More of the same

A cursory examination of this website will see that its focus is very much on policing matters: The core of its output is reporting from the press seats of criminal trials, civil claims, employment tribunals, information tribunals and consequent appeals from any of those courts.

Very often, they feature misconduct, dishonesty, or even criminality, of police officers. Exacerbated in some cases by discrepancies in disclosure of documents, organised ‘cover-ups’ or seriously unimpressive witness box testimony.

Independent, evidence-based investigations are also undertaken, particularly in alleged miscarriage of justice cases into which I am invited, drawn or retained. It is a field where I am said to have some expertise.

It is true to say that commentators on such emotive matters risk being targeted on social media, with criticism on the two main platforms, Twitter or Facebook posts the most common form. Some take to email, or even the occasional letter, to put across their views. Or, via rogue websites.

In every case under review there is a winner and a loser. Unsurprisingly, the criticism comes from the latter quarter, who simply do not accept the findings and launch bitter, abusive, highly personalised attacks, often in organised groups (‘pile-ons’ in Twitterspeak) designed only to denigrate the author, without even beginning to address the conclusion and the rationale behind it. The bad faith of such websites and posts ought to be self-evident.

As a result of adopting a singular position in two cases this year (2020), I have become the focus of a number of such attacks. Investigative journalism is not a popularity contest, but neither should it be a medium for mindless abuse. Criticise what is written, for sure, and debate it reasonably, especially if there are mistakes, misrepresentations or it lacks the necessary rigour or balance. Every author ought to welcome constuctive feedback. I certainly do.

The first case that created controversy, and triggered an organised litany of abuse, was an innocence claim by a convicted murderer, Robin Garbutt (read more here). The campaign leader was happy to engage when she learned of the extensive work holding North Yorkshire Police, and its Police and Crime Commissioner, to account over the previous five years, exclusively uncovering scandal after scandal (read the latest here). That changed when I started to ask searching questions about the tailored narrative that was being promoted, about both the murder and the case being made out, by the campaigners, for a referral of the conviction back to the Court of Appeal.

The publication of the first article (read here) , neutrally written and safely founded on a court of appeal judgment and the transcript of the trial judge’s summing up, triggered a sustained campaign of personal abuse by the murderer’s supporters, and their associates, within the miscarriage of justice community (read here). But it did lead to an immediate change in the thrust of their campaign: That Garbutt and his principal supporters had always told the truth. The article forensically set out that he hadn’t – and neither had they.

It was not appeased by the second article in which all the flaws in the police investigation leading to the conviction were articulated – and linked to other notably poor efforts by the same force in that era, to which two of them I was particularly adjacent (read here).

Approaching 500 hours has been spent on that innocence claim and there are now well over 40,000 words written about it on this website. The makings of a book and TV or podcast drama, in fact.

The abusers haven’t challenged a single piece of evidence or reasoned argument, although the murderer’s brother in law, says he could ‘teach me a few lessons in grammar’. Which is fair enough. He wouldn’t be the first to point out my clunky, laboured style of writing.

A third application to the Criminal Case Review Commission was made by the campaigners last December, shortly before I became involved. A decision as to whether it will go forward to be investigated by the watchdog is expected to be made early in 2021. The previous two applications were rejected on the merits, without warranting an investigation. My firm, evidence-based, but unpopular, conclusion is that the third will suffer the same fate. There will be no longed-for referral back to the Court of Appeal (read more here).

For months at the end of last year and the beginning of this, I’d been nagged by the UK’s best known police whistleblower, Peter Jackson, a retired murder detective (read more here) to look into an alleged scandal in Oldham concerning the Borough Council mainly, but also the local police. A division in which Jackson had served as a thief-taking sergeant in the late 1990’s

It is said, repeatedly, by a group of political activists in the town, heavily supported on social media by ‘Jacko’ as he is known, that both are actively engaged in covering up large scale child sexual abuse. A highly emotive topic and a grievous accusation to make against anyone, particularly if using anonymity as a shield, as many frequently do.

The activists, otherwise known as New Chartist Alliance, are led by Raja Miah MBE, who posts and broadcasts on social media under the style ‘Recusant Nine‘ and blogs under the ‘Welcome to Oldham‘ banner from his base in Mossley, Tameside. He has a substantial following on Facebook, a lesser presence on Twitter, a gap filled by an account with the handle, Oldham Eye. Many believe the latter is controlled, or influenced greatly, by Raja, but it is a closely guarded secret within the cult.

