Absent of evidence

Tameside’s best known political agitator, Raja Miah, suffered a further blow this week with yet more social media bans, writes Neil Wilby.

Two of his weekly broadcasts on the ‘Recusant Nine’ YouTube channel, purporting to cover political issues in the neighbouring Borough of Oldham, were removed after both were found to contain defamatory material.

An interest is declared, as a significant part of the content was directed at the journalistic output on this website, accompanied by the now-standard personalised abuse.

However, by the time my own complaint was made, the harassing and highly offensive podcasts had already been taken down. At least one of which is now the subject of safeguarding concerns over the safety of one of its targets and consequent police enquiries.

It is not known, at this time, to whose complaints YouTube have responded but, in no particular order, Detective Inspector Kenneth Blain of Greater Manchester Police; Jim McMahon, MP for Oldham West and Royton; and Cllr Sean Fielding, Leader of Oldham Council, and nationally known justice campaigner, Gail Hadfield-Grainger, were also under attack on the podcasts.

Miah claims, publicly, that the MP and the Council Leader are involved in a conspiracy, with me, to incite his murder. DI Blain, and the rest of Greater Manchester Police, is said to be turning a blind eye to the plot. The Facebook post, from 4th April, 2021 articulating that baseless proposition is also subject to complaint and application.

This is the picture that Raja claims puts his life in danger. He further asserts, with no evidence whatsoever, that ‘”Rusty Wheels” is an associate of Sean Fielding and Neil Wilby’. A rather ludicrous picture and a non-existent ‘association’ is the sum total of the conspiracy to murder. Little wonder GMP gave his ‘complaint’ short thrift:

‘The Man from Mossley’ has, it is said, previously been suspended from Facebook on at least two occasions. The social media giant has also sanctioned Miah over monetising his output via ‘supporter’ subscriptions.

Every ‘Recusant Nine’ post, or podcast, is accompanied by Raja begging for money. His latest scheme, and one, it seems, designed to circumvent the Facebook ban, is, also, the subject of at least two complaints to Paypal, who facilitate the ‘Buy Me A Coffee’ scheme.

An oddity, given that he lives in some splendour in an upmarket commuter village on the edge of the Pennine Hills, with a top end car parked in the precincts (he has previously driven Lamborghini and Porsche models) and regular shots of his expensive camera and video equipment being shown off to his audience (his latest podcast has just 222 views, over a week after uploading).

Those who thought that the preposterous ‘murder conspiracy’ was the limit of his stupidity, and propensity to outrage, were, however, wrong:

Just two days later Miah posted this on Facebook:

These are a selection from the comments posted below the Raja Miah offering. Most of them are Recusant Nine regulars. Where necessary, syntax errors have been corrected. Not one contributor asked about the facts and evidence backing up the claims made by their hero, such as who was afraid of whom; questioned the source of ‘the rumours’; referred to the questionable bona fides of a notorious independent councillor; or were curious about why there was no quoted comment from those featured in Miah’s outrageous post.

Graham Whitehead

“Oldham council are the lowest of the low. They will resort to any shitty stuff they can.”

[This ex-UKIP election candidate, and Britain First follower, was reported over racist comments made on his Facebook page, during the 2015 local council polls. He lost badly to Jim McMahon and Whitehead is said to bear a grudge against him as a result.]

Ian Dunn

“OMBC have always had a dirty tricks department. They have now sunk to the bottom of their own cesspit.”

Marlene Williamson

“The council’s actions are disgusting and degrading beyond words.”

Tim Howell

“OMBC threaten good Oldhammers who stand up for town and independents…They protect paedos, crooks, court votes by giving away land for peanuts..Libdems all the wanton (?) May 6th get that shithead out of office.”

Mohib Uddin (ex Lib Dem councillor in Oldham).

“Absolutely shocking behaviour by the ruling Labour Cartel. I urge the town’s 3 Labour MP’s and Labour Council Leader to urgently issue a statement condemning this atrocious behaviour and distance themselves from such hurtful comments. Gary, next time you are in Coldhurst let me know. We are from different political parties but I will proudly walk along with you. This vile behaviour by the Labour Cartel in Oldham has to stop. Full stop.”

Rocky Skelshaw (a pseudonym for Kerry Skelhorn, about whom much more can be read here).

“Raja – it’s not just towards Gary – it’s a British MP INCITING HATE towards the armed forces. It’s TREASON! That’s why I was so utterly gobsmacked by it – have things gone so far downhill in Oldham that we no longer recognise crime – that people shrug this off as ‘unsurprising’. I’m sorry but I do find it SURPRISING that an MP should behave like this! He should be arrested & investigated. Never mind GMP – MI5 should be looking at him.”

Disgraced ex-UKIP member, Warren Bates, said in reply to Miss Skelhorn: “MI5 look at everyone and everything. If any action is taken, your guess is as good as mine. Don’t forget the opposition party is the Lib Dem and they’re all in it.”

Janet Ellis

‘They were rotten to the core 20 years ago when we lived in Oldham. Seems nothing has changed. Labour will always be the same. Wouldn’t trust any of them.’

Bev Heney

‘It’s a fucking disgrace Debbie Barratt-Cole. Its a criminal offence to incite violence. But how many will face a court for this. Not a fucking one of them SHAMEFUL.”

