Barking up the wrong tree

In November last year, writes Neil Wilby, an article was published on this website that charted the course of what is now a year long journalistic investigation into alleged serious wrongdoing by police, MPs and local councillors in Oldham, a large Pennine town on the eastern edge of the Greater Manchester region (read in full here).

It was the seventh article in a lengthening series, the intended number was two or, maybe, three, and led to its author being reported to the police last October as a result of a previous article (read here) and, again, earlier this month. Having not heard from the Greater Manchester force in the ensuing four months, apart from, routinely, their press office and information rights team, it is unclear what the specification and substance of those complaints actually are. The person making some of them, Kerry Skelhorn, who works for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and is based in East Anglia, has described me, both on air and on social media, as “a psychopath”. That, apart from being highly defamatory, presents a substantial evidential threshold when the suspect is a man of advancing years with an unblemished criminal record.

As one might infer, it has been a challenging assignment as “psychopath” would not be the most unflattering term used to smear a journalist (“paedophile protector” is amongst the many others), whose published output, following detailed, forensic analysis, many interviews with key figures and scene visits (pre-lockdown, of course), plainly doesn’t marry with the original allegations of a long-running, wide-scale ‘cover-up’ of child sexual exploitation in Oldham (read more here). The reality is that a highly emotive subject has been crudely weaponised by a group of bitter discontents, headed by a man from another Borough, desperate to distract from his own alleged serious wrongdoings.

The latest article also resulted in a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), alongside the local council, and its Leader, Cllr Sean Fielding (pictured below left with Cll Arooj Shah and Jim McMahon MP), whom, it was alleged, had leaked information to assist in the construction of the piece. The complaint did not have evidence to support such an assertion. In reality, it involved painstaking enquiries and a contact with a number of sources, including material from some of the complainants themselves.

It had chronicled the long-running, highly personalised attacks made on Cllr Fielding by a Tameside political activist, Raja Miah, and a group of mostly far-right supporters whom have become collectively known as ‘Raja’s Rabble’ or, simply, as they happily refer to themselves, ‘The Rabble’. All seriously, and it seems, obsessively, occupied by smearing the Labour Party and a number of its prominent members in the area. One of the The Rabble’s most prolific witterers is Jane Barker, a University of Manchester student researcher. She made the data breach complaint to the ICO, via Oldham Council, and has made a number of others of varying specification to the council, the Labour Party and then to the police.

Miah was kicked out of the same Party in August, 2019. His output on social media appears particularly attractive to a far-right audience and one of his main backers is Paul Errock, a local businessman and, from available screenshots, apparently a supporter of Tommy Robinson, former leader of the English Defence League (EDL). Another ubiquitous Miah camp follower, and a ‘subscriber’ who sends Miah money every month, is Garry Dunkerley, nearing the end of a six year jail sentence after conviction for burglary, involving a number of vulnerable old people amongst his victims. Dunkerley also has links to the EDL (read more here). He uses at least two pseudonyms on social media, including the notorious “Duggy Dunk” handle.

It has emerged that “Dunk” actually worked alongside Cllr Fielding for a period at the Tesco Superstore in Failsworth (where, in better times, the Full English Breakfast in the first floor cafeteria is heartily recommended). He has shown no remorse over his offending and, perversely, denies causing harm. The disgraceful output on social media should, very arguably, have led to his recall to prison whilst on licence.

Ms Barker (pictured below), much more feminist than far-right, who also sends money to Raja Miah every month, having failed with her perceived grievances at both the council and Labour Party, then made complaints to the police about its local leader that appeared to include a number of very serious matters: Harassment, malicious communication and hate crime. Others, including Mark Wilkinson, a retired police officer turned probation officer, and Mohib Uddin, a tax inspector by day and self-styled ‘political analyst’ at other times, made similar allegations.

