‘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 exoriating 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 the labyrynthine web of companies surrounding those schools, Cllr Shoab Akhtar, was in the copy line of the ‘Lee Rigby email’. But is completely immune from any form criticism from Raja. Either about CSE or any other alleged Labour Party or Council impropriety in Oldham.

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.

If any person or organisation has 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: Sunday 29th November, 2020 at 1325 hours

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© 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.



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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© 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.

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.

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© 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.

Search for the truth

An investigation that began several months ago, in Oldham, into allegations made by a local political activist of a large-scale, multi-agency cover-up is nearing completion, with most of the key players interviewed or spoken to.

The claims are repeatedly made by Raja Miah, who posts and broadcasts on social media under the style ‘Recusant Nine‘ and blogs under the ‘Welcome to Oldham‘ banner. He has a substantial following on Facebook, and his trenchant views appear to find favour, particularly, on the right wing of the political spectrum; there is a lesser presence on Twitter, a gap filled by an account with the handle, Oldham Eye.

Many believe the latter social media account is controlled, or influenced greatly, by Raja, but the actual identity of the operator is a closely guarded secret amongst camp followers. Who provide almost identical answers when asked.

Earlier this week, a meeting took place with a well-known survivor of child sexual abuse in Oldham, Samantha Walker-Roberts. She has waived her legal right to lifetime anonymity and it was an important stepping stone in the investigation, adding significantly to the information matrix. It also emphasised how brave Samantha, and those other survivors who speak out, really are.

But the meeting only took place after local police were involved to ensure that a safe space could be created for Samantha, and, to a much lesser extent, myself. Their response was speedy, appropriate and professional.

This was considered necessary, because on the previous evening Raja Miah had made public the intended meeting as part of an incessant smear campaign with which he appears to be currently obsessed. Against a background of sustained, highly personalised abuse being directed at me by a group of his supporters, who took exception to two articles published about their ‘leader’ in the past week or so (read here and here).

As evidenced by their responses to those articles, the Recusant Nine fanatics are, it seems, immune to any reasoned argument, facts or evidence – and far too ready to attack, in seriously unpleasant terms, those who question their party line.

The police are already well aware of Miah and he is currently the subject of investigations into complaints made by local MP, Deborah Abrahams, by way of section 106 of the Representation of the People Act, 1983 and at least one other made against him under the Protection of Harassment Act, 1997.

Soon to be at least two, as a further package of evidence is being prepared, by me, for submission to the detective chief inspector in Oldham who is leading the extant investigations over Miah’s recent course of conduct.

The threshold for a journalist to take such action is high; we expect criticism as part of our vocation, often in robust terms. But what has been experienced over the past ten days, goes far beyond that – and is perceived to be a campaign very much intended to cause distress and alarm, to the extent where coercing discontinuance of the Oldham investigation is the primary aim.

Another Oldham MP, James McMahon, has stated publicly, and at length, that Miah is running a deliberate campaign of harassment and abuse against him, also, and at least some of the comments he makes are ‘blatantly defamatory’ (read more here). The impact on both his professional and personal life is said to be considerable.

Samantha, it was disclosed to me at our meeting, has asked her lawyer to advise on the merits of a privacy, data breach claim against Raja Miah as she has no recollection of giving permission for her story to be published on the Recusant Nine website. She cannot trace any messages, either, where such permission was either sought or given.

She is also concerned, and has expressed publicly, as well as to me in more detailed terms, that Miah is running his ‘CSE cover-up’ campaign for his own personal and political ends and not with complainants, victims and survivors at its centre.

On any independent view, there is considerable merit in what Samantha says: The focus is, plainly, the vendetta (his own word) that Miah is running against those he perceives to have done him wrong. Particularly, Jim McMahon, over his part in the investigation into a shocking catalogue of failures at schools that Raja founded and ran in the Manchester area. Those failures include operational and infrastructure shortcomings, low Ofsted ratings, large-scale financial irregularities, low staff morale, safeguarding failures, and the grooming of a 14 year old girl at one of the schools. Raja Miah denies any or all wrongdoing.

For clarity, my investigation into the CSE allegations, made by Raja Miah, does not in any way replace, or intend to trespass too greatly on, the Assurance Review presently in progress in Oldham, headed by two of the country’s leading child sexual exploitation experts, Malcolm Newsam and Gary Ridgway. Although some minor crossover is inevitable, as the wider online allegations made against Oldham council (and the police) form part of their terms of reference. The Review was commissioned by the Greater Manchester Mayor.

Their report is expected to be finished within the next few weeks and go out for consultation with interested parties. It is very keenly awaited, particularly in the wake of their widely acclaimed Review, also commissioned by Andy Burnham and published in January 2020, into widespread failings by police and councils in Rochdale and South Manchester.

Even in that light, Raja Miah has consistently sought to undermine the efficacy of the Oldham CSE investigation, without any regard for the integrity and track record of the two investigators, their high standing, professionally, or the toxic atmosphere, created almost entirely by him, that may have discouraged witnesses coming forward to give evidence to the Review or provide Newsam and Ridgway with viable lines of enquiry.

It is anticipated that my own findings on the merits of the Miah allegations, and the background to them, will be published within the next week or so. Raja grounds his campaign, that only began in the Autumn of last year, on a dossier leaked to him by a former councillor, Hugh McDonald.

In simple terms, its centre-piece is a one-eyed view of an email, sent to Jim McMahon over seven years ago by BBC journalist, Kevin Fitzpatrick, in which a number of other senior councillors are copied, including Mr McDonald. I have previously challenged Raja, publicly, on his Facebook page on that very point. He did not respond to that plainly expressed enquiry. Indeed, that was one of the tipping points, as it was becoming tiresome asking for evidence and/or substantiation and being blanked. I am, of course, now blocked from viewing any of his posts.

From information now in my possession, and taking a wider, much more enlightened view of local and national intelligence that was being fed into the Gold Group of partner agencies, at that time, it is evident that the ‘Lee Rigby’ golden nugget, weighted so heavily by the discredited Oldham activist in his criticism of Mr McMahon, and others, has lost a great deal of its lustre: There were credible policing grounds, to those who needed to know, to support the postponement of certain actions until the funeral of the fallen soldier had taken place.

More of that, and a closer scrutiny of the rest of the Recusant allegations, will follow. In the meantime, the author’s eye is drawn to this statement by much-criticised Leader of Oldham Council, Sean Fielding: “What disturbs me is that the comments on social media [led by Raja Miah] piece together historic incidents, much of which is in the public domain, over a long period of time to give the impression that the allegations relate to young people at risk today.”

Right of reply has again been offered to Raja Miah.

Page last updated: Wednesday 14th October, 2020 at 2055 hours

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© 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.

Riots peacemaker in ‘shoot to kill’ rant

Controversial Oldham businessman and political activist, Raja Miah, is noted for his trenchant views on a wide variety of topics relating to his home town, just West of the Pennines in the North of England.

He is also relentless in his criticism of local council leaders, Sean Fielding and Arooj Shah, and some of the area’s Members of Parliament (most particularly, James McMahon and Deborah Abrahams) and, it appears, anyone who associates with them on social media, writes about them in neutral terms or, heaven forbid, occasionally, in favourable terms.

His tone and hostility is alarming and, often it seems, allegations are made without a scrap of viable evidence and, in doing so, exposing significant gaps in his knowledge of public authority process and procedure. ‘Shout first, think later’ as one social media commentator noted.

An article published elsewhere on this website, earlier this week, heavily underscores those points (read here).

Given right of reply to that article, in which allegation after allegation he had made about the Deputy Leader of Oldham Council was comprehensively dismantled, Miah elected to pass up that opportunity and, instead, launched a vitriolic, ad hominem attack via his Recusant Nine Facebook page. Once again, littered with factual errors, half truths and half-baked assumptions.

Over the course of the next three articles on this website, covering just some of the main controversies presently raging, the ordinary, decent folk in and around the archetypal East Lancashire mill town will decide whether it is right to trust what is written by Neil Wilby and if it is reliable and well-grounded journalism: The product of repeat car journeys over the Pennines, foot-slogging, door-knocking, covert observation and knowledge of the appropriate processes and statutory frameworks, and, crucially, both the standing and ability to ask the right questions of the relevant individuals and organisations.

The political extremists, and the lazy, camp-follower keyboard warriors, at both ends of the spectrum, will doubtless dismiss, again, what is written as ‘garbage’, ‘utter crap’, ‘nonsense’, ‘bollocks’ and assert, or imply, there are bribes involved, or that mental health is a factor, or that the author is a stooge of Oldham’s Council Leader, the aforementioned Sean Fielding.

There will also be a further deluge of the ‘f**k off, you are not from round here and have no idea what’s going on’ class of abuse. Which appears to ignore the fact that Oldham is on the same main road as Huddersfield and Rochdale, about which a great deal is most definitely known. But there we are, reality does not appear to concern many of the critics.

Events this week, in the satellite world of Raja Miah, have taken an even more ugly turn – and that is a high threshold. Apart from renewing his harassment of Arooj Shah, a course of conduct that should, in all truth, be an urgent police matter, he has launched his latest mindless attack on another notably successful, high profile female, Gail Hadfield Grainger. It is difficult to comprehend, from a podcast rant on his weekly ‘Recusant Nine’ Facebook channel what motivated such bile, apart from her professional association with Neil Wilby. At that time, he was unaware of Gail’s five year association with Arooj.

In an attempt to smear Gail he describes her late partner, Anthony Grainger, as ‘a gangster’ and heavily emphasises that the police were right to shoot him, unarmed and without warning, through the windscreen of a stationary vehicle parked in a supermarket car park in Cheshire.

Summary justice, shoot to kill. No investigation, no public trial, sentenced to death on flawed police intelligence.