Feelings, very clearly, run high amongst a small number of those who oppose the Party controlling the local Council in Oldham. Whether that is reflected at the ballot box on 6th May remains to be seen.

But, for Raja, outrage equals more money; especially from this core support of a rabidly anti-Labour caucus and known far-right supporters. They drink in his divisive and hate-filled outpourings. He is their totem in the war against the despised ruling Party in the Borough. A group from which former member Miah was expelled last August.

The fact that he is a persistent, mendacious liar is now well rehearsed elsewhere on this website (read more here) and threads through this deconstruction of his deeply troubling race-baiting post.

The starting point is the Miah connections with Proud of Oldham and Saddleworth (the POOS). He is believed to be one of the founders, said to select its election candidates (read more here) and it is a matter of record that he is one of the moderators on the POOS Facebook page.

Paul Taylor, who runs another fledgling political party in the town, Northern Heart UK (formerly Oldham Heart), asserts: ‘Raja Miah is the directing mind behind POOS. They meet monthly at Springhead Liberal Club. He has major say on policy, tactics and candidate selection’. Taylor comments on most of the Recusant Nine posts, expressing very strong anti-Labour Party views. A previous falling-out with Raja appears to have now been repaired.

Two of Miah’s closest friends, Paul Errock and Debbie Barratt-Cole, stood unsuccessfully as candidates in the 2019 General Election. Both of whom also contribute financially to either the POOS, Raja Miah, or the Recusant Nine platform.

At least three Facebook ‘supporters’ who previously sent Miah money every month were picked as candidates in the forthcoming local elections in Oldham. They include Gary Tarbuck, who is at the centre of the latest controversy. The other two are Marc Hince and Mark Birchall. It is unclear how many other POOS candidates will be on the ballot papers. Or, whether they also contribute to the Miah coffers. Six POOS candidates, from an original pool believed to be twelve, are alleged to have dropped out because of what supporters say was ‘hate and harassment’. Completely absent of evidence, in the usual way.

Tarbuck is prominently referenced in the opening paragraph of the Recusant Nine post and is, of course, central to the rest of the Miah ramblings. The assumption, in those circumstances, is that he is a party and, very probably a contributor, to what is written.

Several questions arise, not least: With the local elections just over four weeks away, and having switched wards only last week, from Saddleworth South to Saddleworth North, how does Gary find the time to be supporting another candidate miles away from his countryside base?

On the doorstep, how did Tarbuck explain the migration away from his family’s deep roots in the Labour Party, with his grandfather, former Mayor Frank Heap, being such a hugely respected figure both in the town of Oldham and across the political divide.

How was the alleged corruption and child sex abuse cover-up articulated or evidenced to ward constituents. Who is corrupt? Who is involved in the cover-up? Where is the evidence? Does he name names, or is it just a POOS party line being spun on the back of largely baseless, defamatory posts by Raja Miah?

But the most crucial question, regarding corruption, concerns one of the men Gary Tarbuck is avidly supporting and campaigning alongside in Coldhurst, Montaz Ali Azad. Found guilty, in 2016, of a string of offences relating to tax irregularities and unregistered workers, the Labour Party withdrew the whip whilst he was a sitting councillor in Oldham and he then left the fold. Later to be defeated as an independent candidate in the 2019 local elections by Labour’s Ruji Sapna Surjan.

That election campaign was not without controversy: Azad was caught out claiming he was the ‘Labour independent candidate’ on the first version of his election leaflet (later corrected after complaints to the Returning Officer). He also claimed to live locally, but his home address, listed publicly by the Disqualification Authority, is in Burnley Lane, Chadderton.

His troubles began when Home Office immigration officers discovered the unlawful employment during an inspection visit in August, 2013. There were three illegal workers on his premises at the time.

Eurolinen UK Ltd, now dissolved, operated an industrial laundry on Dickenson Road in Ashton-under-Lyne. The firm went into liquidation in September 2014, owing £105,367 to creditors. It had ceased trading one month earlier.

Following an investigation, launched by the Insolvency Service, Azad was disqualified for six years from being a director of any company or having any management role within one.

He was ordered to pay a £15,000 civil penalty, which remained unpaid at the date of the company’s liquidation.

Ex-Cllr Azad has been approached to establish the position regarding any voluntary arrangement in respect of unpaid creditors and the present status of the fine.

The disgraced politician, in whom the POOS now place so much faith, promoting so heavily, and who was Eurolinen UK’s sole director, also failed to ensure the company lawfully operated a ‘Pay As You Earn’ scheme by not declaring the illegal employees – and accounting to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for deductions that should have been made from their earnings for income tax and National Insurance. Over £17,000 was owed to HMRC when the company went bust.

Azad was involved, at the time, in a number of local restaurant businesses, but resigned as a director of three other limited companies just before his disqualification became effective. He had also opened another industrial laundry business, Marked Industries Ltd, which set up in Oldham just before Eurolinen UK Ltd was raided. Companies House records show Shofina Bibi, who lived with Azad at the time, owned 75 per cent of its shares. That company was dissolved in August last year. Shomuz Miah was also a director. Khalique Miah is a director of one of Azad’s former companies, Niadorn Ltd, which is still trading.

