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.

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.

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: 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.

Beginning of the end?

It’s been a long haul. An investigation that started over a year ago may soon be coming to an end, writes Neil Wilby.

Allegations that a police force, a local council and a group of MP’s were engaged in a long running wide-scale cover up of grooming and child sex abuse, in an East Lancashire mill town, certainly grabbed attention at the time they were first made in 2019.

Not least by Greater Manchester Police who quietly launched Operation Hexagon in November, 2019 to investigate the claims. Its existence was not publicly revealed until one year later. No further update, or investigation outcome, has been published since then.

A more recent statement from Gold Commander, Nick Bailey, has been sought via the force press office.

The principal accuser is a man who repeatedly claims to speak for “my town” and “our town” but hasn’t lived in Oldham for 17 years. Raja Miah MBE (for the moment, at least) has also attracted an unsavoury group around him who constantly repeat the cover-up allegations and now, very belatedly and as a flag of convenience, position themselves as ‘anti-child grooming campaigners’. Despite the town having a known and very serious child sex abuse problem since at least 2006 (read more here).

Subscribers to his troubled Recusant Nine platform on Facebook, totalling 114 people, a fair number of whom have either criminal records, racist or far-right leanings, all appear to have an axe to grind against one or more of the Labour Party, local council, local MP’s, the police force and the Region’s Mayor. In an imperfect world, some with good reason, no doubt.

Many of them are also attached to a political party known colloquially as the POOS (Proud Of Oldham and Saddleworth). Miah, one of the administrators of the Party’s Facebook page, is said to be the driving force behind the party and selects its candidates for elections. The subscribers send him money every month. He is also feverishly supported by the successful, wealthy and popular local businessman, Paul Errock. Known better to his friends as ‘Boots‘.

The POOS, according to their website, are fielding eight candidates in the forthcoming local elections: Paul Goldring, Mark Birchall, Ronnie Bailey, Amoy Lindo (who stood as an Independent candidate in 2019 General Election), Marc Hince, Paul Shilton, Gary Tarbuck, Phil Sewell (UPDATE: Mr Sewell announced his departure from the POOS, and his Saddleworth South candidacy, shortly after this article was published. Messrs Bailey and Birchall also appear to be no longer standing for election as POOS candidates, as their profile pages on the website are blank). Four other candidates, whose names, apart from Debbie Barratt-Cole, are unknown, dropped out of the election campaign because of what supporters describe, without specification, as ‘hate and harassment’.

The local elections will, doubtless, be a watershed for the feverishly anti-Labour group. Messrs Birchall, Hince and Tarbuck all support Raja Miah with donations.

Oldham born Amoy is the only female, and the only minority ethnic candidate, out of the remaining POOS. She has previously, and unsuccessfully, stood for election in the same St James council ward she is contesting in May.

The main targets for a deeply unpleasant and sustained campaign of abuse and harassment by the Miah cohort are, unsurprisingly, three of the Labour Party’s most prominent figures in the area; Jim McMahon MP, Council Leader Sean Fielding (read more here), one of his two deputies Cllr Arooj Shah (read more here).

The genesis of that vendetta (Miah’s own description of his crusade) was the exposure by the former council leader, and now MP for Oldham West and Royton, of Miah’s lengthy catalogue of misdemeanours associated with two free schools that he previously ran in the area. Millions of pounds remain unaccounted for and, more seriously, there were grotesque safeguarding failures on his watch (read more here).

Miah denies any wrongdoing, although the evidence against him appears to be overwhelming. Instead, he paints himself as a victim of ‘a smear campaign’ that involves many prominent Labour politicians and journalists in the region. As he does regarding every other challenge to similarly ludicrous lies and groundless allegations that he routinely broadcasts (read more here).

This class of behaviour has resulted in action by the giant social media platform, Facebook, who have now blocked him from monetising his content. There are also a number of other complaints lodged against him with Facebook concerning alleged defamatory, mysogynistic and anti-semitic posts. Again, Miah robustly denies wrongdoing, although the facts and evidence appear to be against him.

His conduct has not moderated in any way since and, indeed, it might well be argued that it gets more outrageous to satisfy the needs of those supporters who ‘send money for a coffee’ every month. Taken at its face, a crude circumvention of the Facebook ban.

On Saturday 20th March, 2021, Facebook finally suspended Miah from posting on Recusant Nine. There had been a previous interruption and a warning. He is appealing the ban, he says.

The local police force also seem to be belatedly swinging into action over the abuse, which recently included an unwarranted and very public attack on the capabilities and integrity of Detective Inspector Kenny Blain, as Miah says he was contacted by Greater Manchester Police several times in the week leading up to the ban – and refused to answer the door to one of their officers on the same day the sanction was imposed by Facebook.

The source for this information is Raja himself.

Complaints are also understood to have been made to Google-owned YouTube about the alleged abusive and offensive Miah content on that hugely popular website. They do, anecdotally. have a lower tolerance threshold than Facebook when that class of content is in issue. He continues to beg for money on the video channel saying ‘it is needed for him to carry on’. In this context, the ‘Buy me a coffee’ operators, and their PayPal partners, are also said to have been contacted on the basis that that money handling service is allegedly facilitating defamatory, divisive and hateful content.

A well-placed police source says the force leadership has ordered a further review of complaints about his (and their) persistently mindless and harassing conduct. Exposure to a wide audience on Twitter about the apparent failure to act, for many months, on this shocking situation has also proved highly embarrassing for GMP .

The lengthy delay in finalising the investigation into alleged multi-million fraud at the free schools run by Raja Miah is not assisting the reputation of a police force already in ‘special measures’. It was passed to GMP by the Serious Fraud Office last year.

To top off the bad news, the Cabinet Office’s Forfeiture Committee that reconsiders the fitness of those who hold Honours are also undertaking a review (read more here). Given the nature and scale of the complaints against him, and the disgrace he has brought to the town of Oldham, the MBE awarded in 2004 may soon be a thing of the past.

As will the infamous Raja Miah strapline: “Do not fear them, do not fear any of them

UPDATE: Several hours after this article was published, the Recusant Nine platform was restored by Facebook. For how long, no-one knows? Extraordinarily, Miah is now saying there wasn’t a ban but that during his period of absence he was ‘busy buying a new set of utensils’.

A further break in transmission from Friday 26th March, 2021 suggests there are more problems for Recusant Nine. Potentially, related to yet another unvarnished, unwarranted attack on the efficiency and integrity of DI Blain, two days earlier (read the post here).

Raja Miah, and his supporters, rely on access to the Facebook platform at weekends to promote his output on YouTube. Without that aid, his podcast this week attracted just 18 views (correct at the time of publication of this article).

The Recusant Nine platform was restored on Saturday 3rd April, 2021 and he returned with a bang, as it were. Miah’s latest accusations graphically portray a conspiracy to murder him, involving Jim McMahon, Cllr Fielding and the author of this piece, Neil Wilby. Facilitated by a ‘corrupt and ineffective’ Greater Manchester Police.

On that basis, it is not at all difficult to envisage that another social media ban will soon be in the offing with even more reputational damage inflicted on the Proud of Oldham and Saddleworth (POOS) party.

Page last updated: Monday 5th April, 2021 at 1155 hours

Photo Credits: Schools Week, 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.

Barking up the wrong tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Get the white vote angry’

In October, 2020 I published an article on this website headlined ‘Search for the truth‘. An overview of a journalistic investigation into allegations of a multi-agency cover-up of child sex abuse in Oldham, Greater Manchester (read in full here).

The genesis of those highly emotive accusations, and indeed now its centrepiece, oft-repeated on social media, is an email sent by a BBC journalist to the Council’s leader at the time, Jim McMahon.