Some preliminary work was done whilst I was still ‘locked down’ in Catalunya, the foot slog started as soon as I got back towards the end of July, 2020. What I’ve discovered since has genuinely sickened me and has generated a series of articles, beginning with this one (read here). But they expose the frailties of those alleging the child sex abuse ‘cover-up’, not what I was asked to look into. About which, very little viable evidence has been produced. Despite repeated requests to Raja and those associated with him.

What has concerned me the most, apart from the lack of meaningful evidence, has been the highly personalised, often abusive attacks on a number of politicians, public officials and experts in their field, such as Malcolm Newsam and Gary Ridgway, whose review of the Rochdale and Rusholme (South Manchester Curry Mile) child sex abuse scandal was universally acclaimed (read official report here). Apart from within the upper echelons of Greater Manchester Police, past and present, and leaders at Manchester City Council, who were genuinely shocked at the scale and extent of the investigation undertaken and, of course, the grotesque failings of both public bodies that were uncovered as a result of the diligence and expertise of the two investigators.

Raja Miah’s proposition that Newsam and Ridgway have turned up in Oldham to carry out a whitewash is as deeply offensive as it is plainly ludicrous. But the Recusant One has much to fear from it, as part of the remit of the investigation is to look into claims he has made about a widescale, multi-agency cover-up.

For emphasis, Oldham is a town with serious socio-economic issues and a council that, too frequently, leaves itself wide open to criticism with poor decision-making. In my own knowledge, and a matter reported on previously, taking on a disgraced former senior police officer, Rebekah Sutcliffe, in what appears to be a ‘non-job’ and increasing her annual salary from £109,000 to £120,000. The fact that she is a friend and contemporary of the same council’s chief executive, Dr Carolyn Wilkins, simply adds to the skin-crawling discomfort.

But how badly, or otherwise, councils are run is not my field of operation and the analysis of those problems is left to others. A point I made repeatedly to Peter Jackson and, at the outset, to Raja Miah. It remains the case today.

The question of whether the council running the East Lancashire mill town is any worse than its neighbours on either side of the Pennines is a moot point. But what can be stated with certainty, both Rochdale and Kirklees (encompassing Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Batley, Mirfield), all mill towns with significant minority ethnic communities did, in the past, actively engage in grotesque covering up of industrial scale child sex abuse. As was the case in Halifax, Bradford and Keighley. I first wrote about the cover-up of the latter two towns in 2013, focusing on the role played by West Yorkshire Police at the time, who openly opposed any reporting of the scandal and, in fact, managed to delay a Channel 4 exposé for almost a year.

From that time onwards, I was the only journalist asking questions in Huddersfield as to why, after an exposé in 2008/2009 by one of the town’s MP’s, Barry Sheerman, also at the time Children’s Minister in the last Labour Government, both the council and the police silenced him. It is true to say that I was actively obstructed by the local newspaper, the Huddersfield Examiner, in my enquiries. It was a topic that that political editor at the time did not, seemingly, want to involve herself in; she was ‘too busy’.

The same newspaper gleefully reported on a libel finding made against me the following year, a grotesque mistake that cost £60,000 in damages, plus substantial costs and interest, and then soon afterwards only reported an interlocutory hearing of a claim the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) had brought and at which I was neither present, nor represented. A claim that was, ultimately and successfully defended, and in which a compromised settlement was reached on terms favourable to me. A number of the allegations made at that first hearing were not repeated later in the proceedings, simply because there was no evidential base to them. But two of the main objectives – to smear and undermine credibility – had been achieved.

The IPCC, who spent almost £150,000 on this enterprise, insisted on those settlement terms being part of a confidential annexe to the consent order and, therefore, not capable of being reported. All the parties to that claim have moved on and I remain one of the police watchdog’s sternest critics. In 2018, they changed their name, yet again, to Independent Office for Police Conduct as the IPCC ‘brand’ had become so toxic.

The libel case concerned an association I had made with a Leeds police officer who became a good friend of the now-notorious BBC celebrity, Jimmy Savile. That police officer was a colleague of one of my best police contacts in that era, Cedric Christie. They had worked together at Chapeltown Police Station.

That same whistleblower assisted me in forcing an outside police force inquiry, Operation Vertex, into a ‘whitewash’ report, signed off by ACC Ingrid Lee, into WYP’s failings in allowing the celebrity and charity fundraiser to offend for decades on their patch. Operation Newgreen was completely dismantled by my investigation and inside knowledge. The investigation into Newgreen was carried out by the chief constable of Avon and Somerset Police, Nick Gargan, who was highly critical of both the construction and reported outcome of WYP’s ‘investigation’.

Shortly afterwards, ACC Lee was encouraged by the then chief constable, Mark Gilmore, to make a rare neutral transfer to SYP, to serve out the remainder of her career.

