Since I first became in involved in the inner workings of the East Lancashire mill town, over a year ago (read more here), the presence of an unusually large number of politically active groups quickly became apparent. All with a single, and strongly articulated, anti-Labour agenda. A significant portion of it expressed in abusive, harassing and defamatory form, writes Neil Wilby.
They include, in no particular order, The People of Oldham and Saddleworth (The POOS, fronted by Tommy Robinson supporter, Paul Errock); Failsworth Independent Party (the FIPS, a haven for far right activists, founded by ex-GMP sergeant, Mark Wilkinson, and his wife Kath) and their connected cousins Failsworth Street Patrol (a vigilante group); Oldham Heart (a thoroughly reprehensible Facebook group run by Paul Taylor, and another far-right sanctuary), the Neo-nazi run Oldham Eye (seemingly controlled by Britain First’s John Lawrence); the troubled, permanently abusive, money-leeching Recusant Nine platform run by far-right totem, Raja Miah (about whom much is written elsewhere on this website) and Chronic Oldham, believed to be operated by Chadderton resident, Damon Ashworth.
In contrast to most of his contemporaries, the bulk of the Chronic Oldham output appears to be, mostly, as a result of reading, research and statistical analysis. Indeed, a lot of it is interesting and helpful to the neutral reader – and is worthy of a wider audience. Spoiled only by the constant, dreary, adverse and frequently contrived references to local and regional Labour politicians with whom he, plainly, has an axe to grind. Possibly, with very good reason. To use his own words: “Oldham is one of the poorest boroughs in the UK with pockets of extreme deprivation, it has long-term entrenched foreign heritage communities that are as much part of the Oldham landscape as the Pennines are”.
If he simply let the facts tell the story (first rule of journalism) it would be a hundred times more effective – and the citizens of his home town would look out even more eagerly for what he has assiduously unearthed. But that’s not the way it seems to work in Oldham: The truth needs to be decorated if the facts run against you.
So it proved in the only encounter on social media that I have had with Chronic Oldham (I have clashed frequently with most of the other malcontents, mostly in reply to some of the most vile and persistent abuse ever encountered, in a publishing career that dates back to the early 1980’s).
It all started innocuously enough: Chronic Oldham replied to a generic post by Andy Burnham’s mayoral campaigning team that included a typically soporific promotional video clip:
The Chronic Oldham post caught my attention for two reasons: Firstly, I had been highly critical of the breach of lockdown regulations in May, by both Cllr Sean Fielding, Leader of Oldham Council, and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Angela Rayner. They had been caught in the act, and photographed, by one of Raja Miah’s supporters and he had, of course, gleefully, kicked them hard over it. Secondly, he referenced complaints (or, more accurately, enquiries) made by Cllr Fielding to the employers of four Oldham citizens over apparent connections to, or support of, abusive far-right groups.
My reply was, on any view, measured and sought to be helpful in bringing clarity to the situation. A great deal has been written about those enquiries, subsequent complaints and their outcomes, elsewhere on this website. A link to one of those pieces was included in the response (read here):
The reply from Chronic Oldham might be fairly characterised as terse and overly-defensive. It also contained a surprising, and concerning, assertion that appeared to have no factual basis. In over four months of investigating the complaints, in highly forensic detail, not one person, or organisation, had made the claim that it was forbidden under Labour Party policy for Cllr Fielding to act in the way he did.
The follow-up made two perfectly reasonable points and politely requested a pointer in the direction of the policy upon which he relied. Character limits on Twitter posts prevented me pointing out, further, that it was well rehearsed in the public domain, by Cllr Fielding, that making a defamation claim was beyond his financial means. Ordinarily, you would need around £5,000 to fund initial legal costs that would cover the drafting of a statement of grounds by counsel and a further £10,000 to cover the cost of the court fee at the point of filing and service on the defendant(s). Taking a claim to trial could cost over £50,000.
To which there came no reply and, it is believed, that it was at this point Chronic Oldham decided to block Neil Wilby on the Twitter platform rather than answer the question. An action Mr Ashworth is perfectly entitled to take, of course. But one normally reserved as a remedy for unpleasant behaviour or repeated, unwelcome attention. Indeed, in his own Twitter bio he sets out clear parameters: “Abuse, mass posts, tinfoil hats and Covid deniers = blocked“.