A subset is a reply that Oldham Council sent to a letter from the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) dated November, 2012. Its Chair, and author of the HASC letter, Keith Vaz MP, had met, immediately prior to its sending, a child sex abuse survivor from Oldham, Samantha Walker-Roberts (who has waived her right to lifetime anonymity) and her campaigning husband, the now deceased Steven Walker-Roberts. The latter also made written submissions to the Committee as part of a wider Parliamentary inquiry into child sex abuse.

Together, the email and the letter are alleged to prove that McMahon, now the MP for Oldham West, is complicit in the cover up and, due to his position at the time, central to it.

The accuser is Raja Miah, a local political activist (pictured above), whose output on social media and his other internet platforms frequently attracts the attention of the police and litigation lawyers.

These are, by any measure, grotesque allegations to make against anyone, let alone a family man with two young children who lives in the town he has served since 2003 and, of course, works in his constituency office there. He was brought up a short step away in Middleton, just beyond the Oldham Borough boundary.

Miah is best known as the founder and former Chief Executive Officer of two spectacularly failed schools, which led to him being blacklisted by the Department of Education and an investigation by the National Economic Crime Centre (NECC) into alleged misappropriation of millions of pounds of public funds. This followed a referral by the Serious Fraud Office.

The deep dive into the schools finances, strongly championed by the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Angela Rayner MP, has now been passed back to Greater Manchester Police by the NECC. To add to at least six other criminal investigations following complaints brought against Miah, and his closest supporters, by prominent local politicians.

Police sources say that both the Deputy Mayor, Bev Hughes, whose portfolio includes policing, and the chief constable, Ian Hopkins, are now both watching matters in Oldham much more closely. Better late than never, one might say.

Raja Miah strongly denies any wrongdoing. He was, however, kicked out of the Labour Party two months ago, a matter to which he has not alluded at all, amongst his quite prodigious social media ramblings.

It is no coincidence that Jim McMahon instigated and led the investigation into safeguarding, financial and governance irregularities at those schools and that the Miah ‘vendetta’ (Raja’s own word) began soon after the publicity outfall from that blacklisting and his consequent fall from public grace.

The MP told a local newspaper at the time:

“I have no doubt that the campaign of harassment and abuse [by Miah] is intended to intimidate me into withdrawing from the long-standing and ongoing investigation into allegations surrounding Collective Spirit Free School and the Manchester Creative Studio School – a matter which has been widely reported, debated in Parliament and subject to review by the Department for Education.

“I am thankful for the messages of support [I have received], but equally disappointed that such a sensitive and distressing issue [child sex abuse] has been used for political gain by others, and that some feel it appropriate to share wider.”

A great deal of time has been spent looking at the merits of the two core allegations – and the documents that Miah relies upon to underpin them. As with so much of the Miah output, there is little or no substance to them. That is also, on any independent view, clearly the case here.

The Keith Vaz letter was, I’m told, addressed to Charlie Parker, who was Oldham Council’s highly-rated chief executive at the time. In terms of protocol, that was entirely correct: A council chief executive is also one of its two statutory officers, paid a very generous salary to deal with, and co-ordinate, the response to such serious enquiries.

It was Parker who also wrote the reply to Vaz just over four weeks later. The contents are highly sensitive and cannot be repeated here. It can be stated with certainty, however, through the lens of this journalist at least, that the response was measured and appears to answer, in some detail, the two questions put to the Council by the HASC Chair. It is obvious that there was also input, as one might fairly expect, from a number of other officers concerned with child care and safeguarding in Oldham.

Miah, in an article he published without the specific authority of its subject, the child abuse victim referenced above, states that the letter was addressed to McMahon and copied to Parker. It wasn’t. It is further claimed that the Council refused to answer the questions asked by the HASC. That, again, is, quite simply, untrue. A further Raja lie is that the letter references Paul Waites, now a convicted sex offender. It didn’t.

The allegations linking McMahon to the letter and a ‘cover-up’ are contrived and fatuous. Anyone stating otherwise is simply not adjacent to the facts, or is running a quite evil agenda. Or both. His parliamentary office holds no copy of the letter and he does not have any recollection of having had input into it. The allegation that he deliberately withheld circulation of the letter is completely without merit. Simply because it was not his letter, or reply, to control.

It is a similar story regarding what is now widely known as ‘the Lee Rigby email’. Further evidence, Miah claims, that the MP was, at the material time and when Council leader, orchestrating a cover-up and preventing a wider broadcasting of concerns over alleged grooming of girls in local shisha bars.

In another lengthy piece on his Recusant Nine website he recycles documents from ‘a dossier’ given to him by former councillor and local Justice of the Peace, Hugh McDonald. Another with a deep grudge against McMahon, following his supension from the Labour Party in July 2013. McDonald was said at the time to have leaked sensitive police information to the press and to a safeguarding organisation. He later admitted his actions to council officials and apologised.

The fact that he has now released that same information, and more, to Raja Miah, in what seems a further pursuit of a common grudge against McMahon, can be fairly characterised as reprehensible.

It also goes to show that there was no genuine contrition at the time McDonald made his admisssions of guilt – and what now looks to be a very hollow apology. Indeed, he told the Oldham Times in November, 2019 that he ‘had no regrets’ about the incident and that ‘leaking information was a good thing’. The fact that McDonald sat as a magistrate for 35 years makes his actions even more unconscionable.

It is said that the ‘dossier’, to which Miah refers frequently, is the Standards Pack provided to McDonald, by the Council, during the investigation of the complaints against him.

This is the email at the heart of the present McMahon controversy, drawn from the dossier:

As a journalist, and also from the more detached, neutral perspective of an investigator, I’ve read this email many times. It doesn’t say what Raja Miah, and ‘the Rabble’ with whom he has surrounded himself, want to believe.

I am also aware, via policing contacts, that there was a Gold Group running alongside the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) set up in 2006 in the wake of Operation Messenger. That investigation reported, publicly, in 2010 that ‘child sexual exploitation is rife in Oldham, with police dealing with 26 individuals in the past 12 months’. 

Messenger was a dedicated Greater Manchester Police squad ‘battling a dark underworld of child rape and abduction in the Borough’. The force, working in tandem with other partner agencies, also said at the time that ‘in many of the local cases they had dealt with, the young people do not see themselves as victims. Drugs, money or housing could be received in exchange for sex’. 

Apart from the BBC investigation led by Jonathan Ali, it is in my knowledge that Andrew Norfolk of The Times (in 2012) and Geraldine McKelvie of The Daily Mirror (in late 2019) have both spent time in Oldham making journalistic enquiries, conducting interviews with a view to publication. In both cases no story ensued. These two journalists had, to their eternal credit, shone the first light on grooming scandals in Rotherham and Telford, respectively. Exposing police and council cover-ups in both cases.

Sally Chesworth, renowned former producer of BBC’s File on 4, and now producer of BBC’s Newsnight, has also taken a preliminary look at Oldham. She was born and brought up in the town. We have spoken regularly about the difficulties in grounding a story about the alleged CSA/CSE scandal in Oldham when there is a dearth of victims willing to come forward. It was Sally whom, along with Maggie Oliver, broke open the Rochdale grooming scandal in 2013 by way of an iconic File on 4 edition (listen here).

I spoke at length with Maggie about Oldham in a meeting in Manchester at the end of August, 2020. She elected not to get involved with the allegations of a CSA/CSE cover up in the town because of the questions surrounding the integrity of the main proponent, Raja Miah. A wise and propitious stance to take.

Returning to the Miah allegations, it was the Gold Group referred to above, headed at the time by Oldham’s Divisional Commander, Chief Superintendent Catherine Hankinson (now an assistant chief constable with West Yorkshire Police), that received credible intelligence regarding potential disruption at the funeral of Lee Rigby by far-right political activists and the attendant racial tensions. It was that to which Cllr McMahon (as he was then) alluded in his dealings with Kevin Fitzpatrick.