They appeared to have little factual or evidential basis, being centred on communications between Sean Fielding and the employers of Barker, Uddin and Wilkinson, but embellished a concurrent publicity stunt, centred around a petition organised by Miah, calling upon the Home Secretary to order the arrest of Sean Fielding. As one might expect of an action so ill-conceived, it gained little traction despite a frenetic campaign on social media by Raja and The Rabble to promote it. But its real purpose was, one might argue, to continue the smearing and campaign of harassment against Cllr Fielding – and to that extent it very likely succeeded.

Unlike Miah, born and spending his early life in Bradford and living in some splendour the upmarket village of Mossley, near Ashton-under-Lyne, since 2004, Sean is working class Oldham born and bred – and never lived, or worked, anywhere else. He was elected to serve the town in 2012 and won a party ballot for council leader in 2018, becoming the youngest in the country to do so.

In contrast, Raja Miah has never stood for public office and is most widely known for his association with two spectacularly failed free schools in Greater Manchester, presently a matter of lengthy and complex police investigation into multi-million pounds fraud allegations. Severely hampered by the almost complete abdication from the required accountancy standards by the school’s operators.

There are also substantial concerns over very serious safeguarding failures at the Miah-run schools (read more here). The MP (and former leader of Oldham Council), Jim McMcMahon has come under relentless, and most unpleasant, attack from Miah and his acolytes ever since. But the Member for Oldham West and Royton, like Cllr Fielding a lifelong local man of solid, working class stock, is made of stern stuff and has repeatedly cut down the Man from Mossley on social media:

“In taking this case on, no-one could have foreseen the vengeance that would follow from Raja Miah and his associates. I know many decent people have been attacked, had their characters dragged through the mud, and felt deeply threatened by his actions. I know too well the impact this can have and the toll it can take but even knowing that I would still pursue this case, knowing what was to follow.

“Politics is about people, and the pupil, parents and staff (of the free schools) who have asked me to be their voice matter to me. I have no intention of letting them down.

“Of course, what follows is now is for the authorities to investigate. I sincerely hope without fear or favour”.

Very powerful, heartfelt commentary, whatever your political persuasion (for the avoidance of doubt this journalist has no affiliation with any political party): Its measured, thoughtful terms making it even more so in the face of the worst, completely unfounded, allegation that he covers up for child sex abuse in the town he has served for just under 20 years, and procures many others in public life to do so. The evidence is very clear: There was no cover-up. Quite the opposite, in fact (read more here).

A recent complaint to Facebook, by Jim McMahon, about the alleged anti-semitic content on the Recusant Nine page, operated by Raja Miah, is set out in a highly detailed, well argued document in which I have been sighted.

In what is a bad to worse week for the Miah camp, it can now be revealed, exclusively, that all the various complaints made against Sean Fielding, to the police, have been marked with ‘No Further Action’. A matter of some relief, no doubt, to him and his family, friends and colleagues, however misconceived and ill-motivated they might have been. He says:

“I was never in any doubt that the allegations against me had no substance and were simply politically motivated, tit for tat complaints. However, the abuse of the criminal justice process, and waste of police time and resources that these investigations were, just so that my political opponents could post online that I was ‘under investigation’ and facing ‘imminent arrest’ is quite shocking. Indeed, it is a criminal offence in itself.

“I will continue to represent my constituents in Failsworth and attend to my wider responsibilities as Leader of the Council with the same enthusiasm and commitment as I always have. I will not be knocked off course by those who have nothing positive to contribute to our Borough, or the wider debate about its future, and whose agenda is simply to disrupt the operation of public services and make outrageous claims online in their quest for validation in the form of Facebook likes.”

The complaints made by Jane Barker to the Information Commissioner also met the same fate, unsurprisingly. As, of course, did those she made to the Council and Labour Party, previously. The Constituency Labour Party adjudicator describing one of her complaints as “mad”.

Which means that the sum of all the serial, vexatious complaints made by her, over the past six months or so, enthusiastically egged on by The Rabble is ZERO, nothing, zilch. Except, perhaps, an arrest for wasting police time? Not least as she has made several threats to at least one other local political commentator, Euan Stewart, to report him to the police (and/or her solicitors) over nothing higher than a difference of opinion on social media regarding information she had put into the public domain. The same police force asserted by Raja Miah as being partners in the alleged CSE cover-up.