In this particular instance, made all the more perverse by his very recent criticism of Cllr Fielding for blocking Chronic Oldham.
Mindful of his other biographical claim of “facts not rhetoric”, and unaware at this point that I had been blocked, some further assistance was offered in the quest to get at the truth of his Labour policy assertion. Which, by now, were taking on the clear appearance of rhetoric, not facts:
That was followed up by a promise that if he was able to point me to that policy then it would be followed up immediately. A big story of a major ‘cover-up’ by those against whom he was most frequently active and a real feather in the Chronic Oldham cap, one might assume?
But given the ever lengthening gap between his initial, confident statement of wrongdoing by Cllr Fielding, and the invitations to back it up, the clear inference was drawn that Chronic Oldham was ‘plaiting fog’ as we say in the West Riding. There was no such Labour Party policy and, to considerable relief, there was no egg on the face of this investigative journalist. On this occasion, at least.
The Twitter exchange was concluded by this post, once it became apparent that Chronic Oldham had pulled down the shutters and he had been exposed as yet another Council critic not above inventing allegations, it seems, in order to smear one of his principal targets. One might hope that after such a humiliation he might take a little more care in the future?
It would also, presumably, be beyond hope that he might actually do the decent thing and apologise to Sean Fielding?
Damon Ashworth could not be approached directly for comment. Although he runs a content-rich website (see here) there is no email contact provided. Described elsewhere as ‘a motion graphics designer and video editor’, the high spot of the Video section of the Chronic Oldham site is an unedited (and unpixelated) clip of a physical confrontation between a young male-female couple in Oldham town centre.
He was previously a clerk with a specialist insurance provider, with whom he fell into serious dispute. In 2013, he launched a petition to remove Jim McMahon as Leader of Oldham Council (read here). Given how poorly it was framed, the petition, unsurprisingly, attracted just 21 supporters.
The Chronic Oldham Facebook posts appear to attract the same class of social media ‘trolls’ that populate the Oldham Eye, Oldham Heart and Recusant Nine platforms.
UPDATE: Some hours after the publication of this article, and without any attempt to contact its author, Damon Ashworth belatedly posted on Twitter his justification of the allegation of misconduct levelled at the council leader. In the interim period, alleged breach of Labour Party policy had mutated into breach of guidance to Members regarding online and offline abuse. An odd choice, one might say, as the question of abusing another person appears not to have been in issue. Either in person, or on social media.
Subsequently, Cllr Fielding was contacted, via the Oldham Council portal, and has, helpfully, provided this statement:
“I understand that the conduct to which Mr Ashworth objects, and which he believes is in breach of the section of the code of conduct to which he refers, was the subject of a number of complaints to the Labour Party some months ago. I know this as the complainants told me of their intention to complain or, in at least one case, copied me in to their correspondence with the Labour Party.
Given that I have had no contact from the Labour Party requesting that I respond to any such allegations of misconduct I can only assume that they were found to have no merit and dismissed at the first stage.”
This is a developing news story and will be updated. Follow Neil Wilby on Twitter here, on LinkedIn here and on Facebook here.
Page last updated: Tuesday 9th March, 2021 at 1445 hours
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In October, 2020 I published an article on this website headlined ‘Search for the truth‘. An overview of a journalistic 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 Raja 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 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, 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 with the media, 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 others 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, BBC Asian Network and Radio 5. at the very least. The MEN ran this piece about the shisha bars, for example (read here). Kevin Fitzpatrick’s radio broadcast, from February 2014, which followed his investigation into the shisha bar allegations, can be heard here. He says: ‘This was a complicated matter that required detailed investigation’.
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: There was intensive, closely targeted media coverage, regionally; a high profile GMP investigation had been running for seven years; a safeguarding hub was active in the town and, from analysis 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 an active, and lucid, communicator. Notably, with his partner council and the late Michael Meacher MP.
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 very 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) where large numbers of victims and alleged perpetrators have now been identified.
A similar wide-ranging police investigation, codenamed Operation Hexagon, has been established alongside the Newsam and Ridgway review in Oldham. It was recently revealed, by the force, that it was set up in November, 2019.
