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.

Kaiser is another who has been investigated by local police over harassment allegations and faces a second appearance at Tameside Magistrates’ Court on 5th November, 2020, following an arrest in May of this year. At the time, Raja Miah furiously took to his keyboard and expounded the view that there could be no possible basis for the police taking such action. Lawyers at the Crown Prosecution Service plainly disagreed with him. However, the usual presumption of innocence must prevail until the trial is concluded.

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.

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

Page last updated: Tuesday 20th October, 2020 at 0755 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.

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.

Search for the truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right of reply has again been offered to Raja Miah.

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

Photo credits:

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

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

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

If only, Madam Mayor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot 2020-10-05 at 09.20.48

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4368

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

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

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

The allegations made against Arooj Shah

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

 – Slept her way to the top

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

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

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

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

 – Association with criminals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot 2020-10-05 at 09.46.37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot 2020-10-04 at 17.52.40

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

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

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

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

 – Register of business interests

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

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

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

 – Asian Cartels and Block postal votes

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

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

Screenshot 2020-10-05 at 08.30.22

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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.

 

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.