The Kirkless Divisional Commander in 2009, John Robins, is now WYP chief constable. I repeatedly pressed his predecessor, Dionne Collins, to refer the matter of the police ‘cover-up’, brought to light by Mr Sheerman, a sitting MP, to the IPCC (now IOPC), as had happened in Rotherham over failings of South Yorkshire Police officers. She refused point blank.

On the credit side, from the time she became temporary chief constable, investigations into child sexual exploitation across the force area began in earnest and, at the latest count over 70 Asian men, mostly of Pakistani heritage, have either been convicted or face criminal trials.

Some might say, therefore, given those antecedents, and a reputation for robustly challenging police wrongdoing, that it is no surprise that I was pressed to look into the murk hanging over Oldham and the persistent allegations of a cover-up by Greater Manchester Police, local council leaders and at least one Member of Parliament.

To close one particular circle, I had introduced Peter Jackson to Gail Hadfield Grainger on the same day this piece to camera (view here) was aired by ITV on their Granada Reports programme in August last year. They maintain contact by telephone and Peter frequently, and quite properly, cites the killing of Anthony Grainger as a glaring example of wrongdoing by his former employers. Indeed, his GMP catchphrase is ‘Rotten to the core‘ coined by Gail’s barrister, Leslie Thomas QC, during the public inquiry that replaced the inquest into Anthony’s death.

Gail gives pastoral support to Samantha Walker-Roberts, a survivor of child sex abuse in Oldham and an active campaigner, having waived her legal right to lifetime anonymity. Maintaining the work, often fronted by her lawyer husband, Steven, who sadly died earlier this year. Together, they lobbied on behalf of abuse victims, giving evidence at public inquiries into grooming, making representations to parliamentary select committees and bringing about subtle but important amendments to existing legislation. The friendship between Gail and Samantha led to the former facilitating a meeting between myself and the latter.

Regrettably, apart from a lengthy, highly personalised torrent of abuse directed at me, Raja Miah and his supporters have also attacked both Gail (read more here) and Samantha (read here), the latter repeatedly having personal details unwrapped either on Facebook or in his increasingly deranged weekly podcast.

In the face of a series of damning revelations about Miah, the class and scale of abuse referred to above, and knowing there is worst yet to come, the aforementioned Peter Jackson, who presents himself as a paragon of virtue and truth, not only maintains his support for ‘Raja’s Rabble’ (read more here) but has actively chosen to attack and undermine me on social media to further both of their causes.

That is entirely a matter of personal choice for ‘Jacko’, of course, and the band of fickle ex-GMP officers who have also withdrawn their support, en masse, to show solidarity with their errant former colleague.

But, outside their own particular bubble, and on any independent view, it shows exceedingly poor judgement and will, most certainly, not deflect me from completing the Oldham investigation and thoroughly expose Raja Miah – and the damage and disgrace he has brought to a town in which he doesn’t even live or work. Of that they can be very sure: Investigative journalism is not a popularity contest – and never was.

Page last updated at 0730hrs on Saturday 24th October, 2020.

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Page last updated at 1110hrs on Friday 23rd October, 2020.

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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, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

There’s no excuse for abuse

These days, in almost every public sector building, business or shop premises there is a notice displayed prominently that says, more or less, ‘we will not tolerate abuse of our staff’. It’s a sign of the times, if the terrible pun can be excused.

It’s the same on public transport – and the illustration I have chosen is seen on buses and trains across parts of the North West.

The rule is quite rigidly enforced and some organisations do not hesitate to call the police. Barring offenders from subject premises is usually automatic. Rightly so.

Abuse of journalists has become an increasing problem over the past few years and my trade body, the National Union of Journalists, which doubles as a professional body, has run a campaign of sorts almost every year since 2014, to try to limit the distress and alarm these attacks cause. Details of the latest NUJ crusade can be read here.

In Oldham, now part of the Greater Manchester region, but forever East Lancashire to some, the problem of abuse of journalists, and other public figures such as MP’s and council officials, appears particularly acute. Surprising, on one ground at least, as the police force in the town constantly promotes campaigns against abuse and hate. But appear very slow to stem the flow from the very worst offenders.

There is no doubt at all about the main source of what is a relentless torrent of highly personalised, harassing abuse: Bradford-born, Raja Miah, now an infamous Oldham political activist, who openly defies the law. His persistent output on social media is highly concerning, both in tone and content, returning to the same narrow topics over and again, straying well beyond fair commentary or legitimate criticism.

