An exercise in futility

This is the seventh article I have written since I first became involved in a journalistic scrutiny of the local council, and the police, in Oldham. A large Borough that forms part of the Greater Manchester region and incorporates a sizeable chunk of the old West Riding of Yorkshire (writes Neil Wilby).

The fifth was published last week (read here) the sixth is, as yet, unpublished. Delayed due to the CO-VID19 virus epidemic ‘lockdown’ and the consequent impact on securing documents and other evidence.

The first two articles, focusing on the output of a political activist based in the neighbouring Borough of Tameside, Raja Miah, created a level of abuse never seen before in almost 40 years: I joined my first local newspaper in 1981.

A neutral examination of a series of allegations made against Oldham Council’s Deputy Leader, Councillor (Cllr) Arooj Shah, concluded that she had been targeted by Miah, and the groups with which he aligns himself, in an unattractive, frequently personalised campaign that gives the appearance of politically motivated harassment (read more here). A matter presently under consideration by the local police force.

The second article highlighted yet more seriously unpleasant, largely fact-free allegations made by Miah against two bereaved families (read more here). No apology or contrition followed, just a cranking up of the abuse and mindless attacks on anyone who challenged the increasingly desperate Raja narrative. Particularly if they have association with his main targets. In this particular case, the friendship between nationally acclaimed justice campaigner, Gail Hadfield Grainger and Cllr Shah.

The third article (read more here) highlighted abuse against two renowned child sexual abuse investigators and a well known local survivor of such a horrific crime who had the temerity, according to Miah, to meet me and discuss the wider situation in her home town. A disgraceful, very public, wholly unedifying attack on that survivor followed. Not just by Raja, but at least one other within the zealous rabble that surround him.

The fourth article was an exposé of one of the key members of ‘Raja’s Rabble’, Kerry Skelhorn, who marauds on social media as “Rocky Skelshaw” spitting out her own brand of venom (read more here). Miss Skelhorn claims she reported me to the local police at the same time (19th October, 2020) for alleged harassment and obtained a crime number. As of today, 8th December, 2020, I have not been contacted by Greater Manchester Police (GMP) on this particular issue. Nor would I expect to hear from them, apart from the conduct of routine journalistic enquiries. Her allegations are without evidential foundation and, in my informed submission, a waste of police time.

As with her local hero, Miss Skelshaw saw the article not as lessons to be learned, and one from which she could moderate her outrageous behaviour, but as a platform for ramping up the abuse. Notably against Cllr Sean Fielding, the Leader of Oldham Council, who took on the mantle of one of his predecessors, James McMahon in May 2019. The leadership was vacated after ‘Jim from Oldham’ was elected as Member of Parliament for Oldham West and Royton in December, 2015. He has been the principal target of the Rabble’s incessant attacks against the Council and, more generally, the Labour Party for over 18 months.

Jim McMahon features centrally in the fifth article (read here), which is a forensic examination of the fatuous, contrived, counter-intuitive allegation, amongst others made by Raja Miah, of child sex abuse ‘cover-up’ by the MP. Centred around the infamous ‘Lee Rigby’ email sent by BBC Manchester reporter, Kevin Fitzpatrick, to McMahon, and others, in 2013, just before the fallen soldier’s funeral in the town.

McMahon will be mentioned more peripherally in the sixth article, which shines a light on the allegations, by Miah, that the East Lancashire mill town is ‘owned’ and run by ‘Asian Cartels’. For which, provisionally, there is very little evidence – and the rantings of the Rabble appear to simply capitalise on the smearing of their critics, or those who choose to stand up against them.

That is an elongated, but necessary, pre-amble to the present piece which examines the ramping up of the recent attacks against Cllr Fielding.

We start from behind the line as it is well rehearsed, on Twitter, that I have, previously, been critical of the council leader’s output on that social media platform and he, in turn, taking exception to those posts. Sean Fielding is a young man going places, there is little doubt about that; but some of his tweets do betray his youth and inexperience. Seized upon gleefully by his critics. The ‘Captain Underpants’ saga, for example, having provided some light relief over the past few months (read more here).

The Labour politician issued a statement in response to what he dubbed ‘Undie-gate’, adding that he was known for his ‘dry and self-deprecating sense of humour’. 