One of the most vociferous commentators on the Recusant Nine post, Mohib Uddin, is a long-serving, senior tax inspector. He is also a close friend and political ally of Raja Miah, who describes Uddin as a ‘leading political analyst’. Mohib, in spite of his vocation and past history in a short-lived and notably unremarkable spell as an Oldham councillor, plainly does not see a great deal wrong with the corrupt personal, political and corporate history of Montaz Ali Azad. He, more than anyone, would know the background to this independent candidate. As can be seen from his public comment, despite the obvious conflict with his day job, he is prepared to ‘walk with’ Azad (and Tarbuck) in Coldhust to ‘show solidarity’. A matter now raised, quite properly, with HMRC’s press office as a public interest concern.

By way of contrast, Robert Clarke, a group leader with the Insolvency Service said: “The Insolvency Service rigorously pursues directors who break employment and immigration laws. Taking on staff illegally means those staff do not enjoy basic employment rights and is a clear breach of a director’s duties.

He added, “The public has a right to expect that those who break the law will face the consequences. Running a limited company means you have statutory obligations as well as protections, and this should serve as a warning to other directors tempted to take on illegal staff.”

In the second paragraph of the Recusant Nine post, Miah refers to an ‘extremely disturbing rumour’ that, according to him, is ‘an incitement of violence against Gary Tarbuck’ (fourth paragraph). He does not state either the source of the rumour, how knowledge of it came to him or how he can know that it is ‘spreading like wildfire’ in the local community when he lives miles away and spends his days bashing a keyboard angrily or presenting himself in front of one of his cameras.

As with so much, if not all, of Raja’s outpourings on social media, it is innuendo, the flying of a kite, the stirring of hate and division, and the intention to smear that invariably trump facts and evidence. Which explains the inclusion of the line, ‘reports of this (HE KILLS MUSLIMS) are being shared by senior Oldham Council leaders and politicians’. It is well rehearsed that none of those leaders and politicians will have anything to do with Miah, or his acolytes; which begs the next question: How is he privy to the sharing of information so sensitive that, if it ever existed and was exposed, would instantly end the career of those same politicians and, very likely, bring down the Labour Party in Oldham?

In the third paragraph it all becomes a muddle: Miah claims it is ‘the Bangladeshi community who are scared’. Of what, he doesn’t say. But not the upstanding, well-connected Gary Tarbuck, surely?

But this contradiction is accompanied by the standard, self-aggrandising claim that so very many people in Oldham take all their problems to him; a noted trouble causer who has done so much damage to the town, and seriously enriched himself along the way, rather than to their elected representatives, local religious leaders, community champions or, if so afraid for their peace and safety, the local police whom, very visibly, work hard on cohesion and inclusivity.

The remainder of the post is largely an attack on the latter, claiming yet again that Greater Manchester Police are corruptly acting against him – and have an entrenched political allegiance to the Labour leaders in Oldham and the wider region. Coupled with a plea by Raja Miah for Oldham citizens, and public figures, ‘to condemn’ his political enemies on the basis of nothing higher than a scurrilous, unevidenced rumour that ‘shames the town’.

He signs off by saying that Gary Tarbuck ‘will continue to serve Oldham’. A further decoration of the truth, as the Saddleworth man has never held elected office and only moved back to the Borough in 2014, having spent most of his adult life as a serving soldier, either elsewhere in the UK, or posted abroad.

In a moment of quiet reflection, the same Gary Tarbuck might well regret having his, and the POOS name, and his photograph, attached to yet another Recusant Nine post that now appears to have backfired spectacularly. There is no mention at all, on his Facebook election candidate’s page, of the visit to Coldhurst, the fear he is allegedly living under or the Recusant Nine post making that claim. Tarbuck is, however, continuing to promote the corrupt Montaz Ali Azad, in spite of the latest revelations.

The late Frank Heap, for his part, may well be looking down aghast at what is being done in his good name.

Contact was made yesterday with two prominent members of the Muslim community in Oldham, both with strong links to Coldhurst and its local constituents. One said of the Miah allegations, emphatically, ‘I’ve never heard such nonsense‘. The other noted: ‘The latest in a long line of Raja’s conspiracy theories, without any truth in it at all‘.

Councillors Fielding and Abdul Jabbar, who represents Coldhurst, have been approached for a statement regarding the truth, or otherwise, of the assertions made in the Recusant Nine post. No acknowledgement, or reply, was provided to these questions:

1. The key question, of course, is how these ‘He Killed Muslims’ rumours came into being and the extent of their circulation: Can you assist with this?

2. Also, is the Bangladeshi community in Coldhurst living in fear? 

3. Without wishing to intrude too deeply into your [Cll Jabbar’s] ward business, how many of your constituents have contacted you with concerns over Mr Tarbuck’s brief incursion into the ward before or since the Miah ‘rumours’ were posted yesterday on Facebook?

Jim McMahon was asked to comment in the light of the claim by Kerry Skelhorn that his ‘election team’ are at the heart of the rumours. This is his response:

These allegations are highly offensive and completely untrue. I will be seeking legal advice regarding such defamatory statements, around both those who make them and those who share them.”

