suitable access points that could be used.


“I have noted the comments the officers have made about your demeanour during this incident. While it is asserted you were aggressive at the outset in that you refused entry [into your home] by the Hertfordshire officers and used force to keep the door closed, it does not appear that this behaviour continued after entry was gained. After this point your behaviour is only described as abusive and uncooperative. I am also mindful that PC Morgan-Russell describes your resistance outside the custody suite as passive. In my opinion, these circumstances do not demonstrate a clear need to drag you backwards, rather than carry or support to you in another manner.


“In light of the lack of provided rational explanation as to why dragging you up the stairs was the most appropriate course of action, and the injuries he sustained while being dragged up the stairs, it is my view that there is sufficient evidence on which a reasonable tribunal properly directed, could find, on the balance of probabilities, misconduct in relation to PC Morgan-Russell’s use of force.


“The Police Standards of Professional Behaviour state under Equality and Diversity that ‘Police officers act with fairness and impartiality. They do not discriminate unlawfully or unfairly’. Home Office guidance further clarifies that ‘Police officers pay due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different groups.’


“PC Morgan-Russell records in his statement that you made him aware you were disabled prior to you leaving your home. PC Morgan-Russell further details that you stated you were unable to climb the custody stairs and would need to be carried up them. In light of this, and for the same reasons provided earlier in relation to PC Morgan-Russell’s use of force, I consider there is sufficient evidence on which a reasonable tribunal properly directed, could find, on the balance of probabilities, PC Morgan-Russell’s actions were discriminatory.”


Mr Harrison went on to say that the allegation that PC Morgan-Russell used excessive force would, if proven, be a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour in respect of use of force and equality and diversity. The breach would not be so serious as to amount to gross misconduct (conduct warranting dismissal), but could justify a finding of misconduct. The appeal was therefore upheld and a recommendation made that PC Morgan-Russell be required to attend a misconduct meeting. The meeting took place and PC Morgan-Russell was found to have committed misconduct. The sanction imposed was “management advice”.


Separately, Mr Osborne’s report was sent to Hertfordshire for a decision on whether either of their two officers had a case to answer. It was referred to Detective Chief Inspector Beeby. She decided, on 26th July 2018, that PC Lobendhan would have had a case to answer for dragging Mr Watson up the steps to the custody suite. As he had left the force in 2016, however, there was no further action that could be taken under Police Regulations. The remainder of the allegations against PC Lobendhan and PS Solankee were not upheld. No reason was given for the latter conclusion, despite the fact that it was, on any independent view, a prima facie breach of Standards in respect of challenging inappropriate behaviour.

Six months earlier, after just 10 years as a police officer, PS Solankee had been promoted to inspector.


Mr Watson appealed to the IOPC against the Hertforshire decision. There were two parts to the complaint: The first concerned what Mr Watson said was the excessive use of force at his home. The second concerned the use of force to drag him up the steps to the custody suite at Milton Keynes police station.


The appeal was determined by Claire Parsons, an IOPC Casework Manager. In a letter dated 17th December 2019, she explained to Mr Watson her reasons for not upholding the appeal. Ms Parsons made clear that she had considered a range of information: Statements provided by PC Lobendhan, Inspector Solankee (who by this time had, of course, been promoted), PC Morgan-Russell and SPC Badshah (contrary to what Mr Osborne at TVP had said); contemporaneous records; the result of the misconduct meeting relating to PC Morgan-Russell; and CCTV footage. In relation to the allegation of excessive use of force in dragging Mr Watson up the steps to the custody suite, Ms Parsons said this:


“In relation to the second part of your complaint where you state that having got out of the police vehicle at Milton Keynes Police Station, you were dragged by the offices from the car park up a flight of stairs into the custody office. I note that PS Solankee confirms in his account that when you all arrived at Milton Keynes custody office you refused to exit the police vehicle, and informed the officers that you could not move. PS Solankee states that you were laughing as you were saying this and as a result the officers removed you from the vehicle by force. PS Solankee describes you as passively resisting as you began to walk up the stairs towards the custody office, and then you began to fall to the floor, telling the officers that you were disabled so they would have to carry you up the stairs. PS Solankee confirms that force was used to get you into the custody suite. I have also reviewed the two statements submitted by PC Lobendhan in December 2013 and 19 July 2015. I note that PC Lobendhan states that you had thrown yourself to the ground whilst leaving your property to enter the police vehicle, and had to be physically helped to the car. PC Lobendhan also states that when you all arrived at Milton Keynes custody office and exited the police vehicle you fell to the floor ‘in a controlled manner’ and then refused to get up, informing the officers that you could not walk. PC Lobendhan states that, as a result of this, he and PC Morgan Russell carried you up the stairs ‘causing minor scrapes and scratches to the DP (detained person in police parlance)’. However, it is of note that PC Lobendhan has not provided any rationale in regards to his decision to drag you up an exterior set of metal stairs with another officer, whilst you were only in your dressing gown. PC Lobendhan has also not provided an explanation as to whether or not he considered other potential options to get you into the custody office, such as using an entrance that is specifically designed for disabled individuals, or arranging for more offices to assist with actually carrying you up the stairs in a safe and more dignified manner.


“I have reviewed the CCTV footage which covers the top of the stairs to the custody office, as well as the corridor which leads to the entrance of the custody office. The footage clearly shows PC Lobendhan and PC Morgan Russell dragging you up the stairs by your arms, as you were in a seated position being pulled backwards. Both officers continued to drag you along the floor of the short corridor and then into the custody suite. In my view, you do not appear to be physically resisting the officers whilst they are doing this. I also note from the CCTV footage that the female officer from Thames Valley police walked in front of you being pulled up the stairs by PC Lobendhan and PC Morgan Russell and PS Solankee was then seen to be walking up behind you, but does not physically touch you. I have also considered the photographs of the injuries you sustained as a result of the officers dragging you up the metal stairs to the custody office.”

Ms Parsons then recorded and endorsed the investigating officer’s conclusion in relation to PC Lobendhan, before continuing as follows:

“In relation to PS Solankee, in my view, there is insufficient evidence that he used excessive force against you. However, I do acknowledge that he witnessed PC Lobendhan and PC Morgan-Russell dragging you up the stairs. Therefore, it is my opinion that it would have been good practice for PS Solankee to have intervened, and made an attempt to establish if there was an alternative entrance to use in order to access the custody block. However, I find that this does not constitute misconduct, but this observation should be relayed to PS Solankee as a learning point for any potential situations of this nature that may arise in the future. As a result, I concur with the findings of the IO (investigating officer) and accordingly this aspect of your appeal is not upheld.”

This is the conclusion that Mr Watson challenged by way of judicial review.

Ms Parsons also said she was unable to comment, or reach a decision on the part of Mr Watson’s complaint dealing with his treatment in custody at Milton Keynes Police Station, because that was for TVP to investigate. That conclusion is not challenged in these proceedings.

The legal authorities governing the principles to be applied on judicial review of a decision of the IOPC were helpfully drawn together by Stephen Morris QC, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, in R (Ramsden) v Independent Police Complaints Commission [2013] EWHC 3969 (Admin), at para [21] (read in full here). This is a case I know particularly well, as Tony Ramsden is a good friend and I drafted all the pleadings for that application and the subsequent permission appeal. West Yorkshire Police carried out five investigations into his complaints, each one progressively worse than its predecessor, four were upheld by the IOPC. The one taken to judicial review failed narrowly. The WYP investigator, DCI Osman Khan (as he was then), has recently been appointed to the rank of assistant chief constable in the same force.


During the hearing of Mr Watson’s application, Neil Moloney, an in-house IOPC barrister, drew the judge’s attention to other authorities: R (Chief Constable of Northumbria Police) v Independent Office for Police Conduct [2019] EWHC 3169 (Admin) (read in full here). At paras [54] to [56], HHJ Philip Kramer, sitting as a Judge of the High Court, relied on the decision of the Visitors of the Inns of Court in Walker v Bar Standards Board (19 September 2013), which considered the meaning of the word “misconduct”. In that particular case, a barrister prosecuting in a criminal case had been disciplined for asking an improper question imputing dishonesty on the part of a defence expert. Giving the judgment of the Visitors, Sir Anthony May said at para [16] that “the concept of professional misconduct carries resounding overtones of seriousness, reprehensible conduct which cannot extend to the trivial”. At para [32], he asked the question whether the conduct in issue was “sufficiently serious to be characterised as professional misconduct”. This required him to ask whether it was “particularly grave”. The Visitors said at para [37] that the barrister’s conduct was far from trivial, but was, nonetheless, “a momentary, an uncharacteristic lapse which did not cross the line of seriousness which, in the end, was a matter of judgment”.