But, despite those mutually adverse views of politician and journalist, after the publication of the investigation into the allegations against Cllr Shah (and not before, it must be stressed), he accepted a routine email invitation to speak on the telephone, on or off the record.

That call concerned, mainly, the background as to how I became involved in the situation in Oldham and how it was proposed to deal with it, going forward. It was a frank exchange and, it is fair to say, I found Cllr Fielding a measured, intelligent, articulate, committed individual, with surprisingly little personal antipathy towards his critics. His principal concerns were the impact on family, friends and colleagues.

He accepted, without question, that my investigations would be independent, first and foremost, and evidence-based. If wrongdoing by the Council, or himself, was uncovered then it would be reported, without fear or favour. He also took on board that I have no political allegiance, whatsoever.

Since then, we have communicated sporadically, neutrally and professionally by email and telephone, in the same way I have done with other influencers in Oldham and the wider region. On the clear understanding that if the output was to come under public scrutiny there is nothing that would be found beyond a journalist engaged in the locality maintaining contact with local politicians, council officers, police officers and staff. As is done, routinely, elsewhere in my spheres of operation.

There is absolutely no question, as has been frequently asserted by Raja’s Rabble, that I am influenced, retained or paid by Cllr Fielding, or his Council, or the police to act as his, or their, ‘attack dog’. As those who know me well would attest, my integrity is not for sale. The gut feeling is that the Council Leader is very much of the same genre. The senior police officers within Q Division, with whom there has been interaction regarding safeguarding, have been impressively responsive, effective and efficient.

The dog I have in this particular fight is being asked, repeatedly, by police whistleblowers, led by ex-GMP Superintendent Peter Jackson, to conduct an investigation into allegations of reprehensible conduct by elected officials and senior police officers in the town. The reality turned out to be very different: It is the disgraceful, obnoxious behaviour of those making the allegations that is called into serious question.

As for Cllr Fielding, this is a distillation of what the issues against him amount to: The modus operandus appears to be that Raja Miah either publishes an allegation (or a scattergun series of them) on his Recusant Nine blog, his Facebook page or on his now infamous Sunday night podcast – and then the Rabble simply chant a chorus without ever, it seems, checking the provenance, or the existence of any supporting evidence, of what is being alleged:

(i) Cllr Fielding is allegedly complicit, and as council leader takes a principal role, in covering up child industrial scale sex abuse in the town.

+ This allegation was publicly, and comprehensively, rebuffed at the last full meeting of the Council. The relevant sections where this topic was aired can be viewed here and here.

+ The meeting, and its out-turn on the CSE issue, was also widely reported in the local and regional media (read more here).

+ Operation Hexagon, a wide ranging police investigation, has been running alongside an independent assurance review of child sex exploitation since November, 2019. The Hexagon probe sits alongside two other widely publicised operations, Green Jacket and Exeter, that have uncovered hundreds of victims and perpetrators across the Greater Manchester Region.

(ii) Cllr Fielding turns a blind eye to a paedophile ring operating out of the Civic Hall.

+ As allegations go, this as grotesque as they come. Particularly as the Miah evidence appears to centre around the activities of a former Liberal Democrat councillor, Rod Blyth, convicted of child sex abuse offences in December, 2019. He resigned from Oldham Council in September, 2017 citing ‘personal reasons’ and with a reference to a police investigation.

+ No indecent images were found on any of his council equipment by the police, who seized and analysed those items. Raja contends that the Council, and its Leader in particular, had a duty to inform the public of this conviction of a private citizen. At the same time, exempting a fellow Liberal Democrat councillor and close friend, Mohib Uddin, from such responsibility. Together with the many other Civic Hall insiders from whom he claims he routinely receives information. Curiously, Greater Manchester Police is not attacked for ‘keeping the conviction a secret’.

+ Of all the councillors to whom I’ve spoken, including the Leader, none had prior knowledge of the Blyth conviction until it entered the public domain. A comment that, presumably, applies to ex-Cllr Uddin. It certainly applies to Lib Dem Leader and former Council leader, Howard Sykes, who issued an unequivocal statement to that effect on 20th September, 2020 on his website (read in full here).

(iii) Cllr Fielding has undue influence with those engaged upon an Assurance Review that commenced in November, 2020.

