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 displayed 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 the 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: Thursday 22nd October, 2020 at 2215 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.

Riots peacemaker in ‘shoot to kill’ rant

Controversial Oldham businessman and political activist, Raja Miah, is noted for his trenchant views on a wide variety of topics relating to his home town, just West of the Pennines in the North of England.

He is also relentless in his criticism of local council leaders, Sean Fielding and Arooj Shah, and some of the area’s Members of Parliament (most particularly, James McMahon and Deborah Abrahams) and, it appears, anyone who associates with them on social media, writes about them in neutral terms or, heaven forbid, occasionally, in favourable terms.

His tone and hostility is alarming and, often it seems, allegations are made without a scrap of viable evidence and, in doing so, exposing significant gaps in his knowledge of public authority process and procedure. ‘Shout first, think later’ as one social media commentator noted.

An article published elsewhere on this website, earlier this week, heavily underscores those points (read here).

Given right of reply to that article, in which allegation after allegation he had made about the Deputy Leader of Oldham Council was comprehensively dismantled, Miah elected to pass up that opportunity and, instead, launched a vitriolic, ad hominem attack via his Recusant Nine Facebook page. Once again, littered with factual errors, half truths and half-baked assumptions.

Over the course of the next three articles on this website, covering just some of the main controversies presently raging, the ordinary, decent folk in and around the archetypal East Lancashire mill town will decide whether it is right to trust what is written by Neil Wilby and if it is reliable and well-grounded journalism: The product of repeat car journeys over the Pennines, foot-slogging, door-knocking, covert observation and knowledge of the appropriate processes and statutory frameworks, and, crucially, both the standing and ability to ask the right questions of the relevant individuals and organisations.

The political extremists, and the lazy, camp-follower keyboard warriors, at both ends of the spectrum, will doubtless dismiss, again, what is written as ‘garbage’, ‘utter crap’, ‘nonsense’, ‘bollocks’ and assert, or imply, there are bribes involved, or that mental health is a factor, or that the author is a stooge of Oldham’s Council Leader, the aforementioned Sean Fielding.

There will also be a further deluge of the ‘f**k off, you are not from round here and have no idea what’s going on’ class of abuse. Which appears to ignore the fact that Oldham is on the same main road as Huddersfield and Rochdale, about which a great deal is most definitely known. But there we are, reality does not appear to concern many of the critics.

Events this week, in the satellite world of Raja Miah, have taken an even more ugly turn – and that is a high threshold. Apart from renewing his harassment of Arooj Shah, a course of conduct that should, in all truth, be an urgent police matter, he has launched his latest mindless attack on another notably successful, high profile female, Gail Hadfield Grainger. It is difficult to comprehend, from a podcast rant on his weekly ‘Recusant Nine’ Facebook channel what motivated such bile, apart from her professional association with Neil Wilby. At that time, he was unaware of Gail’s five year association with Arooj.

In an attempt to smear Gail he describes her late partner, Anthony Grainger, as ‘a gangster’ and heavily emphasises that the police were right to shoot him, unarmed and without warning, through the windscreen of a stationary vehicle parked in a supermarket car park in Cheshire.

Summary justice, shoot to kill. No investigation, no public trial, sentenced to death on flawed police intelligence.

This from a man who made his name, and was awarded an honour by the Queen, in a peacemaking and community liaison role, following the race riots in Oldham in 2001. The flashpoint came, coincidentally, in the same district of Glodwick in which Arooj Shah has lived all her life.

Gail contends strongly that mysogyny is a factor in her being targeted alongside Arooj. Her record, and her media profile, as a justice campaigner and a relentless force for good, speaks for itself. Any attempt to undermine her will backfire on him.

“I’m shocked and disgusted that this man, whom I do not know, never met or spoken to, should attack a grieving woman who lost the love of her life in such horrendous circumstances, when an armed police officer shot Anthony, without warning, through a car windscreen. The Inquiry Chair, His Honour Thomas Teague QC, made his findings (read in full here) and the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police has apologised personally to me and the rest of Anthony’s family. This sly attempt to go behind those findings and use my dead partner, who was NOT a gangster, to slur me is beyond the pale. I just hope his children do not ever have to read or hear these things that he is saying”.

Not content with smearing Gail, ‘Recusant Raja” turned his attention on the son of her fellow United Friends and Family Campaign committee member, Mohammed Yaqub. In January, 2017, Yasser Yaqub was shot dead through the windscreen of his car, by armed West Yorkshire Police officers, after a hard stop on the M62 motorway sliproad at Ainley Top, Huddersfield. This followed a meeting with a man said to be, variously, a police informant, organised criminal and now convicted murderer, known locally as ‘King Meggy’ (read more here). Miah again emphasised that, in his view, the police did absolutely the right thing in performing a roadside execution. No arrest, no legal representation, no investigation, no trial, no jury verdict, no judge weighing all the relevant matters in the balance. Just a high velocity bullet in the chest. Summary execution by a rogue state militia.

Yasser’s father, a successful businessman and highly respected member of his local community in Huddersfield, was horrified after viewing the ‘Recusant Nine’ film clip: “I have never met Mr Miah and don’t know who he is or what he stands for. But to say that about my son, when he knows nothing of the circumstances in what is a very complex case, is absolutely disgusting. I would like to see his reaction if he, or a close member of his family, suffered in the same way we have. He should come to my home, firstly to apologise, and then see how my family and I still grieve for our son every single day. Is Mr Miah completely without feelings for his fellow human beings? He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.”

Following on from those heartfelt and utterly scathing views from two bereaved families, these are plainly extreme and dangerous standpoints to harbour secretly, even for an activist. But to expound them publicly on the nation’s biggest social media platform is very seriously troubling. More, particulary,when broadcast from a crime-ridden town such as Oldham.

Raja Miah has been reported to Facebook and the local police over the podcast. He has confirmed that he is already the subject of two other police investigations regarding his conduct towards local politicians. One of which is codenamed Operation Hexagon, he says. That is believed to be a wide ranging investigation into allegations of harassment, he is alo under investigation for an offence under section 106 0f the Representation of the People Act, 1983 following a complaint by an Oldham MP, Deborah Abrahams.

A file is also being prepared for submission to the Cabinet Office’s Forfeiture Committee which will petition for removal of his MBE (read more here).

Right of reply was again offered to Raja Miah. He did not respond. As before, he chose to launch another ad hominem attack on social media instead. That, of course, is his prerogative.

Page last updated: Saturday 10th October, 2020 at 0700 hours

Photo credits: ITV, Manchester Evening News

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.