This from a man who made his name, and was awarded an honour by the Queen, in a peacemaking and community liaison role, following the race riots in Oldham in 2001. The flashpoint came, coincidentally, in the same district of Glodwick in which Arooj Shah has lived all her life.

Gail contends strongly that mysogyny is a factor in her being targeted alongside Arooj. Her record, and her media profile, as a justice campaigner and a relentless force for good, speaks for itself. Any attempt to undermine her will backfire on him.

“I’m shocked and disgusted that this man, whom I do not know, never met or spoken to, should attack a grieving woman who lost the love of her life in such horrendous circumstances, when an armed police officer shot Anthony, without warning, through a car windscreen. The Inquiry Chair, His Honour Thomas Teague QC, made his findings (read in full here) and the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police has apologised personally to me and the rest of Anthony’s family. This sly attempt to go behind those findings and use my dead partner, who was NOT a gangster, to slur me is beyond the pale. I just hope his children do not ever have to read or hear these things that he is saying”.

Not content with smearing Gail, ‘Recusant Raja” turned his attention on the son of her fellow United Friends and Family Campaign committee member, Mohammed Yaqub. In January, 2017, Yasser Yaqub was shot dead through the windscreen of his car, by armed West Yorkshire Police officers, after a hard stop on the M62 motorway sliproad at Ainley Top, Huddersfield. This followed a meeting with a man said to be, variously, a police informant, organised criminal and now convicted murderer, known locally as ‘King Meggy’ (read more here). Miah again emphasised that, in his view, the police did absolutely the right thing in performing a roadside execution. No arrest, no legal representation, no investigation, no trial, no jury verdict, no judge weighing all the relevant matters in the balance. Just a high velocity bullet in the chest. Summary execution by a rogue state militia.

Yasser’s father, a successful businessman and highly respected member of his local community in Huddersfield, was horrified after viewing the ‘Recusant Nine’ film clip: “I have never met Mr Miah and don’t know who he is or what he stands for. But to say that about my son, when he knows nothing of the circumstances in what is a very complex case, is absolutely disgusting. I would like to see his reaction if he, or a close member of his family, suffered in the same way we have. He should come to my home, firstly to apologise, and then see how my family and I still grieve for our son every single day. Is Mr Miah completely without feelings for his fellow human beings? He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.”

Following on from those heartfelt and utterly scathing views from two bereaved families, these are plainly extreme and dangerous standpoints to harbour secretly, even for an activist. But to expound them publicly on the nation’s biggest social media platform is very seriously troubling. More, particulary,when broadcast from a crime-ridden town such as Oldham.

Raja Miah has been reported to Facebook and the local police over the podcast. He has confirmed that he is already the subject of two other police investigations regarding his conduct towards local politicians. One of which is codenamed Operation Hexagon, he says. That is believed to be a wide ranging investigation into allegations of harassment, he is alo under investigation for an offence under section 106 0f the Representation of the People Act, 1983 following a complaint by an Oldham MP, Deborah Abrahams.

A file is also being prepared for submission to the Cabinet Office’s Forfeiture Committee which will petition for removal of his MBE (read more here).

Right of reply was again offered to Raja Miah. He did not respond. As before, he chose to launch another ad hominem attack on social media instead. That, of course, is his prerogative.

Page last updated: Saturday 10th October, 2020 at 0700 hours

Photo credits: ITV, Manchester Evening News

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.

If only, Madam Mayor

Several weeks ago, a well known and notably successful justice campaigner, Gail Hadfield Grainger, sent me a video clip (writes Neil Wilby). It featured a friend of hers, Arooj Shah, a prominent Labour Party politician in Oldham, an East Lancashire mill town in the North of England. It was filmed in the Council chamber as Cllr. Shah was moving a motion on harassment and abuse in public life, which called for a letter to be written to the Minister for the Cabinet Office to seek a cross-government response in tackling the issue.

Gail, over and above seeking justice for Anthony Grainger, is active in the same town. She supports the widow of André Moura, brutally killed in the back of a van by the same Greater Manchester Police who shot her own partner; also provides pastoral support to a victim of child sexual abuse in Oldham and champions an Oldham-based charity, The Greengate Trust, which undertakes overland aid missions to places such as war-torn Yemen and temporary refugee camps on the Greek Isles.

It is through giving so much of her time and considerable energy to others that Gail met Arooj, whilst she was doing the rounds of MPs in the Manchester and Salford area, harvesting support for her justice campaigning. At the time, Arooj was working in the office of Hazel Blears, prior to the MP standing down in 2015.

They also have a mutual friend, who works for Greengate, Mohammed Imran Ali, better known locally as ‘Irish Imy’, whose past association with notorious cop killer, Dale Cregan, forms just part of his local infamy. He is pictured here with volunteer colleagues and three Oldham police officers, who also enthusiastically support the work of the Trust.

For clarity, the officers are not ‘taking the knee’, as the Black Lives Matter campaign did not begin in earnest until a few months after this photograph was taken.

As a nod to Gail’s work, and the high admiration for her campaigning, particularly in almost single-handedly bringing about a public inquiry into Anthony Grainger’s death (read more here), the video clip was viewed, notebook at the ready.

Watching for the first time was an unsettling experience: Either Miss Arooj Shah was an Oscar-winning actress or she was a victim of a seriously grotesque, cruel, targeted campaign to discredit her. Much of the nine minutes speech was delivered through sobs and tears. The distress was palpable.

Shortly afterwards, the video was played a second time. This time without sound and focusing on everyone else but Arooj: Their body language, facial expressions, what they were doing with their hands. Including putting them together for a standing ovation at the end of the speech.

A third viewing, again silent, focused entirely on Arooj. The notebook was still blank because, by this time, the provisional view had been taken that there was more to this speech than politicking and play-acting. A transcript of the proceedings was procured instead. It is reproduced in full at the foot of this article.

The decision was made to take a neutral look at what is behind the individual, the politician, the speech and the allegations to which she alludes. A closer look at her tormentor was already well into the planning stage.

He was not named in the Council chamber, but identified himself as local activist, Raja Miah, in an on-line article shortly afterwards, Welcome to Oldham Part VI. Entirely devoted to a further, unvarnished attack on Arooj Shah, those associated with her, and businesses in which she has previously had, or presently has, an interest. 

Raja is not known to me personally, but he is an individual about whom a great deal has been learned over the past few months. We may have had a better understanding of one another if he had turned up for a meeting facilitated by an intermediary, and fellow Oldham activist, Tracey Gibson, in July. That involved me in a wasted 65 mile round trip and a lost afternoon. It added to the frustration of him not telephone calling, at an arranged time, whilst I was away in Spain earlier in the year. Tracey has now, it seems, distanced herself from Raja and deleted her Twitter and Facebook  accounts.

We have since communicated on social media, both in open forum and, more occasionally, by private message. But my persistent questions about backing up his assertions of wrongdoing with documents, or other evidence, have fallen on stoney ground and led to me being blocked on two of the main social media platforms.

One of Raja’s supporters likens that interrogatory approach as being ‘like a dog with a bone’. In reality, it’s just bog-standard investigative journalism.

Screenshot 2020-10-05 at 09.20.48

One of the issues upon which we clashed, publicly, was his interpretation of an email to which he refers, often, as evidence of a cover-up of child sex abuse in Oldham, a theme to which he returns regularly – and so will I in future articles.

Raja uses this allegation as a basis to attack one of his main targets in the aforementioned Welcome to Oldham series, Jim McMahon MP, a former leader of Council and, since May 2015, the elected representative for the Oldham West and Royton constituency. He is, more latterly, Shadow Transport Minister. Arooj Shah works in the MP’s office, as an adjunct to her main role as Deputy Leader of the Council, and that is how she came to the attention of Raja Miah, he claims.

Arooj is, more recently, the Council’s Cabinet Member for CoVID-19 which appears to have given Raja another stick with which to beat her, as Oldham enters its seventh week in ‘lockdown’.

Extensive enquiries have been made into what has flowed from Raja’s interest in Arooj. A search for the truth: Is she this dreadful, shameless, flighty individual that he paints, or has she been the subject of a contrived attack, designed to damage Jim McMahon by association. Or, does the answer lie somewhere in between?

Arooj’s parents migrated from Pakistan in 1968 to work in the local textile industry. She is one of seven siblings and has lived all her life in Oldham Borough, apart from term time at De Montfort University in Leicester, where she studied Politics and International Relations.

She was first elected as a Councillor for St Mary’s Ward in 2012 and selected as Cabinet Member for Performance and Corporate Governance, with responsibility for key campaigns and communications, in that same year. 

Arooj led Oldham’s pioneering Energy Switching campaign which became the most successful single-authority scheme of its type in the country – and was later rolled out across the Greater Manchester region. A collective bargaining initiative, this saw 8,726 households in the town signing up and making an average saving of £171 per year. Putting around £1.4 million back into Oldham resident’s pockets in a period of national austerity. 

In 2013, Arooj was named ‘Young Councillor of the Year’, alongside Oldham colleagues, Amanda Chadderton and Sean Fielding, by the Local Government Information Unit. Cllr Fielding is now, of course, Leader of Oldham Council and another local politician under constant attack from Raja Miah.

The Growth Company, where she currently serves as a Director, say: “She entered politics to give people strength and confidence in what they do, so that they feel able to speak up and have a voice. She has also worked hard encouraging local groups in schemes designed to take control of their communities and make them better places to live”.   

They added: “Arooj was praised for speaking out about harassment and intimidation she had suffered as an Asian female councillor before she was re-elected in the Chadderton South ward in May 2018”.

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Given my natural scepticism where all politicians are concerned, the direct feedback concerning Miss Shah was surprising, to say the least: ‘Very hard-working’ is a constant; ‘meticulous’, ‘very correct’, ‘loyal’, ‘dedicated’, ‘kind’, ‘caring’, ‘family and community-orientated’, ‘speaks her own mind’ also feature. A Muslim, she is known to be devoutly religious.