+ Those persons are the Greater Manchester Mayor, who commissioned the Review, and the investigators appointed by him, Malcolm Newsam and Gary Ridgway. Generally regarded as two of the leading specialists in the country for this type of work. Again, this was dealt with at the last Council meeting, as it had been previously, by Cllr Fielding, in the local and regional media.

+ Messrs Newsam and Ridgway are independent of any body under review. Anyone doubting that status, is invited to read their report on Operation Augusta, published earlier this year (read here). An outcome that was devastating to both the council involved and the police, whose collective failings over child safeguarding were forensically and ruthlessly exposed. The proposition that they have turned up in Oldham to execute a ‘cover-up’ that benefits local councillors, and suits a warped narrative of a group of discontents, simply has no basis in fact or evidence.

The Assurance Review is due to report very shortly. Operation Hexagon has already acted on some of its findings, which are expected to be critical of both the council and the police over past failings in Oldham.

(iv) Cllr Fielding has covered up the abrupt departure of Dr Mark Peel from the Assurance Review and failed to disclose to the public the reasons why the academic beat a hasty retreat from Oldham.

+ Having spoken to a number of interested parties regarding this issue, the best answer, provisionally, is that he did not give a specific reason. Dr Peel recused himself shortly after receiving an email from a well regarded child sex abuse campaigner, whom has since, very sadly, passed away. It criticised his credentials and past record, particularly in relation to what was regarded as a ‘whitewash’ over council CSE failings in neighbouring Kirklees (read more here). Whether the two events are connected only Dr Peel can say. What can be stated with certainty, however, is that there is no ‘cover-up’ (or a reason for one) and the citizens of Oldham are much better placed after the appointment of the two leaders in their field.

+ I can add to that a personal note: Dr Peel had oversight of one of the least rigorous investigation reports ever put in front of me – out of thousands over the years. A case to which I am very adjacent, the murder of Leeds schoolteacher, Ann Maguire, at Corpus Christi School in 2014, includes a safeguarding review signed off by him (read here). It has the appearance of a pre-formed decision with only the narrative relevant to that outcome explored. As expounded elsewhere, Oldham had a lucky escape whatever the circumstances of his resignation. Raja Miah’s repeated attempt to make political capital from the departure of Dr Peel is, put shortly, misconceived. It also conceals the fact that, at the time the subject email was sent to the newly appointed investigator, by the late Steven Walker-Roberts, the two of them were closely associated.

(v) Cllr Fielding accused the activists of ‘bare faced lies’ over their allegations of child sex abuse cover-up.

+ During a public question time session at a stormy council meeting on 7th November, 2019, Jackie Stanton, former Liberal Democrat deputy leader in Oldham, made these points about the allegations.

By way of pre-amble, she claimed that the reputation of the Borough Council appeared, to her at least, to be at an “all-time low”.

“It continues with the extremely serious allegations of child sexual exploitation [‘cover-up’]; there are allegations appearing daily on social media relating to alleged mismanagement and poor decision making [planning] by senior officers of this council,” she added.

Then came the question: “Would the leader agree, all these allegations are extremely serious and damaging to the borough. Will he tell us how he and the chief executive intend to deal with them, and will he tell us if he is capable of restoring confidence in the council.”

Cllr Fielding pulled no punches in his response:

“Over the last few months there have been daily postings on social media about planning and historic safeguarding incidents.

“These allegations have been combined with a series of personal online attacks on councillors, residents, MPs and council officers, and often come from people with a clear political agenda.

“We will always take action where appropriate, including the recently announced review into historic safeguarding led by Dr Mark Peel. 

“Too often, however, the allegations and claims made online are bare faced lies designed purely to stoke fears and score political points.

“I urge people to think twice about these things they read online”.

+ The Leader’s blunt approach to certain issues, and willingness to give undeserving agitators a higher platform, might well be taken on board as a learning point. But the simple fact is this: Raja Miah’s campaigning is characterised by the repeated use of untruths, half-truths, misrepresentations and conveniently trimmed narratives. Anyone perusing the previous Oldham articles on this website can have absolutely no doubt about that. It is a mystery as to how and why he has been allowed to continue in this vein, by both the council and the police, for so long.

