An exercise in futility

This is the seventh article I have written since I first became involved in a journalistic scrutiny of the local council, and the police, in Oldham. A large Borough that forms part of the Greater Manchester region and incorporates a sizeable chunk of the old West Riding of Yorkshire (writes Neil Wilby).

The fifth was published last week (read here) the sixth is, as yet, unpublished. Delayed due to the CO-VID19 virus epidemic ‘lockdown’ and the consequent impact on securing documents and other evidence.

The first two articles, focusing on the output of a political activist based in the neighbouring Borough of Tameside, Raja Miah, created a level of abuse never seen before in almost 40 years: I joined my first local newspaper in 1981.

A neutral examination of a series of allegations made against Oldham Council’s Deputy Leader, Councillor (Cllr) Arooj Shah, concluded that she had been targeted by Miah, and the groups with which he aligns himself, in an unattractive, frequently personalised campaign that gives the appearance of politically motivated harassment (read more here). A matter presently under consideration by the local police force.

The second article highlighted yet more seriously unpleasant, largely fact-free allegations made by Miah against two bereaved families (read more here). No apology or contrition followed, just a cranking up of the abuse and mindless attacks on anyone who challenged the increasingly desperate Raja narrative. Particularly if they have association with his main targets. In this particular case, the friendship between nationally acclaimed justice campaigner, Gail Hadfield Grainger and Cllr Shah.

The third article (read more here) highlighted abuse against two renowned child sexual abuse investigators and a well known local survivor of such a horrific crime who had the temerity, according to Miah, to meet me and discuss the wider situation in her home town. A disgraceful, very public, wholly unedifying attack on that survivor followed. Not just by Raja, but at least one other within the zealous rabble that surround him.

The fourth article was an exposé of one of the key members of ‘Raja’s Rabble’, Kerry Skelhorn, who marauds on social media as “Rocky Skelshaw” spitting out her own brand of venom (read more here). Miss Skelhorn claims she reported me to the local police at the same time (19th October, 2020) for alleged harassment and obtained a crime number. As of today, 8th December, 2020, I have not been contacted by Greater Manchester Police (GMP) on this particular issue. Nor would I expect to hear from them, apart from the conduct of routine journalistic enquiries. Her allegations are without evidential foundation and, in my informed submission, a waste of police time.

As with her local hero, Miss Skelshaw saw the article not as lessons to be learned, and one from which she could moderate her outrageous behaviour, but as a platform for ramping up the abuse. Notably against Cllr Sean Fielding, the Leader of Oldham Council, who took on the mantle of one of his predecessors, James McMahon in May 2019. The leadership was vacated after ‘Jim from Oldham’ was elected as Member of Parliament for Oldham West and Royton in December, 2015. He has been the principal target of the Rabble’s incessant attacks against the Council and, more generally, the Labour Party for over 18 months.

Jim McMahon features centrally in the fifth article (read here), which is a forensic examination of the fatuous, contrived, counter-intuitive allegation, amongst others made by Raja Miah, of child sex abuse ‘cover-up’ by the MP. Centred around the infamous ‘Lee Rigby’ email sent by BBC Manchester reporter, Kevin Fitzpatrick, to McMahon, and others, in 2013, just before the fallen soldier’s funeral in the town.

McMahon will be mentioned more peripherally in the sixth article, which shines a light on the allegations, by Miah, that the East Lancashire mill town is ‘owned’ and run by ‘Asian Cartels’. For which, provisionally, there is very little evidence – and the rantings of the Rabble appear to simply capitalise on the smearing of their critics, or those who choose to stand up against them.

That is an elongated, but necessary, pre-amble to the present piece which examines the ramping up of the recent attacks against Cllr Fielding.

We start from behind the line as it is well rehearsed, on Twitter, that I have, previously, been critical of the council leader’s output on that social media platform and he, in turn, taking exception to those posts. Sean Fielding is a young man going places, there is little doubt about that; but some of his tweets do betray his youth and inexperience. Seized upon gleefully by his critics. The ‘Captain Underpants’ saga, for example, having provided some light relief over the past few months (read more here).

The Labour politician issued a statement in response to what he dubbed ‘Undie-gate’, adding that he was known for his ‘dry and self-deprecating sense of humour’. 