Mark Wilkinson, whom along with his wife Kathleen, socialises with another local far-right totem, former UKIP councillor and known bully, Warren Bates (pictured below left with Mr and Mrs Wilkinson), is another serial and oppressive complainer who has, so far, drawn a blank. The Wilkinsons are the founders of the Failsworth Independent Party whose sole policy, and reason for being, appears to be ‘We don’t like Sean Fielding‘. Missing from the photograph is the aforementioned “Duggy Dunk”, another Failsworth man who interacts regularly on social media with these three.

Ex-Lib Dem councillor, Mohib Uddin, is in the same boat. Fond of posting ‘tick-tock‘ when making snide reference to Cllr Fielding on social media, he is now the one running out of time. A source close to him says that action taken by the LibDems to expel him from the Party was stayed, at his request, until the police investigation into the council leader concluded. So, Tameside’s leading ‘political analyst’, according to Raja Miah at least, is a failed councillor shunned by his own party and who has, willingly it seems, collected taxes for the Conservative government for the past 10 years.

Uddin, the Wilkinsons and Ms Barker are all on a list of Recusant Nine supporters submitted to Greater Manchester Police as an intelligence file. It identifies 70 out of the 114 people who send money to Raja Miah every month. Apart from those four named above, the rest of the list includes convicted criminals, EDL members (past or present), far right activists, Tommy Robinson supporters and social media trolls. All of which provides ample justification for raising queries with their employers as to the wisdom of such associations. Particularly, those funded from the public purse or employed by the Crown.

Piling on the misery for Miah and The Rabble, his grotesque child grooming accusations against long-serving councillor and former Mayor, Riaz Ahmad have resulted, in the past week, in a climb down and a humiliating apology. All the deeply offensive posts have now been deleted. But in typical, sly Raja style, the apology was posted just before midnight last Friday.

Completing the Raja Miah nightmare, Deputy Leader of Oldham Council, Arooj Shah, mocked by The Rabble as “The COVID Queen” is well on the way to managing the town out of crisis as portfolio holder for response to the virus epidemic. In a quite remarkable turnaround, Oldham has gone from having the worst infection rate in Greater Manchester to the lowest. In typical fashion, she deflects praise on to her team and just gets on with the job. Cllr Shah was, in fact, the subject of the first Oldham article I wrote last year. It seems a lifetime away, right now. A scathing take down of the evil harassment campaign mounted by Miah and his minions (read in full here) propagated it seems, mostly, because one of her numerous roles in public life is parliamentary assistant to Jim McMahon. The MP remains The Rabble’s number one ‘target’ for abuse.

Regrettably, the dedicated, very hard-working elected female official, another born and bred Oldhamer, is still the subject of mindless accusations and distorted truths. Arooj says: “The unprovoked attacks have been, and continue to be, incredibly difficult for me and those around me, albeit dealing with misogynists isn’t exactly new territory”.

This emphasis on attacking females, highlighted by Cllr Shah, manifested itself yet again recently with a left-field attack on Deputy Mayor, Cllr Jenny Harrison, a very popular retired school teacher and senior manager (pictured below centre with Mayor Ginny Alexander on her right, Arooj Shah to her left). But Jenny wasn’t taking that lying down and gave The Man from Mossley a proper pasting on social media. Her brave stance has emboldened others, previously fearful of standing up to Raja Miah and the inevitable smearing that would follow.

Other females repeatedly derogated by Miah, over past year or so, include Debbie Abrahams MP, journalists Jennifer Williams and Charlotte Green, together with nationally known justice campaigner, and now lawyer, Gail Hadfield Grainger.