+ Similarly, the incessant social media output of Kerry Skelhorn, using her “Rocky Skelshaw” nom de plume, is frequently estranged from the truth. Including her false claim that she “took Oldham Council to judicial review and won”. That was over the planning matter, concerning the re-siting of Saddleworth School, the cause of so much disquiet. An objective reading of the judgment handed down in those proceedings reveals that her role was very minor, as one of over 600 objectors. She was not recorded as either the applicant, interested party or intervener in those proceedings.

+ The reader is invited to form their own view over whether the rantings of just those two can be fairly characterised as ‘bare faced lies’. Particularly, set against a background of Raja Miah repeatedly claiming Oldham is “my town” or “our town”. He hasn’t lived there for 16 years according to Land Registry records. Similarly, with Miss Skelhorn, who has much to say about “her” Council when she actually works for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Suffolk and Norfolk.

(vi) Most recently, that Cllr Fielding has harassed four individuals by contacting their employers about offensive posts on social media. They are Mark Wilkinson, a former Greater Manchester Police officer who now works, post retirement, for Sodexo Justice who are a contractor to Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service; his stepdaughter Sarah Radcliffe who is a teaching assistant at a local school; Jane Barker, a researcher at the University of Manchester; and Mohib Uddin, an employee of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and, as mentioned earlier in the piece, formerly a prominent Liberal Democrat councillor in Oldham.

Wilkinson’s wife, Kathleen, is the Leader of Failsworth Independent Party (FIP) and Mark is the Treasurer. He is standing as a candidate against Sean Fielding in the forthcoming elections. Several months ago, Mrs Wilkinson sought repeatedly to make contact with me, in not particularly flattering terms. When I eventually responded, she was mostly reluctant to answer journalistic enquiries and sought to paint her husband and daughter as victims.

There is a FIP website that benefits from some smart design and pretty colours, but is completely absent of any news of their aims and values, or any form of manifesto. The be all, and end all, of the FIPs appears to be: We find the Labour Party and Sean Fielding, in particular, objectionable and we are prepared to use fair means or foul to unseat them/him.

The FIPs have one sitting councillor, Brian Hobin, another key agitator in the Oldham Council child sex abuse ‘cover-up’ narrative. His output on the topic rarely appears to rise above the ludicrous, amplified by a motion brought to the last council meeting, alongside the Conservative Group leader, John Hudson, that was, at best, counter-intuitive and, at worst, a poorly disguised attempt to smear the Labour Party and leading figures within it. Notably, Sean Fielding.

Their actions, accompanied by unpleasant, inappropriate remarks during the meeting, were roundly rejected by a very substantial majority of fellow councillors. A fair few of them visibly angry at the allegations laid against them, collectively, by Cllr Hobin and Hudson.

There has been a number of ‘tit for tat’ complaints made against Cllr Fielding:

Mark Wilkinson: He made a Standards complaint objecting to the detailed, wide-ranging complaint against him to his present employer (in which I was also unflatteringly name-checked). Cllr Fielding’s complaint was partially upheld, in that Wilkinson brought his employers into disrepute over posts on social media. Mark did not cite any areas of the Member Code of Conduct that had been broken. This complaint, now dismissed, is one of a number he claims would be made. There have been at least two others, to different levels of the Labour Party, both also dismissed, and it has been posted online that he has reported Cllr Fielding to the police for an unspecified offence (or offences). Cllr Fielding has, at the time of publication, had no contact from the police, other than to check on his welfare in relation to the threats posed by those being mobilised by Raja Miah’s online activities.

A feature of the complaint process was the attempt by Mark Wilkinson, a police officer for 32 years, to mislead his employer by claiming the posts referred to in the complaint did not exist, despite the presence of screen shots.


Jane BarkerAs with Mark Wilkinson, she made a complaint objecting to the enquiry made by Cllr Fielding to the University of Manchester. Essentially, they were asked if the re-circulation of offensive material posted by Raja Miah, using a Twitter account that included the University in her biography, was acceptable to that institution. She was, as a result and quite understandably, asked to detach her personal postings and extreme views from any association with the University. That common sense outcome has produced the most extraordinary, litigious response from Ms Barker.