Raja Miah has declined all previous invitations to exercise his right to reply. He did, however, post a response, of sorts, on his Recusant Nine page shortly after publication of this article. It is another largely fact-free, defamatory, ad hominem attack that fails to address any of the serious, core issues rehearsed here. Its focus appears to be on the prospect of having his Paypal money supply interrupted, or cut off altogether, and the exposure of his luxury lifestyle.

The contribution of HMRC’s Mohib Uddin was rather more succinct, but on broadly the same theme: “The man [Neil Wilby] is a bell end”.

The conspiracy to murder; the Coldhurst ‘rumour’, now proven to be false; the corrupt councillor, the tax fraud, exploitation of illegal immigrants or election fraud; and the relentless milking of money, by his wealthy close friend, from those less well off, went unremarked by the tax inspector.

Proud of Oldham and Saddleworth’s Party Chairwoman (as she describes herself), Sarah Shilton, added: “Seriously guys, I hope he [Neil Wilby] sees this or someone sends it to him. Mental health is a serious subject and if someone is showing signs of mental health issues we should be offering help”.

For emphasis, she added this NHS Helpline weblink.

The same POOS, and the same Chair(woman), who kick up a stink about alleged ‘hate and harassment’ towards candidates standing for their Party. But, more on that soon, as a statement unearthed on their own website seriously undermines that claim. Hoisted by their own petard, yet again.

The moment of truth will arrive for them on 6th May, 2021 at the polling booths. Those adjacent to the political scene in Oldham say, emphatically that the POOS will not win a single seat on Oldham Council. Their appalling conduct, propensity for deceit amongst their supporters, and the close association with disgraced Raja Miah and corrupt Montaz Ali Azad, suggests that would be the right result for the town.

A full list of wards and nominations published by the Council’s Returning Officer can be found (here). There is also a helpful party by party breakdown of candidates and other interesting statistical information relating to both the forthcoming and 2019 local elections in Oldham.

Page last updated: Sunday 17th April, 2021 at 0855 hours

Photo Credits: Facebook.

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, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The two that got away?

In this, the first of a short series reviewing the past year, a second look is taken at two cases of miscreant police officers being shielded by senior management in their respective police forces.

In August, a very powerful story was published on this website. The latest in a lengthy series of exclusives dating back to early 2018.

It was a relentless, excoriating take-down of an organisation that staggers from crisis to crisis, scandal to scandal. It’s title was propitious, given what was to happen within Greater Manchester Police less than four months later: ‘Rotten to its core‘ (read in full here).

Within that piece there were exclusive and sensational revelations about yet another grotesque ‘cover-up’ by GMP. The information was triangulated from a number of very well connected policing and media sources – and confirmed, to a very limited extent, by the force press office.

In short, a serving police officer, attached to an elite unit and who cannot be named for legal reasons, committed very serious criminal offences in the early part of this year and has yet to face any form of justice.

A member of the public caught with significant quantities of Class A drugs about his person, not once but twice, would have appeared at the local magistrates’ court within days of being apprehended. Especially, if there were child safeguarding issues also in play.

Two weeks later, there was a sequel, headlined ‘Even more rotten‘ (read in full here). Another exclusive, it has also received no press coverage elsewhere.

Central to the piece was a letter sent to the Deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester by Gail Hadfield Grainger, a nationally known justice campaigner. The turgid response from the perennially ineffective Beverley Hughes told little, apart from confirming that ‘a criminal investigation was ongoing’.

Gail’s stake in the case is that the subject officer was a significant part of the police operation, codenamed Shire, that led to the death of her partner, Anthony Grainger. He was also active in the run-up to the public inquiry into the shooting that took place in 2017, reflecting his key role.

The now departed, and disgraced, Ian Hopkins, an unmitigated disaster as a chief constable, was said to be anxious not to give the bereaved Grainger family another stick with which to beat him and the force. Particularly, in the light of the scathing public inquiry report published in July, 2019 (read here).

The revelation that one of Operation Shire‘s key officers was corrupt, and a drug dealer, would have piled on the agony for both GMP and Hopkins. Not at all aided by the further revelation that the predecessor investigation to Shire, Operation Blyth, also had a now-convicted drug dealer in its midst.

It is worth repeating yet again, for emphasis, that the public interest is not served at all well by senior police officers interfering with justice, simply to preserve their own reputation. On the watch of Ian Hopkins it was not, sadly, a rare occurrence. Greatly aided by zero oversight by the Mayor, Andy Burnham and his Deputy Mayor – and the so-called ‘police watchdogs’ who simply sat on their collective hands whilst the country’s second largest police force descended into corrupt chaos.

Will the New Year bring justice for the victims of the corrupt, drug dealing, Greater Manchester detective? For the moment it seems not, but with the police force now in ‘Special Measures‘, as ordered by the Home Secretary, then just maybe a more rigorous scrutiny of this troubling matter can be undertaken.

The second strand to this piece features an article published at the beginning of December detailing another police ‘cover-up’, this time from across the Pennine hills. Great care has been taken not to identify the senior officer, beyond the fact that s/he is serving with one of the Yorkshire forces.

A large enough pool to prevent jigsaw identification, although the officer’s identity within police circles appears widely known, judging from the unprecedented feedback received privately following publication of the article.

There is no criminal offence involved in this particular case, but allegations of an overt racist act that could have far reaching consequences, not only for the employing force but for the wider police service, whose obsession with diversity and inclusion is all consuming. Which spawned the headline ‘Say one thing, do another‘ (read in full here).