In the Northumbria case, Judge Kramer applied this in the context of police misconduct, ruling at para [55] that “for behaviour to amount to misconduct it must fall below a recognised standard of probity or competence relating to the task in respect of which the misconduct is said to arise. If it does not, it cannot be characterised as particularly great. For an error judgement to amount to misconduct it must be the result of actions which fall below those standards.”

In the instant application, the judge summarised the competing arguments of Mr Watson and the IOPC thus:

Mr Watson’s case can be very simply put: Mr Harrison had found that PC Morgan-Russell had a case to answer for dragging Mr Watson up the steps to the custody suite. PC Morgan-Russell was later found guilty of misconduct by using excessive force. Hertfordshire had, itself, found that there would have been a case to answer against PC Lobendhan had he still been serving. There was evidence to show that the two had used force to drag Mr Watson up the steps into the custody suite when there were other ways of getting Mr Watson there. PS Solankee was senior in rank to the other officers. He saw what was happening and did not intervene to prevent it. This means that he participated in the unjustified use of force or, at least, may have been guilty of misconduct by failing to intervene. Ms Parsons’ conclusion that there was no case to answer was not properly open to her in the circumstances. Mr Watson also complained that the IOPC had been late in providing the CCTV footage it had to the court. He said that it appeared that some of it had not been disclosed. A submission that must have some merit, given that the police say that there was no footage of the exterior of what is one of their main stations.


For the IOPC, Mr Moloney submitted that Ms Parsons gave a reason why there was no misconduct on the part of PS Solankee: The CCTV footage did not show that he had, himself, used force. As to the other officers, it was important to note, he said, that no criminal proceedings had been brought against any officer. PC Morgan-Russell was found guilty of misconduct and PC Lobendhan would have had a case to answer had he still been serving. However, the conduct of each officer had to be considered separately; and that is what Ms Parsons did.


In his skeleton argument, Mr Moloney submitted that Ms Parsons’ conclusion was properly reasoned: “Having criticised PS Solankee to the extent that she inferred that it would have been good practice for him to have intervened, she explained why this criticism did not meet the threshold for a case to answer for misconduct.”

When pressed by the judge about where the explanation was to be found, Mr Moloney pointed to that same paragraph and submitted that, when read in context of the rest of the decision, Ms Parsons should be understood to have concluded, in line with the approach in Walker and the Northumbria case, that PS Solankee was guilty of a minor lapse which, even if not trivial, did not reach the threshold for misconduct. In any event, Mr Moloney submitted, there was no reason to assume that Ms Parsons’ conclusion was based on the legally erroneous conclusion that PS Solankee could not be guilty of misconduct unless he had personally participated in the excessive use of force.

The judge’s analysis of Ms Parsons’ decision was conducted by reading her reasons as a whole, whilst bearing in mind that she is not a lawyer or a judge. She was dealing with complaints about two aspects of the conduct of the officers who arrested Mr Watson on 24 December 2013 (the use of force in the initial arrest and the use of force in dragging Mr Watson up the stairs to the custody suite). She was considering the position of both PC Lobendhan and Inspector Solankee. Having viewed the CCTV footage, the judge found there was no basis for disagreeing with her description of the evidence He says that it shows no more and no less than she describes. Contrary to Mr Watson’s belief, he found there is no evidence that any other relevant CCTV footage ever existed but did not expand upon that finding.

Moreover, the central part of Mr Watson’s legal challenge is not to Ms Parson’s description of the evidence, but to her conclusion that PS Solankee had no case to answer. On the footing that he had failed to intervene to prevent the other officers from dragging Mr Watson up the stairs to the custody suite. Mr Watson framed his judicial review challenge as one based on rationality, but the judge noted that, in public law, rationality and adequacy of reasons are often overlapping grounds of review. In a case where the decision-maker has a duty to give reasons, and no adequate reason is given for a conclusion, the decision will be unlawful, at least in a case where the failure to give proper reasons gives rise to prejudice: For example, in the well-rehearsed case of South Buckinghamshire District Council v Porter (No. 2) [2004] 1 WLR 1953, at para [36].

Mr Moloney did not suggest the contrary. He maintained that the passage quoted from Claire Parson’s letter (para [13]) did convey an adequate reason, or that one could be inferred.


The judge told the court that he had read that passage carefully: ‘There is no legal error in Ms Parsons’ conclusion that “there is insufficient evidence that [PS Solankee] used excessive force against [Mr Watson]”. It is the next part that causes the difficulty, he said: Ms Parsons’ conclusion that PS Solankee’s failure to intervene “does not constitute misconduct” is simply that: A conclusion’.

Contrary to Mr Moloney’s submission, no reason at all is given for it. The absence of a reason might not be fatal in a case where the reason could be inferred, but Mr Justice Russell did not accept that it is possible, safely, to infer the reason in this case: Ms Parsons had concluded that PS Solankee’s failure to intervene was contrary to “best practice”. But this does not show that she had formed the view that PS Solankee’s conduct failed to meet the threshold for misconduct, still less that she had in mind the appropriate legal test. The difficulty with this inference, which Mr Moloney invited the judge to draw, is that it is not the only one that could be drawn. Another is that Ms Parsons thought (wrongly) that, if the officer himself neither uses force nor instructs another to use force, evidence of his failure to prevent an excessive use of force by another officer could never be grounds for misconduct. In the absence of any expressed reason for the conclusion that there was no case to answer, it is not possible to know which of these two approaches (one permissible if properly reasoned, the other unlawful) was being adopted by the IOPC.


If, as Mr Moloney suggested, Ms Parsons was expressing a conclusion that PS Solankee’s conduct, though contrary to “best practice”, was not serious enough to meet the threshold for misconduct, that conclusion called for a justification. Mr Moloney said, in some desperation, that it may have all happened too quickly for PS Solankee to intervene. If that is the case, the judge said, it is unclear why PS Solankee was criticised at all. Mr Moloney next suggested that PS Solankee, a Hertfordshire officer, rather than TVP, did not know Milton Keynes Police Station and so could not be expected to know about other ways of accessing the custody suite. There is, however, no trace of that explanation in Ms Parsons’ reasons; and in any event, it would not make sense, given that she appears to have endorsed the conclusion of the investigating officer that the conduct of PC Lobendhan (also from Hertfordshire) would have given rise to a case to answer had he still been serving.


Having considered both the decision itself and Mr Moloney’s submissions about it, Mr Justice Chamberlain concluded that the decision that PS Solankee had no case to answer was inadequately reasoned and is, on that basis, unlawful. Accordingly, Mr Watson’s claim succeeded.

He made clear, however, that nothing in his judgment should be taken to suggest that the IOPC is obliged to find that Inspector Solankee (as he is now) has a case to answer, far less that he is guilty of any misconduct. The IOPC will have to consider the first of these issues. The second issue will fall to be decided only if the IOPC decides the first is in the affirmative and misconduct proceedings are begun by his force.

According to the social media platform, LinkedIn, Jinesh Solankee fits his role as a police inspector around his job as Managing Director of London-based The Hush Group Limited (read here). He joined Herfordshire Police in 2007.

As for the IOPC, the complaint of Julian Watson has opened the window, once more, into their appalling incompetence, blame avoidance culture and a mindset that the maintaining reputation of the police service over-rides basic statutory requirements of fairness, diligence and independence. Not to mention careful husbandry of public funds.