But, despite those mutually adverse views of politician and journalist, after the publication of the investigation into the allegations against Cllr Shah (and not before, it must be stressed), he accepted a routine email invitation to speak on the telephone, on or off the record.

That call concerned, mainly, the background as to how I became involved in the situation in Oldham and how it was proposed to deal with it, going forward. It was a frank exchange and, it is fair to say, I found Cllr Fielding a measured, intelligent, articulate, committed individual, with surprisingly little personal antipathy towards his critics. His principal concerns were the impact on family, friends and colleagues.

He accepted, without question, that my investigations would be independent, first and foremost, and evidence-based. If wrongdoing by the Council, or himself, was uncovered then it would be reported, without fear or favour. He also took on board that I have no political allegiance, whatsoever.

Since then, we have communicated sporadically, neutrally and professionally by email and telephone, in the same way I have done with other influencers in Oldham and the wider region. On the clear understanding that if the output was to come under public scrutiny there is nothing that would be found beyond a journalist engaged in the locality maintaining contact with local politicians, council officers, police officers and staff. As is done, routinely, elsewhere in my spheres of operation.

There is absolutely no question, as has been frequently asserted by Raja’s Rabble, that I am influenced, retained or paid by Cllr Fielding, or his Council, or the police to act as his, or their, ‘attack dog’. As those who know me well would attest, my integrity is not for sale. The gut feeling is that the Council Leader is very much of the same genre. The senior police officers within Q Division, with whom there has been interaction regarding safeguarding, have been impressively responsive, effective and efficient.

The dog I have in this particular fight is being asked, repeatedly, by police whistleblowers, led by ex-GMP Superintendent Peter Jackson, to conduct an investigation into allegations of reprehensible conduct by elected officials and senior police officers in the town. The reality turned out to be very different: It is the disgraceful, obnoxious behaviour of those making the allegations that is called into serious question.

As for Cllr Fielding, this is a distillation of what the issues against him amount to: The modus operandus appears to be that Raja Miah either publishes an allegation (or a scattergun series of them) on his Recusant Nine blog, his Facebook page or on his now infamous Sunday night podcast – and then the Rabble simply chant a chorus without ever, it seems, checking the provenance, or the existence of any supporting evidence, of what is being alleged:

(i) Cllr Fielding is allegedly complicit, and as council leader takes a principal role, in covering up child industrial scale sex abuse in the town.

+ This allegation was publicly, and comprehensively, rebuffed at the last full meeting of the Council. The relevant sections where this topic was aired can be viewed here and here.

+ The meeting, and its out-turn on the CSE issue, was also widely reported in the local and regional media (read more here).

+ Operation Hexagon, a wide ranging police investigation, has been running alongside an independent assurance review of child sex exploitation since November, 2019. The Hexagon probe sits alongside two other widely publicised operations, Green Jacket and Exeter, that have uncovered hundreds of victims and perpetrators across the Greater Manchester Region.

(ii) Cllr Fielding turns a blind eye to a paedophile ring operating out of the Civic Hall.

+ As allegations go, this as grotesque as they come. Particularly as the Miah evidence appears to centre around the activities of a former Liberal Democrat councillor, Rod Blyth, convicted of child sex abuse offences in December, 2019. He resigned from Oldham Council in September, 2017 citing ‘personal reasons’ and with a reference to a police investigation.

+ No indecent images were found on any of his council equipment by the police, who seized and analysed those items. Raja contends that the Council, and its Leader in particular, had a duty to inform the public of this conviction of a private citizen. At the same time, exempting a fellow Liberal Democrat councillor and close friend, Mohib Uddin, from such responsibility. Together with the many other Civic Hall insiders from whom he claims he routinely receives information. Curiously, Greater Manchester Police is not attacked for ‘keeping the conviction a secret’.

+ Of all the councillors to whom I’ve spoken, including the Leader, none had prior knowledge of the Blyth conviction until it entered the public domain. A comment that, presumably, applies to ex-Cllr Uddin. It certainly applies to Lib Dem Leader and former Council leader, Howard Sykes, who issued an unequivocal statement to that effect on 20th September, 2020 on his website (read in full here).