Less surprisingly, she is also regarded as highly ambitious, but not ‘a girl about town’ as they say. Indeed, no trace of a social life has been identified. As she said in her speech, she chooses to live at home with her mother. 

For emphasis, this is not client journalism: If there had been adverse commentary, or any other form of criticism of Arooj Shah, it would have been reported in the same way as the other remarks. In embarking upon this piece, and the ones that will follow, it was in the full knowledge that any unwarranted praise, perceived bias, or mistakes, or will be seized upon rabidly by Raja and his supporters.

The allegations made against Arooj Shah

For better or worse, these are the issues referred to in her speech and used by Raja Miah as a basis for undermining and discrediting her. At the same time, he rejects the notion that there is a mysogynistic element to his campaign.  

 – Slept her way to the top

This is referred to centrally in the speech, as is the dreadful effect it has had on Arooj. But, perhaps, the best answer is the one that forms the headline to this piece: ‘If only, Madam Mayor’. Beneath that, it is a desperately hurtful thing to say about a woman who is of the Muslim faith with, potentially, dangerous repercussions for her. Especially, when the allegation is made completely absent of any evidence, kiss and tell or otherwise.

The accompanying proposition that Raja Miah’s inbox is crammed full of lurid tales of her personal life appears to be far-fetched, at best. Not least, because the email link from his website is defective and communications are returned with an ‘undeliverable’ message.

Viewed objectively, her lifestyle, and total commitment to her career which, I’m told, involves her rising at 5am each day and finishing well into the evening, would not be conducive, in any way, to promiscuity. Neither would choosing to live in the family home.

The accolades she received after her first election success, and then having to resurrect her career after losing a local election in highly controversial circumstances in 2016, tend to suggest it is raw ability and commitment, rather than powers of seduction, that explain her present roles in politics and wider society.

 – Association with criminals

An interest must be declared here, first: Associating with criminals is something with which I can be charged. Often, in fact. Reporting on them from the press seats in Crown Court and the Court of Appeal; visiting them in custody (I have been inside seven different jails across Her Majesty’s Prison estate); assisting with rehabilitation, lobbying for employers to give a second chance to reformed offenders; supporting prison reform and rehabilitation on social media; campaigning against miscarriages of justice. I even share office facilities with one, when working in Leeds (read more here). That is, largely, who and what I am.

In Arooj Shah’s speech, she deals with her own connection with criminals with a fair and balanced explanation, from my standpoint at least. Given that all but two councillors rose to give her a standing ovation at the end of that powerful presentation, it was satisfactory to them, too. No doubt mindful of Oldham’s high level of criminality within the Borough and the difficulties that would pose if families and friends, or elected representatives, automatically disenfranchised those with a criminal record.

As a court reporter, I can go further in terms of relevance and context in this particular instance: Raja Miah, inadvertently or otherwise, frequently makes a connection to ‘Irish Imy’ as the getaway driver for Dale Cregan, then links that to the murder of two female police officers and, further and much worse, repeatedly asserts a link to Arooj Shah in the same chain. That has no basis in fact or evidence: Cregan did murder PC Nicola Hughes and PC Fiona Bone in a truly horrific, senseless attack, but handed himself in at Hyde Police Station soon afterwards. As such, there was no getaway.

The offence for which ‘Irish Imy’ was convicted, Assisting an Offender, was not linked to the police officer murders. It concerned the aftermath of Cregan killing the well known gangster, David Short, six weeks earlier, and a car journey to Leeds some hours after that murder had taken place. He was jailed for seven and a half years.

It is no secret that I have campaigned vigorously for an inquiry into what is said by well known police whistleblower, Peter Jackson (one of Rajah Miah’s biggest and most enthusiastic supporters on social media), to be the entirely preventable deaths of those two young police officers (read more here).  According to the retired murder detective, the failings of several senior colleagues had much, much more to do with Cregan being still at large than his association with Irish Imy.

The definitive answer as to whether Arooj Shah would be wise to cut loose a friend of 30 years will, ultimately, come at the ballot box. Either at the next local polls or, more widely, when she, inevitably, stands for election to Parliament. In the meantime, Raja Miah appears to be the only person in the entire country making an issue of it.

 – Jim McMahon’s support of Mohammed Imran Ali (Irish Imy)

As set out above, Arooj Shah works in the McMahon constituency office. Raja Miah’s number one target, in what he freely terms his ‘vendetta’, is that same Member of Parliament; apparently over a grudge related to the ‘blacklisting’ of Raja, after spectacular failures at schools he operated in Manchester (read more here). A government investigation cast “significant doubts” on the legitimacy of money paid to a company connected to Miah (read more here), but concluded it was too difficult to establish a money trail. The probe, inexplicably, looked at just two years of transactions.

It is understood that the Serious Fraud Office are presently seized of those matters, following pressure from another local MP, Angela Rayner. But that is not to imply any wrongdoing by Raja Miah. The presumption of innocence must apply until investigations are complete.

Arooj appears, from this journalists’s vantage point, to have been caught in the cross-fire of the McMahon/Miah war of words (read more here) and, thereafter, seen as an easy target.

Screenshot 2020-10-05 at 09.46.37

This is what has been established as fact, as opposed to what is asserted by Raja, over a letter sent from the MP’s office regarding prison licence conditions: ‘Irish Imy’ is registered as a constituent of Jim McMahon MP; it is routine for elected representatives to assist such persons, irrespective of their antecedents; Arooj played no part in the letter that was written to the probation service, she has no locus as far as casework is concerned; the subject letter did not concern an early release, as claimed by Raja, the prison sentence was indeterminate (read more here); the subject matter was an appeal against a proposed, unscheduled transfer from a bail hostel in Oldham to more remote premises, away from his partner and young family. 

It has to be said that being adjacent to the criminal justice system, and a network of reliable contacts within it, makes access to this information far easier for me to secure than it might be for Raja. But it is a curiosity that he should ground a story entirely on speculation and, seemingly, absent of any interrogative feature. 

 – The genesis of the friendship between Arooj Shah and ‘Irish Imy’ 

Raja Miah has made a qualified assertion that he does not believe the friendship between the two is what Arooj articulated in her speech. That is to say, they have known one another since the ages of 11 and 9 respectively.

That, unqualified, would be a very serious allegation to make: A Muslim woman, devoted to her faith and her God, notably successful in her chosen career and a high profile political figure across the North West region of the UK, lies to an entire Council chamber, knowing that there would be high media attention to what was quite sensational subject matter. Just one credible witness coming forward, to rebut the longevity of the friendship, would end her political career and destroy her reputation.

Equally concerning, is the foundation for the Miah assertion: An anonymous post, using the handle ‘Bashah’ in the comments section of a newspaper; screenshot, very conveniently, by Raja prior to it being removed by the moderator.

There are two errors in that post that are easily put right: ‘Bashah’ claims that ‘Irish Imy’ and Arooj’s brother were ‘locked up in HMP Buckley Hall together’. Arslan Shah has never been in Buckley Hall prison. His trial and conviction was never reported. I am aware, via criminal justice contacts, of where Arslan was arrested, tried and imprisoned. Raja plainly is not.

‘Bashah’ also claims that a man nicknamed ‘Shanny’ was Arooj’s boyfriend. My enquiries locally firmly conclude that is also untrue: Shahnawaz Qumer, for that is Shanny, subjected Arooj Shah to an obsessive, persistent and unpleasant campaign of highly personalised harassment and stalking. They were never in any relationship, it seems.

Screenshot 2020-10-04 at 17.52.40

‘Shanny’ was not, as he should have been, prosecuted for those activities, but he did end up in prison in 2015 after standing trial over a find of 30kg of cannabis, worth £300,000, at the address of a friend. Qumer, a married man with three children and serious financial problems, lied to police about his role transporting the drugs from Hertfordshire to Oldham before, eventually pleading guilty (read here). An unlikely suitor for a young, attractive, well-grounded high achiever; but a likely ‘informant’ for Raja Mia’s campaign against her.

Remarkably, those matters did not show up when Raja was ‘researching’ Shanny, but an alleged assault upon him, by Irish Imy, did. Conversely, and perversely, I can find no trace of this alleged assault, either in the public domain or via my criminal justice contacts. Or an Oldham Councillor wearing Jimmy Choo shoes in the council chamber or in a local MP’s office.

What is unclear is why Raja was checking into Shanny at all: They have been friends since they sat opposite one another in secondary school. The source of that information is Raja, himself. 

It has been pointed out since this article was published that ‘Bashah’ is possibly, or indeed probably, a play on Bash Shah (as in Cllr Shah). If that is so, and the readers will judge for themselves, the suspects as the likely authors of that newspaper comment is reduced to a very small number. 

 – Register of business interests

Without wishing to diminish what, taken to its extreme, is a criminal offence under the Localism Act, 2011, and the effort and informed research to bring it to the public’s attention, this is very much a case of Raja Miah making an ice cream sundae out of a well-licked lollipop. The truth is not difficult to uncover and involves talking to people and asking questions, rather than just bashing away on a keyboard: The business was set up by Arooj for her brother, Arslan, whilst he was in prison. The Shah family were desperate to keep him occupied after his release and out of further trouble. In that regard, the venture has been a success, whilst not prospering financially. A matter readily ascertained at Companies House (read here).

If there was an oversight in declaring what, at the time, was a dormant business, dogged by the builder refurbishing the premises going bust, then Miss Shah is guilty as charged. The matter has been investigated by the Council’s Standards Committee and there has been a disposal. No-one gained from, or came to harm over, the registration error.

The Miah proposition that this ice cream business is a disguise for a money laundering operation, and Arooj Shah was, at its formation, a ‘shadow director’ fronting it, appears to have no basis in fact or evidence. 