The claim by Raja Miah that the funeral of the fallen soldier was used to prevent the disclosure of CSE taking place at shisha bars in Oldham is not true. An email briefing was sent by GMP to councillors and officers of Oldham Council outlining an early stage investigation, and premises under surveillance. There are no circumstances where the police, or council, would have made this public during an intelligence gathering phase, and where the leaking and proposed reporting could have compromised an ongoing police investigation.

Discussions took place between the BBC and the police about the intelligence and it was agreed that, once a fuller picture emerged, it would be shared. It was during these discussions where the intelligence that the far right could use the funeral of Mr Rigby to protest was revealed. Whilst it is correct that this was shared with the media, as it would be in normal circumstances, it is not the case that the information relating to shisha bars would have been made public at such an early stage in a covert investigation, in any circumstances.

Once a clearer picture developed about the risk of venues, such as shisha bars, the usual process was followed to ensure local parents, such as colleges and others with safeguarding responsibilities, were informed. Further, the practitioner’s guidance (read here) was updated to include shisha bars on the list of high-risk venues. GMP also interacted with media enquiries and the matter was reported by the Manchester Evening News, BBC Manchester, BBC Asian Network and Radio 5. at the very least. The MEN ran this piece about the shisha bars, for example (read here). Kevin Fitzpatrick’s radio broadcast, from February 2014, which followed his investigation into the shisha bar allegations, can be heard here. He says: ‘This was a complicated matter that required detailed investigation’.

Enquiries have revealed that the leaking of the confidential email to BBC reporter Kevin Fitzpatrick was done via a long term associate of Hugh McDonald, Joe Fitzpatrick (Kevin’s father). He was central to the Phil Woolas Representation of the People Act court case (read more here) in which emails were disclosed wherein it emerged that Fitzpatrick senior had sought to create community tensions to ‘get the white vote angry’. He later became the chairman of the United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP) in Oldham.

As to the proposition that McMahon, and other Labour councillors, were either engaged in, or part of, a longer term ‘cover-up’ of child sex abuse in the town, there is no apparent basis to support such an inflammatory, damaging allegation: There was intensive, closely targeted media coverage, regionally; a high profile GMP investigation had been running for seven years; a safeguarding hub was active in the town and, from analysis of other documents in the Miah ‘dossier’, it is clear that the local police inspector running CSA matters, Haydn Roberts, was very much on top of the job and an active, and lucid, communicator. Notably, with his partner council and the late Michael Meacher MP.

That is not to say that everything was, or still is, perfect. Far from it. Mistakes and poor decisions will have been made in individual cases, or on a wider systemic scale. That is the nature of the job, and particularly so when dealing with highly sensitive, very personal caseloads where most, if not all, the actions or remedies require a judgement call from officers or social workers operating in a very difficult, stressful environment.

The present leader of Oldham Council, Sean Fielding, says:

“Child sexual exploitation is abhorrent. It would be naive to think that cases of child sexual exploitation do not take place, and the council and our partners must be equipped to prevent and detect them in all their forms.

“I am grateful to the survivors who have spoken about their experiences and am confident that if the Council, or our partners, could have done more to protect or support them, and others, that Malcolm [Newsam] and Gary [Ridgway] will identify this.”

Messrs Newsam and Ridgway are, of course, two of the most renowned child sex abuse investigators in the country. Both presently engaged on an Oldham strand of a wide-ranging, independent Assurance Review commissioned by the Mayor of Greater Manchester. Their report on the Rochdale and South Manchester strand, published earlier this year, was very widely acclaimed in the media and by public officials. Maggie Oliver also has great confidence in the capabilities and integrity of those two investigators. Not a view shared by ‘Raja’s Rabble’, who frequently seek to undermine them.

The most recent update on the Oldham Assurance Review can be read in full here. Their work spawned two high profile police investigations, Operation Green Jacket and Operation Exmoor (read more here) where large numbers of victims and alleged perpetrators have now been identified.

A similar wide-ranging police investigation, codenamed Operation Hexagon, has been established alongside the Newsam and Ridgway review in Oldham. It was recently revealed, by the force, that it was set up in November, 2019.

Former ally of Raja Miah, and himself a past Labour councillor in Oldham, Khazir Rehman, has this to say about the allegations against Jim McMahon:

“In 2014, at the height of Jim McMahon’s reign in Oldham, I was an Assistant Cabinet Member, part of the administration. These were my words after Shabir Ahmed [a leader of a Rochdale grooming gang better known as ‘Daddy’] was put away [sent to prison], ‘If supporting Keeping Our Girl’s Safe (KOGS) can save one girl from being abused, I would have done my job’. My ward areas, Fitton Hill and Hathershaw, had extensive work done in them, with Oldham Council funding, your money, it was my sole decision where these funds went to PREVENT grooming, by upping the game in raising awareness so that we could get more intelligence and train young people to recognise abuse.

“Jim McMahon said to me, ‘you are a bright lad and your heart has always been in the right place on many issues.’ Only a person whose own heart is in the right place would say this about someone else. Jim supported me in this work and congratulated me, after Ann Coffey MP, Parliamentary Chair for Missing and Runaway children, came to Oldham and took evidence of our response to the Rochdale grooming scandal, after the report was published.

“The press descended on Oldham to speak to us about the work we were doing, it was innovative; pumping cash into local organisations and generally supporting crackdowns on grooming gangs. Jim and I were two people that took no prisoners when it came to grooming, we said it how it is. Oldham was the only place in the WHOLE COUNTRY where we fought the hardest in this way against grooming gangs. Does this sound like an administration covering up grooming? No, we went after it and spent thousands of pounds on prevention. Here is the Coffey Report (at this link), commissioned by Police and Crime Commissioner at the time, Tony Lloyd, now the current Rochdale MP. Does this sound like an administration that was hiding child abuse? Please read the report, I know it does not fit with some people’s narratives, but I request if this is going to be a trial by social media, then give us a fair hearing as I was part of that council administration that certain people are accusing”.

With specific reference to the ‘Lee Rigby email’, this is what Kaiser (as he prefers to be known) has to say:

“If Jim McMahon is guilty of stopping a news report to protect the town from violence from the far right, and other thugs, that may have reacted at a sensitive time in our country’s history, then I am guilty also, as I supported him. The balancing act of public safety, public order, trumps disclosure of sensitive information. The investigation did not stop into the grooming allegations, which was only [police] intelligence at that point. Public order and protecting people’s lives and property will almost always trump any other consideration. Jim did his job correctly.”

On the issue of child safeguarding, the last words go to Jim McMahon:

“I take safeguarding very seriously and if others have concerns about it, they should be reported to the appropriate authorities immediately.

“Throughout my time as a councillor, and latterly as council leader in Oldham, I acted in the public interest and did my utmost to ensure that the leadership and culture was in place to protect vulnerable people.

“Any suggestion to the contrary isn’t just offensive, but more actively seeks to undermine public confidence. Moreover, it is blatant defamation.

“I find it incredible that Raja Miah, the failed former CEO of the crisis-hit Collective Spirit Free School and the Manchester Studio School feels qualified to make judgements about matters of safeguarding.”

Regrettably, Jim McMahon is far from alone in those views, as will be more fully articulated in another excoriating piece, solely concerned with those failed schools, which will be published on this website next month.

Interestingly, a co-director of Miah in one of a labyrinthine web of companies, Cllr Shoab Akhtar, was in the copy line of the ‘Lee Rigby email’. The company was RISE 2010 Community Interest Company (CIC). Cllr Akhtar says:

“I was invited by Raja Miah to be a director of the CIC in 2011. At the time, I was Deputy Leader and lead for community cohesion in Oldham. Raja had enjoyed success in his role with PEACE and, whilst I was reluctant to take on other commitments at that time, I did so.