(iii) Cllr Fielding has undue influence with those engaged upon an Assurance Review that commenced in November, 2020.

+ Those persons are the Greater Manchester Mayor, who commissioned the Review, and the investigators appointed by him, Malcolm Newsam and Gary Ridgway. Generally regarded as two of the leading specialists in the country for this type of work. Again, this was dealt with at the last Council meeting, as it had been previously, by Cllr Fielding, in the local and regional media.

+ Messrs Newsam and Ridgway are independent of any body under review. Anyone doubting that status, is invited to read their report on Operation Augusta, published earlier this year (read here). An outcome that was devastating to both the council involved and the police, whose collective failings over child safeguarding were forensically and ruthlessly exposed. The proposition that they have turned up in Oldham to execute a ‘cover-up’ that benefits local councillors, and suits a warped narrative of a group of discontents, simply has no basis in fact or evidence.

The Assurance Review is due to report very shortly. Operation Hexagon has already acted on some of its findings, which are expected to be critical of both the council and the police over past failings in Oldham.

(iv) Cllr Fielding has covered up the abrupt departure of Dr Mark Peel from the Assurance Review and failed to disclose to the public the reasons why the academic beat a hasty retreat from Oldham.

+ Having spoken to a number of interested parties regarding this issue, the best answer, provisionally, is that he did not give a specific reason. Dr Peel recused himself shortly after receiving an email from a well regarded child sex abuse campaigner, whom has since, very sadly, passed away. It criticised his credentials and past record, particularly in relation to what was regarded as a ‘whitewash’ over council CSE failings in neighbouring Kirklees (read more here). Whether the two events are connected only Dr Peel can say. What can be stated with certainty, however, is that there is no ‘cover-up’ (or a reason for one) and the citizens of Oldham are much better placed after the appointment of the two leaders in their field.

+ I can add to that a personal note: Dr Peel had oversight of one of the least rigorous investigation reports ever put in front of me – out of thousands over the years. A case to which I am very adjacent, the murder of Leeds schoolteacher, Ann Maguire, at Corpus Christi School in 2014, includes a safeguarding review signed off by him (read here). It has the appearance of a pre-formed decision with only the narrative relevant to that outcome explored. As expounded elsewhere, Oldham had a lucky escape whatever the circumstances of his resignation. Raja Miah’s repeated attempt to make political capital from the departure of Dr Peel is, put shortly, misconceived. It also conceals the fact that, at the time the subject email was sent to the newly appointed investigator, by the late Steven Walker-Roberts, the two of them were closely associated.

(v) Cllr Fielding accused the activists of ‘bare faced lies’ over their allegations of child sex abuse cover-up.

+ During a public question time session at a stormy council meeting on 7th November, 2019, Jackie Stanton, former Liberal Democrat deputy leader in Oldham, made these points about the allegations.

By way of pre-amble, she claimed that the reputation of the Borough Council appeared, to her at least, to be at an “all-time low”.

“It continues with the extremely serious allegations of child sexual exploitation [‘cover-up’]; there are allegations appearing daily on social media relating to alleged mismanagement and poor decision making [planning] by senior officers of this council,” she added.

Then came the question: “Would the leader agree, all these allegations are extremely serious and damaging to the borough. Will he tell us how he and the chief executive intend to deal with them, and will he tell us if he is capable of restoring confidence in the council.”

Cllr Fielding pulled no punches in his response:

“Over the last few months there have been daily postings on social media about planning and historic safeguarding incidents.

“These allegations have been combined with a series of personal online attacks on councillors, residents, MPs and council officers, and often come from people with a clear political agenda.

“We will always take action where appropriate, including the recently announced review into historic safeguarding led by Dr Mark Peel. 

“Too often, however, the allegations and claims made online are bare faced lies designed purely to stoke fears and score political points.

“I urge people to think twice about these things they read online”.

+ The Leader’s blunt approach to certain issues, and willingness to give undeserving agitators a higher platform, might well be taken on board as a learning point. But the simple fact is this: Raja Miah’s campaigning is characterised by the repeated use of untruths, half-truths, misrepresentations and conveniently trimmed narratives. Anyone perusing the previous Oldham articles on this website can have absolutely no doubt about that. It is a mystery as to how and why he has been allowed to continue in this vein, by both the council and the police, for so long.

