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.

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.