 – Asian Cartels and Block postal votes

Any assertion that Arooj Shah benefits from involvement with any alleged cartel, Asian or otherwise, or vote rigging, is defeated in just one sentence: She lost her St Mary’s seat at the local elections in Oldham in 2016. 

After the narrow defeat (289 votes), a piece to camera was broadcast on BBC Newsnight in which Arooj complained of an organised mysogynistic campaign against her. This followed an on-line BBC article two months earlier in which she spoke of resistance from some Labour members, in her predominately Asian ward, to a Muslim woman representing them: “There’s Labour Party members who will accept my two ward colleagues, Asian men, but support anyone but me. They’re members of the local Labour party. They are shameless about it… It’s because I’m a woman and anyone who sugar-coats it is lying.”

Screenshot 2020-10-05 at 08.30.22

She, plainly, still feels very strongly about that issue to raise it again so powerfully in her speech in the Council chamber.

Historically, Oldham has been at the forefront of publicity over postal vote rigging, but it is 20 years since there has been a successful prosecution. In 2014, the town was named as an ‘at risk’ location with police and Returning Officers alerted by the Electoral Commission. Particularly in local communities where there are ‘low levels of literacy or a lack of English skills’.

The Council and Greater Manchester Police have both been contacted regarding the number of complaints of postal vote rigging in the Oldham Borough since 2014.

Requests have also been made to the same two public authorities to ascertain the number of retrievable documents that are returned, electronically, from the search term ‘Asian Cartel Oldham’.

Conclusion

The reader is, of course, invited to form their own view of events, before, during and after Arooj Shah’s speech, and my reporting of them. Earlier in the piece, I posed the questions, is she a bad person of low morals, the subject of a sustained, contrived attack by Raja Miah – or does the answer lie somewhere in between? You decide.

But, from this journalist’s standpoint, it has heavily underscored a suspicion I first formed two months ago and have posted about regularly on social media ever since: Almost all of Raja Miah’s assertions have little or no safe ground beneath them – and facts and evidence are in short supply. A point that will be explored in more detail in the succeeding Oldham articles in what, at present, is planned to be a series of four. The next piece covers the question of whether his core, and frequently repeated, allegation of long-running, widescale, multi-agency cover-up of child sex abuse in Oldham has substance. 

Both Arooj Shah and Raja Miah have been given right of reply to this article.

Raja Miah did not respond to me directly but, in an angry post on his Recusant Nine Facebook page, he has launched into an entirely predictable ad hominem attack. He goes on to describe the article as ‘all Wilby’s crap’ ‘a eulogy to Arooj Shah’ and a ‘so-called exposé’. He has not addressed any of his evidential failings, brought to light in this piece, or, much more crucially, apologised for smearing Arooj Shah. 

The Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council press office did not respond to the request for comment on behalf of Cllr Arooj.

 

Page last updated: Thursday 8th October, 2020 at 0600 hours

Photo credits: Oldham Chronicle, Greengate Trust, ITV News, MEN

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

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© 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.

 

Transcript of Arooj Shah speech, 8th January, 2020

Arooj Shah: Thank you, Madam Mayor. Before I go into this can I just echo what the Leader of the Council, Sean Fielding, has said. We’ve heard some fantastic contributions tonight, and the comments that Steve [Bashforth] made are absolutely right, and Cllr Sam Al-Hamdani.

This motion isn’t about self-gratification, it’s not about saying ‘Oh God, we’re so sensitive and we’re politicians that can’t take what people say about us’. We are open to scrutiny and we are open to accountability, that’s what we fight for and that’s why we come here – and we put in all the work that we do. 

But what we can’t say is that it’s okay to be personal, to attack us, to abuse us because that just doesn’t impact us, it has a massive impact on our family.

And we enter politics that’s a choice we make as individuals, we don’t ask our family members, our loved ones and our friends ‘Are you okay with this?’ because what might be said about me – rightfully or wrongfully – will have an impact on your life.

That is something we don’t do, so this motion is simply about saying treat us with the respect that we honour, and this job, Madam Mayor. When I got into this, I didn’t think that I would spend my whole life, give up my whole life to politics, and I did. 

I sacrificed some personal choices, that I have made myself. I have sacrificed them because I believed I could serve my community and I think I’ve done a really good job.

And like Cllr Bashforth says, for people who think that I haven’t, I’m there for you to ask me and challenge me in a respectful way, and I will respond to that.

But if you’re going to take to social media, and call us names, then that’s not acceptable I am not going to be ashamed of standing up and speaking up for myself, and other people who give their lives up to public service.

So, Madam Mayor, I want to thank the Members in this debate. And, at times, I suspect many of you feel alone and, perhaps, even isolated, and I want to say that my door is always open for you. So, if you need any support, help or guidance please feel free to get in touch.

And I say that because I know how this feels, I can speak to my own experience Madam Mayor, the person embarked on a targeted campaign of harassment for no other reason than I dared to challenge his behaviour.

The individual deliberately sought out to bring shame to me in my community and impact my family.

Actually, Madam Mayor, I’m touched by the contributions that have been made tonight and I resent the way public servants aren’t allowed to stick up for themselves without being told that they’re self-obsessed.

So, this individual came after me because I dared to challenge his behaviour. He inferred that ‘women in my profession must have sexually transmitted diseases and the only reason I hold the position I do is because I slept my way to this position’.

If only, Madam Mayor.

He also indicated in other posts that he has an inbox full of stories about my personal life, and he makes threats to publish these. 

The pattern of directing attacks towards my personal life Madam Mayor, by him is not a coincidence.

He has caused great distress to me within my community, but you know what more importantly, he’s caused upset to my family. 

It is textbook misogyny, and I’ll use that word and no doubt later on he’ll start saying ‘oh my god she uses this to progress her professional career.’ No I don’t, this is my reality and I’m sick of that being undermined.

He has clearly designed to cause me sustained reputational damage, it soon moves on though because he claims to be a fictional writer and he does write a lot of fiction.

He soon moves on, though never too far from him accusing me of covering up child sexual exploitation Madam Mayor, who in this chamber would ever do that.

What kind of person does it take to do that, and the very fact that this person can think it is more of a reflection on him than it is on me or anyone in this chamber.

He then goes on to accusing me of misusing my position in public office, and people say to me all the time, ‘Well, if that’s not true why do you not answer it, why do your colleagues not answer it, why isn’t Sean answering the fact that he’s not a paedophile protector, why isn’t Jim McMahon answering these questions?’. Because we are too aware that if you were to counter every accusation he makes, that something more ridiculous and outrageous will follow. 

Madam Mayor, because he and these people are not about truth, they’re about intimidation and that’s what he tried to do.

Madam Mayor, I was born and raised in Glodwick, Oldham, and I came into public service because I wanted to serve my community.

I have always acted appropriately in my political and professional life. I have never abused my position and I have never, ever compromised any confidences. 

But Madam Mayor, that in and of itself is not enough when the level of attacks against you are not about the truth.

He then went on to share pictures of me with my brother, and one of my friends called Mohammed Imran Ali, who I’ve known since I was 11 years old.

Both of them have been into prison, but he did that because he wants to create a perception that I am part of a criminal gang, that I’m part of “a cartel”.

Madam Mayor, he knows full well that I have not covered up child sexual exploitation, that I have never misused my position in public office, because he’s asked these questions and he’s had the answers.

He knows that I am not part of a cartel, but he is also fully aware that I would not condone any acts that my brother did or that my friend did.

But Madam Mayor, whilst my longstanding relationships and friendships will be difficult for some people to accept, and I fully understand that, I can’t pretend that they don’t exist. 

And I certainly cannot turn my back on people I’ve known since childhood for political convenience. 

And I certainly don’t forget where I came from, there were times in my life Madam Mayor where I could only put in about £3 worth of petrol (in my car) I’d have to consider every journey to see whether it was worth me making. 

Now I’m in a position where I don’t even consider my journeys, and I’m able to put petrol in my car without giving it a second thought.

There have been times in my life where I have longed for certain types of clothing, shoes or for my hair to get done in the hairdressers, and I’d have to consider my choices, but today Madam Mayor, I’m fortunate enough to do that for myself.

And not just for myself, I’m fortunate enough and blessed enough to be able to do it for other people that I care about. 

There were times where I thought will I ever have my own home; will I ever be able to move out? Now Madam Mayor I have my own home, but I live with my mum out of choice, and all this happened because somebody believed in me.

Because the kind of community that I came from, the stacks are against you. It’s hope and it’s opportunity, and somebody believed in me.  

I swear to God, if people believe that I have not got to be the first Asian female Cabinet Member of Oldham Council, and the first Asian female statutory deputy leader of Oldham Council, by not working hard, I can tell you this: I have worked fifty times harder than my peers and my colleagues in this chamber to hold this position.

I don’t pretend to be somebody I’m not, Madam Mayor. I am straight talking, but I am very kind and respectful towards people. 

I do not disown people for political convenience or to advance my political career.

Too many people come into public life because they are driven by a passion for public service, a desire for better and believing that they have something to offer. 

But often Madam Mayor, the impact goes beyond those who make the choice to step forward, and it can affect your family and your friends.

As we are fighting for greater protection we ought to reflect that the vast majority of people like Cllr Sean Fielding said, like Shaid Mushtaq said, that the vast majority of people are decent, respectful and want the same for our communities.

So for those who step into public life, I sincerely thank you and to the friends and family that support you, your support means the world, and it’s more valuable than you’ll ever know.

Madam Mayor: Thank you, Cllr Shah. Does Council agree the motion; those in favour?

We’ll class that as unanimous. Thank you.

Even more rotten

On 21st August, 2020 an article was published on this website, headlined ‘Rotten to its Core‘ (read here). It referred to the actions of Greater Manchester Police (GMP) in the eight years following the shooting of an unarmed man, Anthony Grainger, in a supermarket car park in Culcheth, Cheshire by a GMP armed response unit.