+ Similarly, the incessant social media output of Kerry Skelhorn, using her “Rocky Skelshaw” nom de plume, is frequently estranged from the truth. Including her false claim that she “took Oldham Council to judicial review and won”. That was over the planning matter, concerning the re-siting of Saddleworth School, the cause of so much disquiet. An objective reading of the judgment handed down in those proceedings reveals that her role was very minor, as one of over 600 objectors. She was not recorded as either the applicant, interested party or intervener in those proceedings.

+ The reader is invited to form their own view over whether the rantings of just those two can be fairly characterised as ‘bare faced lies’. Particularly, set against a background of Raja Miah repeatedly claiming Oldham is “my town” or “our town”. He hasn’t lived there for 16 years according to Land Registry records. Similarly, with Miss Skelhorn, who has much to say about “her” Council when she actually works for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Suffolk and Norfolk.

(vi) Most recently, that Cllr Fielding has harassed four individuals by contacting their employers about offensive posts on social media. They are Mark Wilkinson, a former Greater Manchester Police officer who now works, post retirement, for Sodexo Justice who are a contractor to Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service; his stepdaughter Sarah Radcliffe who is a teaching assistant at a local school; Jane Barker, a researcher at the University of Manchester; and Mohib Uddin, an employee of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and, as mentioned earlier in the piece, formerly a prominent Liberal Democrat councillor in Oldham.

Wilkinson’s wife, Kathleen, is the Leader of Failsworth Independent Party (FIP) and Mark is the Treasurer. He is standing as a candidate against Sean Fielding in the forthcoming elections. Several months ago, Mrs Wilkinson sought repeatedly to make contact with me, in not particularly flattering terms. When I eventually responded, she was mostly reluctant to answer journalistic enquiries and sought to paint her husband and daughter as victims.

There is a FIP website that benefits from some smart design and pretty colours, but is completely absent of any news of their aims and values, or any form of manifesto. The be all, and end all, of the FIPs appears to be: We find the Labour Party and Sean Fielding, in particular, objectionable and we are prepared to use fair means or foul to unseat them/him.

The FIPs have one sitting councillor, Brian Hobin, another key agitator in the Oldham Council child sex abuse ‘cover-up’ narrative. His output on the topic rarely appears to rise above the ludicrous, amplified by a motion brought to the last council meeting, alongside the Conservative Group leader, John Hudson, that was, at best, counter-intuitive and, at worst, a poorly disguised attempt to smear the Labour Party and leading figures within it. Notably, Sean Fielding.

Their actions, accompanied by unpleasant, inappropriate remarks during the meeting, were roundly rejected by a very substantial majority of fellow councillors. A fair few of them visibly angry at the allegations laid against them, collectively, by Cllr Hobin and Hudson.

There has been a number of ‘tit for tat’ complaints made against Cllr Fielding:

Mark Wilkinson: He made a Standards complaint objecting to the detailed, wide-ranging complaint against him to his present employer (in which I was also unflatteringly name-checked). Cllr Fielding’s complaint was partially upheld, in that Wilkinson brought his employers into disrepute over posts on social media. Mark did not cite any areas of the Member Code of Conduct that had been broken. This complaint, now dismissed, is one of a number he claims would be made. There have been at least two others, to different levels of the Labour Party, both also dismissed, and it has been posted online that he has reported Cllr Fielding to the police for an unspecified offence (or offences). Cllr Fielding has, at the time of publication, had no contact from the police, other than to check on his welfare in relation to the threats posed by those being mobilised by Raja Miah’s online activities.

A feature of the complaint process was the attempt by Mark Wilkinson, a police officer for 32 years, to mislead his employer by claiming the posts referred to in the complaint did not exist, despite the presence of screen shots.


Jane BarkerAs with Mark Wilkinson, she made a complaint objecting to the enquiry made by Cllr Fielding to the University of Manchester. Essentially, they were asked if the re-circulation of offensive material posted by Raja Miah, using a Twitter account that included the University in her biography, was acceptable to that institution. She was, as a result and quite understandably, asked to detach her personal postings and extreme views from any association with the University. That common sense outcome has produced the most extraordinary, litigious response from Ms Barker.

