Oldham Council Leader slams ‘dog-whistle racists’ and ‘false accusers’.

In a hard-hitting post on his Facebook page yesterday, Sean Fielding delivered a robust blow to critics in the town who have subjected him, his partner and his family to months of persistent, unacceptable harassment and abuse, writes Neil Wilby.

This includes the most grotesque allegations of covering up child-sex abuse in the town, and said to be in concert with many other fellow Labour Party members, councillors, the police and their other partner agencies. As this highly forensic article sets out, elsewhere on this website, there is no factual, or evidential, basis to such claims (read here).

This is the full text of Cllr Fielding’s post:

” The election period has started this week and so my page has been renamed ‘Sean Fielding, Labour & Co-operative’ as I am a candidate.

“Prior to campaigning beginning in earnest, I am setting out that my campaign will focus on local issues.

“This election is about who has the best vision for Failsworth and Oldham. It is about who can get things done for people.

“In the last two years alone I have successfully secured the protection of local green belt, saved the Failsworth to Ashton bus from being cut, donated money to the refurbishment of the War Memorial, obtained investment in local roads, had money spent on refurbishing a local park, got the Council to transfer land at Moston Brook in to a Trust set up in memory of WWI veterans, joined a local Primary School Governing Body, volunteered at the vaccination centre, distributed emergency food from the food bank and reinstated the youth service at Failsworth School.

“All this alongside, as Council Leader, working to bring our buses under public control, supporting local businesses by fighting local lockdown last autumn and negotiating a low price to purchase the Spindles Shopping Centre, which will provide the springboard for our Borough’s recovery.

“I posted recently about the smears, disinformation and bullying tactics that have unfortunately become a feature of local politics in recent months. I had hoped that my post would be taken as a stake in the ground for decency, but no such luck, as the smears, abuse and disinformation has continued with my partner even attacked online for planning to run the London Marathon for a cancer charity.

“Many reading this will be familiar with the smears and will have seen the abuse. You will have seen the unsubstantiated allegations of corruption, the crying of ‘mismanagement’ without giving any credible examples, and the dog whistle racism of suggesting there are shadowy Asian ‘cartels’ that secretly control the Council. You will have seen the comments calling for me to be hung and the encouragement of, and support expressed for, people to assemble and protest outside my house.

“If you hear from people campaigning for one side why the other side is no good, ask them to tell you why and back it up with evidence.

“If you hear them say that they don’t agree with what I, or the Council, have done as a Councillor or Leader ask them what they would do instead.

“And if they make allegations of corruption, or worse, ask them why they are telling you or posting it on Facebook rather than reporting it to the authorities.

“If you are genuinely worried about something you’ve seen or read and want to speak about any local issues I can be contacted any time by clicking ‘send e-mail’ at the top of this page.

“I am a member of the Labour Party, and proud to be so. I work with my Labour colleagues from all over Oldham and beyond to get the best deal for both Failsworth and the Borough as a whole.

“We have a comprehensive manifesto covering all areas of Council work. If you don’t like what is in it when you get to see it, by all means vote for somebody else, that’s democracy. All I ask is that you do so based on the issues, facts and credible evidence”.

In addition to the allegations regarding a grooming ‘cover-up’, and a whole range of other perceived financial misdemeanours, Cllr Fielding has been the subject of a large number of complaints to such as the Council, the Labour Party, the Information Commissioner and the same local police force with whom it is said, by his small group of accusers, to be in concert with him over concealing sex abuse. Not a single complaint has been upheld (read more here).

One of his persistent accusers is Mark Wilkinson, whom opposes Cllr Fielding in the Failsworth West ward as ‘an elected candidate’ for the Failsworth Independent Party (FIP), run by his wife, Kathleen. As will be noted by those who clicked on the ‘Barking up the wrong tree‘ link, Mark is a retired police sergeant, whom, nevertheless, misled his employers in the course of one of those complaint processes. Hardly a matter that will inspire trust amongst the locals.