Large amongst those two-faced organisations, who routinely discredit themselves by their proximity to such covering up, is the much ridiculed College of Policing (read more here). They had the audacity to take the miscreant officer into their Ryton-on-Dunsmore headquarters for a week, knowing that, at the time, s/he was banned from all other police premises.

This, presumably, to give the appearance that all was well – and throw enquiring journalists, and fellow officers, away from the scent of corruption.

The actions of the subject police force, since the exclusive article was published on this website, give all the appearance of downplaying the incident and desperately wanting it to go away. There has, for example, been no referral of the alleged gross misconduct to the police watchdog. A mandatory requirement in the prevailing circumstances. They, in turn, despite being very aware of what is alleged, have not called in the investigation under their statutory powers.

There has been no intervention from the subject force’s police and crime commissioner, either, despite both s/he and her/his staff being highly aware of this troubling case and its impact on the electorate in the force area.

Once again, the public are ill served by these ‘top brass’ shenanigans and concealing racists in the ranks goes very much against the grain. Not to mention the huge amounts of taxpayer funds wasted on payments to officers on gardening leave or suspension.

But, without a greater public outcry, or a whistleblower prepared to speak out publicly, and with compelling evidence to boot, those same very senior officers will continue to laugh in the face of journalists attempting to hold them to account.

The outrage of decent, genuine officers, past and present, in all three Yorkshire forces, continues unabated. This is the comment of one, a number of others are couched in rather more forthright language: ‘Inevitably, front line morale will be sapped once more by poor judgement of our superiors and lack of recognisable leadership. I don’t want to work with or for a racist’.

Page last updated: Wednesday 30th December, 2020 at 1205 hours

Photo Credits: Independent Office for Police Conduct

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cost of GMP’s disastrous IS Transformation Programme rises to £80 million

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) is the UK’s fifth largest police force, with over 7,000 officers, and around 3,000 civilian staff, whose mission is to ensure the safety and security of a diverse local population of over 2.5 million people, spread over 11 Divisions (plus 6 City of Manchester sub-divisions), 10 specialist units and covering an area close to 1,300 square kilometres.

In 2010, GMP began a near ten-year journey that would see their out-dated computerised crime databases and paper-based systems, including the Operational Policing Unit System (OPUS), and an older system purchased from Northumbria Police, replaced with a new multi-million pound installation that is now widely dubbed as iOPS: An acronym of Integrated Operational Policing System.

Or, less generously, ‘iFLOPS’. The name given to a closed Facebook group where reports of the new system’s many failures could be posted, without fear of reprisal from GMP’s feared Professional Standards Branch (PSB). iFLOPS attracted an astonishing membership of over 1,400 GMP officers in just over two days. A large number of posts revealed genuine fears that lives could be lost whilst iOPS remained in its present dysfunctional state.

OPUS was introduced in, or around, 2004 and has, for the moment, been retained as a read-only database to cover intelligence gaps or inputting errors within iOPS.

The new system would accommodate the force’s ambition to have every front line officer equipped with mobile devices that can link directly with its data and also integrate seamlessly with body worn video footage taken at the scene of incidents. This film would later be used to support prosecution of alleged offenders. The mobile devices would all have eight core policing applications (apps) installed, together with such as Google Maps and Outlook email. Elimination of duplicate entries is said to be a key feature of the new technology.

This critical new capability gives officers the tools and information they need at street level. More crucially, they can, in theory, access and update databases, including the Police National Computer (PNC) whilst out on patrol. The estimated £10.7 million cost was additional to the iOPS software purchase. £1.8 million was paid for the devices the rest was spent was to be spent on training, the policing apps, airtime and data use.

Other forces using the same mobile systems include the Police Service of Northern Ireland; an East Midland collaboration between Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Notts and Northants; Kent Constabulary and Essex Police.

By any measure, conversion to iOPS and the introduction of the mobile devices was an ambitious change project for GMP and forms part of the force’s wider Target Operating Model (TOM).

A version of iOPS is presently in use at four other police forces, including the Metropolitan Police Service and South Wales Police, which was the first to successfully deploy the ControlWorks system in 2015. A comprehensive, easy to follow overview of iOPS can be read here. On paper, at least, it looks highly functional, effective and efficient.

In September 2013, two senior GMP officers, believed to be the then chief constable, Sir Peter Fahy, and one of his assistant chiefs, Garry Shewan, reported to Tony Lloyd, at the time the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester, that the contract for a £30 million overhaul of GMP’s computer systems should be given to professional services giant EY, formerly Ernst and Young, without inviting rival contractors to bid for the work.

By that time, EY had already been paid £300,000 by GMP for preparatory work to scope the merits of introducing a single new system, which would unify the existing GMP databases, transfer them to a virtual infrastructure (Cloud), and allow officers to access key information whilst out on patrol or responding to incidents.

In the event, the PCC couldn’t countenance such a large contract being effectively handed to a single favoured contractor and, quite correctly, ordered that the project be put out to tender:

“GMP needs to have an IT system that is fit for the 21st century. The current system is in need of radical overhaul.

“In the current financial climate, a major piece of investment like this has to be done correctly – failure is simply not an option [Emphasis added].