It would be unfair to single out Claire Parsons, at the very bottom of the perenially hungry food chain. She is as good as the training with which she was provided, the professional support network around and above her, and the corporate culture within which she operates. Her decision would have been quality assured by an, as yet, un-named Senior Casework Manager. In the extant circumstances, it is almost certain that her decision would have been reviewed by her Regional Director, Sarah Green, and, presumably, the IOPC Director of Investigations, Steve Noonan. If so, they are the ones responsible for this debacle. Ms Green, an IPCC/IOPC long-termer, has plenty of previous in this regard. Notably, at the conclusion of Operation Poppy, one of the largest investigations ever undertaken by the watchdog (read more here). She was also one of the central figures in the Anthony Ramsden case.

The performance of in-house barrister Neil Moloney was, quite frankly, embarrassing. If he didn’t know he was on a hiding to nothing, confronted only by a litigant in person who appeared to make no oral submissions, then there is little in the way of salvation for him. Even with 21 years of call, it is hard to see how he would make a living in private practice. But, again, in fairness to Mr Moloney, he is, very likely, the victim of the IPCC/IOPC doctrine of pushing the foot soldiers into the firing line to protect the generals. In this case, that would include their most senior lawyers, the aforementioned Sarah Green and General Counsel (formerly Head of Legal Services), David Emery. Another IPCC/IOPC long-termer, having previously served with the Metropolitan Police Service, but, on the credit side, always approachable, helpful and, in my own professional experience, a likeable individual.

Similarly, the Professional Standards Departments (PSDs) of two police forces emerge with little or no credit. Their preoccupation with defeating any civil claims that may follow public complaints drives all their decisions, however irrational and contrary to the evidence they may be. That, very regrettably, is the same scenario throughout the police service, whatever may be said otherwise.

Will this court reversal bring change to either the IOPC or police force PSDs? Regrettably, history shows that the answer to that question has to be an emphatic ‘no’: Few, if any, other institutions have a less impressive portfolio when it comes to not absorbing and failing to learn lessons from past failures.

Page last updated at 0815hrs on Monday 26th October, 2020.

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We investigated ourselves and found nothing wrong

During this course of this week, details have emerged of three more sub-optimal North Yorkshire Police investigations. These add to a shocking catalogue over the past 10 years or so (read more here).

Not burglaries or car break-ins, but deaths in two different rivers in the county, 12 years apart. Denying closure for bereaved families over periods far longer than necessary.

This followed hot on the heels of the shocking news that NYP had misled the tame local and regional media by asserting that a promised review into the depressingly poor investigation of the murder of Diana Garbutt, in 2010, never took place (read more here).

In April 2007, John David Clarke died in the River Foss near Towthorpe, by a strange coincidence a village with which convicted murderer Robin Garbutt, former husband of Diana, has strong connections. No murder investigation appeared to take place at the time.

Pathology suggested that the circumstances were consistent with drowning and found that Mr Clarke had been heavily intoxicated at the time of death.

At the inquest, also in 2007, the coroner ruled that he had died by drowning, with alcohol intoxication a contributing factor. The deceased had an alcohol addiction and was being treated for depression. On open verdict was recorded.

But the police, led by senior investigating officer Lewis Raw, failed to consider the likelihood of a man in such a condition walking well over four miles from York to Haxby – probably taking around two hours to do so – before accidentally, or deliberately, drowning in the river.

Other clues that this was not an accidental death did not appear to be investigated with the necessary rigour:

Messages recovered from Mr Clarke’s mobile phone card SIM card confirmed that the man now convicted of his murder, ex-Tesco worker, David Roustoby, was the last person to see him alive.

His partner, Sharron Houlden, had reported her car stolen to the police two days after the murder, and it was found burned out a short distance away.

According to police reports, Mr Clarke had made a complaint in November 2006, saying Roustoby had allegedly discharged a firearm and threatened to kill him. The latter was arrested, but never charged.

In the end, it took a confession, filmed at a friend’s house in August 2019, for Roustoby to be finally arrested, interviewed, charged and face trial. He thought he had, literally, got away with murder after drugging and then strangling David Clarke with a tie because he thought ‘he was a nonce’.

Police, during an renewed investigation codenamed Operation Jet, found no evidence to suggest that the deceased had such character frailties and prosecutor, Richard Wright QC, told the jury: “Claiming David Clarke was a sex offender was a wicked self-justification of the terrible thing [Roustoby] had done”.

“David Clarke had no convictions of sex offences and no allegations of any type had been made.”

Mr Wright also told them that it was possible Roustoby had not “entirely killed” Mr Clarke when strangling him and the victim was, possibly, still breathing when he was thrown in the river.

When confronted with his video confession, Roustoby claimed that he was trying to impress his friends; that it was all fantasy. He was jailed for life, with a minimum term of 19 years to be served.

Miss Houlden was handed a sentence of two years and eight months imprisonment (less time already spent in custody) after pleading guilty to assisting an offender at an earlier hearing in September, 2020. 

Another curiosity is that Supt Raw was also the senior investigating in the disastrous Garbutt murder probe codenamed Operation Nardoo (read more here). A recent freedom of information request revealed that a promised review of that ‘comedy of errors’ never took place. Moreover, in recent correspondence with the chief constable, it is clear that the force is still refusing to re-open the case and very uncomfortable over the renewed scrutiny.

19 year old Sonny Ferry, brought up in Rutland but working as a building labourer in the city, also died in the River Foss in York in April, 2019. He had been on a night out with friends but became separated from the group in a local nightclub. It later emerged his bank card had been used several times on the day he was found and police knew it was missing when the body was recovered.

Inspector Lee Partridge said, at the time, it was not known whether the teenager’s wallet had been lost or stolen before he fell in the river or was fished out by person(s) unknown.

There were attempts to use Sonny’s bank card at a Tesco supermarket, two petrol stations and two McDonald’s outlets in the city between 04:22 and 06:10 BST on 14 April, although some transactions were declined.

The police did not tell Sonny’s family about the missing wallet until two months later but, by that time it was too late to check relevant CCTV footage in the areas where he had been.

A 45-year-old homeless man was arrested on suspicion of theft, in relation to the missing velcro-strapped wallet, but was released without charge.

His parents, Stephen and Kate Ferry, submitted a formal complaint to NYP after the initial investigation was closed just one day after Sonny’s death.

The perennially disgraced Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) was asked to investigate the circumstances leading up to his death.

However, the ‘police watchdog’ said evidence did not suggest the officers breached standards of professional behaviour. A decision that may not sustain before a coroner’s or civil court.

An inquest will now take place on a date yet to be determined.

A third victim of what appears to be sub-optimal NYP contact died in the River Ouse in York city centre less than a week later. Sharon Scott, the mother of the dead man said her 29 year old son Steven O’Neill, who was from The Wirral area of Merseyside, was on a night out with his brother, a soldier based at Imphal Barracks, when the tragedy occurred.

Ms Scott said she failed to understand how her son ended up in the river because he could not swim. She was dissatisfied with the explanations of the police and made a formal complaint to the IOPC.

North Yorkshire Police said, at the time, they were alerted by CCTV operators to suspicious activity on Kings Staith in the early hours of a Saturday morning. Upon arrival, a man ran off and a short time later entered the water. A rescue operation was mounted but he was dead when his body was recovered from the river. All deaths where there has been police contact are required to be mandatorily referred to the IOPC for what is described as an ‘independent investigation’.

An IOPC investigator subsequently wrote to Ms Scott, to say that the evidence gathered does not suggest officers breached the police service’s Standards of Professional Behaviour. It is unclear as to who gathered what evidence.

He finalised his assessment of the status of officers involved in the incident preceding Steven’s death, after ‘carefully’ examining ‘all evidence’ including bodycam and CCTV footage, radio transmission recordings and witness statements (much more likely to be informal witness accounts than formal statements). Three visits to the scene and an inspection of life saving equipment were also made by the IOPC, they say, although it is not made clear who made these visits and for what specific purpose.

He said: “My assessment of all the evidence gathered to date in the investigation does not suggest the officers involved with Mr Scott may have breached the Police Standards of Professional Behaviour or acted in a manner that would justify disciplinary proceedings.”

Ms Scott said she was “appalled” by the investigator’s conclusions, and was planning to take civil action against North Yorkshire Police if the decision was upheld.

She said she did not believe sufficient care was taken for her son’s safety when he ran along the riverside – or sufficient action was taken by officers to save his life after he had entered the water.