Cllr Fielding, a local lad born and bred, won the Failsworth seat in 2012, at his first attempt, and was elected Council Leader in 2018. The FIPs, for their part, appear to have no other recognisable policy other than their personal distaste for their near neighbour. They have one sitting councillor, Brian Hobin, who frequently embarrasses himself with the same child sex abuse ‘cover-up’, and more general anti-Sean Fielding/Labour, narrative. To an extent, viewed through this lens at least, that transcends conventional political rivalry.

Another child sex ‘cover-up’ proponent is also standing against Cllr Fielding: Warren Bates, who previously served on the Council as a United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP) representative with very little distinction, other than a bullying finding against him by the Standards Committee – and the embarrassment of being caught parking in a disabled bay outside the Civic Hall. He describes on social media a cabal of ‘Capitalist cover-up journalists’ in Oldham and the wider region of Greater Manchester – and adds, with emphasis, ‘You know nothing’.

Having written and published over 40,000 words on the various societal and political issues afflicting Oldham, reviewed hundreds of documents, interviewed dozens of people, one might fairly conclude that Neil Wilby does know at least something?

For my part, in what has never been anything else but a dogged search for the truth (read more here), I am variously accused by the same group of malcontents that harass Cllr Fielding, of accepting bribes; being on the Oldham Council payroll (or in the pay of the Labour Party, depending upon which day it is); in the pocket of Jim McMahon MP; Cllr Fielding’s (or Cllr Arooj Shah‘s) puppet; bent; septic; a criminal with convictions; a divi; a nonce; a psychopath; despised by everyone. All without a scrap of evidence to support them. Reported by the same group to the police on at least four occasions (none of which resulted in even a voluntary interview, which I would have been willing to attend, if so invited).

But in the face of those grotesque ad hominem attacks, and wasting of police time, no-one has said either publicly, or to me in private communication: That fact is wrong, that piece of evidence is flawed or doctored, you have no proper journalistic basis for the articles you have written. Given right of reply, those exposed as liars, frauds or malcontents (or all three) spurn the invitation.

As Cllr Fielding notes, if you see such allegations, ask those making them about their motive. Why is it that they fear the truth so much? Where is the evidence behind their shocking accusations. Simply repeating them in a small, but noisy, Facebook forum, or via dozens of anonymous Twitter trolling accounts set up for that sole purpose, does not pass muster.

As for my professional relationship with Cllr Fielding, it is this: He is the Leader of a Council in an area in which I have been active as a journalist for almost a year. Contact with such officials is routine when following my vocation. For example, I rank Sean Fielding alongside Cllr Carl Les, long-term leader of North Yorkshire County Council and a staunch Conservative. Both men, decades apart in age and experience, poles apart in terms of political allegiance, are personable, approachable, courteous, respectful, as helpful as possible within the strict parameters of their roles; open and transparent, more generally.

In passing, the same could also be said of Cllr Howard Sykes, Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Oldham, based on my limited dealings with him.

In this life, respect is earned. Those politicians, blue, red and yellow, have mine – and it is hoped that such professional regard is reciprocated. But, as all three would doubtless confirm, it goes no further than that. They would not countenance anything improper, for sure; and for what little it matters, in the wider scheme of things, neither would I.

Who wins out in Failsworth West on Thursday 6th May, 2021 is a matter for registered voters in the ward. Most will get to talk to all of the candidates on their own doorstep and ask questions, or raise concerns, about what is most important to them. Time-honoured foundation stones of election campaigning. Freedom of speech and free choice at the ballot box.

Some may ask, of course, about the allegations of wrongdoing. That is a matter entirely between constituents and their ward candidates. A point to factor in before the casting of votes.

To be clear: There is no dog for this journalist in that fight, other than democracy being a hill worth dying on. Abuse, harassment and intimidation cannot be allowed to sustain in any election.

Warren Bates and Mark Wilkinson were both offered right of reply. The latter did not respond, Mr Bates says:

“Mr Wilby, if you actually wanted to do something useful, instead of covering up for the incompetence of so called present day lazy journalists, bits of kids desperately trying to catch faceless editors’ eyes, give at least one update on the [Oldham Strand of the Assurance] Review how many interviews have taken place?”

There was a further inference (and not for the first time from Mr Bates) that ‘rewards’ (or bribes) are involved for publishing work concerning child sex abuse in Oldham, that he casually characterises as a ‘cover-up’.