“Following the initial scoping work that has been done by EY, a delivery partner now needs to be appointed to work with GMP to drive this project forward.

“I’ve decided that the right thing to do is to appoint that partner organisation through a competitive tendering process. This demonstrates transparency and also allows us to test the market so that the system developed will not only represent best value for money, but is also of the highest quality.

“An open [tender] process also minimises risk to the project of delay by legal challenge and enables us to see how we can work in partnership with industry experts to develop a system that will equip GMP to provide the best possible service to the people of Greater Manchester.”

GMP now say iOPS is part of a wider information services transformation programme initially budgeted at £60 million: Double the original figure of £30 million approved by Mr Lloyd.

The software designer who succeeded in the tender process is the Capita Group, and consultants appointed to manage the installation were, indeed, EY, who had, of course, already carried out the scoping work. It is reported that GMP commissioned the ControlWorks and PoliceWorks elements of the trademarked Capita system. The status of the EvidenceWorks part of the system in GMP is not known, at present. This usually involves, at the very least, replacing ageing and increasingly unreliable two deck tape recorders with digital devices and associated technology.

Screen Shot 2019-09-03 at 15.12.30

In its promotional materials, Capita boasts that it has been a supplier of mission-critical solutions to law enforcement agencies for over 30 years – and works closely with clients to support evolving operational requirements and future business needs in policing, namely; providing mobile access to data for responding officers, data sharing with partners and truly multi-channel, two-way communication links between the force and the public.

Capita’s portfolio, they say, directly addresses core policing needs to deliver a public-facing, locally-based, modern and intelligence-driven service. Capita’s products and services are proven to help reduce operational risk, deliver a better service to the public and increase the effectiveness of operations.

But during the present iOPS crisis in Greater Manchester Police not a single word has been heard from their company about what have been described in the local press as ‘catastrophic’ failures. Enquirers are directed to GMP statements on the topic.

The relationship between Capita and GMP dates back many years, with GMP being the first force in the UK to outsource support for Airwave (the now outdated national police radio communication system) to a third party supplier. The two organisations, they say, developed an excellent working relationship over the years and built a strong, trusting partnership. The Capita team is based on site at GMP’s radio workshops to enable them to work closely with force employees and officers. As part of this service, Capita provides mobile radio engineers who are deployed when required to support vehicle radio incidents. Technical advice is also provided for hand-held and vehicle radio assets, and control room first line enquiries. GMP’s control rooms are also supported by a 24/7 regional field service team.

The police’s project leader for the IS Transformation Programme was Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan; assisted at that time by Chief Superintendent Chris Sykes (pictured below), since promoted to assistant chief constable, project leader and lead spokesperson. Another key member of the IS team is Assistant Director, Bill Naylor, involved in the programme at a senior level since 2011 and leading teams of up to 95 officers on associated projects. The officer responsible for delivery of training was recently retired inspector, Richard Easton. Unusually, there is no operational codename for the project, according to GMP’s press office.

 

Screen Shot 2019-09-03 at 17.42.48
Assistant Chief Constable Chris Sykes

Details of the IS Transformation Programme tender process, via open source, are sparse. There did not appear to be any media coverage of the outcome. A copy of the contract award, dated 25th November, 2015 can, however, be read here. But, apart from naming the four successful project ‘partners’ (Capita Secure Information Solutions Ltd; Accenture Ltd; Intergraph (UK) Ltd and Northgate Public Services (UK) Ltd), and giving the values of the lowest and highest bids (£7 million and £25 million) it reveals very little more apart from the fact that the lowest bid was not chosen. The box for ‘the most economically advantageous’ is ticked. There were 14 bids, in total, for the four different contracts awarded. [The sharp-eyed might notice that Intergraph was wrongly referred to as ‘Integraph’ in the Decision Notice].

In May 2017, reportedly a year late, GMP issued a £17m pre-tender to overhaul and transition its data centre services to a virtualised infrastructure. Several potential suppliers were sought to express interest in the contract.

According to GMP’s tender documents, virtualisation techniques were being sourced as a means to transform large sections of the force’s existing infrastructure that is built around ageing in-house technology.

“[The proposed contract] will provide a managed service to support and maintain such services and facilitate the migration of the services to alternative locations if required,” said the pre-tender notice.

“GMP is committed to improving technology to enable staff to work more effectively and efficiently, the IS Transformation Programme (ISTP) have, and will continue to introduce new technology to support core operational policing,

“This includes how users will experience IT as part as their roles alongside building a better IT infrastructure to be more dependable and flexible in the future.”

Enquiries are ongoing to discover the name of the successful contractor and the amount tendered. It is not clear at this stage if the GMP migration to Cloud-based data storage was linked to the wider 43-force Microsoft Azure transformation that now falls under the National Enabling Programmes. For which BT and Deloitte have been awarded lead contracts (read more here).

iOPS was scheduled to go live in November, 2017. Two years after the contract award. The business case for the new system required cost savings to come on stream shortly after that date. By that time it had already been beset with serious issues, necessitating software re-writes. These mainly involved the flawed transfer into the new system of millions of records, stretching back over 40 years relating to crimes, convictions, suspects and victims.