Within the piece were exclusive revelations concerning a corrupt detective who had worked on that undercover police operation, codenamed ‘Shire’. The officer also worked on the predecessor drugs investigation, Operation Blyth, but cannot be named for legal reasons and great care was, and is, being taken to avoid any possibility of ‘jigsaw identification’, in order not to prejudice any future proceedings against the officer, even though s/he has not yet been charged and, also, to protect unwitting others who are now dragged into the scandal.

The officer’s identity is, however, well known within GMP, not least because of the elite unit in which s/he was posted and there is a also relative who works for the force. Some colleagues were present when the arrest was made.

Not unnaturally, it created a great deal of public comment, opprobium and, indeed, alarm on social media, although completely ignored by the local and regional press. The most troubling aspect of the case is the genesis of the investigation: The subject officer allowed a packet of drugs to fall from a jacket pocket whilst dropping off a child at school (the location of which is now known but not disclosed here), left the scene without picking it up and the drugs were ultimately found by a pupil, handed to a teacher at the school, who called the police. The arrest followed, at the detective’s workplace, during which more drugs were found – and a search at home found yet more drugs and a cache of ammunition. The latter strongly suggests links to at least one organised crime group. The officer is presently suspended on full pay.

On 16th August, 2020 Gail Hadfield Grainger, the bereaved partner of Anthony, wrote to the Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, who has a dual role as Police and Crime Commissioner for the region. This is the communication, in redacted form:

“Subject: Another corrupt officer attached to Operations Blyth and Shire.

Dear Andy

It is with some dismay that I have to write to you, yet again, over concerns related to the ‘investigations’ that ultimately led to Anthony’s death.

There is, apparently, no-one holding the chief constable to account, including yourself and Bev Hughes, and that is why GMP is widely, and quite correctly, labelled ‘rotten to the core’.

The latest revelation concerns [name redacted] whom, as you may know, featured strongly in both the subject investigations involving Anthony. [Gender redacted] has been arrested and is presently under investigation by the IOPC (believe it or not) over drugs offences. 

Both the Daily Mirror and the Daily Star have been trying to get the story past their lawyers. So far, unsuccessfully, because of the very limited response from the GMP press office. The facts are that [name redacted], when dropping off a child at school, inadvertently allowed some Class A drugs to fall from [gender redacted] pocket. These were picked up and handed to a teacher, who called the police. 

GMP officers found ammunition and a further supply of cocaine at [gender redacted] home address (more than for personal use). [Name redacted] also had drugs on [gender redacted] person when searched at [Name of office building redacted]. The offending is, apparently, common knowledge amongst the [name of unit redacted], of which [Gender redacted] is part.

Now to the important part. My information, from two sources, is that GMP are going to cut a deal with [name redacted] so that the story doesn’t get into the public domain and, they thought, reach my ears. [Gender redacted] won’t be prosecuted and misconduct proceedings will be held in private. [Gender redacted] will, of course, be on full pay for as long as [name of staff association redacted] can spin this out and then, of course, receive [gender redacted] pension.

It is not confirmed yet, but I have reason to believe that [name redacted] lives in the [name redacted] area. [sentence redacted].

In these circumstances, I require from you a firm undertaking that this officer will be prosecuted and sentenced with the same rigour as any other member of the public and that you properly and fully hold the chief constable to account over this disgraceful situation. Those orchestrating the cover-up should also face the full force of the law. You were noisy enough on that very same point when grandstanding for the Hillsborough families.

In the absence of you taking all the necessary and correct steps to put right this series of wrongs then I will go public and you will be doorstepped if you won’t face the cameras and answer questions.

A copy of a letter sent to all Greater Manchester MPs, including of course my own, is attached. The contents are self-explanatory. Your failure to hold the chief constable and his corrupt police force to account has been expressed within.

Yours sincerely

Gail Hadfield Grainger

Bereaved family member and victim – Anthony Grainger”

 

The Deputy Mayor’s response amounted to just five short, sterile paragraphs. It is completely absent of any empathy or sympathy for the distress and alarm these latest developments have brought to Gail and her family. In Ms Hughes’ familiar style she relies entirely on what the police have told her without making her own, independent, enquiries.

She quite correctly opens by saying that she is limited to what she can say because of an ongoing criminal investigation. But she omits to say for how long this investigation is ongoing. It is believed to have been running for over six months. The letter goes on to say that there are simultaneous investigations being conducted, misconduct by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and a criminal investigation led by the GMP Head of Professional Standards Branch (the very same PSB unit that has led the sustained ‘cover-up’ over Anthony Grainger’s death since March, 2012). The investigation was sent back to PSB, by the IOPC, rather that the watchdog take the more logical and transparent step of inviting another large metropolitan force to get to the bottom of what could be widescale corruption of which the subject officer may only form a part.

Ms Hughes says, despite the lengthy and troubled background to the Grainger case, that she is ‘assured that there is no question that a deal is being done with the officer’. But she gives no clue as to the source of that ‘assurance’ making it, in the event, worthless. She adds that any decision to hold a misconduct meeting in private would be made by the Panel Chair. Omitting to mention that the Mayor decides which legally qualified Chairs form part of his standing list from which a selection is made each time a misconduct hearing is deemed necessary.

She concludes by saying that ‘I am assured that the investigation will be conducted in a thorough and professional manner through to its conclusion and all available evidence presented to the CPS and any misconduct panel’. Again there is no clue whatsoever of the identity of the officer giving the assurance.

It is true to say that Gail Hadfield Grainger was surprised, disappointed and not a little angry that Andy Burnham had not responded himself and, more particularly how weak and supine the response was, after careful analysis.

Accepting, of course, the limitations of the Mayoral response in order to protect the integrity of the investigation (Gail has a Masters degree in law), there was no mention of:

– The ‘Rotten to its core’ label now widely attached to Greater Manchester Police.

– Why the investigation is taking so long? A member of the public found with drugs and ammunition, during and post-arrest, would have been charged, put before the local Magistrates’ and committed for trial at Crown Court within hours, not months.

– What safeguarding measures are being/were put in place at the school and whether counselling for the children and staff unwittingly involved in these crimes was offered?

– The danger this bent cop, and the missing firearm for which the ammunition was acquired, poses to the public of Greater Manchester, and serving colleagues, whilst still at large.

– The fiasco surrounding the investigation of every other officer accused of criminal offences and/or misconduct and involved in either the killing of Anthony Grainger, or the grotesque and sustained ‘cover-up’, by GMP, that followed.

– The fact that a key member of her own team, Paul Gilfeather, was convicted of Class A drugs offences in December, 2018 (read here).

Since that exchange of correspondence, other information has been shared by insiders that adds considerably to the risk that the public are being placed under. It is alleged that the subject officer has, before the suspension from duty:

– Unlawfully accessed police computer systems.

– Had involvement with at least one organised crime group. It is generally accepted that, where there is OCG drugs and firearms offending, as in this case, it usually follows that trafficking, extortion, robbery, theft to order, money laundering are also adjacent.

– Tipped off criminals as drug busts and other disruptive police activity in the locality were being ‘blown’ regularly. Senior officers, prior to arrest of their colleague, were said to be perplexed as to how this series of failed operations had come about.

Other matters more broadly connected to this troubling case include:

– One of the Mayor’s key political allies is said to be a recreational cocaine user. GMP should be aware, as the dealer is said to be a police informant. However, there is no suggestion whatsoever that Andy Burnham is adjacent to that fact. That is also the case with his now dismissed PR Guru, Gilfeather.

– It is alleged that an officer who worked on Operation Blyth was prosecuted for stealing drugs from the police force exhibits store.

The attempt by Beverley Hughes to downplay the case, and its wider ramifications, should trouble every single person in Greater Manchester and beyond. Her suitability to be be holding any police officer to account, given her own highly questionable ethics and professionalism, is just another part of the factual matrix. As is the total reliance on anonymous sources, within a corrupt police force, for her ‘assurances’ that everything will turn out well for the public in the region. The damning evidence already heard at the Manchester Arena Inquiry again expose the frailty of that proposition, as the rank incompetence of the senior leadership is again exposed, unchecked by any form of accountabilty from the Mayor’s office.

The last word, for now, goes to Gail Hadfield Grainger:

“Since this officer’s arrest was first brought to my attention it has caused great anguish to both my family and myself. The role played in the two operations that led to Anthony’s death cannot be erased from history and is a significant trigger. Nor can the terrible mistakes that preceded that utterly tragic event or the cover-up engineered by the police almost from the moment Officer Q9 pulled the trigger.

“With very good reason, I do not trust either the police service, or the Independent Office for Police Conduct, or the CPS, to bring to book this latest GMP criminality, without fear or favour and, unfortunately, the inactions of the Mayor, and this recent letter from his deputy, do nothing to dispel that deep rooted concern. The case should have been given to another police force to investigate”.

The Mayor’s and the police press office have been invited to comment.

Page last updated: Wednesday 9th September, 2020 at 1735 hours

Photo Credits: Greater Manchester Police, ITV News, Derby Telegraph (Stockphoto)

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, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

‘Rotten to its core’

These are the words of leading counsel, Leslie Thomas QC, about what is now recognised as the most scandal-ridden police force in the country.

They were spoken in May 2017 at the conclusion of a public inquiry into the death of Bolton man, Anthony Grainger. Mr Thomas went on to claim Greater Manchester Police attempted to “cover up” failings over the tragic and needless death.

He added: “Key documents have been destroyed, accounts and logs embellished, police statements carefully stage-managed, evidence has been concocted, redactions made for no good reason and thousands of pages of relevant material withheld.

“Taken together with the sweeping failures in planning and execution of this operation, this smokescreen by GMP reveals an organisation that is rotten to its core.”

The inquest touching Mr Grainger’s death was converted to a public inquiry by way of a decision taken in March 2016 by the Home Secretary of the day, Theresa May. This followed the abandoning of a Health and Safety prosecution against Peter Fahy, the chief constable at the time, in January, 2015.