The question Mr Bates asks regarding ‘interviews’ was comprehensively and very publicly addressed in November, 2020. Read the full Oldham Council statement here. It was, in fact, his friend and ‘cover-up’ co-conspirator, Cllr Hobin, whom moved the motion, in full council, at which that same statement was debated.

Less than a week later, Greater Manchester Police issued an update on three investigations flowing from the Assurance Reviews, either completed or in progress (read more here). Operation Hexagon specifically focuses on Oldham was instigated in November, 2019 to look into the allegations of a ‘CSE cover-up’ by the Council (and the same police force). Operation Green Jacket and Operation Exmoor are focusing on historic child sex abuse offences South Manchester and Rochdale.

Page last updated: Thursday 1st April, 2021 at 1125 hours

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

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Picture credit: Bolton News

© 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.

Chronic state of Oldham’s political malcontents.

Since I first became in involved in the inner workings of the East Lancashire mill town, over a year ago (read more here), the presence of an unusually large number of politically active groups quickly became apparent. All with a single, and strongly articulated, anti-Labour agenda. A significant portion of it expressed in abusive, harassing and defamatory form, writes Neil Wilby.

They include, in no particular order, The People of Oldham and Saddleworth (The POOS, fronted by Tommy Robinson supporter, Paul Errock); Failsworth Independent Party (the FIPS, a haven for far right activists, founded by ex-GMP sergeant, Mark Wilkinson, and his wife Kath) and their connected cousins Failsworth Street Patrol (a vigilante group); Oldham Heart (a thoroughly reprehensible Facebook group run by Paul Taylor, and another far-right sanctuary), the Neo-nazi run Oldham Eye (seemingly controlled by Britain First’s John Lawrence); the troubled, permanently abusive, money-leeching Recusant Nine platform run by far-right totem, Raja Miah (about whom much is written elsewhere on this website) and Chronic Oldham, believed to be operated by Chadderton resident, Damon Ashworth.

In contrast to most of his contemporaries, the bulk of the Chronic Oldham output appears to be, mostly, as a result of reading, research and statistical analysis. Indeed, a lot of it is interesting and helpful to the neutral reader – and is worthy of a wider audience. Spoiled only by the constant, dreary, adverse and frequently contrived references to local and regional Labour politicians with whom he, plainly, has an axe to grind. Possibly, with very good reason. To use his own words: “Oldham is one of the poorest boroughs in the UK with pockets of extreme deprivation, it has long-term entrenched foreign heritage communities that are as much part of the Oldham landscape as the Pennines are”.

If he simply let the facts tell the story (first rule of journalism) it would be a hundred times more effective – and the citizens of his home town would look out even more eagerly for what he has assiduously unearthed. But that’s not the way it seems to work in Oldham: The truth needs to be decorated if the facts run against you.

So it proved in the only encounter on social media that I have had with Chronic Oldham (I have clashed frequently with most of the other malcontents, mostly in reply to some of the most vile and persistent abuse ever encountered, in a publishing career that dates back to the early 1980’s).

It all started innocuously enough: Chronic Oldham replied to a generic post by Andy Burnham’s mayoral campaigning team that included a typically soporific promotional video clip:

The Chronic Oldham post caught my attention for two reasons: Firstly, I had been highly critical of the breach of lockdown regulations in May, by both Cllr Sean Fielding, Leader of Oldham Council, and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Angela Rayner. They had been caught in the act, and photographed, by one of Raja Miah’s supporters and he had, of course, gleefully, kicked them hard over it. Secondly, he referenced complaints (or, more accurately, enquiries) made by Cllr Fielding to the employers of four Oldham citizens over apparent connections to, or support of, abusive far-right groups.

My reply was, on any view, measured and sought to be helpful in bringing clarity to the situation. A great deal has been written about those enquiries, subsequent complaints and their outcomes, elsewhere on this website. A link to one of those pieces was included in the response (read here):

The reply from Chronic Oldham might be fairly characterised as terse and overly-defensive. It also contained a surprising, and concerning, assertion that appeared to have no factual basis. In over four months of investigating the complaints, in highly forensic detail, not one person, or organisation, had made the claim that it was forbidden under Labour Party policy for Cllr Fielding to act in the way he did.