An external audit of GMP’s finances, shortly before the intended launch, warned that the plan to go live with the all the component parts of the new information system, in the same moment, was a high risk strategy. They also noted that the problems already identified were responsible for a budget excess, but GMP was looking to claw back the overspend from the contractors. On-time delivery was central to the force’s cost saving plan.

Grant Thornton wrote to the Chief Constable and the Mayor’s office saying: “GMP has decided to go for the ‘same day’ approach to implementation proposed in the iOps deployment approach and recently signed off by the Organisational Change Board (OCB)”.

“It will be important to ensure that the planning, testing and readiness assessment are robust given the inherent risk of this approach.”

The Grant Thornton report also featured robust advice from an independent IT adviser and consultant, Gerry Pennell OBE, who warned it was ‘critical’ that the system was thoroughly tested, and staff properly trained, before it was launched.

“Given the ‘big bang’ nature of the deployment, and the scale of the impact on GMP’s operation and its criticality, I would counsel that considerable thought is given to ‘operational proving’ before going live,

“I appreciate that there are some real logistical challenges in standing up an effective operational testing/rehearsal opportunity. However, those challenges need to be balanced against the risk of encountering major operational issues when going live.”

Mr Pennell, also expressed concern the force ‘does not have adequate involvement with iOPS from a technical perspective’. GMP had made ‘good progress’ in recruitment but there were still ‘some significant gaps’, he said.

An information systems heavyweight, he is presently retained by both the International Olympic Committee and the Cabinet Office, and is a former IT Director at the University of Manchester.

The concern over remoteness of GMP’s own staff from the IS programme was also echoed by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabularies in their 2018 PEEL assessment.

When asked about ‘operational proving’, a GMP spokesperson said: “Prior to launching, we carried out extensive testing to ensure all new systems were usable and fit for purpose.

“We were continually engaged in a range of testing activity throughout 2018 and up to the launch date. It was unfeasible to carry out a live pilot of our new systems for operational and logistical reasons, which is clearly acknowledged and anticipated in the independent advice provided to us.”

There were also dark rumblings at that time, from insiders, about serious data breaches, with unauthorised personnel allegedly able to view the crime records. GMP denied any breach, as a reflex reaction, but the Information Commissioner’s Office was not contacted and no investigation took place.

March, 2018 was mooted by GMP as the revised go-live date, but this deadline came and went and was notable only for the departure of ACC Shewan a short time before. He had given indication of his retirement on 24th December, 2017 in a short message on Twitter; there was no valediction from his senior colleagues, including Chief Constable Ian Hopkins, when he left; nothing in the local press: Shewan just vanished, or so it seemed, with just a Twitter posting on 21st February, 2018 that read: ‘So the day has arrived….these 4 little things (epaulettes, warrant card, name badge) have dominated my life for over 30 years and today I get to hand them back for someone else to enjoy. They physically weigh ounces but without them I feel so much lighter. Thank you my friends for your love and support’.

A very short time after he left GMP, a company was incorporated bearing the name Garry Shewan Consulting Limited, with a retired police officer as its only director (read Companies House records here).

On his LinkedIn profile, Garry Shewan makes the remarkable claim that he is a ‘highly skilled strategic change leader who has led a wide range of transformational programmes including the delivery [emphasis added] of a unique £60million IS Transformation Programme – transforming operational policing, re-thinking the use of data & digital applications, and delivering significant business improvements.’

Set against the facts that iOPS has been repeatedly described in the local press as ‘a disaster’ or ‘catastrophic’ and on television as ‘a health and safety risk both to the public and police officers’ it can be inferred that the core of Shewan’s claims are not true. Not least because the system did not go live until 9th July, 2019, 17 months after he left the force; it is still not ‘delivered’ in September, 2019 and remains beset by serious problems.

Screen Shot 2019-09-03 at 17.37.35

What the Shewan LinkedIn profile does not mention is that he is currently employed by a company that he was actively promoting during his time as a serving police officer, Mutual Gain Ltd. Also a strong proponent of the insidious Common Purpose, he has been absent from Twitter since 10th August, 2018. Two days after the scandal broke on regional television and in the local press. He, again, repeats the claim that he ‘delivered’ the £60 million techology programme in his Mutual Gain bio.

At the end of March 2018, GMP had admitted to the local newspaper that the iOPS budget had been exceeded, but refused to say by how much. The budget figure for the overarching IS Transformation Programme was reported to have increased from £60 million to £66 million. The launch date, they said, was ‘several months away’. 10,000 police officers and staff who had already been trained on the new system were asked to do virtual refresher training as a result of the delay. The ‘bugs and defects’ of November, 2017 had now become ‘data quality issues’, according to GMP.

There was little in the way of further news about the long-overdue launch of the new computer systems until late July, 2019. An article in the Manchester Evening News revealed that GMP had gone live earlier that month (on the 9th). It also disclosed a raft of serious problems highlighted by police officer whistle blowers who had contacted the local newspaper (read the article here). The force said the installation was ‘progressing well’ and there was no risks associated with response, front line officers said its failings were ‘catastrophic’ and they were ‘working blind’.

GMP did concede, however, that there were problems associated with the interface with the Crown Prosecution Service: “We have experienced some issues with regards to processing court case files, however we are working around-the-clock with our suppliers to resolve this as a priority. We have appropriate contingency plans in place while this issue is ongoing, to ensure the administration of justice continues”.