The perenially inept Fahy, who had pleaded not guilty at Liverpool Crown Court, had been charged as the corporation sole, a legal status that meant he represented GMP, but bore no criminal liability.

The prosecution set out to prove 26 alleged GMP failings arising out of Operation Shire, an armed police deployment acting without any proper intelligence basis for so doing, and when the use of armed police was unnecessary or premature. Particularly when some of them had been hanging around for up to 14 hours before reaching the death site.

But, following an application by defence counsel that the prosecution was an abuse of process, the CPS offered no evidence and a not guilty verdict was formally recorded. ‘Shire’ had followed another flawed and controversial drugs-focused operation, code-named Blyth, also dogged with corrupt officers.

It was argued, some might say incredibly, that evidence gathered by the force was so secret it could not be shown to a jury and, therefore, Fahy and GMP could not get a fair trial. It was, on any independent view, another in a long line of disgraceful episodes in the recent history of GMP.

Fahy, whose dreadful legacy still puts Greater Manchester at risk, retired later that year. Some of those perils are outlined in this shocking and widely read catalogue of scandals besetting GMP, many of them on Sir Peter’s watch (read here).

One of his worst bequests was the choice of his deputy, Ian Hopkins, promoted to that role in 2012 after joining GMP in 2008 as an assistant chief constable. Hopkins had previously served, without any obvious distinction, in three small county forces.

Following the Fahy retirement, Hopkins was take his place as chief constable, after no other officer, internally or externally, made the short-list for what should be a highly prestigious role, heading up the third largest police force in England and Wales.

The force, on Hopkins’ watch has, almost since the day of his appointment, staggered from crisis to crisis, scandal to scandal, on a routine basis, and confirmed his position as the worst chief officer in the country, by some distance. Most heavily underscored by the disastrous IT Transformation that is commonly known as iOPS (read more here) and the catastrophic human tragedies associated with Operation Augusta.

One of the worst of those scandals will surface again shortly as the Grainger shooting is about to hit the headlines, once more, for all the wrong reasons.

At the Grainger Public Inquiry, Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood was caught telling untruths and admitted making forged entries in a policy log in an attempt to justify the fatal attack. Just part of the catalogue of disgraceful GMP conduct referenced by Leslie Thomas QC.

Heywood told the judge, under probing from counsel to the inquiry, Jason Beer QC, that he did not intentionally mislead the inquiry. Against a background of his force doing just that, over and over again, in those same proceedings.

He signed off on sick leave the day after giving that evidence and never returned to duty, thereafter. It was reported that, during his eighteen month ‘sickness’ absence, he received salary and benefits worth a sum over £250,000. He ‘retired’ in October, 2018 on a full police pension, having reached 30 years service.

This officer, whose evidence was generously described by the inquiry Chair, Thomas Teague QC, as ‘lacking candour’ was not, subsequently, prosecuted over what might be considered, at their highest, to be very serious criminal offences; the Crown Prosecution Service ruling that there was insufficient evidence to secure a conviction. Later revised, after it was belatedly accepted that it did, in fact, meet the evidential threshold, to ‘not in the public interest’.

An investigation followed the public inquiry, by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, into Heywood’s misdemeanours. It began in October 2017 and concluded in May 2018. Roughly five months longer that a competent probe should have taken. They, eventually and belatedly, ruled that he had a case to answer for gross misconduct. It took GMP until November, 2018 to accept that finding. Another six months deliberately wasted.

The disgraced IPCC, upon whose evidence the CPS had relied in deciding not to charge Heywood, had in the meantime changed their name to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

In May, 2020 the Government produced a ‘whitewash’ response to the 346 page Report into the Death of Anthony Grainger (read inquiry report in full here). It said ‘valuable lessons have been learned for the future’ and ‘good progress’ had been made on nine of the recommendations set out by HHJ Teague. There did not appear to be any probative evidence supporting those assertions (read here).

Supine and very largely ineffective Policing Minister, Kit Malthouse, said: “These organisations [the National Police Chiefs Council and GMP] have accepted the recommendations which were made and assured Government that, in the eight years since the operation in which Anthony Grainger was fatally shot, significant work has taken place to implement changes”. Again completely without supporting evidence. Simply relying on the word of the same senior officers who had condoned the disgraceful conduct of the force at the inquest.

Four officers remain under investigation by the IOPC in connection with the incident and its aftermath. They include another assistant chief constable and Fahy protege, Terry Sweeney. The IOPC seem determined to string out proceedings as long as humanly possible, apppearing to do little or nothing between updates to the bereaved family.

In the midst of all this controversy, in May 2019, Ian Hopkins was given a two year extension to his highly lucrative chief constable contract by the Manchester Mayor, despite being the officer very closely involved in the purchase of illegal gas canisters, deployed in the immediate aftermath of the fatal shooting of Anthony Grainger. One was thrown into the car in which he lay dead. The canisters, purchased in the USA, had been stored by GMP for some time before that unlawful use.

The marksman who shot Grainger, anonymised under the codename Q9, was recently told that he had no case to answer for misconduct (or criminal liability). The watchdog found Q9’s reason for using lethal force was “honestly held”. A surprise and disappointment to the Grainger family having heard his evidence, and that of the others involved in the botched operation, at the public inquiry.

The gross misconduct proceedings against Steven Heywood were listed to be heard at GMP HQ from Monday 1st June, 2020 and scheduled to last three days. They sensationally collapsed, early on the second day, when counsel for the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, who had brought the proceedings against Heywood, submitted to the Panel that charges against him should be dismissed. This remarkable turnaround, by Gerard Boyle QC, followed an application on Friday 29th May, 2020 by GMP to the effect that proceedings should be adjourned whilst an issue concerned redacted materials in the hearing bundle was resolved.

The response of counsel for Heywood, John Beggs QC, was to apply for a stay to the proceedings on the grounds that the delay in bringing the proceedings, and a contemplated further delay, was unfair and prejudicial. Beggs, in oral submissions, also made great play of the redactions issue being unfair to his client, although his copious written pleadings were largely silent on that point.

The way the proceedings played out, regrettably, had the appearance of a well-rehearsed pantomine. With ‘the baddie’ making good his escape.

However, to her great credit. the Panel Chair pulled no punches when responding to the submissions by counsel, being harshly critical of the conduct of both parties.

A transcript of the Panel’s decision and closing remarks – and the response of GMP to them – can be found here.

The officer providing the statement on behalf of the force was Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling, Command Team portfolio holder for professional standards, and it is with him that the search for those responsible for the debacle begins: “Following submissions made at the gross misconduct hearing in relation to retired ACC Heywood on June 1, the force has made the decision not to pursue these proceedings further and invited the panel to dismiss the charges against Mr Heywood.

“This misconduct case involved consideration of some complex issues relating to certain information and intelligence which, for legal reasons, could not be provided to Mr Heywood and could not be made public or indeed even shared with the panel dealing with the misconduct hearing.

“Evidence relating to those things was heard in private at the Anthony Grainger Inquiry, and as such was redacted from the public records of that inquiry. The law concerning what can be disclosed in a public inquiry is different from that in misconduct proceedings.

“Following submissions made on Monday, the force has accepted that some of these matters could not be overcome and it would be unfair to pursue the case against the retired officer.

“These are complex issues and the available options were often constrained by the law. Decisions have been made based on professional advice and in the best interests of reaching the most appropriate outcome – however, in this case this hasn’t been possible, which I very much regret.”

As can be seen from the transcript, the Panel Chair, Nahied Asjad, slammed GMP for “delays and procedural errors” and said the handling of the misconduct hearing “could undermine public confidence in the force”.

“There has been a  fundamental disregard for everyone involved in the proceedings, including Mr Grainger’s family, Mr Heywood and the public”, she added.

In the face of that stinging criticism, DCC Pilling added: “The Chair has been clear that the Panel are of the view that GMP did not deal with some key elements of this matter in an appropriate way. Whilst we need to examine the comments more fully, we absolutely accept that mistakes have been made and this matter should have been handled much more effectively.

Pilling did not offer his resignation, as he rightly should have done but did go on to say:

“We apologise unreservedly for the errors which were made, in particular to the family and partner of Anthony Grainger and to all other involved parties.”

gail hg

An apology not accepted by Gail Hadfield Grainger, Anthony’s co-habiting partner at the time of his death – and an intelligent, dignified, determined and resourceful campaigner for justice ever since.

She has similar disregard for the perennially weak IOPC Director of Major Investigations, Steve Noonan, who said: “Anthony Grainger’s family, and the wider public, deserved to hear the evidence and Mr Heywood account for his actions. We acted quickly and decisively to examine Mr Heywood’s conduct once it was brought into question during the Grainger Public Inquiry in 2017. In May 2018, after our seven month investigation, we concluded he should face a public hearing to answer allegations that the evidence he provided to the Inquiry may have breached police professional standards relating to honesty and integrity and performance of duties. GMP agreed with our findings.”

“Today’s developments mean that there can be no ruling from the police panel, as to whether or not Mr Heywood committed gross misconduct to a degree that would have justified dismissal, were he still serving.

“Three new investigations stemming from evidence given at the Anthony Grainger Public Inquiry, which reported its findings in July 2019, began earlier this year, and we will continue to work hard to ensure those allegations are thoroughly examined, that actions are accountable and lessons learned.”

Gail absolutely rejects that lessons have been learned by either GMP, or the IOPC, whom she holds jointly responsible for the Heywood fiasco with the CPS, who provided two different and equally weak arguments before deciding not to prosecute. A decision that had all the appearance of being pre-formed with a resort to any excuse not to put matters before a jury.

On Friday 21st August a very short remote hearing took place under Regulation 34 of the Police Conduct Regulations 2012, applicable in this particular case. The chair, DCC Pilling looking shifty and uncomfortable, who is also Appropriate Authority and responsible almost entirely for the Heywood debacle, determined that no disciplinary sanction would be applied to the former assistant chief constable in the light of the Panel’s decision at the June hearing.