The strapline with which he defiantly signs off posts under his Recusant Nine banner is: ‘DO NOT FEAR THEM. DO NOT FEAR ANY OF THEM’. He claims that his previous outlet, Medium, was subject to censorship, but it is unclear to what extent other than, quite likely, to remove offensive, harassing or defamatory material.

There are three journalists currently in his sights, it seems: Nationally-known political editor and commentator, Jennifer Williams, who works for the Manchester Evening News (MEN), but whose byline also appears in a number of national newspapers; Charlotte Green, still based at the MEN where she was previoulsy based, but now a BBC-funded Local Democracy Reporter covering Oldham and Tameside councils; and, more latterly, myself.

Jennifer, who is also a television pundit and newspaper reviewer, is regularly attacked over her perceived inaction regarding the alleged scandals at Oldham Council.

What is not widely known is that the MEN commissioned an investigation into Raja Miah’s business background, and particularly his much criticised stewardship of free schools in Manchester and Oldham. At its conclusion, and given what would be revealed, the MEN hierarchy decided, on health and safety grounds, that the risk of the type of personalised backlash that this would very likely generate against their reporter, post-publication, it was not worth the risk. The article was shelved and the cost of it, in effect, thrown away.

Raja Miah denies any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, over £2 million was siphoned out of the schools, for which the record-keeping falls well below the accepted standard. He was ‘blacklisted’ by the government

The Manchester Evening News did provide coverage of the scandal when it first broke, which resulted in a complaint to the newspaper industry regulator. It was peremptorily dismissed Read in full here) and it was plain, by comparing his submissions to the Department of Education report on the same subject, that Miah had sought to mislead the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

Charlotte’s sin is said to be ‘biased’ reporting of Oldham Council meetings and ancillary business. Objectively reviewed, there appears to be no evidential basis for such criticism. Although relatively young, she is fully trained and qualified – and has significant experience of court reporting. As I know well, that is a hard school of knocks. It becomes ingrained to only report what you hear, the consequences of doing otherwise are severe.

The third and now, it seems, main target is the author of this piece and since publication of the first of four articles on 5th October, 2020 (read here) there has been what can only be described as a relentless torrent of highly personalised smears posted, or broadcast, on all of his various outlets: Welcome to Oldham website, podcast and Recusant Nine Facebook page. Aided and abetted by a small army of anonymous, low or no follower foot soldiers, who pop up at all points on social media, now dubbed ‘Raja’s Rabble’.

Most regrettably this has impacted on two others, Gail Hadfield Grainger (read more here) and Samantha Walker-Roberts (read more here), whom he has identified as being associated with me, professionally. He also resumed his grotesque and very public attack against Cllr Arooj Shah. The fact that Gail and Cllr Shah are friends, having first made contact 5 years ago, appears to send the Recusant Miah off the scale. Particularly, as it is widely known that Gail and I have also become friends since first meeting last year.

Taken together, the mindless denigration of these five females gives off more than an unpleasant whiff of mysogyny. A suspicion he dismisses out of hand.

One of Raja’s key lieutenants operates under the pseudonym “Rocky Skelshaw” and is an ever-present wherever her hero, and leader, happens to be posting. Repeating and exaggerating the increasing ludicrous output from those quarters. Seemingly oblivious that Miah is presently the subject of at least two police investigations over his highly speculative, heavily politicised rants and that may well become her fate in acting as amplifier in his echo chamber. One of his other highly vocal sidekicks, Tracey Gibson, recently deleted her social media accounts on my advice.

“Rocky” was outed yesterday as another Diggle resident, Kerry Skelhorn (read in full here) after her own intemperate outbursts, over the past weekend, included berating a well known child sex abuse survivor from the Oldham area on a Facebook community forum and, of course, the standard harassing and defamatory posts that are the Recusant trademark.

She now faces civil action and a package is being prepared for the police. A statement has been requested from her employer, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to establish whether the core values of the charity are consistent with those of their Conservation Officer.

It is very surprising, from a journalist’s standpoint, that the unlawful activities of such as Raja Miah, Miss Skelhorn, and a significant number of others, with either personal or political axes to grind against some or all of such as local MPs, the council, the police, the Mayor, in maintaining this vile hate campaign, have not been the subject of more immediate and robust action. A matter I am taking up myself, in measured terms, with Detective Chief Inspector James Faulkner, a senior officer based at Oldham Police Station, who has been adjacent to the facts for some time. We start off from a healthy position, as the only previous interaction produced an impressive response from both him and his divisional colleagues over a safeguarding issue.

Greater Manchester Police press office has been contacted for comment.

Page last updated: Wednesday 28th October, 2020 at 1015 hours

Photo credits: Arriva North West

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.