The IOPC claim that CCTV, footage from body worn cameras, witness statements and police radio transmissions were all analysed, suggests that none was seized by the watchdog in the ‘golden hours’ after the death of Steven. They would have viewed, presumably, what the police wanted them to see. Over the years, their record on such analyses, in a number of other similar death following police contact cases, does not, regrettably, bear a great deal of scrutiny.

Neither does the record of the genuinely appalling record, over a long period of time, of the Professional Standards Department of North Yorkshire Police in covering up wrongdoing by their colleagues. Very strongly aided by a complete lack of oversight, or appropriately rigorous scrutiny, by any or all of the disgraced Police and Crime Commissioner, Julia Mulligan, about whom much is written elesewhere on this website; the aforementioned IPCC/IOPC and Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary.

In the month following the deaths of Steven and Sonny, NYP was forced to apologise to both families for alarm and distress caused when a CCTV operator posted an “inappropriate, insensitive” comment on the York Press Facebook page about drunks putting themselves in danger close to the rivers in York.

The force says it “wholeheartedly acknowledges” that the comments were made without any regards for families grieving the loss of a loved one.

“The member of staff who made the comments will be dealt with appropriately,” the force said, via their press office. “We apologise for the alarm and distress caused”.

The CCTV operator wrote: “Well, I normally keep my opinions on police matters to myself but I work in the police control room and sit in front of the CCTV screens.

“What doesn’t get reported are the number of drunks that put themselves in these dangers.

“Thursday night shift we responded to four persons too close, dangling legs, trying to climb river ladders or walk across the wall across Ouse bridge.

“One idiot jumped in and managed to climb out. That’s four individuals in danger in just one shift. It’s the person’s (drunken and misguided) choices, not the river’s fault.”

Sharon Scott said the comments were posted after The Press had reported on the death in the Ouse of her son. The link being, of course, that he drowned after running away from police officers, who had been alerted by CCTV operators to suspicious activity in the area of King’s Staith.

Ms Scott said that specific role of CCTV operators in the chain of events which led to Steven’s death had made the comments by one of those operators particularly concerning.

She added that the comment had sparked a series of other derogatory, speculative and prejudiced comments about her son from other people on Facebook, suggesting for example that he was clearly a drug dealer as he came from Merseyside.

“This has been incredibly upsetting and distressing not just for me but also for the wider family who are grieving for Steven, and also for the families of other people who have drowned in York’s rivers,”

The operator’s comment was deleted after a complaint to the police, but the comments by other people which it had prompted had remained.

“I personally would like to see the operator sacked,” said Ms Scott.

Ms Scott has previously made clear that Steven was a hard-working man with no criminal record and she had no inkling of what suspicious activity was referred to by police.

Kate Ferry told the same newspaper: “Speaking with the full support of my immediate family, we feel that had the operator previously had the honour of meeting the two members of the York Rescue Boat, as did myself and my husband, and of witnessing the raw grief on the faces of the unpaid volunteers whilst they told us of their first-hand experiences with individuals of all ages who have sometimes drunk a little too much alcohol, in some cases have drunk far too much alcohol and in further cases have drunk no alcohol at all but have nevertheless perished in the rivers of York, they would never have made those comments.

“Ultimately we feel that what is needed at this time is empathy, respect, courage and honesty. We feel we all need to be honest with ourselves. Haven’t we all said something naively and then wished we hadn’t?”

There is no indication on the NYP website that the CCTV operator faced any misconduct proceedings and it is, therefore, unclear what sanctions, if any, were imposed.

Page last updated at 2045hrs on Saturday 28th November, 2020.

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Page last updated at 0610hrs on Saturday 28th November, 2020.

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More of the same

A cursory examination of this website will see that its focus is very much on policing matters: The core of its output is reporting from the press seats of criminal trials, civil claims, employment tribunals, information tribunals and consequent appeals from any of those courts.

Very often, they feature misconduct, dishonesty, or even criminality, of police officers. Exacerbated in some cases by discrepancies in disclosure of documents, organised ‘cover-ups’ or seriously unimpressive witness box testimony.

Independent, evidence-based investigations are also undertaken, particularly in alleged miscarriage of justice cases into which I am invited, drawn or retained. It is a field where I am said to have some expertise.

It is true to say that commentators on such emotive matters risk being targeted on social media, with criticism on the two main platforms, Twitter or Facebook posts the most common form. Some take to email, or even the occasional letter, to put across their views. Or, via rogue websites.

In every case under review there is a winner and a loser. Unsurprisingly, the criticism comes from the latter quarter, who simply do not accept the findings and launch bitter, abusive, highly personalised attacks, often in organised groups (‘pile-ons’ in Twitterspeak) designed only to denigrate the author, without even beginning to address the conclusion and the rationale behind it. The bad faith of such websites and posts ought to be self-evident.

As a result of adopting a singular position in two cases this year (2020), I have become the focus of a number of such attacks. Investigative journalism is not a popularity contest, but neither should it be a medium for mindless abuse. Criticise what is written, for sure, and debate it reasonably, especially if there are mistakes, misrepresentations or it lacks the necessary rigour or balance. Every author ought to welcome constuctive feedback. I certainly do.

The first case that created controversy, and triggered an organised litany of abuse, was an innocence claim by a convicted murderer, Robin Garbutt (read more here). The campaign leader was happy to engage when she learned of the extensive work holding North Yorkshire Police, and its Police and Crime Commissioner, to account over the previous five years, exclusively uncovering scandal after scandal (read the latest here). That changed when I started to ask searching questions about the tailored narrative that was being promoted, about both the murder and the case being made out, by the campaigners, for a referral of the conviction back to the Court of Appeal.

The publication of the first article (read here) , neutrally written and safely founded on a court of appeal judgment and the transcript of the trial judge’s summing up, triggered a sustained campaign of personal abuse by the murderer’s supporters, and their associates, within the miscarriage of justice community (read here). But it did lead to an immediate change in the thrust of their campaign: That Garbutt and his principal supporters had always told the truth. The article forensically set out that he hadn’t – and neither had they.

It was not appeased by the second article in which all the flaws in the police investigation leading to the conviction were articulated – and linked to other notably poor efforts by the same force in that era, to which two of them I was particularly adjacent (read here).

Approaching 500 hours has been spent on that innocence claim and there are now well over 40,000 words written about it on this website. The makings of a book and TV or podcast drama, in fact.

The abusers haven’t challenged a single piece of evidence or reasoned argument, although the murderer’s brother in law, says he could ‘teach me a few lessons in grammar’. Which is fair enough. He wouldn’t be the first to point out my clunky, laboured style of writing.

A third application to the Criminal Case Review Commission was made by the campaigners last December, shortly before I became involved. A decision as to whether it will go forward to be investigated by the watchdog is expected to be made early in 2021. The previous two applications were rejected on the merits, without warranting an investigation. My firm, evidence-based, but unpopular, conclusion is that the third will suffer the same fate. There will be no longed-for referral back to the Court of Appeal (read more here).

For months at the end of last year and the beginning of this, I’d been nagged by the UK’s best known police whistleblower, Peter Jackson, a retired murder detective (read more here) to look into an alleged scandal in Oldham concerning the Borough Council mainly, but also the local police. A division in which Jackson had served as a thief-taking sergeant in the late 1990’s

It is said, repeatedly, by a group of political activists in the town, heavily supported on social media by ‘Jacko’ as he is known, that both are actively engaged in covering up large scale child sexual abuse. A highly emotive topic and a grievous accusation to make against anyone, particularly if using anonymity as a shield, as many frequently do.

The activists, otherwise known as New Chartist Alliance, are led by Raja Miah MBE, who posts and broadcasts on social media under the style ‘Recusant Nine‘ and blogs under the ‘Welcome to Oldham‘ banner from his base in Mossley, Tameside. He has a substantial following on Facebook, a lesser presence on Twitter, a gap filled by an account with the handle, Oldham Eye. Many believe the latter is controlled, or influenced greatly, by Raja, but it is a closely guarded secret within the cult.