Former ally of Raja Miah, and himself a past Labour councillor in Oldham, Khazir Rehman, has this to say about the allegations against Jim McMahon:
“In 2014, at the height of Jim McMahon’s reign in Oldham, I was an Assistant Cabinet Member, part of the administration. These were my words after Shabir Ahmed [a leader of a Rochdale grooming gang better known as ‘Daddy’] was put away [sent to prison], ‘If supporting Keeping Our Girl’s Safe (KOGS) can save one girl from being abused, I would have done my job’. My ward areas, Fitton Hill and Hathershaw, had extensive work done in them, with Oldham Council funding, your money, it was my sole decision where these funds went to PREVENT grooming, by upping the game in raising awareness so that we could get more intelligence and train young people to recognise abuse.
“Jim McMahon said to me, ‘you are a bright lad and your heart has always been in the right place on many issues.’ Only a person whose own heart is in the right place would say this about someone else. Jim supported me in this work and congratulated me, after Ann Coffey MP, Parliamentary Chair for Missing and Runaway children, came to Oldham and took evidence of our response to the Rochdale grooming scandal, after the report was published.
“The press descended on Oldham to speak to us about the work we were doing, it was innovative; pumping cash into local organisations and generally supporting crackdowns on grooming gangs. Jim and I were two people that took no prisoners when it came to grooming, we said it how it is. Oldham was the only place in the WHOLE COUNTRY where we fought the hardest in this way against grooming gangs. Does this sound like an administration covering up grooming? No, we went after it and spent thousands of pounds on prevention. Here is the Coffey Report (at this link), commissioned by Police and Crime Commissioner at the time, Tony Lloyd, now the current Rochdale MP. Does this sound like an administration that was hiding child abuse? Please read the report, I know it does not fit with some people’s narratives, but I request if this is going to be a trial by social media, then give us a fair hearing as I was part of that council administration that certain people are accusing”.
With specific reference to the ‘Lee Rigby email’, this is what Kaiser (as he prefers to be known) has to say:
“If Jim McMahon is guilty of stopping a news report to protect the town from violence from the far right, and other thugs, that may have reacted at a sensitive time in our country’s history, then I am guilty also, as I supported him. The balancing act of public safety, public order, trumps disclosure of sensitive information. The investigation did not stop into the grooming allegations, which was only [police] intelligence at that point. Public order and protecting people’s lives and property will almost always trump any other consideration. Jim did his job correctly.”
On the issue of child safeguarding, the last words go to Jim McMahon:
“I take safeguarding very seriously and if others have concerns about it, they should be reported to the appropriate authorities immediately.
“Throughout my time as a councillor, and latterly as council leader in Oldham, I acted in the public interest and did my utmost to ensure that the leadership and culture was in place to protect vulnerable people.
“Any suggestion to the contrary isn’t just offensive, but more actively seeks to undermine public confidence. Moreover, it is blatant defamation.
“I find it incredible that Raja Miah, the failed former CEO of the crisis-hit Collective Spirit Free School and the Manchester Studio School feels qualified to make judgements about matters of safeguarding.”
Regrettably, Jim McMahon is far from alone in those views, as will be more fully articulated in another excoriating piece, solely concerned with those failed schools, which will be published on this website next month.
Interestingly, a co-director of Miah in one of a labyrinthine web of companies, Cllr Shoab Akhtar, was in the copy line of the ‘Lee Rigby email’. The company was RISE 2010 Community Interest Company (CIC). Cllr Akhtar says:
“I was invited by Raja Miah to be a director of the CIC in 2011. At the time, I was Deputy Leader and lead for community cohesion in Oldham. Raja had enjoyed success in his role with PEACE and, whilst I was reluctant to take on other commitments at that time, I did so.
“However, there were no meetings called during the year or so I was a Director of RISE and, in an unpaid advisory role, I had nothing to do with its running. My resignation followed the news that Raja was to became involved in free schools.
“I was, and am, opposed to that concept. I later became aware that over £40,000 had, apparently, been transferred from one of those schools [Manchester Creative Studio] into RISE. As there were no board meetings, it is difficult for me to see how that transaction [or transactions] came about”.
The former Mayor of Oldham added: “At all times, everything from my part was transparent and the connection with Raja Miah’s company was included on the Council’s Register of Business Interests and registered at Companies House”.
On the wider issue of CSE, and in the context of grooming, it is often said, and it forms a key part of the false narrative shared by Raja Miah, and his attendant Rabble, that grooming gangs are left unchallenged because of the reliance of the Labour Party on votes from the Asian community.