“However, there were no meetings called during the year or so I was a Director of RISE and, in an unpaid advisory role, I had nothing to do with its running. My resignation followed the news that Raja was to became involved in free schools.

“I was, and am, opposed to that concept. I later became aware that over £40,000 had, apparently, been transferred from one of those schools [Manchester Creative Studio] into RISE. As there were no board meetings, it is difficult for me to see how that transaction [or transactions] came about”.

The former Mayor of Oldham added: “At all times, everything from my part was transparent and the connection with Raja Miah’s company was included on the Council’s Register of Business Interests and registered at Companies House”.

On the wider issue of CSE, and in the context of grooming, it is often said, and it forms a key part of the false narrative shared by Raja Miah, and his attendant Rabble, that grooming gangs are left unchallenged because of the reliance of the Labour Party on votes from the Asian community.

Firstly, as one prominent local leader has articulated frequently, ‘That is seriously divisive and hugely offensive to the Asian community in Oldham; to suggest that we are all, somehow, complicit in sexual abuse. It is a matter of fact that the vast majority from all communities in the town find abuse abhorrent’. Unsurprisingly, other influential Asians I have spoken to about this smearing are outraged by what the Miah supporters are propagating on social media, unchecked by the local police.

Secondly, it is not the case that child sexual exploitation crimes had been allowed to go unpunished. Though there were, plainly, serious mistakes made in the early stages of the Rochdale grooming scandal, and the Operation Span police cover-up that followed, it is a fact that the abusers were, ultimately, held to account for their actions. The role played by Malcolm Newsam and Gary Ridgeway cannot be overstated in shining a bright light on the Rochdale (and South Manchester) failings.

For those prepared to put in the hard yards, rather than simply rely on a lazy, tailored Raja Miah narrative that suits a particular, and mostly far right political agenda, there is sufficient evidence in the public domain to demonstrate that Oldham Council were open about the characteristics of this type of abuse, and covered it in blog posts (read here and here) and in Council meetings (read here) at that time. There was, it appears through this lens at least, no hiding from the crimes, information withheld or the crisis not fully acknowledged. In short, no cover-up.

As rehearsed earlier in this piece, there is also evidence available of significant work undertaken to review practices around CSE, the introduction of the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH), and the expansion of best practice across the Greater Manchester region. Moreover, funding was provided for the performance of the play “Somebody’s sister, somebody’s daughter” in secondary schools to inform young people of the lurking presence of CSE.

Project Messenger, running alongside the police operation of the same name, became an enlarged Project Phoenix team, which kickstarted a week of action to raise awareness of CSE, at which time the ‘It’s Not Okay‘ website was launched (see here). Included in that initiative was a Practitioners Guide to High Risk Venues (read more here). This includes the shisha bars that were at the centre of the concerns in 2013 and led to the covert police operation. Stalls were also placed in Oldham Market to raise wider public awareness of the problem.

A freedom of information request made last year shows that in the 10 year period between 2008-18, Greater Manchester Police recorded 502 alleged cases of child sex exploitation. It is not clear how many related to grooming or how many resulted in convictions. The police have been asked to clarify.

If any person or organisation has any other evidence of child sexual abuse, past or present, they are urged to get in touch with the police or the specialist unit at Oldham Council. Or, if mistrust of authorities is present (not unusual) then please contact the Maggie Oliver Foundation where specialist help is also available (see here).

A recent report published by the Home Office, following an investigation into Group-based Child Sexual Exploitation [Characteristics of Offending], concluded in its Executive Summary that “group offending was predominantly carried out by older white males” (read full report here).

As a postscript, it might also be noted that Oldham’s most notorious paedophile was a white, middle-aged male.

In November, 2006, Ronald Castree, a part-time taxi driver from Shaw, was arrested for the murder of 11 year old Lesley Molseed. He was convicted the following year at Bradford Crown Court and sentenced by Mr Justice Openshaw to life imprisonment, with a minimum term of 30 years. Castree was found guilty of Lesley’s murder by a 10-2 majority. She had also been sexually assaulted. The murderer had a previous conviction for kidnapping and assaulting a young girl, aged just nine years old.

Coincidentally, this was the jury margin by which Stefan Kiszko was found guilty in 1976. He was ultimately cleared by the Court of Appeal in 1992.

Stefan’s conviction remains one of the most grotesque miscarriages of justice in police history (read more here).

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

Right of reply has again been offered to Raja Miah. He has declined all previous invitations.

Other political party group leaders in Oldham, Cllr Hobin (Failsworth Independent Party), Cllr Hudson (Conservatives) and Cllr Sykes (Liberal Democrats) have also been invited to comment. The latter proved to be accessible, helpful, articulate and informative. Cllrs Hobin and Hudson opted to remain silent.

Page last updated: Wednesday 20th January, 2020 at 1155 hours

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This article contains public sector information licensed under Open Government Licence v3.0 (read more here).

© 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.



The Rocky Horror Show

Since I first published articles on the vexed political situation in Oldham (read here and here), Greater Manchester, where child sex abuse appears to have been weaponised by a small group of activists, one critic has been almost ever-present on social media: “Rocky Skelshaw”.

It is unclear why anonymity is sought by one with such powerful views, often very forcefully expressed. Except that, regrettably, the holder of the social media accounts in that name, on Facebook and Twitter, too frequently crosses the line into abuse, harassment and defamatory comment.

This is particularly so in defence of her hero figure, Raja Miah MBE, a leading critic of the local council, its leaders past and present; the police; Members of Parliament; the Region’s Mayor; community leaders and journalists.

He, like “Rocky”, is also much too frequently abusive, and his output both on his websites and on social media appears to be constructed to cause maximum distress and alarm to those he targets. As such, he is presently the subject of two police investigations and, it is anticipated, very soon to be three.

“Rocky” can now be identified publicly, for the first time, as Kerry Ann Skelhorn, a 43 year old Diggle resident who works for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds as a Conservation Adviser.

Originally from the Knowsley area of Merseyside, she claims she has lived in the Oldham area for around 20 years. Although appearing to have worked in Norfolk for the past few years at least, from material available via open source. Which would give the appearance of Diggle being a place she only visits at weekends.

On Facebook, Miss Skelhorn has very recently identified herself as “a lone female”, but records show that she shares the Diggle residence with a man called Ivan Kershaw and it does not take Sherlock Holmes to work out that her pseudonym is a play on the two surnames.

She is known for her activism within the Save Diggle Action Group, formed to protest about the re-location of Saddleworth school to her village and this has led to another false claim on social media: “I took Oldham Council to JR [Judicial Review] and won”. Whereas the official judgment of Mr Justice Kerr shows that the applicant was Keith Lucas MBE, and the Action Group whom he represented. Seven of the nine grounds for opposing the planning decision were, in fact, dismissed as ‘having no merit’ (read in full here). One of the other two grounds was not pursued at the final hearing.

An image showing the proposed school site superimposed on the land selected for the development. Diggle’s iconic clock tower is in the foreground.

There is a single mention of Kerry Skelhorn at para 15 in the judgment, but no amplification of her role beyond that. Hers was one of 671 objections received by the Council, whose conduct was criticised in several areas of their decision making and failure to follow process. Her name does not appear anywhere on the Action Group website (read here). Indeed the only person mentioned by name is the same Keith Lucas, together with a mobile telephone number.

The planning decision was quashed and officers forced to take a fresh look at the application. In the event, the result was the same. This is, understandably, the source of Miss Skelhorn’s great apathy towards Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council and anyone whom she perceives, however remotely, to have had a hand in the planning decision.