Steve Heywood did not attend the proceedings and neither did his legal team. Gerard Boyle QC, as mentioned above counsel to GMP, was in attendance but had nothing to add to Pilling’s decision.

The execution of the Heywood cover-up was complete. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along to the next one, which allegedly involves a cocaine-using officer, with links to illegal firearms, presently being ‘investigated’ by the IPCC following an arrest. The officer cannot be named yet, for legal reasons, but was involved with both Operations Blyth and Shire, the latter to a significant degree. GMP are desperately trying to suppress details of the shocking nature and scale of offending. The officer was attached to one of the highest profile and most prestigious units in the force where, it is said, the offending is common knowledge.

Gail Hadfield Grainger has, quite rightly, expressed her outrage at this latest ‘cover-up’ involving officers in the team responsible for her partner’s needless death. An email setting out her concerns that ‘a deal’ may have been done with the offender, to slip the officer out of the GMP back door away from public view, without prosecution or a misconduct hearing held in public, has been sent to Andy Burnham. He has until Monday 31st August, 2020 to respond.

The Home Secretary, Greater Manchester Mayor and the chief constable have been approached for comment.

Page last updated: Monday 24th August, 2020 at 1735 hours

Photo Credits: Greater Manchester Police, ITV News

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, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Danny Major case back under CCRC review

After a pause lasting almost five years, the innocence claim of former West Yorkshire Police officer, Danny Major, is once again being considered by the Criminal Case Review Commission. He was convicted in November, 2006 of assaulting a prisoner and causing actual bodily harm following an incident that took place in Leeds Bridewell three years earlier. Concurrent sentences of 3 months and 15 months imprisonment were handed down.

New central Leeds police station opens | Calendar - ITV News

The Major family has vehemently protested his innocence ever since (read more here).

Since 2013, there has been two investigations carried out by Greater Manchester Police into the handling of complaints made by Danny’s mother, Bernadette Major. There are wide-ranging allegations of corruption involving the notorious Professional Standards Department.

The first investigation, codenamed Operation Lamp, was launched in April, 2013 at the behest of the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner and concluded in December, 2014. But, for reasons GMP has never explained, the report was not released until 12 months later.

A second investigation, codenamed Operation Redhill, was instigated by the incumbent chief constable, Dionne Collins, in April, 2016. The first phase appears to have now also concluded in November, 2019, absent of any announcement from either the Major family, GMP or WYP.

The criminal justice watchdog confirmed earlier this week that their investigations have now resumed:

“A second application arrived  on 14th December 2015. Maslen Merchant of Hadgkiss Hughes and Beale is the family’s legal representative. We started a review, but it became clear that we could not sensibly conduct our review while there were ongoing police investigations (Greater Manchester Police’s Operation Redhill)  in relation to the case. In November 2017 we wrote to Mr Major and his lawyers to explain that we had essentially paused the case and that we would restart our review when we could. That is to say, if facts came light that required it, or when Greater Manchester Police (GMP) relevant enquiries were complete.

“This second review of Mr Major’s conviction resumed at the end of November last year when GMP supplied us with a summary of its investigation. We asked for more material from the investigation and, in January 2020, GMP supplied us with extensive material in relation to phase one of Operation Redhill. We are in the process of considering that material. The Covid-19 related closure of our office in March has caused some delay as it reduced our ability to securely access some of that material, but the case is being actively considered.

“The first CCRC application in relation to Danny Major was received in 26 September 2007 (Maslen Merchant/Hadgkiss Hughes and Beale were not the representatives at that stage, but they did take over shortly after in January 2008).

“We sent a Provisional Statement of Reasons  in October 2010 (a PSOR is used when, after a review, we consider that we have not identified reasons to refer a case.  It sets out the reasons for that view and invites a response from the applicant / their legal representative if they have one – nowadays 90% of applicants do not). We consider any response before making a final decision.

“The CCRC received substantial further submissions in response to the PSOR (over a period of almost six months) and further work was conducted before we eventually issued a final Statement of Reasons not to refer on 2nd August 2011. (The CCRC is prohibited from making its statements of reasons public. However CCRC applicants can share them if they wish)”.

The final SOR ran to 62 pages with a further 11 pages of annexed material. It was signed off by John Weeden, CB. The other two Commissioners who formed the committee considering the Danny Major were Ewen Smith, a Birmingham solicitor, and Jim England. All three served their full ten year term at the CCRC.

The Major family and their legal representative were criticised for both the repetitive nature of their lengthy submissions and for introducing issues that could not go to the consideration of a referral back to the appeal court.

This echoed criticism of two of the three grounds upon which the appeal to the Court of Appeal was made. One was characterised as ‘surprising’ and another has having no merit whatsoever (read in full here).

The Major family’s first application to the CCRC ran to almost 400 pages and the watchdog narrowed its focus to:

  • The integrity of PC Kevin Liston, the key prosocution witness
  • The integrity of other officers involved in the detention of the assaulted prisoner, Sean Rimmington, and those involved in the subsequent investigation
  • The integrity of West Yorkshire Police
  • The integrity of the Crown Prosecution Servive
  • CCTV evidence at Leeds Bridewell

The CCRC enquiries, including interviews with Danny Major, his parents, officers from the Professional Standards Department at West Yorkshire Police; telephone conversations with prosecution counsel, Ben Crosland, and defence counsel, Simon Jackson QC (now a judge) and Sunny Bhalla, at the material time a casework manager at the now defunct Independent Police Complaints Commission appeared to be comprehensive. They were not challenged by way of judicial review.

This is yet another case where a notably poor police investigation, an unsatisfactory series of trials (three in all) with familiar disclosure issues, and a subsequent, sustained cover-up and closing of ranks by the investigating force to protect a corrupt police officer, may not be enough to see the conviction quashed. Particularly, if there is no confession by another officer, or officers, present in Leeds Bridewell that night.

Given the passage of time, seventeen years, and the high stakes that has to be considered unlikely. There has been no announcement of any arrests or press coverage of prosecutions during the currency of Operation Redhill, now in its fifth year. Taken together with its predecessor investigation, Operation Lamp, which took just under three years, it is believed to be the longest investigation ever into an assault in the history of the police service.

Both police forces and the Major family were approached for comment. There were no responses to those enquiries.

Page last updated: Monday 13th July, 2020 at 1730 hrs

Photo Credits: WYOPCC, CCRC

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, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Misconduct proceedings described as ‘omnishambles’ by top QC

As an interim measure, this is a contemporaneous record of notes taken during the substantive part of the proceedings of Tuesday 2nd June, 2020, in the hearing of gross misconduct allegations against former assistant chief constable, Steven Heywood. A more complete report will appear later.

This was the second of three days listed for the hearing. Most of the first day’s session was taken up with an opening by Gerard Boyle QC, representing the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police and a viperous response from John Beggs QC, for Heywood, who sought a stay of the proceedings under sections 19 and 21 of the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012.
Those concern prejudice against an officer, the subject of misconduct proceedings, in the event of protracted and inexplicable delay. Beggs QC described the conduct of the misconduct proceedings by GMP as ‘an omnishambles’.
He also complained bitterly about ‘equality of arms’, in terms of legal representation and funding. In which he felt that his lay client was seriously disadvantaged.