Some preliminary work was done whilst I was still ‘locked down’ in Catalunya, the foot slog started as soon as I got back towards the end of July, 2020. What I’ve discovered since has genuinely sickened me and has generated a series of articles, beginning with this one (read here). But they expose the frailties of those alleging the child sex abuse ‘cover-up’, not what I was asked to look into. About which, very little viable evidence has been produced. Despite repeated requests to Raja and those associated with him.

What has concerned me the most, apart from the lack of meaningful evidence, has been the highly personalised, often abusive attacks on a number of politicians, public officials and experts in their field, such as Malcolm Newsam and Gary Ridgway, whose review of the Rochdale and Rusholme (South Manchester Curry Mile) child sex abuse scandal was universally acclaimed (read official report here). Apart from within the upper echelons of Greater Manchester Police, past and present, and leaders at Manchester City Council, who were genuinely shocked at the scale and extent of the investigation undertaken and, of course, the grotesque failings of both public bodies that were uncovered as a result of the diligence and expertise of the two investigators.

Raja Miah’s proposition that Newsam and Ridgway have turned up in Oldham to carry out a whitewash is as deeply offensive as it is plainly ludicrous. But the Recusant One has much to fear from it, as part of the remit of the investigation is to look into claims he has made about a widescale, multi-agency cover-up.

For emphasis, Oldham is a town with serious socio-economic issues and a council that, too frequently, leaves itself wide open to criticism with poor decision-making. In my own knowledge, and a matter reported on previously, taking on a disgraced former senior police officer, Rebekah Sutcliffe, in what appears to be a ‘non-job’ and increasing her annual salary from £109,000 to £120,000. The fact that she is a friend and contemporary of the same council’s chief executive, Dr Carolyn Wilkins, simply adds to the skin-crawling discomfort.

But how badly, or otherwise, councils are run is not my field of operation and the analysis of those problems is left to others. A point I made repeatedly to Peter Jackson and, at the outset, to Raja Miah. It remains the case today.

The question of whether the council running the East Lancashire mill town is any worse than its neighbours on either side of the Pennines is a moot point. But what can be stated with certainty, both Rochdale and Kirklees (encompassing Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Batley, Mirfield), all mill towns with significant minority ethnic communities did, in the past, actively engage in grotesque covering up of industrial scale child sex abuse. As was the case in Halifax, Bradford and Keighley. I first wrote about the cover-up of the latter two towns in 2013, focusing on the role played by West Yorkshire Police at the time, who openly opposed any reporting of the scandal and, in fact, managed to delay a Channel 4 exposé for almost a year.

From that time onwards, I was the only journalist asking questions in Huddersfield as to why, after an exposé in 2008/2009 by one of the town’s MP’s, Barry Sheerman, also at the time Children’s Minister in the last Labour Government, both the council and the police silenced him. It is true to say that I was actively obstructed by the local newspaper, the Huddersfield Examiner, in my enquiries. It was a topic that that political editor at the time did not, seemingly, want to involve herself in; she was ‘too busy’.

The same newspaper gleefully reported on a libel finding made against me the following year, a grotesque mistake that cost £60,000 in damages, plus substantial costs and interest, and then soon afterwards only reported an interlocutory hearing of a claim the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) had brought and at which I was neither present, nor represented. A claim that was, ultimately and successfully defended, and in which a compromised settlement was reached on terms favourable to me. A number of the allegations made at that first hearing were not repeated later in the proceedings, simply because there was no evidential base to them. But two of the main objectives – to smear and undermine credibility – had been achieved.

The IPCC, who spent almost £150,000 on this enterprise, insisted on those settlement terms being part of a confidential annexe to the consent order and, therefore, not capable of being reported. All the parties to that claim have moved on and I remain one of the police watchdog’s sternest critics. In 2018, they changed their name, yet again, to Independent Office for Police Conduct as the IPCC ‘brand’ had become so toxic.

The libel case concerned an association I had made with a Leeds police officer who became a good friend of the now-notorious BBC celebrity, Jimmy Savile. That police officer was a colleague of one of my best police contacts in that era, Cedric Christie. They had worked together at Chapeltown Police Station.

That same whistleblower assisted me in forcing an outside police force inquiry, Operation Vertex, into a ‘whitewash’ report, signed off by ACC Ingrid Lee, into WYP’s failings in allowing the celebrity and charity fundraiser to offend for decades on their patch. Operation Newgreen was completely dismantled by my investigation and inside knowledge. The investigation into Newgreen was carried out by the chief constable of Avon and Somerset Police, Nick Gargan, who was highly critical of both the construction and reported outcome of WYP’s ‘investigation’.

Shortly afterwards, ACC Lee was encouraged by the then chief constable, Mark Gilmore, to make a rare neutral transfer to SYP, to serve out the remainder of her career.

The Kirkless Divisional Commander in 2009, John Robins, is now WYP chief constable. I repeatedly pressed his predecessor, Dionne Collins, to refer the matter of the police ‘cover-up’, brought to light by Mr Sheerman, a sitting MP, to the IPCC (now IOPC), as had happened in Rotherham over failings of South Yorkshire Police officers. She refused point blank.

On the credit side, from the time she became temporary chief constable, investigations into child sexual exploitation across the force area began in earnest and, at the latest count over 70 Asian men, mostly of Pakistani heritage, have either been convicted or face criminal trials.

Some might say, therefore, given those antecedents, and a reputation for robustly challenging police wrongdoing, that it is no surprise that I was pressed to look into the murk hanging over Oldham and the persistent allegations of a cover-up by Greater Manchester Police, local council leaders and at least one Member of Parliament.

To close one particular circle, I had introduced Peter Jackson to Gail Hadfield Grainger on the same day this piece to camera (view here) was aired by ITV on their Granada Reports programme in August last year. They maintain contact by telephone and Peter frequently, and quite properly, cites the killing of Anthony Grainger as a glaring example of wrongdoing by his former employers. Indeed, his GMP catchphrase is ‘Rotten to the core‘ coined by Gail’s barrister, Leslie Thomas QC, during the public inquiry that replaced the inquest into Anthony’s death.

Gail gives pastoral support to Samantha Walker-Roberts, a survivor of child sex abuse in Oldham and an active campaigner, having waived her legal right to lifetime anonymity. Maintaining the work, often fronted by her lawyer husband, Steven, who sadly died earlier this year. Together, they lobbied on behalf of abuse victims, giving evidence at public inquiries into grooming, making representations to parliamentary select committees and bringing about subtle but important amendments to existing legislation. The friendship between Gail and Samantha led to the former facilitating a meeting between myself and the latter.

Regrettably, apart from a lengthy, highly personalised torrent of abuse directed at me, Raja Miah and his supporters have also attacked both Gail (read more here) and Samantha (read here), the latter repeatedly having personal details unwrapped either on Facebook or in his increasingly deranged weekly podcast.

In the face of a series of damning revelations about Miah, the class and scale of abuse referred to above, and knowing there is worst yet to come, the aforementioned Peter Jackson, who presents himself as a paragon of virtue and truth, not only maintains his support for ‘Raja’s Rabble’ (read more here) but has actively chosen to attack and undermine me on social media to further both of their causes.

That is entirely a matter of personal choice for ‘Jacko’, of course, and the band of fickle ex-GMP officers who have also withdrawn their support, en masse, to show solidarity with their errant former colleague.

But, outside their own particular bubble, and on any independent view, it shows exceedingly poor judgement and will, most certainly, not deflect me from completing the Oldham investigation and thoroughly expose Raja Miah – and the damage and disgrace he has brought to a town in which he doesn’t even live or work. Of that they can be very sure: Investigative journalism is not a popularity contest – and never was.

Page last updated at 0730hrs on Saturday 24th October, 2020.

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Page last updated at 1110hrs on Friday 23rd October, 2020.

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‘Be careful. They are going to fit you up’

They were the words of a retired senior detective delivered in person to a Leeds businessman, recently.

To those who have regular dealings with West Yorkshire Police this would not come as a surprise at all. The force has been notorious for fitting up innocent men and women for decades. Judith Ward, over the M62 coach bombing, and the late Stefan Kiszko, over the murder of Lesley Molseed, being two of the highest profile examples from the 1970’s (read more here).