The follow-up made two perfectly reasonable points and politely requested a pointer in the direction of the policy upon which he relied. Character limits on Twitter posts prevented me pointing out, further, that it was well rehearsed in the public domain, by Cllr Fielding, that making a defamation claim was beyond his financial means. Ordinarily, you would need around £5,000 to fund initial legal costs that would cover the drafting of a statement of grounds by counsel and a further £10,000 to cover the cost of the court fee at the point of filing and service on the defendant(s). Taking a claim to trial could cost over £50,000.

To which there came no reply and, it is believed, that it was at this point Chronic Oldham decided to block Neil Wilby on the Twitter platform rather than answer the question. An action Mr Ashworth is perfectly entitled to take, of course. But one normally reserved as a remedy for unpleasant behaviour or repeated, unwelcome attention. Indeed, in his own Twitter bio he sets out clear parameters: “Abuse, mass posts, tinfoil hats and Covid deniers = blocked“.

In this particular instance, made all the more perverse by his very recent criticism of Cllr Fielding for blocking Chronic Oldham.

Mindful of his other biographical claim of “facts not rhetoric”, and unaware at this point that I had been blocked, some further assistance was offered in the quest to get at the truth of his Labour policy assertion. Which, by now, were taking on the clear appearance of rhetoric, not facts:

That was followed up by a promise that if he was able to point me to that policy then it would be followed up immediately. A big story of a major ‘cover-up’ by those against whom he was most frequently active and a real feather in the Chronic Oldham cap, one might assume?

But given the ever lengthening gap between his initial, confident statement of wrongdoing by Cllr Fielding, and the invitations to back it up, the clear inference was drawn that Chronic Oldham was ‘plaiting fog’ as we say in the West Riding. There was no such Labour Party policy and, to considerable relief, there was no egg on the face of this investigative journalist. On this occasion, at least.

The Twitter exchange was concluded by this post, once it became apparent that Chronic Oldham had pulled down the shutters and he had been exposed as yet another Council critic not above inventing allegations, it seems, in order to smear one of his principal targets. One might hope that after such a humiliation he might take a little more care in the future?

It would also, presumably, be beyond hope that he might actually do the decent thing and apologise to Sean Fielding?

Damon Ashworth could not be approached directly for comment. Although he runs a content-rich website (see here) there is no email contact provided. Described elsewhere as ‘a motion graphics designer and video editor’, the high spot of the Video section of the Chronic Oldham site is an unedited (and unpixelated) clip of a physical confrontation between a young male-female couple in Oldham town centre.

He was previously a clerk with a specialist insurance provider, with whom he fell into serious dispute. In 2013, he launched a petition to remove Jim McMahon as Leader of Oldham Council (read here). Given how poorly it was framed, the petition, unsurprisingly, attracted just 21 supporters.

The Chronic Oldham Facebook posts appear to attract the same class of social media ‘trolls’ that populate the Oldham Eye, Oldham Heart and Recusant Nine platforms.

UPDATE: Some hours after the publication of this article, and without any attempt to contact its author, Damon Ashworth belatedly posted on Twitter his justification of the allegation of misconduct levelled at the council leader. In the interim period, alleged breach of Labour Party policy had mutated into breach of guidance to Members regarding online and offline abuse. An odd choice, one might say, as the question of abusing another person appears not to have been in issue. Either in person, or on social media.

Subsequently, Cllr Fielding was contacted, via the Oldham Council portal, and has, helpfully, provided this statement:

I understand that the conduct to which Mr Ashworth objects, and which he believes is in breach of the section of the code of conduct to which he refers, was the subject of a number of complaints to the Labour Party some months ago. I know this as the complainants told me of their intention to complain or, in at least one case, copied me in to their correspondence with the Labour Party.

Given that I have had no contact from the Labour Party requesting that I respond to any such allegations of misconduct I can only assume that they were found to have no merit and dismissed at the first stage.”

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

Page last updated: Tuesday 9th March, 2021 at 1445 hours

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.

Picture credit:

© 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.