In her own complaint to the Council, she did not cite any areas of the Member Code of Conduct as having been broken, but listed a range of criminal offences that included misfeasance in public office and unauthorised surveillance. Claiming, bizarrely, that to view her publicly accessible tweets, on an open platform, required authorisation by way of the draconian Regulatory and Investigatory Powers Act, 2000 (RIPA for short).

The complaint was, unsurprisingly, dismissed. Ms Barker, in an email sent separately to Cllr Fielding, also said she would report him to the police for harassment and employ solicitors to sue him for defamation. There has been no contact with Cllr Fielding from the police, or solicitors, in relation to any enquiries or reports Jane has made. Ms Barker also complained to the Labour Party. An official described her complaint as “mad” and it, too, was summarily dismissed.


Raja Miah: He made a Standards complaint to Oldham Council objecting to Cllr Fielding referring to him in the complaints against Jane Barker and Mark Wilkinson. As with the other complaints against Cllr Fielding, he did not cite breaches of the Member Code of Conduct and did not dispute the descriptions of either him or his behaviour. He simply said that he did not like them. The complaint itself also contained personal abuse directed at Cllr Fielding. Miah was given 14 days to clarify more precisely the substance of his grievances. This expired on 30th November, 2020. Nothing further was received from him. Raja claims he has also reported Cllr Fielding to the Labour Party and, he says, to the police. Cllr Fielding has had no contact from either in relation to those complaints.

Raja Miah has also posted a “legal letter” online saying that he was suing Oldham Council for defamation. A check with both the Manchester Registry of the High Court and the Royal Courts of Justice reveals that no claim form with Raja Miah as claimant and Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council as defendant has been filed in the Queen’s Bench Division, as yet. It is not clear how the usual £10,000 court fee for such actions would be funded.


Mohib Uddin: A complaint was made against him, by Cllr Fielding, to his employer, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. It raised the issue of publicly accusing the Council of financial corruption and then providing no supporting evidence. HMRC routinely say that they “take such matters seriously” but do not report upon what action they may have taken. It is public knowledge, however, that Uddin has not tweeted since September, 2020. He told me at the time that he was not at all concerned about the complaint to his employer and laughed it off. He also said that Cllr Fielding had made a complaint to the Liberal Democrats about him. This concerns acting in an advisory capacity to Debbie Barratt-Cole, a candidate in the Oldham West and Royton during the general election. She stood as a candidate for the People of Oldham and Saddleworth Party (the POOS). There is a widely circulated video capturing him at a campaign meeting, advising her on literature. Notwithstanding, Mohib disputes this complaint and there is a hearing, at the national level of the Liberal Democrat Party, on 10th December, 2020, to consider the matter and, if proven, whether to revoke his membership.

There has been no tit-for-tat complaint from Mohib Uddin against Cllr Fielding, although he continues to post negatively about him. One recent Facebook offering, on the topic of a petition that has been raised recently by Raja Miah, calling for the arrest of Sean Fielding, is signed off “Tick tock”.

The petition, addressed to the Home Secretary, has the appearance of a last throw of the dice for those that have complained against Cllr Fielding. Having taken their issues to the Council and the Labour Party – and received short thrift – further complaints, as yet unparticularised, are said to have been made to the police. There has, so far, been no action taken against Cllr Fielding by the Greater Manchester force as a result.

The petition is also an exercise in futility, a point that can be made with some certainty:

Firstly, having sat through a County Court trial, then High Court appeal, over a wrongful arrest of a Bradford doctor that has spanned almost two years and is, in fact, still ongoing (read more here), I would regard myself as reasonably expert in the relevant sections of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984. These govern the reasonable grounds for suspicion of an offence that may lead to an arrest, for which the bar is set low. Particularly, at street level. However, there is a necessity test that the arresting officer must undertake, for which the bar is, conversely, very high.

Deprivation of a person’s liberty by the State is a very serious matter – and Parliament requires that the police explore other means of advancing their enquiries prior to arrest. The most commonly used, of course, is attendance at a police station for a voluntary interview. Particularly, if there is no immediate threat to life or property and the suspect is from a stable background, has no criminal record and is likely to co-operate with the police. All factors that plainly apply in the case of Sean Fielding.

Secondly, the Home Secretary has no locus is such matters. Chief constables of the 43 Home Office police forces have complete operational independence. That includes being able to resist pressure from Ministers of State. The chances of Priti Patel calling up Ian Hopkins, the current incumbent at Greater Manchester Police, to ask him to arrest a Council leader in the force area, regarding complaints that appear to have little or no substance, are, correspondingly, zero.