If David Oluwale hadn’t have been kicked into the River Aire, after a brutal beating at the hands of two police officers, he would very likely have been taken to the police station in central Leeds and charged with one offence or another. That had been a pattern over the previous few years before a racist police force, in a notoriously racist city, finally disposed of their unwanted black vagrant (read more here).

Dishonesty and disregard for the law is deeply embedded in this police force’s DNA. As, very regrettably, is their treatment of black and ethnic minorities (read more here about an innocent, defenceless mother forced to flee Bradford), even within their own ranks (read more here about a whole series of complaints).

When the businessman referred to above is John Elam, still fighting injustice eight years after being released from prison, then it is almost expected that the vendetta waged against him for almost 20 years is just reaching its next stage (read more here). He is convinced that covert surveillance is still in place and that his every move is watched and recorded. It will be of considerable disappointment that the police have not discovered any criminal activity as a result.

John Elam, pictured outside the House of Commons in 2014

Gerry Sutcliffe MP told Parliament in 2014 that at one stage of investigations into Elam around 120 officers were involved. Including some drawn from a counter-terrorism unit in the period before the 7/7 bombings took place in London. Three of the four terrorists were, of course, from Leeds. The ringleader, recruiting sergeant and main financier of the 7/7 plot grew up in the Beeston area of the city where, by a twist of coincidence, John’s office is presently situated.

The whistle blower, whose identity is very closely protected, also said that the ‘fit-up’ would involve the planting of Class A drugs. An obsession of the police for two decades and, during which time, they have never found one iota of evidence that Elam has been involved with illegal substances, even after years of the most intrusive covert surveillance. The simple fact is that he trades development land and property, not cocaine and heroin.

A recent attempt to ‘fit up’ John Elam, at a much lower level, backfired spectacularly on WYP. He was taken to court over traffic offences that concerned a motor accident that never happened. Failing to stop, failing to report, driving without due care and attention. His arrest was conducted over these offences by armed response officers from Wakefield, not the constable local to where he lives.

Eventually, after all the relevant CCTV film was disclosed by the police, rather than the cut and shut version given to the compliant Crown Prosecution Service, the case was dropped. As a consequence, a civil claim against the West Yorkshire force was issued by leading ‘Actions against the Police’ solicitor, Iain Gould. An offer to settle the claim has been rejected by the lawyer, on behalf of his client, and it is now awaiting judicial assessment. The police have also baulked at giving an apology to John Elam.

His elected representative, the disgraced Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, continues to turn a blind eye to the force’s misdemeanours, happy to fund spectacular reversals in subsequent court claims.

The last words go to John Elam: “The fight to clear my name goes on. I work hard, often up at 6am to start work on clearance for development sites, rain or shine. Spurred on by the news that the prosecuting barrister in my case, Jonathan Sandiford, has recently been made a part-time judge. There was so much wrong with that case, how it was presented and what was held back, it does trouble me that he is now up there on the bench”.

“After so many disappointments with legal representatives over the years, I now have a new barrister in my corner, Dominic D’Souza from Goldsmiths Chambers in London (read here). He looks to have more fight in him than the rest of them put together”.

“If you are a police officer that worked on my case or have knowledge of it, please read this appeal and get in touch with my MP”.

APPEAL: If any retired or ex-West Yorkshire Police officer wants to come forward, anonymously or otherwise, with information that may assist in answering the questions still posed by this troubling case, they are asked to contact, in complete confidence, the office of John Elam’s MP, Alex Sobel (details here). The Member for Leeds North West has been assisting Mr Elam, particularly with disclosure issues, for the past eighteen months. He has promised efforts will be made to secure a second adjournment debate in order to fill the gaps from the first one six years ago. They are, however, difficult to come by, especially now as the Corona Virus situation bites, and Alex has not been at all lucky in the ballots that take place when pursuing other issues on behalf of constituents.

Page last updated at 2010hrs on Monday 26th October, 2020.

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There’s no excuse for abuse

These days, in almost every public sector building, business or shop premises there is a notice displayed prominently that says, more or less, ‘we will not tolerate abuse of our staff’. It’s a sign of the times, if the terrible pun can be excused.

It’s the same on public transport – and the illustration I have chosen is seen on buses and trains across parts of the North West.

The rule is quite rigidly enforced and some organisations do not hesitate to call the police. Barring offenders from subject premises is usually automatic. Rightly so.

Abuse of journalists has become an increasing problem over the past few years and my trade body, the National Union of Journalists, which doubles as a professional body, has run a campaign of sorts almost every year since 2014, to try to limit the distress and alarm these attacks cause. Details of the latest NUJ crusade can be read here.

In Oldham, now part of the Greater Manchester region, but forever East Lancashire to some, the problem of abuse of journalists, and other public figures such as MP’s and council officials, appears particularly acute. Surprising, on one ground at least, as the police force in the town constantly promotes campaigns against abuse and hate. But appear very slow to stem the flow from the very worst offenders.

There is no doubt at all about the main source of what is a relentless torrent of highly personalised, harassing abuse: Bradford-born, Raja Miah, now an infamous Oldham political activist, who openly defies the law. His persistent output on social media is highly concerning, both in tone and content, returning to the same narrow topics over and again, straying well beyond fair commentary or legitimate criticism.

The strapline with which he defiantly signs off posts under his Recusant Nine banner is: ‘DO NOT FEAR THEM. DO NOT FEAR ANY OF THEM’. He claims that his previous outlet, Medium, was subject to censorship, but it is unclear to what extent other than, quite likely, to remove offensive, harassing or defamatory material.

There are three journalists currently in his sights, it seems: Nationally-known political editor and commentator, Jennifer Williams, who works for the Manchester Evening News (MEN), but whose byline also appears in a number of national newspapers; Charlotte Green, still based at the MEN where she was previoulsy based, but now a BBC-funded Local Democracy Reporter covering Oldham and Tameside councils; and, more latterly, myself.

Jennifer, who is also a television pundit and newspaper reviewer, is regularly attacked over her perceived inaction regarding the alleged scandals at Oldham Council.

What is not widely known is that the MEN commissioned an investigation into Raja Miah’s business background, and particularly his much criticised stewardship of free schools in Manchester and Oldham. At its conclusion, and given what would be revealed, the MEN hierarchy decided, on health and safety grounds, that the risk of the type of personalised backlash that this would very likely generate against their reporter, post-publication, it was not worth the risk. The article was shelved and the cost of it, in effect, thrown away.

Raja Miah denies any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, over £2 million was siphoned out of the schools, for which the record-keeping falls well below the accepted standard. He was ‘blacklisted’ by the government

The Manchester Evening News did provide coverage of the scandal when it first broke, which resulted in a complaint to the newspaper industry regulator. It was peremptorily dismissed Read in full here) and it was plain, by comparing his submissions to the Department of Education report on the same subject, that Miah had sought to mislead the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

Charlotte’s sin is said to be ‘biased’ reporting of Oldham Council meetings and ancillary business. Objectively reviewed, there appears to be no evidential basis for such criticism. Although relatively young, she is fully trained and qualified – and has significant experience of court reporting. As I know well, that is a hard school of knocks. It becomes ingrained to only report what you hear, the consequences of doing otherwise are severe.

The third and now, it seems, main target is the author of this piece and since publication of the first of four articles on 5th October, 2020 (read here) there has been what can only be described as a relentless torrent of highly personalised smears posted, or broadcast, on all of his various outlets: Welcome to Oldham website, podcast and Recusant Nine Facebook page. Aided and abetted by a small army of anonymous, low or no follower foot soldiers, who pop up at all points on social media, now dubbed ‘Raja’s Rabble’.

Most regrettably this has impacted on two others, Gail Hadfield Grainger (read more here) and Samantha Walker-Roberts (read more here), whom he has identified as being associated with me, professionally. He also resumed his grotesque and very public attack against Cllr Arooj Shah. The fact that Gail and Cllr Shah are friends, having first made contact 5 years ago, appears to send the Recusant Miah off the scale. Particularly, as it is widely known that Gail and I have also become friends since first meeting last year.

Taken together, the mindless denigration of these five females gives off more than an unpleasant whiff of mysogyny. A suspicion he dismisses out of hand.