Notably, the former Head of Planning, Stephen Irvine, who resigned, in August, 2019, during a gross misconduct investigation. But the Council’s deputy chief executive told the local press it did not relate to Mr Irvine’s role supporting the planning committee, nor to advice relating to any planning decision or outcome. A statement that did not suit Kerry’s publicly expounded conspiracy theories over his departure, about which she falsely claims ‘he was sacked for gross misconduct’ and uses terms to attempt to derogate his honesty and integrity that will not, in fairness to Mr Irvine, be repeated here. A pdf of a printed leaflet bearing a raft of such allegations still sits on her ‘Stop The Land Swap‘ website. It was distributed in the Saddleworth area last year.

Former Oldham councillor, Khazir Rehman, another close ally of Raja Miah, had a different take on the Irvine departure and told the Saddleworth Independent: “He was suspended as a scapegoat, they maligned him by releasing info about his suspension and he’s suing them for constructive dismissal. They will pay him thousands of pounds as compensation. They messed up”. Rehman, who prefers ‘Kaiser’ as a forename, lost his council seat in May 2019. Standing as an independent candidate after suspension from the Labour Party. There appears to be no evidential basis for his comments regarding Mr Irvine, but that is not to say a confidential settlement was reached with him and the matter is now sealed under a non-disclosure agreement.

Apart from the now departed Stuart Irvine, Kerry Skelhorn routinely attacks Oldham council leaders past and present, Sean Fielding and James McMahon in seriously unflattering terms. The latter is now the elected MP for Oldham West, of course. Another local MP under fire from the Raja/Rocky nexus is Deborah Abrahams, who is the complainant in one of the police investigations into Raja Miah. A charging decision on alleged offences under the Representation of the People Act, 1983 is expected shortly from the CPS.

Two of the council’s top paid officials, chief executive Dr Carolyn Wilkins and solicitor Paul Entwistle, have replaced Mr Irvine as targets for the “Rocky” stone throwing. An interest here is declared as I am no fan of Dr Wilkins, either. She created what is widely regarded as a non-job for her friend, Rebekah Sutcliffe, after the disgraced police officer resigned from Greater Manchester Police over what became nationally known as the ‘Boobgate’ or ‘Titgate’ scandal. Becky was rewarded with a pay increase of around £13,000 per annum for the inconvenience and now earns £122,000 pa.

Returning to Miss Skelhorn, she is now, to all intents and purposes, little more than an echo chamber for Raja Miah’s sticking plaster narrative and targeted abuse; not only ever present on either his Recusant Nine page or the overtly racist Oldham Eye social media timeline, but appointing herself, latterly, as an expert in child sex abuse at or around the same time as Raja, towards the end of 2019. An issue never raised by either of them, previously, and not until, of course, they had lost traction on most, if not all their other collective gripes against the elected representatives whom they perceive has done them and the town of Oldham great wrongs. At least some of which, it must be said, have a sound, evidential basis but become lost in the frenzied noise, and the ludicrous stretching of their aim, so that everything points back at their principal hate targets.

One well informed observer, very adjacent to Kerry Skelhorn’s activities both as part of the Action Group and her routinely abusive posting on social media, told me that her permanently aggressive style of campaigning in Diggle has increasingly become a ‘turn-off’ for the more measured class of protester. It is easy to see why.

As for “Rocky”, and the persistent, harassing, defamatory abuse pointed in my direction, that will be dealt with through the appropriate legal channels, including the police. As a journalist, free speech and adverse opinions are die in the ditch causes, and fair, constructive criticisms are always acceptable, but Miss Skelhorn’s remarks go well beyond that and, when asked to desist, chooses instead to intensify the slurs. Very much in the style of her mentor and leader – and it must be said some of the more unhinged contributors on that forum who see mindless abuse as a substitute for reasoned argument.

A screenshot taken by an interested observer from Raja Miah’s podcast on Sunday 18th October, 2020.

Her very public attack on the Oldham Heart forum involving a well known child sex abuse survivor will also have consequences. This was in a futile, and increasingly desperate attempt, to reverse that victim’s denouncement of Raja Miah (read more here) and, instead, paint me as a predator and ruthless exploiter of a vulnerable person. Nothing, actually, could be further from the truth. As the brave survivor herself pointed out in measured terms.

It appears that “Rocky” has not removed her posts from that thread.

Right of reply was offered to Kelly Skelhorn. She did not acknowledge the email sent to her prior to publication.

The RSPB’s Head of Public Affairs, Rachel Evans, has been asked to provide a statement on behalf of the RSPB’s ruling Council. No statement was provided but the Society has confirmed, via email, that an investigation into Miss Skelhorn’s extra-curricular activities is taking place.

Stephen Irvine, who now works for Oldham based architects’ practice, Studio KMA, as Director of Town Planning, declined to comment.

Page last updated: Monday 23rd November, 2020 at 1345 hours

Photo credits: Eastern Daily Press

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.

Search for the truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right of reply has again been offered to Raja Miah.

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

Photo credits:

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

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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.

If only, Madam Mayor

Several weeks ago, a well known and notably successful justice campaigner, Gail Hadfield Grainger, sent me a video clip (writes Neil Wilby). It featured a friend of hers, Arooj Shah, a prominent Labour Party politician in Oldham, an East Lancashire mill town in the North of England. It was filmed in the Council chamber as Cllr. Shah was moving a motion on harassment and abuse in public life, which called for a letter to be written to the Minister for the Cabinet Office to seek a cross-government response in tackling the issue.

Gail, over and above seeking justice for Anthony Grainger, is active in the same town. She supports the widow of André Moura, brutally killed in the back of a van by the same Greater Manchester Police who shot her own partner; also provides pastoral support to a victim of child sexual abuse in Oldham and champions an Oldham-based charity, The Greengate Trust, which undertakes overland aid missions to places such as war-torn Yemen and temporary refugee camps on the Greek Isles.

It is through giving so much of her time and considerable energy to others that Gail met Arooj, whilst she was doing the rounds of MPs in the Manchester and Salford area, harvesting support for her justice campaigning. At the time, Arooj was working in the office of Hazel Blears, prior to the MP standing down in 2015.

They also have a mutual friend, who works for Greengate, Mohammed Imran Ali, better known locally as ‘Irish Imy’, whose past association with notorious cop killer, Dale Cregan, forms just part of his local infamy. He is pictured here with volunteer colleagues and three Oldham police officers, who also enthusiastically support the work of the Trust.

For clarity, the officers are not ‘taking the knee’, as the Black Lives Matter campaign did not begin in earnest until a few months after this photograph was taken.

As a nod to Gail’s work, and the high admiration for her campaigning, particularly in almost single-handedly bringing about a public inquiry into Anthony Grainger’s death (read more here), the video clip was viewed, notebook at the ready.

Watching for the first time was an unsettling experience: Either Miss Arooj Shah was an Oscar-winning actress or she was a victim of a seriously grotesque, cruel, targeted campaign to discredit her. Much of the nine minutes speech was delivered through sobs and tears. The distress was palpable.

Shortly afterwards, the video was played a second time. This time without sound and focusing on everyone else but Arooj: Their body language, facial expressions, what they were doing with their hands. Including putting them together for a standing ovation at the end of the speech.

A third viewing, again silent, focused entirely on Arooj. The notebook was still blank because, by this time, the provisional view had been taken that there was more to this speech than politicking and play-acting. A transcript of the proceedings was procured instead. It is reproduced in full at the foot of this article.

The decision was made to take a neutral look at what is behind the individual, the politician, the speech and the allegations to which she alludes. A closer look at her tormentor was already well into the planning stage.

He was not named in the Council chamber, but identified himself as local activist, Raja Miah, in an on-line article shortly afterwards, Welcome to Oldham Part VI. Entirely devoted to a further, unvarnished attack on Arooj Shah, those associated with her, and businesses in which she has previously had, or presently has, an interest. 