This turned out to be another GMP lie, as criminal defence solicitors and police whistleblowers were still coming forward weeks later to say that GMP’s Criminal Justice Unit was in complete meltdown and 90% of case files were either incomplete or not sent to the CPS.

The nature and extent of the iOPS scandal reached a far wider public on 8thAugust, 2019 when a further MEN article, and a seven minute ITV Granada Reports package that led their evening transmission, appeared within a few hours of one another. Central to the TV broadcast was a leaked email sent to all GMP officers from the rank of chief inspector down to constable. It warned of serious safety risks to officers and the public arising from iOPS failures.

They produced a furious response from the force, and in particular the chief constable, Ian Hopkins, which included an extraordinary, public attack on journalist, Matt O’Donoghue, via Twitter. Hopkins followed that up with a formal complaint to his employers, ITV Granada.

The police chief has since had good cause to regret both as he has come under repeated, and well-aimed, fire from the author of this piece, Neil Wilby, the MEN’s Jennifer Williams, an increasing number of police whistleblowers, and a number of politicians and senior public officials in the region. These include, Anne Coffey who believes the new computer system is putting children at risk. A view later endorsed by every Children’s Director across Greater Manchester’s ten boroughs.

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The default position of CC Hopkins, and the GMP press office, has been to consistently downplay the problems with the new system and infer that the very many police officers who have contacted journalists and whistleblowers, to air their concerns, are either at fault with their own lack of understanding of the new system or are disgruntled trouble causers. In the meantime, the local newspaper published seven articles on the iOPS topic within one month, some of them lengthy and highly forensic. The latest, and most wordy, that summarises most of the matters in issue, can be read in full here.

What was revealed, however, in the course of the tense exchanges between the press and police was that the force conceded that the latest budget figure for the IS Transformation Programme was now £71.2 million. The uplift from £60 million, then £66 million is, as yet, unexplained. The force has also, at the same time, retreated from its position in March, 2018, when they said that the iOPS part of the transformation had exceeded its £27 million budget, and have now repeated several times that it is still within the original budget. Again, that is unexplained.

Insiders have reported that the current overall figure is nearer £77 million than 71, and that the force, in keeping with the overall media strategy, is downplaying the budget over-run.

Towards the end of August, 2019 support for iOPS and Chief Constable Hopkins appeared on social media for the first time, during a period notable only for the complete absence of any mention of the iOPS system on any of the many hundreds of authorised GMP Twitter accounts. A civilian communications officer turned iOPS trainer, Stephen Blades, began attacking the most notable critics of the failed computer system: Journalist Neil Wilby, and police whistleblowers that included Peter Jackson and Scott Winters. Hiding behind the Twitter handle of @TheGourmetGays he derided its critics, and in the case of the latter two, falsely accuses them of being homophobes.

Blades’ take on the crisis is this: ‘Folk [police officer users of iOPS] haven’t got a clue, because they refuse change, refuse to learn, refuse to embrace something that replaced a 25 year old system and basically now feel inadequate. But they also refuse to get more training. It’s that simple’.

On iOPS itself, he is equally emphatic: ‘It’s effective, it’s stable, it works and it ain’t going away. As a Command and Control system it’s phenomenal’.

Given the strident nature of his social media commentary, and his assertion in other tweets that he has worked on the system every day since 2017, some merit has to be attached to Stephen Blades’ current, and very public, estimate of the total cost of the IS Transformation Programme: £80 million.

Blades LinkedIn

What is not explained by Blades in his permanently aggressive Twitter output is how he made the transition from call handler, at the very bottom of the GMP food chain, to being responsible for training 3,000 officers. Especially, as he doesn’t know the difference between ‘learning’ and ‘teaching’.

It might also provide an explanation as to why the quality of the iOPS training, and its delivery, is one of the recurring criticisms of a system that the Police Federation, representing 6,000 warranted police men and women, say is a risk to the safety of all their officers and members of the public.

This is a certainly a story with plenty of mileage left in it. It will be interesting to see whether Chief Constable Hopkins (and Mr Blades) is there to see the end of the journey.

Just as interesting is the prospect of a forensic inspection of the estimates, and actual costs, of the technology transformation. How can a £30 million project in 2013 become an £80 million (and rising) project in 2019, a rise of over £8 million per year?

The man who signs the cheques, Mayor Andy Burnham, cannot say he wasn’t warned of the impending disaster. On 6th August, 2018 three whistle blowers met him at Churchgate House, Manchester and iOPS was one of a number of scandals that serving officer Paul Bailey, and retired officers Peter Jackson and Maggie Oliver highlighted. Burnham has since, after a long delay, contemptuously brushed away the many GMP failings (read more here).

He, too, may not see the end of this particular road as he attempts to explain away his failings to voters in the Mayoral election in May 2020.

The press office at GMP has been asked to confirm the latest budgets for (i) the overarching IS Transformation Programme (ii) the iOPS element of that programme (iii) the mobile device roll-out (iv) the virtualisation of the force’s data stores.

Right of reply has been offered to Stephen Blades and Garry Shewan.

Page last updated: Thursday 5th September, 2019 at 1355 hours

Photo Credits: Capita Secure Information Solutions Ltd and Greater Manchester Police

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