One of Raja’s key lieutenants operates under the pseudonym “Rocky Skelshaw” and is an ever-present wherever her hero, and leader, happens to be posting. Repeating and exaggerating the increasing ludicrous output from those quarters. Seemingly oblivious that Miah is presently the subject of at least two police investigations over his highly speculative, heavily politicised rants and that may well become her fate in acting as amplifier in his echo chamber. One of his other highly vocal sidekicks, Tracey Gibson, recently deleted her social media accounts on my advice.

“Rocky” was outed yesterday as another Diggle resident, Kerry Skelhorn (read in full here) after her own intemperate outbursts, over the past weekend, included berating a well known child sex abuse survivor from the Oldham area on a Facebook community forum and, of course, the standard harassing and defamatory posts that are the Recusant trademark.

She now faces civil action and a package is being prepared for the police. A statement has been requested from her employer, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to establish whether the core values of the charity are consistent with those of their Conservation Officer.

It is very surprising, from a journalist’s standpoint, that the unlawful activities of such as Raja Miah, Miss Skelhorn, and a significant number of others, with either personal or political axes to grind against some or all of such as local MPs, the council, the police, the Mayor, in maintaining this vile hate campaign, have not been the subject of more immediate and robust action. A matter I am taking up myself, in measured terms, with Detective Chief Inspector James Faulkner, a senior officer based at Oldham Police Station, who has been adjacent to the facts for some time. We start off from a healthy position, as the only previous interaction produced an impressive response from both him and his divisional colleagues over a safeguarding issue.

Greater Manchester Police press office has been contacted for comment.

Page last updated: Wednesday 28th October, 2020 at 1015 hours

Photo credits: Arriva North West

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

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 2015-2020. 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.

The Rocky Horror Show

Since I first published articles on the vexed political situation in Oldham (read here and here), Greater Manchester, where child sex abuse appears to have been weaponised by a small group of activists, one critic has been almost ever-present on social media: “Rocky Skelshaw”.

It is unclear why anonymity is sought by one with such powerful views, often very forcefully expressed. Except that, regrettably, the holder of the social media accounts in that name, on Facebook and Twitter, too frequently crosses the line into abuse, harassment and defamatory comment.

This is particularly so in defence of her hero figure, Raja Miah MBE, a leading critic of the local council, its leaders past and present; the police; Members of Parliament; the Region’s Mayor; community leaders and journalists.

He, like “Rocky”, is also much too frequently abusive, and his output both on his websites and on social media appears to be constructed to cause maximum distress and alarm to those he targets. As such, he is presently the subject of two police investigations and, it is anticipated, very soon to be three.

“Rocky” can now be identified publicly, for the first time, as Kerry Ann Skelhorn, a 43 year old Diggle resident who works for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds as a Conservation Adviser.

Originally from the Knowsley area of Merseyside, she claims she has lived in the Oldham area for around 20 years. Although appearing to have worked in Norfolk for the past few years at least, from material available via open source. Which would give the appearance of Diggle being a place she only visits at weekends.

On Facebook, Miss Skelhorn has very recently identified herself as “a lone female”, but records show that she shares the Diggle residence with a man called Ivan Kershaw and it does not take Sherlock Holmes to work out that her pseudonym is a play on the two surnames.

She is known for her activism within the Save Diggle Action Group, formed to protest about the re-location of Saddleworth school to her village and this has led to another false claim on social media: “I took Oldham Council to JR [Judicial Review] and won”. Whereas the official judgment of Mr Justice Kerr shows that the applicant was Keith Lucas MBE, and the Action Group whom he represented. Seven of the nine grounds for opposing the planning decision were, in fact, dismissed as ‘having no merit’ (read in full here). One of the other two grounds was not pursued at the final hearing.

An image showing the proposed school site superimposed on the land selected for the development. Diggle’s iconic clock tower is in the foreground.

There is a single mention of Kerry Skelhorn at para 15 in the judgment, but no amplification of her role beyond that. Hers was one of 671 objections received by the Council, whose conduct was criticised in several areas of their decision making and failure to follow process. Her name does not appear anywhere on the Action Group website (read here). Indeed the only person mentioned by name is the same Keith Lucas, together with a mobile telephone number.

The planning decision was quashed and officers forced to take a fresh look at the application. In the event, the result was the same. This is, understandably, the source of Miss Skelhorn’s great apathy towards Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council and anyone whom she perceives, however remotely, to have had a hand in the planning decision.

Notably, the former Head of Planning, Stephen Irvine, who resigned, in August, 2019, during a gross misconduct investigation. But the Council’s deputy chief executive told the local press it did not relate to Mr Irvine’s role supporting the planning committee, nor to advice relating to any planning decision or outcome. A statement that did not suit Kerry’s publicly expounded conspiracy theories over his departure, about which she falsely claims ‘he was sacked for gross misconduct’ and uses terms to attempt to derogate his honesty and integrity that will not, in fairness to Mr Irvine, be repeated here. A pdf of a printed leaflet bearing a raft of such allegations still sits on her ‘Stop The Land Swap‘ website. It was distributed in the Saddleworth area last year.

Former Oldham councillor, Khazir Rehman, another close ally of Raja Miah, had a different take on the Irvine departure and told the Saddleworth Independent: “He was suspended as a scapegoat, they maligned him by releasing info about his suspension and he’s suing them for constructive dismissal. They will pay him thousands of pounds as compensation. They messed up”. Rehman, who prefers ‘Kaiser’ as a forename, lost his council seat in May 2019. Standing as an independent candidate after suspension from the Labour Party. There appears to be no evidential basis for his comments regarding Mr Irvine, but that is not to say a confidential settlement was reached with him and the matter is now sealed under a non-disclosure agreement.

Apart from the now departed Stuart Irvine, Kerry Skelhorn routinely attacks Oldham council leaders past and present, Sean Fielding and James McMahon in seriously unflattering terms. The latter is now the elected MP for Oldham West, of course. Another local MP under fire from the Raja/Rocky nexus is Deborah Abrahams, who is the complainant in one of the police investigations into Raja Miah. A charging decision on alleged offences under the Representation of the People Act, 1983 is expected shortly from the CPS.

Two of the council’s top paid officials, chief executive Dr Carolyn Wilkins and solicitor Paul Entwistle, have replaced Mr Irvine as targets for the “Rocky” stone throwing. An interest here is declared as I am no fan of Dr Wilkins, either. She created what is widely regarded as a non-job for her friend, Rebekah Sutcliffe, after the disgraced police officer resigned from Greater Manchester Police over what became nationally known as the ‘Boobgate’ or ‘Titgate’ scandal. Becky was rewarded with a pay increase of around £13,000 per annum for the inconvenience and now earns £122,000 pa.

Returning to Miss Skelhorn, she is now, to all intents and purposes, little more than an echo chamber for Raja Miah’s sticking plaster narrative and targeted abuse; not only ever present on either his Recusant Nine page or the overtly racist Oldham Eye social media timeline, but appointing herself, latterly, as an expert in child sex abuse at or around the same time as Raja, towards the end of 2019. An issue never raised by either of them, previously, and not until, of course, they had lost traction on most, if not all their other collective gripes against the elected representatives whom they perceive has done them and the town of Oldham great wrongs. At least some of which, it must be said, have a sound, evidential basis but become lost in the frenzied noise, and the ludicrous stretching of their aim, so that everything points back at their principal hate targets.

One well informed observer, very adjacent to Kerry Skelhorn’s activities both as part of the Action Group and her routinely abusive posting on social media, told me that her permanently aggressive style of campaigning in Diggle has increasingly become a ‘turn-off’ for the more measured class of protester. It is easy to see why.

As for “Rocky”, and the persistent, harassing, defamatory abuse pointed in my direction, that will be dealt with through the appropriate legal channels, including the police. As a journalist, free speech and adverse opinions are die in the ditch causes, and fair, constructive criticisms are always acceptable, but Miss Skelhorn’s remarks go well beyond that and, when asked to desist, chooses instead to intensify the slurs. Very much in the style of her mentor and leader – and it must be said some of the more unhinged contributors on that forum who see mindless abuse as a substitute for reasoned argument.