Raja is not known to me personally, but he is an individual about whom a great deal has been learned over the past few months. We may have had a better understanding of one another if he had turned up for a meeting facilitated by an intermediary, and fellow Oldham activist, Tracey Gibson, in July. That involved me in a wasted 65 mile round trip and a lost afternoon. It added to the frustration of him not telephone calling, at an arranged time, whilst I was away in Spain earlier in the year. Tracey has now, it seems, distanced herself from Raja and deleted her Twitter and Facebook  accounts.

We have since communicated on social media, both in open forum and, more occasionally, by private message. But my persistent questions about backing up his assertions of wrongdoing with documents, or other evidence, have fallen on stoney ground and led to me being blocked on two of the main social media platforms.

One of Raja’s supporters likens that interrogatory approach as being ‘like a dog with a bone’. In reality, it’s just bog-standard investigative journalism.

Screenshot 2020-10-05 at 09.20.48

One of the issues upon which we clashed, publicly, was his interpretation of an email to which he refers, often, as evidence of a cover-up of child sex abuse in Oldham, a theme to which he returns regularly – and so will I in future articles.

Raja uses this allegation as a basis to attack one of his main targets in the aforementioned Welcome to Oldham series, Jim McMahon MP, a former leader of Council and, since May 2015, the elected representative for the Oldham West and Royton constituency. He is, more latterly, Shadow Transport Minister. Arooj Shah works in the MP’s office, as an adjunct to her main role as Deputy Leader of the Council, and that is how she came to the attention of Raja Miah, he claims.

Arooj is, more recently, the Council’s Cabinet Member for CoVID-19 which appears to have given Raja another stick with which to beat her, as Oldham enters its seventh week in ‘lockdown’.

Extensive enquiries have been made into what has flowed from Raja’s interest in Arooj. A search for the truth: Is she this dreadful, shameless, flighty individual that he paints, or has she been the subject of a contrived attack, designed to damage Jim McMahon by association. Or, does the answer lie somewhere in between?

Arooj’s parents migrated from Pakistan in 1968 to work in the local textile industry. She is one of seven siblings and has lived all her life in Oldham Borough, apart from term time at De Montfort University in Leicester, where she studied Politics and International Relations.

She was first elected as a Councillor for St Mary’s Ward in 2012 and selected as Cabinet Member for Performance and Corporate Governance, with responsibility for key campaigns and communications, in that same year. 

Arooj led Oldham’s pioneering Energy Switching campaign which became the most successful single-authority scheme of its type in the country – and was later rolled out across the Greater Manchester region. A collective bargaining initiative, this saw 8,726 households in the town signing up and making an average saving of £171 per year. Putting around £1.4 million back into Oldham resident’s pockets in a period of national austerity. 

In 2013, Arooj was named ‘Young Councillor of the Year’, alongside Oldham colleagues, Amanda Chadderton and Sean Fielding, by the Local Government Information Unit. Cllr Fielding is now, of course, Leader of Oldham Council and another local politician under constant attack from Raja Miah.

The Growth Company, where she currently serves as a Director, say: “She entered politics to give people strength and confidence in what they do, so that they feel able to speak up and have a voice. She has also worked hard encouraging local groups in schemes designed to take control of their communities and make them better places to live”.   

They added: “Arooj was praised for speaking out about harassment and intimidation she had suffered as an Asian female councillor before she was re-elected in the Chadderton South ward in May 2018”.

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Given my natural scepticism where all politicians are concerned, the direct feedback concerning Miss Shah was surprising, to say the least: ‘Very hard-working’ is a constant; ‘meticulous’, ‘very correct’, ‘loyal’, ‘dedicated’, ‘kind’, ‘caring’, ‘family and community-orientated’, ‘speaks her own mind’ also feature. A Muslim, she is known to be devoutly religious.

Less surprisingly, she is also regarded as highly ambitious, but not ‘a girl about town’ as they say. Indeed, no trace of a social life has been identified. As she said in her speech, she chooses to live at home with her mother. 

For emphasis, this is not client journalism: If there had been adverse commentary, or any other form of criticism of Arooj Shah, it would have been reported in the same way as the other remarks. In embarking upon this piece, and the ones that will follow, it was in the full knowledge that any unwarranted praise, perceived bias, or mistakes, or will be seized upon rabidly by Raja and his supporters.

The allegations made against Arooj Shah

For better or worse, these are the issues referred to in her speech and used by Raja Miah as a basis for undermining and discrediting her. At the same time, he rejects the notion that there is a mysogynistic element to his campaign.  

 – Slept her way to the top

This is referred to centrally in the speech, as is the dreadful effect it has had on Arooj. But, perhaps, the best answer is the one that forms the headline to this piece: ‘If only, Madam Mayor’. Beneath that, it is a desperately hurtful thing to say about a woman who is of the Muslim faith with, potentially, dangerous repercussions for her. Especially, when the allegation is made completely absent of any evidence, kiss and tell or otherwise.

The accompanying proposition that Raja Miah’s inbox is crammed full of lurid tales of her personal life appears to be far-fetched, at best. Not least, because the email link from his website is defective and communications are returned with an ‘undeliverable’ message.

Viewed objectively, her lifestyle, and total commitment to her career which, I’m told, involves her rising at 5am each day and finishing well into the evening, would not be conducive, in any way, to promiscuity. Neither would choosing to live in the family home.

The accolades she received after her first election success, and then having to resurrect her career after losing a local election in highly controversial circumstances in 2016, tend to suggest it is raw ability and commitment, rather than powers of seduction, that explain her present roles in politics and wider society.

 – Association with criminals

An interest must be declared here, first: Associating with criminals is something with which I can be charged. Often, in fact. Reporting on them from the press seats in Crown Court and the Court of Appeal; visiting them in custody (I have been inside seven different jails across Her Majesty’s Prison estate); assisting with rehabilitation, lobbying for employers to give a second chance to reformed offenders; supporting prison reform and rehabilitation on social media; campaigning against miscarriages of justice. I even share office facilities with one, when working in Leeds (read more here). That is, largely, who and what I am.

In Arooj Shah’s speech, she deals with her own connection with criminals with a fair and balanced explanation, from my standpoint at least. Given that all but two councillors rose to give her a standing ovation at the end of that powerful presentation, it was satisfactory to them, too. No doubt mindful of Oldham’s high level of criminality within the Borough and the difficulties that would pose if families and friends, or elected representatives, automatically disenfranchised those with a criminal record.

As a court reporter, I can go further in terms of relevance and context in this particular instance: Raja Miah, inadvertently or otherwise, frequently makes a connection to ‘Irish Imy’ as the getaway driver for Dale Cregan, then links that to the murder of two female police officers and, further and much worse, repeatedly asserts a link to Arooj Shah in the same chain. That has no basis in fact or evidence: Cregan did murder PC Nicola Hughes and PC Fiona Bone in a truly horrific, senseless attack, but handed himself in at Hyde Police Station soon afterwards. As such, there was no getaway.

The offence for which ‘Irish Imy’ was convicted, Assisting an Offender, was not linked to the police officer murders. It concerned the aftermath of Cregan killing the well known gangster, David Short, six weeks earlier, and a car journey to Leeds some hours after that murder had taken place. He was jailed for seven and a half years.

It is no secret that I have campaigned vigorously for an inquiry into what is said by well known police whistleblower, Peter Jackson (one of Rajah Miah’s biggest and most enthusiastic supporters on social media), to be the entirely preventable deaths of those two young police officers (read more here).  According to the retired murder detective, the failings of several senior colleagues had much, much more to do with Cregan being still at large than his association with Irish Imy.