Firstly, as one prominent local leader has articulated frequently, ‘That is seriously divisive and hugely offensive to the Asian community in Oldham; to suggest that we are all, somehow, complicit in sexual abuse. It is a matter of fact that the vast majority from all communities in the town find abuse abhorrent’. Unsurprisingly, other influential Asians I have spoken to about this smearing are outraged by what the Miah supporters are propagating on social media, unchecked by the local police.
Secondly, it is not the case that child sexual exploitation crimes had been allowed to go unpunished. Though there were, plainly, serious mistakes made in the early stages of the Rochdale grooming scandal, and the Operation Span police cover-up that followed, it is a fact that the abusers were, ultimately, held to account for their actions. The role played by Malcolm Newsam and Gary Ridgeway cannot be overstated in shining a bright light on the Rochdale (and South Manchester) failings.
For those prepared to put in the hard yards, rather than simply rely on a lazy, tailored Raja Miah narrative that suits a particular, and mostly far right political agenda, there is sufficient evidence in the public domain to demonstrate that Oldham Council were open about the characteristics of this type of abuse, and covered it in blog posts (read here and here) and in Council meetings (read here) at that time. There was, it appears through this lens at least, no hiding from the crimes, information withheld or the crisis not fully acknowledged. In short, no cover-up.
As rehearsed earlier in this piece, there is also evidence available of significant work undertaken to review practices around CSE, the introduction of the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH), and the expansion of best practice across the Greater Manchester region. Moreover, funding was provided for the performance of the play “Somebody’s sister, somebody’s daughter” in secondary schools to inform young people of the lurking presence of CSE.
Project Messenger, running alongside the police operation of the same name, became an enlarged Project Phoenix team, which kickstarted a week of action to raise awareness of CSE, at which time the ‘It’s Not Okay‘ website was launched (see here). Included in that initiative was a Practitioners Guide to High Risk Venues (read more here). This includes the shisha bars that were at the centre of the concerns in 2013 and led to the covert police operation. Stalls were also placed in Oldham Market to raise wider public awareness of the problem.
A freedom of information request made last year shows that in the 10 year period between 2008-18, Greater Manchester Police recorded 502 alleged cases of child sex exploitation. It is not clear how many related to grooming or how many resulted in convictions. The police have been asked to clarify.
If any person or organisation has any other evidence of child sexual abuse, past or present, they are urged to get in touch with the police or the specialist unit at Oldham Council. Or, if mistrust of authorities is present (not unusual) then please contact the Maggie Oliver Foundation where specialist help is also available (see here).
A recent report published by the Home Office, following an investigation into Group-based Child Sexual Exploitation [Characteristics of Offending], concluded in its Executive Summary that “group offending was predominantly carried out by older white males” (read full report here).
As a postscript, it might also be noted that Oldham’s most notorious paedophile was a white, middle-aged male.
In November, 2006, Ronald Castree, a part-time taxi driverfrom Shaw, was arrested for the murder of 11 year old Lesley Molseed. He was convicted the following year at Bradford Crown Court and sentenced by Mr Justice Openshaw to life imprisonment, with a minimum term of 30 years. Castree was found guilty of Lesley’s murder by a 10-2 majority. She had also been sexually assaulted. The murderer had a previous conviction for kidnapping and assaulting a young girl, aged just nine years old.
Coincidentally, this was the jury margin by which Stefan Kiszko was found guilty in 1976. He was ultimately cleared by the Court of Appeal in 1992.
Stefan’s conviction remains one of the most grotesque miscarriages of justice in police history (read more here).
This is a developing news story and will be updated. Follow Neil Wilby on Twitter here, and on Facebook here.
Right of reply has again been offered to Raja Miah. He has declined all previous invitations.
Other political party group leaders in Oldham, Cllr Hobin (Failsworth Independent Party), Cllr Hudson (Conservatives) and Cllr Sykes (Liberal Democrats) have also been invited to comment. The latter proved to be accessible, helpful, articulate and informative. Cllrs Hobin and Hudson opted to remain silent.
Page last updated: Wednesday 20th January, 2020 at 1155 hours
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This article contains public sector information licensed under Open Government Licence v3.0 (read more here).
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.
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”.
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.
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.
‘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.”
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’.
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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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?