A screenshot taken by an interested observer from Raja Miah’s podcast on Sunday 18th October, 2020.

Her very public attack on the Oldham Heart forum involving a well known child sex abuse survivor will also have consequences. This was in a futile, and increasingly desperate attempt, to reverse that victim’s denouncement of Raja Miah (read more here) and, instead, paint me as a predator and ruthless exploiter of a vulnerable person. Nothing, actually, could be further from the truth. As the brave survivor herself pointed out in measured terms.

It appears that “Rocky” has not removed her posts from that thread.

Right of reply was offered to Kelly Skelhorn. She did not acknowledge the email sent to her prior to publication.

The RSPB’s Head of Public Affairs, Rachel Evans, has been asked to provide a statement on behalf of the RSPB’s ruling Council. No statement was provided but the Society has confirmed, via email, that an investigation into Miss Skelhorn’s extra-curricular activities is taking place.

Stephen Irvine, who now works for Oldham based architects’ practice, Studio KMA, as Director of Town Planning, declined to comment.

Page last updated: Monday 23rd November, 2020 at 1345 hours

Photo credits: Eastern Daily Press

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

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 2015-2020. 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.

The Road to Perdition

That a police force has set out to completely and utterly ruin a man, mentally, physically, financially, over the the past eight years is not in doubt. The story is well-rehearsed elsewhere on this website.

Neither is the fact that a law enforcement agency has not only been prepared to commit serious criminal acts, but coerce other policing agencies and public bodies to feverishly cover them up (read here).

That conspiracy against Dr Abdul Rashid, a well respected Bradford general practitioner, both in terms of the smear campaign against him, the police criminality and ‘cover-up’, for which the most compelling evidence is available, appears to embrace the local, regional and national media. The once-respected Telegraph and Argus has provided scant, one-sided coverage of the case and give the appearance of being at the beck and call of West Yorkshire Police.

The T&A gleefully reported the outcome of a ten day hearing of a bitterly fought civil claim hearing in Bradford County Court, directly opposite the newspaper’s headquarters. Their reporter, absent from the entire proceedings beforehand, turned up for the 45 minute handing down of the judgment and then did a hatchet job on Dr Rashid. Grounded in error-strewn findings that, put shortly, did not reflect the evidence or legal argument heard in court. It was appealed and the verdict of Mr Recorder Nolan QC duly quashed (read here).

I was the only reporter in court throughout the trial and the police made representations to the judge and tried to have me removed. An enterprise that failed miserably, as I hold the necessary press credentials (read more here).

The fact that an appeal was in train, the consequent one day public hearing of the appeal or the handing down of the judgment in Dr Rashid’s favour was never reported in the press, or on the heavily pro-police broadcast media in the region. Matters of not only huge reader (and viewer) interest in their locality, but of massive public concern in terms of the perenially oppressive, objectionable behaviour of the police and the conduct of the case by a judge whose attitude towards the claimant’s legal team was highly questionable throughout the trial. Amply borne out in the trial transcript (read more here).

At a case management hearing earlier today (16th October, 2021) at the Leeds District Registry of the High Court, before the North East Circuit’s most senior judge, Mr Justice Lavender, the outfall from Dr Rashid’s success at appeal, where it was determined that his arrest by WYP in 2012 was unlawful, was picked over and Directions given to both legal teams.

The successful claimant has been represented, throughout the eight year battle with the police, by Ian Pennock of Park Lane Plowden Chambers in Leeds. Olivia Checa-Dover of KBW in Leeds advocates for the police.

The judge, firstly, and as a High Court arbiter, dealt with matters consequential to the appeal:

The costs of the appeal were awarded to Dr Rashid. The legal bills of both parties are estimated to be around £125,000, for which the taxpayer foots the bill. A payment on account of £35,000 has been ordered by the judge, pending agreement or assessment of costs.

Folllowing the quashing of Mr Recorder Nolan’s Order, and a substitute finding by Mr Justice Lavender that the arrest was unlawful, the senior judge clarified that damages are to be assessed for wrongful arrest, at a hearing that will take place in the Autumn of next year, back at Bradford County Court.

The issue of whether Mr Recorder Nolan QC should preside over the causation and quantum hearing was dealt with fairly shortly by the judge. In his written submissions, Mr Pennock had advanced the view: “From the perspective of any reasonable person objectively assessing incorrect assertions by the police [in respect of their arguments in favour of Ben Nolan QC continuing to hear the claim], it would only further raise an index of suspicion with regards to the police’s clear and strongly expressed desire for the Recorder to be, effectively, reserved to this matter, particularly when the same is not necessary. Dr Rashid makes clear this is in relation to the ‘appearance’ of justice being seen to be done and the police not being able to select the judge they consider to be most favourable to them”. The nub of Miss Checa-Dover’s argument was that Recorder Nolan is familiar with the case and should carry on with it.

Mr Justice Lavender ruled that he was not minded to adopt the argument of counsel for either party. He will alert the Designated Civil Judge for Leeds and Bradford, HHJ Mark Gosnell, that listing the matter to be heard by Mr Recorder Nolan QC would be followed by an application, from counsel for Dr Rashid, in terms that the part-time judge recuses himself.

The judge also observed that Ben Nolan’s present contract as a Recorder will have expired by then, and there is no way of knowing whether that arrangement will be renewed. So, the prospective choice of that particular judge may not even arise.

The costs of last September’s ten day liability hearing are reserved. The reasons given by the judge are that Part 36 offers (read here) are already in place on behalf of both sides. If an Order was made now, it would, he says, preclude any further Order by a judge in the County Court in the future. ‘Consequences of those [part 36 offers] will fall to be considered at the end of the quantum trial’.

For example, if the damages did not exceed the offer made by West Yorkshire Police, confirmed in the hearing as £10,000, then Dr Rashid would be left with the costs. If the damages are set at, or exceed, £10,001, then the police pay the costs. The claim is for £5 million and Mr Pennock described the police’s Part 36 offer, not unoriginally, as ‘paltry’. He had argued that costs should follow the event, in the normal course of civil proceedings, but was overruled on that point. Miss Checa-Dover’s submission was that the claim by Dr Rashid is ‘not yet fully determined and there is a real possibility of impact on costs’. A clear signal that WYP will contest this claim to its bitter end.

As the judge himself noted wryly, by a trick of technical wizardry he was able to mutate from a High Court judge sitting in Leeds, to a district or circuit judge in Bradford County Court, so that he was able to give Directions to the parties for the future conduct of the case in that jurisdiction.

Timetabling of the route to the second trial, to determine causation and the amount of damages (quantum) that the police will pay Dr Rashid, was set out: A case management conference is listed for 28th May, 2021 and a further renewal, which may, in effect, become a pre-trial review to be listed on, or after 2nd July.

After hearing argument from both counsel, the judge rejected Miss Checa-Dover’s oral application for what was a thinly disguised bid for a wasted costs order. Mr Justice Lavender ruled that, in respect of today’s hearing, ‘costs were in the case’. That is to say, the ‘losing party’ at the outcome of the final hearing next year will bear the costs of both sides.

As Dr Rashid pointed out after the hearing, he is already ‘the winner’ in terms of having the 2012 arrest at his home, in a dawn raid involving 16 officers, deemed unlawful. That was a long-awaited vindication of a postion he adopted and maintained in the long years since that awful, deeply traumatic day.

Sir Nicholas Lavender QC is a former Chair of the Bar Council. He was called to the Bar in 1989 and took Silk (appointed as Queen’s Counsel) in 2008. He was appointed as a Recorder in 2010, a Deputy High Court Judge in 2013 and as a High Court Judge in 2016, assigned to the Queen’s Bench Division. Highly respected, he is currently a Presiding Judge of the North Eastern Circuit.

By the time the Rashid claim is finally settled, he will probably be a Lord Justice of Appeal. Following the same path through Leeds as one of the best judges ever to sit in that court, Lord Justice (Sir Peter) Coulson.

Two other victims of the same class of police vendetta also feature elsewhere on this website: John Elam (read more here) and Ralph Christie (read here).

Page last updated: Sunday 18th October, 2020 at 1855 hours

Photo credits: Cambridge University

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

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 2015-2020. 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.