A surprising aspect of this petition is that one of Raja Miah’s main proponents, the aforementioned Peter Jackson, did not advise him of these key legal issues before making a collective fool of themselves. A remark that could also apply to Mark Wilkinson, who must also have made an arrest or two in a lengthy police career that began as a cadet and ended as a sergeant.

‘Jacko’, as he known widely amongst police colleagues past and present, in a show of Rabble solidarity, has also made a complaint against Cllr Fielding. Apparently, on the grounds that he was mentioned in at least one of the complaints made by the council leader to employers. That is quite extraordinary, on any independent view, when the ex-cop’s Twitter timeline comprises of, almost entirely, dishing out stick to public figures, including Sean Fielding.

Peter Jackson, along with ‘Google Expert’, Susan Dolan, another Raja Miah fanatic, are two of the prime movers behind a Twitter account with the handle ‘Alice Odette Hallowes’ (@TruthsayerOdet1) . This is one of the most prolific and disgraceful accounts on Twitter, with some posts that go to contempt of court at their highest, commenting on live criminal proceedings, and in the gutter for too much of the rest of the time with wild, unevidenced allegations and smears. A matter over which I severely warned Jacko when we last spoke.

Until now, I have had to remain silent as to his association with that entity, as the subject conversation was held in confidence. But, very recently, a former Rabble member was ‘turned’ and the information has now been given to me independently.

Even more surprising is that Jacko, who served as a sergeant in Oldham in the late 1990s, doggedly retains his affinity with Miah after the latter has been thoroughly exposed as ‘a wrong ‘un’. He is also an avid supporter of the far right, anti-Sean Fielding, anti-Jim McMahon, anti-Andy Burnham, anti-Neil Wilby Oldham Eye social media account, whose output, not infrequently, strays into what might very well be argued as racism.

As a result of this seemingly unbreakable link with Raja Miah, the Jackson claims of the moral high ground, by way of his his police whistleblowing, have little remaining substance. He is a laughing stock amongst those influencers to whom I’ve spoken, incredulous that a renowned murder detective could be sucked in by an imposter such as Raja. Their credibility is in shreds.

Moreover, he cannot say he wasn’t warned. Either from this quarter or by fellow police whistleblower, Maggie Oliver.

But the die is now cast, and Peter Jackson is not the only high profile campaigner to have backed the wrong horse. There are plenty of others for whom the canvassing of this journalistic investigation, and all that has gone with it, is now a matter of profound regret.

As for the Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council Leader, he can sleep easy in his bed. There will be no 6am ‘knock’ by the local constabulary, no embarrassing arrest wearing only torn underpants – and no charges in respect of futile, embarrassing complaints lodged by local discontents.

This is a developing news story and will be updated. Follow Neil Wilby on Twitter here, and on Facebook here.

Right of reply was again offered to Raja Miah. He declined all previous invitations and made no attempt respond here, either. Instead, mobilising his foot soldiers to ‘up the ante’ on their smear campaigns.

The same courtesy was offered to Jane Barker, Kathleen and Mark Wilkinson, and Mohib Uddin. No response was received from any of them, either.

Ms Barker elected, instead, to breach journalistic privilege and information rights by sharing a protectively marked email in which the necessary cautions were clearly set out. A matter that will be determined by the County Court, ultimately.

Other political party group leaders in Oldham, apart from Labour, have also been invited to contribute to this piece. Cllr Sykes was both forthright and helpful. No acknowledgement or response was received from either Cllr Hudson, Cllr Hobin.

Following publication of this article, complaints were received by Oldham Council regarding the content that referred to Standards outcomes affecting Raja Miah, Mark Wilkinson and Jane Barker. The Council has, quite correctly on its part, referred the matter to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Full co-operation will be given to any investigation that follows, if the statutory regulator deems it necessary to record the complaints.

Page last updated: Friday 11th December, 2020 at 1855 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.

There’s no excuse for abuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greater Manchester Police press office has been contacted for comment.

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

Photo credits: Arriva North West

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

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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”.

IMG_4368

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

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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?

We’ll class that as unanimous. Thank you.