An objective reader coming to the end of this piece might well scratch their head in bemusement and say how on earth has Raja Miah, and his motley band of hangers-on, been allowed to get away with this obnoxious, hateful behaviour for so long? As one who sits in the press seats at Magistrates’ and Crown Courts (or logs in via CVP these days) it certainly has me completely baffled: Efforts to persuade the three very senior officers with locus in the Borough, T/DCC Mabs Hussain, ACC Nick Bailey and C/Supt Chris Allsop have so far produced no visible response. But the pressure to do no more than perform the job, for which they are paid handsomely, will continue to be applied in every lawful way possible. They must be in no doubt about that. Victims of the class of crimes and/or civil torts perpetrated by Raja Miah, and others, notably his lieutenant-in-chief, the potty-mouthed Anita Lowe, should not be left alone to seek civil remedies or repeated complaints to social media operators.

I, for one, am old enough to remember when keeping the Queen’s Peace was a job for the police service and one they were keen and proud to undertake.

The highly opinionated but scarcely literate Mrs Lowe, who lived in Failsworth before moving to Littlemoor four years ago, is believed to be behind a number of other anonymous “trolling” Twitter and Facebook accounts. This is her main social media vehicle at present. A file is being prepared for Greater Manchester Police accompanying complaints by way of the Protection from Harassment and Communications Acts:

In one tweet reply to Euan Stewart, she claims that ‘Vote-Watch’ journalist Jay Beecher ‘tells us everything’ and ‘we [Raja’s Rabble] are buddies [with Beecher] you daft brush’.

A former key UKIP activist in the right wing stronghold of Peterborough, before being suspended from the party for making “deliberate and demonstratively false allegations against other members of the party” (read more here), Beecher is, arguably, best known for his editorship of the now banned far-right platform, Politicalite.

Byline Times report that “Politicalite, launched in 2017, mixes sensationalist headlines and alt-right talking points, chiefly around Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (also known as ‘Tommy Robinson’), Muslims and Brexit, attracting around 50,000 visitors a day. It is one of a loose network of nakedly partisan British political websites that have sprung up in the past five years, which include Vote-WatchFoxhole and Point News, as well as Unity News Network“.

Remarkably, and against this backdrop, the “Eliza-Jayne” abusive trolling account is also followed on Twitter by former ITV Granada Reports journalist, Matt O’Donoghue whom, most surprisingly, but regrettably, has ‘previous’ for attaching himself to The Rabble’s cause. Conversely and perversely, he has, in the past, said that he ‘deeply admires’ the investigative journalism on this website.

In an extraordinary reply to this article,  O’Donoghue claims he was ‘inadvertently following a troll’. ‘Sometimes’, he says, ‘I just follow back without doing the due diligence that I should’. Matt does not explain why he is also attached to a number of other abusive, far-right, racist social media accounts, most notably the Neo-nazi enabling ‘Oldham Eye’. He claims, without specification or evidence, that his exposure as being adjacent to the cause of Raja Miah, the false Oldham CSE cover-up narrative (read more here), and the consequent attacks on MPs and local councillors, is ‘a twisted mission to undermine me’. The reply includes no apology, no contrition, no mention of the victims of the relentless trolling and no undertaking to detach himself from the group and put the record straight.

All the more remarkable, given his close friendship with the aforementioned Jen Williams, a regular target for smearing by Miah and his cohort.

Jane Barker, an avid Raja Miah supporter and whom was central in a Jay Beecher authored Vote-Watch article, published in November, 2020, featuring her complaints to the police (and those made by Messrs Uddin and Wilkinson), denies any association with the far-right. All three positioned themselves as ‘anti-grooming gang campaigners’.

There appears to be no factual basis to support such a tagline or any known expertise in such a complex and sensitive area. One might also very fairly ask why their ‘campaign’ only started very recently when child grooming has blighted the town of Oldham since at least 2006 – and the topic has been extensively publicised, and tackled, by local MP’s, the police, the council, specialist investigators and all the local and regional media in the succeeding 15 years?

Ms Barker’s forthcoming blog on the topic, signposted during a recent Raja Miah podcast, may cast some light on those questions.

Page last updated: Tuesday 2nd March, 2021 at 1255 hours

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Search for the truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right of reply has again been offered to Raja Miah.

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

Photo credits:

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.