This disciplinary hearing was brought about by Heywood’s seriously troubling evidence given at a public inquiry into the shooting of Gail Hadfield Grainger’s partner, Anthony Grainger, in 2012. It was Gail’s articulate, dignified but persistent campaigning that  largely brought about the inquiry.
The Crown Prosecution Service subsequently refused to prosecute Heywood after he lied on oath at the inquiry and it transpired that he had altered police logs post-facto. They said the evidence was ‘insufficient’ to secure a conviction.
Gail was refused a review of that inexplicable decision on the grounds that she wasn’t regarded by the CPS as a victim.
Decision of Panel, as delivered by Legally Qualified Chair, NAHIED ASJAD LLB (Hons) LLM. [There are a number of typographical errors in the note-taking, these will be corrected at the earliest opportunity].
“These are misconduct proceedings brought by the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, as the appropriate authority, against former ACC Steven Heywood. The proceedings commenced on Monday 1st June, 2020 and the matter was listed for three days.
“Yesterday, we heard submissions from Mr Boyle QC on behalf of the appropriate authority, and Mr Beggs QC on behalf of Mr Heywood this morning. Mr Boyle QC invited the panel to recommend that the charges against Mr Haywood be dismissed.
“In his submissions, on behalf of the appropriate authority, Mr Boyle stated that the appropriate authority had concluded that it cannot in good conscience, seek to pursue these matters further.
“Well, in this Panel ‘in good conscience’ cannot dismiss the allegations against Mr Heywood, without stating the following. What we are about to say is not directed at Mr Boyle QC, but is directed towards the appropriate authority [Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police]. We, as a Panel, were convened to hear Gross Misconduct allegations against Mr Heywood; one of the purposes of misconduct proceedings is to maintain public trust and confidence in the police service. The integrity of the police system can only be upheld if officers who are alleged to have committed misconduct proceedings are dealt with appropriately.
“Mr Grainger was shot on 3rd March, 2012. His death has been the subject of a public inquiry, a CPS prosecution and these Gross Misconduct proceedings. We learned yesterday that the same legal department of Greater Manchester Police had been involved in all of these proceedings, in one way or another, yet it is manifestly obvious that no one has strategic oversight of all of these matters. How else can it be explained that matters that today are said to be inevitable and unfair, when not seen in the same light by the same legal team after the IOPC completed its investigation, following a complaint in relation to Mr Heywood.
“The appropriate authority has said that it does not accept the colourful descriptions by Mr Beggs QC of funding by GMP of a chaotic and shambolic approach. This panel goes further however, and states that there has been a fundamental disregard to everyone involved in these proceedings. And by that we mean the family of Mr Grainger, interested parties, Mr Heywood and the public.
“All the expectations and faith in the misconduct process that these individuals had, has been held in abeyance whilst the appropriate authority attempted to sort out issues that, according to its own chronology, it had been working on since at least March, 2019. That chronology shows that they spent nine months, attempting to resolve the issue of intelligence and its impact on the misconduct proceedings. And, according to Mr Boyle, did so in good faith.
“Yet, that cannot be right as, despite not having resolved those issues, they decided to bring these misconduct proceedings. And now, in June 2020, have gone the other way. As we have already noted, up until Friday of last week, they had even prepared the case for hearing with an opening note, in which they relied on a blanket prohibition on the redactions. We are deeply concerned that, despite advice from counsel, despite assistance from the National Crime Agency, and most importantly, despite knowing the history of the case and the outcomes and the criminal proceedings, it is only now two years after the IPCC report was sent to GMP that they now say that they have reflected on the position and realised the inevitable and have been persuaded that it would be unfair to proceed. Reflection and realisation should have occured much sooner. Instead, the family of Mr Grainger are having to leave these proceedings without an outcome.
“They and the public were led to believe, by the very fact that these proceedings were brought, that at least the allegations of Gross Misconduct would be heard. Similarly, Mr Heywood has had to face these allegations for years, only to be told today that the appropriate authority, would be offering no evidence.
“Mr Grainger’s family, Mr Heywood and the public, have been let down by the appropriate authority in this case, and we note that there was no contrition, or apology, to anyone in what was said on their behalf this morning.
“Public confidence in the police force can be undermined if the proceedings themselves are so flawed by delay and bad decision making. But, ultimately, they lead to charges being dismissed, the costs involved in bringing such Gross Misconduct proceedings cannot be in the public interest, either the appropriate authority has accepted delay in this case, as well as procedural irregularity in that the regulation 19 and 21 notices were not issued as soon as reasonably practicable.
“We note that the appropriate authority said that they would be very happy to attend and explain the steps taken, following the CPS decision and progress made but, in the end, doing so would have been an academic exercise.
“This Panel feels that everyone would have been greatly assisted in understanding what has happened in this case, had they heard direct from the appropriate authority, because even now, as we stand here today, it’s not clear why these delays and procedural errors have occurred.
“We do find it necessary to mention that we also have some criticism of the way the defence conducted themselves in response to these proceedings. Nowhere in the regulation 22 response was there any mention of the redactions request being an extant issue. It was mentioned twice in a 23 page document comprising 82 paragraphs. At paragraph 7 it was mentioned in brackets, in the following way. “It would be helpful if the appropriate authority lifted the redactions in this section, to better content contextualise his answer. The second time it was mentioned was in paragraph 66, where it was said, it makes it more difficult for him to answer the issues in this misconduct case with redactions.

ements of a regulation 22 response is that the officer should provide, to the appropriate authority, written notice of whether he accepts the conduct amounts to misconduct, or Gross Misconduct, any submissions he wishes to make in mitigation and which parts of the case he disputes was written notice of the allegations he disputes, and any arguments on points of law, he wishes to be considered.
“Nowhere in the Regulation 22 response was there any reference to Mr Heywood having actively pursued the issue of redactions. Nowhere was it said that this was an outstanding matter, or that the case could not be pursued fairly as it stood, or that illegal point was being taken.
“This only added, therefore, to the surprise that the Panel felt at the turn of events yesterday when Mr Beggs advanced it repeatedly, and that the redactions point was an obvious issue, and had always been since 2018. Indeed, yesterday it was cited as the central issue. But even in the letter to Laura Shuttleworth, which was produced in the bundle it doesn’t say that the issue of redactions was raised as an ongoing or outstanding issue.
“That  had been going on for a year, but only on the basis that Mr Heywood needed them so he could remember his evidence, and it was a request that the appropriate authority should consider it.
“We mentioned that, just to make it clear that that didn’t help matters either in the way that they have been progressed in this case. Turning to the decision that needs to be made. Mr Heywood has retired from the police, these proceedings are brought under the Police Conduct Regulations 2012. As amended, and so he’s being dealt with as ‘a former officer case’, the panel will know that at the conclusion of this hearing.
“We have a duty to produce a report to the appropriate authority, recording our findings, our reason for those findings and a recommendation. We have been invited to make a recommendation that the charges be dismissed. And in the light of what we have said, we make that recommendation today. And that’s all we want to say about this matter.
*** BEGGS
But can we just, through your good offices, point out that a number of media outlets seems to be labouring under the misapprehension that the firearms operation on 3rd March 2012 was not commanded by ACC Steve Heywood. As you know, and I’m grateful that you’re nodding. It wasn’t just as a matter of good reporting and accurate reporting. Could I ask you to make clear that he did not command the operation which led to the shooting of Mr Grainger, lest anyone makes a mistake on that point.
**** NAHIED ASJAD
Absolutely, the facts in this case, need to be understood. Mr Heywood only faced Gross Misconduct allegations as a result of answers that he gave at the public inquiry in 2017, and it was a result of a log that he kept the day before. This incident took place when he had command, but he then rescinded the order, the actual order was made by a different officer. So, the shooting of Mr Grainger, tragically, did not occur, whilst under the command of Mr Heywood and it’s very important that that distinction is made, I agree.
***BEGGS
Thank you very much for that, because the press are more likely to listen to us and to me. Okay. Thank you.
*** BOYLE
No matter of justice, but to thank you and your colleagues for your consideration of the issues in this particular case. Your comments, I’m sure, will resonate with those who are instructing me. Thank you.
*** NAHIED ASJAD
Thank you. Can I thank both yourself and Mr Beggs QC for your very thorough consideration and presentation of the case. And thank you to everyone who has helped with this Microsoft Teams hearing, and its administration. Mr Heywood, that is the end of the case against you. I hope we can move on from this. Miss Gail Hadfield Grainger, thank you for the way in which you’ve conducted yourself during these proceedings, you’ve conducted yourself impeccably and with the greatest of patience and we are grateful for that. That is the end of the hearing. So I’m now going to be formally closing proceedings Thank you everyone.
CLOSE SESSION

The Panel Chair, Nahied Asjad is an experienced Crown Advocate and has worked for the CPS since qualifying as a Solicitor in 2002 and transferred to the Bar in 2007. She has prosecuted in all courts, including the Magistrates Court and the Youth Court and currently works as a Crown Court advocate, dealing with serious offences. Nahied is a trained Pre-Trial Witness Interviewer and Proceeds of Crime Specialist and was the lead lawyer in the largest money laundering case in Leicester, leading to a £5 million confiscation order. Nahied reviews offences at the police station and decides upon charge and prepares cases in the office and makes decisions as to whether or not to prosecute.
The response of the force and an unreserved apology

Greater Manchester Police’s Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling, about whom plenty is said elsewhere on this website, said the force made the decision not to pursue the proceedings further and invited the Panel to dismiss the gross misconduct charges against Mr Heywood following submissions made at the hearing:

“This misconduct case involved consideration of some complex issues relating to certain information and intelligence which, for legal reasons, could not be provided to Mr Heywood and could not be made public or indeed even shared with the panel dealing with the misconduct hearing.
“Evidence relating to those things was heard in private at the Anthony Grainger Public Inquiry and as such was redacted from the public records of that Inquiry.

“The law concerning what can be disclosed in a public inquiry is different from that in misconduct proceedings.”

Pilling, who holds the Command Team professional standards portfolio in GMP, said the force accepted some of these matters “could not be overcome” and it would be “unfair to pursue the case against the retired officer” following submissions made to the Panel on Monday.

“These are complex issues and the available options were often constrained by the law.

“Decisions have been made based on professional advice and in the best interests of reaching the most appropriate outcome. However, in this case this hasn’t been possible, which I very much regret.

In answer to the stinging criticism made by the Panel Chair, Pilling said: “In her comments, the Chair has been clear that the Panel are of the view that GMP did not deal with some key elements of this matter in an appropriate way.

“Whilst we need to examine the comments more fully, we absolutely accept that mistakes have been made and this matter should have been handled much more effectively.

“We apologise unreservedly for the errors which were made, in particular to the family and partner of Anthony Grainger and to all other involved parties.”

On behalf of the Grainger family, friends and campaigners Gail Hadfield Grainger said:

“This misconduct hearing follows on from a public inquiry, where the police were to blame for killing a man, due to inaccurate intelligence,  about which Mr Heywood later went on to mislead the Inquiry.  Questioned on the validity of entries he made in a contemporaneous log he admitted that some had been forged using different coloured pens and backdated.

“These matters need to be taken seriously. Given the stark criticisms made in Judge Teagues report, and now the manner in which GMP have delayed this misconduct hearing, and in my opinion, purposely, to ensure it does not go ahead, this is not in the name of justice, but to save the Chief Constable  and the force further embarrassment”.

“This misconduct process was set up to fail and the reasons behind its collapse need to be taken up at the highest level and those responsible brought to book. It makes a mockery of Teague’s report, of the justice system, to this Panel, and, most of all, it makes a mockery of the public”.

Holding to account

The person responsible for holding the chief constable to account, Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, did not respond to a request for comment.

Postscript

On Friday 21st August a very short remote hearing took place under Regulation 34 of the Police Conduct Regulations 2012, applicable in this particular case. The chair, DCC Pilling, who is also Appropriate Authority and responsible almost entirely for the Heywood debacle, determined that no disciplinary sanction would be applied to the former assistant chief constable in the light of the Panel’s decision at the June hearing. 

Steve Heywood did not attend the proceedings and neither did his legal team. Gerard Boyle QC, counsel to GMP, was in attendance but had nothing to add to Pilling’s decision.

 

Page last updated: Friday 21st August, 2020 at 1345 hours

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