In her own complaint to the Council, she did not cite any areas of the Member Code of Conduct as having been broken, but listed a range of criminal offences that included misfeasance in public office and unauthorised surveillance. Claiming, bizarrely, that to view her publicly accessible tweets, on an open platform, required authorisation by way of the draconian Regulatory and Investigatory Powers Act, 2000 (RIPA for short).

The complaint was, unsurprisingly, dismissed. Ms Barker, in an email sent separately to Cllr Fielding, also said she would report him to the police for harassment and employ solicitors to sue him for defamation. There has been no contact with Cllr Fielding from the police, or solicitors, in relation to any enquiries or reports Jane has made. Ms Barker also complained to the Labour Party. An official described her complaint as “mad” and it, too, was summarily dismissed.


Raja Miah: He made a Standards complaint to Oldham Council objecting to Cllr Fielding referring to him in the complaints against Jane Barker and Mark Wilkinson. As with the other complaints against Cllr Fielding, he did not cite breaches of the Member Code of Conduct and did not dispute the descriptions of either him or his behaviour. He simply said that he did not like them. The complaint itself also contained personal abuse directed at Cllr Fielding. Miah was given 14 days to clarify more precisely the substance of his grievances. This expired on 30th November, 2020. Nothing further was received from him. Raja claims he has also reported Cllr Fielding to the Labour Party and, he says, to the police. Cllr Fielding has had no contact from either in relation to those complaints.

Raja Miah has also posted a “legal letter” online saying that he was suing Oldham Council for defamation. A check with both the Manchester Registry of the High Court and the Royal Courts of Justice reveals that no claim form with Raja Miah as claimant and Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council as defendant has been filed in the Queen’s Bench Division, as yet. It is not clear how the usual £10,000 court fee for such actions would be funded.


Mohib Uddin: A complaint was made against him, by Cllr Fielding, to his employer, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. It raised the issue of publicly accusing the Council of financial corruption and then providing no supporting evidence. HMRC routinely say that they “take such matters seriously” but do not report upon what action they may have taken. It is public knowledge, however, that Uddin has not tweeted since September, 2020. He told me at the time that he was not at all concerned about the complaint to his employer and laughed it off. He also said that Cllr Fielding had made a complaint to the Liberal Democrats about him. This concerns acting in an advisory capacity to Debbie Barratt-Cole, a candidate in the Oldham West and Royton during the general election. She stood as a candidate for the People of Oldham and Saddleworth Party (the POOS). There is a widely circulated video capturing him at a campaign meeting, advising her on literature. Notwithstanding, Mohib disputes this complaint and there is a hearing, at the national level of the Liberal Democrat Party, on 10th December, 2020, to consider the matter and, if proven, whether to revoke his membership.

There has been no tit-for-tat complaint from Mohib Uddin against Cllr Fielding, although he continues to post negatively about him. One recent Facebook offering, on the topic of a petition that has been raised recently by Raja Miah, calling for the arrest of Sean Fielding, is signed off “Tick tock”.

The petition, addressed to the Home Secretary, has the appearance of a last throw of the dice for those that have complained against Cllr Fielding. Having taken their issues to the Council and the Labour Party – and received short thrift – further complaints, as yet unparticularised, are said to have been made to the police. There has, so far, been no action taken against Cllr Fielding by the Greater Manchester force as a result.

The petition is also an exercise in futility, a point that can be made with some certainty:

Firstly, having sat through a County Court trial, then High Court appeal, over a wrongful arrest of a Bradford doctor that has spanned almost two years and is, in fact, still ongoing (read more here), I would regard myself as reasonably expert in the relevant sections of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984. These govern the reasonable grounds for suspicion of an offence that may lead to an arrest, for which the bar is set low. Particularly, at street level. However, there is a necessity test that the arresting officer must undertake, for which the bar is, conversely, very high.

Deprivation of a person’s liberty by the State is a very serious matter – and Parliament requires that the police explore other means of advancing their enquiries prior to arrest. The most commonly used, of course, is attendance at a police station for a voluntary interview. Particularly, if there is no immediate threat to life or property and the suspect is from a stable background, has no criminal record and is likely to co-operate with the police. All factors that plainly apply in the case of Sean Fielding.