The definitive answer as to whether Arooj Shah would be wise to cut loose a friend of 30 years will, ultimately, come at the ballot box. Either at the next local polls or, more widely, when she, inevitably, stands for election to Parliament. In the meantime, Raja Miah appears to be the only person in the entire country making an issue of it.

 – Jim McMahon’s support of Mohammed Imran Ali (Irish Imy)

As set out above, Arooj Shah works in the McMahon constituency office. Raja Miah’s number one target, in what he freely terms his ‘vendetta’, is that same Member of Parliament; apparently over a grudge related to the ‘blacklisting’ of Raja, after spectacular failures at schools he operated in Manchester (read more here). A government investigation cast “significant doubts” on the legitimacy of money paid to a company connected to Miah (read more here), but concluded it was too difficult to establish a money trail. The probe, inexplicably, looked at just two years of transactions.

It is understood that the Serious Fraud Office are presently seized of those matters, following pressure from another local MP, Angela Rayner. But that is not to imply any wrongdoing by Raja Miah. The presumption of innocence must apply until investigations are complete.

Arooj appears, from this journalists’s vantage point, to have been caught in the cross-fire of the McMahon/Miah war of words (read more here) and, thereafter, seen as an easy target.

Screenshot 2020-10-05 at 09.46.37

This is what has been established as fact, as opposed to what is asserted by Raja, over a letter sent from the MP’s office regarding prison licence conditions: ‘Irish Imy’ is registered as a constituent of Jim McMahon MP; it is routine for elected representatives to assist such persons, irrespective of their antecedents; Arooj played no part in the letter that was written to the probation service, she has no locus as far as casework is concerned; the subject letter did not concern an early release, as claimed by Raja, the prison sentence was indeterminate (read more here); the subject matter was an appeal against a proposed, unscheduled transfer from a bail hostel in Oldham to more remote premises, away from his partner and young family. 

It has to be said that being adjacent to the criminal justice system, and a network of reliable contacts within it, makes access to this information far easier for me to secure than it might be for Raja. But it is a curiosity that he should ground a story entirely on speculation and, seemingly, absent of any interrogative feature. 

 – The genesis of the friendship between Arooj Shah and ‘Irish Imy’ 

Raja Miah has made a qualified assertion that he does not believe the friendship between the two is what Arooj articulated in her speech. That is to say, they have known one another since the ages of 11 and 9 respectively.

That, unqualified, would be a very serious allegation to make: A Muslim woman, devoted to her faith and her God, notably successful in her chosen career and a high profile political figure across the North West region of the UK, lies to an entire Council chamber, knowing that there would be high media attention to what was quite sensational subject matter. Just one credible witness coming forward, to rebut the longevity of the friendship, would end her political career and destroy her reputation.

Equally concerning, is the foundation for the Miah assertion: An anonymous post, using the handle ‘Bashah’ in the comments section of a newspaper; screenshot, very conveniently, by Raja prior to it being removed by the moderator.

There are two errors in that post that are easily put right: ‘Bashah’ claims that ‘Irish Imy’ and Arooj’s brother were ‘locked up in HMP Buckley Hall together’. Arslan Shah has never been in Buckley Hall prison. His trial and conviction was never reported. I am aware, via criminal justice contacts, of where Arslan was arrested, tried and imprisoned. Raja plainly is not.

‘Bashah’ also claims that a man nicknamed ‘Shanny’ was Arooj’s boyfriend. My enquiries locally firmly conclude that is also untrue: Shahnawaz Qumer, for that is Shanny, subjected Arooj Shah to an obsessive, persistent and unpleasant campaign of highly personalised harassment and stalking. They were never in any relationship, it seems.

Screenshot 2020-10-04 at 17.52.40

‘Shanny’ was not, as he should have been, prosecuted for those activities, but he did end up in prison in 2015 after standing trial over a find of 30kg of cannabis, worth £300,000, at the address of a friend. Qumer, a married man with three children and serious financial problems, lied to police about his role transporting the drugs from Hertfordshire to Oldham before, eventually pleading guilty (read here). An unlikely suitor for a young, attractive, well-grounded high achiever; but a likely ‘informant’ for Raja Mia’s campaign against her.

Remarkably, those matters did not show up when Raja was ‘researching’ Shanny, but an alleged assault upon him, by Irish Imy, did. Conversely, and perversely, I can find no trace of this alleged assault, either in the public domain or via my criminal justice contacts. Or an Oldham Councillor wearing Jimmy Choo shoes in the council chamber or in a local MP’s office.

What is unclear is why Raja was checking into Shanny at all: They have been friends since they sat opposite one another in secondary school. The source of that information is Raja, himself. 

It has been pointed out since this article was published that ‘Bashah’ is possibly, or indeed probably, a play on Bash Shah (as in Cllr Shah). If that is so, and the readers will judge for themselves, the suspects as the likely authors of that newspaper comment is reduced to a very small number. 

 – Register of business interests

Without wishing to diminish what, taken to its extreme, is a criminal offence under the Localism Act, 2011, and the effort and informed research to bring it to the public’s attention, this is very much a case of Raja Miah making an ice cream sundae out of a well-licked lollipop. The truth is not difficult to uncover and involves talking to people and asking questions, rather than just bashing away on a keyboard: The business was set up by Arooj for her brother, Arslan, whilst he was in prison. The Shah family were desperate to keep him occupied after his release and out of further trouble. In that regard, the venture has been a success, whilst not prospering financially. A matter readily ascertained at Companies House (read here).

If there was an oversight in declaring what, at the time, was a dormant business, dogged by the builder refurbishing the premises going bust, then Miss Shah is guilty as charged. The matter has been investigated by the Council’s Standards Committee and there has been a disposal. No-one gained from, or came to harm over, the registration error.

The Miah proposition that this ice cream business is a disguise for a money laundering operation, and Arooj Shah was, at its formation, a ‘shadow director’ fronting it, appears to have no basis in fact or evidence. 

 – Asian Cartels and Block postal votes

Any assertion that Arooj Shah benefits from involvement with any alleged cartel, Asian or otherwise, or vote rigging, is defeated in just one sentence: She lost her St Mary’s seat at the local elections in Oldham in 2016. 

After the narrow defeat (289 votes), a piece to camera was broadcast on BBC Newsnight in which Arooj complained of an organised mysogynistic campaign against her. This followed an on-line BBC article two months earlier in which she spoke of resistance from some Labour members, in her predominately Asian ward, to a Muslim woman representing them: “There’s Labour Party members who will accept my two ward colleagues, Asian men, but support anyone but me. They’re members of the local Labour party. They are shameless about it… It’s because I’m a woman and anyone who sugar-coats it is lying.”

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She, plainly, still feels very strongly about that issue to raise it again so powerfully in her speech in the Council chamber.

Historically, Oldham has been at the forefront of publicity over postal vote rigging, but it is 20 years since there has been a successful prosecution. In 2014, the town was named as an ‘at risk’ location with police and Returning Officers alerted by the Electoral Commission. Particularly in local communities where there are ‘low levels of literacy or a lack of English skills’.

The Council and Greater Manchester Police have both been contacted regarding the number of complaints of postal vote rigging in the Oldham Borough since 2014.

Requests have also been made to the same two public authorities to ascertain the number of retrievable documents that are returned, electronically, from the search term ‘Asian Cartel Oldham’.

Conclusion

The reader is, of course, invited to form their own view of events, before, during and after Arooj Shah’s speech, and my reporting of them. Earlier in the piece, I posed the questions, is she a bad person of low morals, the subject of a sustained, contrived attack by Raja Miah – or does the answer lie somewhere in between? You decide.