Secondly, the Home Secretary has no locus is such matters. Chief constables of the 43 Home Office police forces have complete operational independence. That includes being able to resist pressure from Ministers of State. The chances of Priti Patel calling up Ian Hopkins, the current incumbent at Greater Manchester Police, to ask him to arrest a Council leader in the force area, regarding complaints that appear to have little or no substance, are, correspondingly, zero.

A surprising aspect of this petition is that one of Raja Miah’s main proponents, the aforementioned Peter Jackson, did not advise him of these key legal issues before making a collective fool of themselves. A remark that could also apply to Mark Wilkinson, who must also have made an arrest or two in a lengthy police career that began as a cadet and ended as a sergeant.

‘Jacko’, as he known widely amongst police colleagues past and present, in a show of Rabble solidarity, has also made a complaint against Cllr Fielding. Apparently, on the grounds that he was mentioned in at least one of the complaints made by the council leader to employers. That is quite extraordinary, on any independent view, when the ex-cop’s Twitter timeline comprises of, almost entirely, dishing out stick to public figures, including Sean Fielding.

Peter Jackson, along with ‘Google Expert’, Susan Dolan, another Raja Miah fanatic, are two of the prime movers behind a Twitter account with the handle ‘Alice Odette Hallowes’ (@TruthsayerOdet1) . This is one of the most prolific and disgraceful accounts on Twitter, with some posts that go to contempt of court at their highest, commenting on live criminal proceedings, and in the gutter for too much of the rest of the time with wild, unevidenced allegations and smears. A matter over which I severely warned Jacko when we last spoke.

Until now, I have had to remain silent as to his association with that entity, as the subject conversation was held in confidence. But, very recently, a former Rabble member was ‘turned’ and the information has now been given to me independently.

Even more surprising is that Jacko, who served as a sergeant in Oldham in the late 1990s, doggedly retains his affinity with Miah after the latter has been thoroughly exposed as ‘a wrong ‘un’. He is also an avid supporter of the far right, anti-Sean Fielding, anti-Jim McMahon, anti-Andy Burnham, anti-Neil Wilby Oldham Eye social media account, whose output, not infrequently, strays into what might very well be argued as racism.

As a result of this seemingly unbreakable link with Raja Miah, the Jackson claims of the moral high ground, by way of his his police whistleblowing, have little remaining substance. He is a laughing stock amongst those influencers to whom I’ve spoken, incredulous that a renowned murder detective could be sucked in by an imposter such as Raja. Their credibility is in shreds.

Moreover, he cannot say he wasn’t warned. Either from this quarter or by fellow police whistleblower, Maggie Oliver.

But the die is now cast, and Peter Jackson is not the only high profile campaigner to have backed the wrong horse. There are plenty of others for whom the canvassing of this journalistic investigation, and all that has gone with it, is now a matter of profound regret.

As for the Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council Leader, he can sleep easy in his bed. There will be no 6am ‘knock’ by the local constabulary, no embarrassing arrest wearing only torn underpants – and no charges in respect of futile, embarrassing complaints lodged by local discontents.

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

Right of reply was again offered to Raja Miah. He declined all previous invitations and made no attempt respond here, either. Instead, mobilising his foot soldiers to ‘up the ante’ on their smear campaigns.

The same courtesy was offered to Jane Barker, Kathleen and Mark Wilkinson, and Mohib Uddin. No response was received from any of them, either.

Ms Barker elected, instead, to breach journalistic privilege and information rights by sharing a protectively marked email in which the necessary cautions were clearly set out. A matter that will be determined by the County Court, ultimately.

Other political party group leaders in Oldham, apart from Labour, have also been invited to contribute to this piece. Cllr Sykes was both forthright and helpful. No acknowledgement or response was received from either Cllr Hudson, Cllr Hobin.

Following publication of this article, complaints were received by Oldham Council regarding the content that referred to Standards outcomes affecting Raja Miah, Mark Wilkinson and Jane Barker. The Council has, quite correctly on its part, referred the matter to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Full co-operation will be given to any investigation that follows, if the statutory regulator deems it necessary to record the complaints.

Page last updated: Friday 11th December, 2020 at 1855 hours

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.