But, from this journalist’s standpoint, it has heavily underscored a suspicion I first formed two months ago and have posted about regularly on social media ever since: Almost all of Raja Miah’s assertions have little or no safe ground beneath them – and facts and evidence are in short supply. A point that will be explored in more detail in the succeeding Oldham articles in what, at present, is planned to be a series of four. The next piece covers the question of whether his core, and frequently repeated, allegation of long-running, widescale, multi-agency cover-up of child sex abuse in Oldham has substance. 

Both Arooj Shah and Raja Miah have been given right of reply to this article.

Raja Miah did not respond to me directly but, in an angry post on his Recusant Nine Facebook page, he has launched into an entirely predictable ad hominem attack. He goes on to describe the article as ‘all Wilby’s crap’ ‘a eulogy to Arooj Shah’ and a ‘so-called exposé’. He has not addressed any of his evidential failings, brought to light in this piece, or, much more crucially, apologised for smearing Arooj Shah. 

The Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council press office did not respond to the request for comment on behalf of Cllr Arooj.

 

Page last updated: Thursday 8th October, 2020 at 0600 hours

Photo credits: Oldham Chronicle, Greengate Trust, ITV News, MEN

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

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

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

 

Transcript of Arooj Shah speech, 8th January, 2020

Arooj Shah: Thank you, Madam Mayor. Before I go into this can I just echo what the Leader of the Council, Sean Fielding, has said. We’ve heard some fantastic contributions tonight, and the comments that Steve [Bashforth] made are absolutely right, and Cllr Sam Al-Hamdani.

This motion isn’t about self-gratification, it’s not about saying ‘Oh God, we’re so sensitive and we’re politicians that can’t take what people say about us’. We are open to scrutiny and we are open to accountability, that’s what we fight for and that’s why we come here – and we put in all the work that we do. 

But what we can’t say is that it’s okay to be personal, to attack us, to abuse us because that just doesn’t impact us, it has a massive impact on our family.

And we enter politics that’s a choice we make as individuals, we don’t ask our family members, our loved ones and our friends ‘Are you okay with this?’ because what might be said about me – rightfully or wrongfully – will have an impact on your life.

That is something we don’t do, so this motion is simply about saying treat us with the respect that we honour, and this job, Madam Mayor. When I got into this, I didn’t think that I would spend my whole life, give up my whole life to politics, and I did. 

I sacrificed some personal choices, that I have made myself. I have sacrificed them because I believed I could serve my community and I think I’ve done a really good job.

And like Cllr Bashforth says, for people who think that I haven’t, I’m there for you to ask me and challenge me in a respectful way, and I will respond to that.

But if you’re going to take to social media, and call us names, then that’s not acceptable I am not going to be ashamed of standing up and speaking up for myself, and other people who give their lives up to public service.

So, Madam Mayor, I want to thank the Members in this debate. And, at times, I suspect many of you feel alone and, perhaps, even isolated, and I want to say that my door is always open for you. So, if you need any support, help or guidance please feel free to get in touch.

And I say that because I know how this feels, I can speak to my own experience Madam Mayor, the person embarked on a targeted campaign of harassment for no other reason than I dared to challenge his behaviour.

The individual deliberately sought out to bring shame to me in my community and impact my family.

Actually, Madam Mayor, I’m touched by the contributions that have been made tonight and I resent the way public servants aren’t allowed to stick up for themselves without being told that they’re self-obsessed.

So, this individual came after me because I dared to challenge his behaviour. He inferred that ‘women in my profession must have sexually transmitted diseases and the only reason I hold the position I do is because I slept my way to this position’.

If only, Madam Mayor.

He also indicated in other posts that he has an inbox full of stories about my personal life, and he makes threats to publish these. 

The pattern of directing attacks towards my personal life Madam Mayor, by him is not a coincidence.

He has caused great distress to me within my community, but you know what more importantly, he’s caused upset to my family. 

It is textbook misogyny, and I’ll use that word and no doubt later on he’ll start saying ‘oh my god she uses this to progress her professional career.’ No I don’t, this is my reality and I’m sick of that being undermined.

He has clearly designed to cause me sustained reputational damage, it soon moves on though because he claims to be a fictional writer and he does write a lot of fiction.

He soon moves on, though never too far from him accusing me of covering up child sexual exploitation Madam Mayor, who in this chamber would ever do that.

What kind of person does it take to do that, and the very fact that this person can think it is more of a reflection on him than it is on me or anyone in this chamber.

He then goes on to accusing me of misusing my position in public office, and people say to me all the time, ‘Well, if that’s not true why do you not answer it, why do your colleagues not answer it, why isn’t Sean answering the fact that he’s not a paedophile protector, why isn’t Jim McMahon answering these questions?’. Because we are too aware that if you were to counter every accusation he makes, that something more ridiculous and outrageous will follow. 

Madam Mayor, because he and these people are not about truth, they’re about intimidation and that’s what he tried to do.

Madam Mayor, I was born and raised in Glodwick, Oldham, and I came into public service because I wanted to serve my community.

I have always acted appropriately in my political and professional life. I have never abused my position and I have never, ever compromised any confidences. 

But Madam Mayor, that in and of itself is not enough when the level of attacks against you are not about the truth.

He then went on to share pictures of me with my brother, and one of my friends called Mohammed Imran Ali, who I’ve known since I was 11 years old.

Both of them have been into prison, but he did that because he wants to create a perception that I am part of a criminal gang, that I’m part of “a cartel”.

Madam Mayor, he knows full well that I have not covered up child sexual exploitation, that I have never misused my position in public office, because he’s asked these questions and he’s had the answers.

He knows that I am not part of a cartel, but he is also fully aware that I would not condone any acts that my brother did or that my friend did.

But Madam Mayor, whilst my longstanding relationships and friendships will be difficult for some people to accept, and I fully understand that, I can’t pretend that they don’t exist. 

And I certainly cannot turn my back on people I’ve known since childhood for political convenience. 

And I certainly don’t forget where I came from, there were times in my life Madam Mayor where I could only put in about £3 worth of petrol (in my car) I’d have to consider every journey to see whether it was worth me making. 

Now I’m in a position where I don’t even consider my journeys, and I’m able to put petrol in my car without giving it a second thought.

There have been times in my life where I have longed for certain types of clothing, shoes or for my hair to get done in the hairdressers, and I’d have to consider my choices, but today Madam Mayor, I’m fortunate enough to do that for myself.

And not just for myself, I’m fortunate enough and blessed enough to be able to do it for other people that I care about. 

There were times where I thought will I ever have my own home; will I ever be able to move out? Now Madam Mayor I have my own home, but I live with my mum out of choice, and all this happened because somebody believed in me.

Because the kind of community that I came from, the stacks are against you. It’s hope and it’s opportunity, and somebody believed in me.  

I swear to God, if people believe that I have not got to be the first Asian female Cabinet Member of Oldham Council, and the first Asian female statutory deputy leader of Oldham Council, by not working hard, I can tell you this: I have worked fifty times harder than my peers and my colleagues in this chamber to hold this position.

I don’t pretend to be somebody I’m not, Madam Mayor. I am straight talking, but I am very kind and respectful towards people. 

I do not disown people for political convenience or to advance my political career.

Too many people come into public life because they are driven by a passion for public service, a desire for better and believing that they have something to offer. 

But often Madam Mayor, the impact goes beyond those who make the choice to step forward, and it can affect your family and your friends.

As we are fighting for greater protection we ought to reflect that the vast majority of people like Cllr Sean Fielding said, like Shaid Mushtaq said, that the vast majority of people are decent, respectful and want the same for our communities.

So for those who step into public life, I sincerely thank you and to the friends and family that support you, your support means the world, and it’s more valuable than you’ll ever know.

Madam Mayor: Thank you, Cllr Shah. Does Council agree the motion; those in favour?

We’ll class that as unanimous. Thank you.