A burnt-out Oldham mill gives up its secrets
'There’s a huge, huge backstory to this'
Dear Millers — welcome to this week’s Thursday edition. After the disturbing discovery of human remains at the site of an old mill in Oldham, Jack Dulhanty has spent the past couple of days reporting from the scene. In today’s report, he finds an area alive with rumours about the building’s links to the disappearance of four Vietnamese people and what was really going on inside.
Also in today’s edition:
The University of Manchester responds to claims that it contributed to the suicide of a prospective student.
Dani shares one of her best shots — a photograph of a Mexican musician she met on Market Street.
We give you a great list of things to do over the weekend, including a travelling theatre by the Royal Exchange and a jazz showcase at Band on the Wall.
As always, our Thursday editions are for Mill members, and regular Millers can just read the top of the email. Join up now to read the whole edition, for £7 a month or just £1.30 a week if you pay for a year upfront.
Our members-only edition on Tuesday has prompted a great conversation in the comments — about Manchester’s best (and long-lost) coffee shops and why British governance is so centralised. In that edition, we interviewed the economist Mike Emmerich about his upbringing in 1970s Manchester and his memories of negotiating the city’s devolution deal with George Osborne. Plus, Joshi asked why Manchester lacks great places to drink coffee and sink into a lovely armchair:
Are there secretly an abundance of stylish, atmospheric cafes in Manchester that I don’t know about? I find most coffee shops here painfully bland and uniform in style — post-industrial lighting, boring sleek furniture, exposed concrete floors, cups that not only have no pattern on them but don’t even have a handle. Even the so-called Viennese Coffee House opposite the Manchester Art Gallery looks like a Costa, and the rest of them actually are Costas
Read it and get involved in the discussion now — and if you’re not a member you can now join with a 7-day free trial before you have to pay.
Mill news briefing
The University of Manchester has responded to claims that it took a £1,000 deposit from a master's applicant before rejecting his application and refusing to return the deposit. The applicant, Rory Wood, later committed suicide and a viral tweet connecting the two incidents has inspired significant anger online. It seems what actually happened is more nuanced: the university says the application was in fact still open, and the applicant's brother says Rory had struggled with mental health problems for a long time and had been angry about the cost-of-living crisis. In a tweet before his death, Rory wrote: "everything just feels impossible and unliveable." But his brother says: "That last tweet he made he directed his anger to the university. I think from our perspective it is not the full truth, it is the image he wanted to portray.”
Oldham was referred to as “another child sex gang rape hellhole” on GB News this week, a further sign that Raja Miah’s now-debunked conspiracy theories about the borough have worked their way into the national media. Repeating the allegations Miah has been spreading for three years almost word for word, presenter Mark Steyn said the authorities had allowed “highly organised Pakistani rape gangs” to operate and described the council as “a jurisdiction so depraved it will willingly sacrifice its most vulnerable members on the altar of so-called diversity”. As regular readers will know from our extensive reporting on Miah, an independent review found no evidence that Oldham has experienced above-average instances of child sexual abuse, nor that the council and police orchestrated a cover-up of such crimes. Read our recent post: “What happened when Raja Miah’s prophecy failed?”
Mayors across the North have written to prospective prime ministers Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, asking them to meet to re-think plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail, or NPR. The plans were downgraded last November in a move that experts say will significantly weaken the chances of northern cities becoming more competitive. The full NPR plans include high-speed connections from Manchester to Liverpool and Leeds, instead of mere track upgrades. It could also mean the government dusting off plans for an underground HS2 station at Piccadilly, which were called off to build a cheaper overground station. Truss said today she is “completely committed” to the plan and allies of Sunak say he is too.
Footage of a racist attack in Cheadle shows a white man attacking a British-Indian man with two umbrellas while calling him a "p*** bastard" and threatening to kill him. The man allegedly started attacking a homeless person outside a local shop before turning on the man taking the video. He has since been arrested for assault but is yet to be charged. “Literally shaking watching this,” tweeted former Oldham Council leader Arooj Shah about the video. “To think we still have to deal with this horrid behaviour in the 21st century. Vile man!”
Prestwich is attracting plenty of column inches at the moment, but the chef Michael Clay is risking more than most on the area’s burgeoning popularity. Clay, 37, is the man behind Elnecot on Cutting Room Square, and he has seen Ancoats take off spectacularly since he started out in 2017. Now he thinks Prestwich might witness “sort of the same thing” and has launched Dokes Pizzeria, serving pizzas made with ingredients from British farms he can reel off the names of. Hiring is tough though, he told us at the launch last night, so he’s doing fill-in shifts in both his restaurants this weekend.
The Modernist Society, whose lovely gallery and shop on Port Street is a must-visit if you have any time this weekend (and stocks last year’s proper copy of The Mill), is in some trouble. They have failed in a recent application for lottery funding and are now appealing for public support. The society “have done something that would have been considered wildly implausible not very long ago, and made hanging around car parks, housing estates, and underpasses in cities and towns largely in the north and midlands into a utopian communal leisure activity," writes Owen Hatherley for Tribune Magazine.
And finally: a Mill member strolling through Ancoats yesterday was surprised to see that the Michelin star bolted beside the entrance of Mana was being removed. Had the prize committee read our piece about the restaurant? Naturally, we scrambled Jack to go and have a look, but it turns out the star was just being replaced. Michelin sends new stars out with each new guide, for restaurants to keep their Michelin plaques up to date. As you were.
📻 Our latest podcast just came out, in which Jack reports from the Oldham mill story, and Joshi and Darryl discuss the opening of the Castlefield Viaduct this weekend; whether northern newspapers have surrendered their credibility and the prospect of Eurovision coming to Manchester. Listen here.
Troubling findings in the rubble of a crumbling Oldham mill
By Jack Dulhanty
The man who found the human remains in the rubble of Bismarck House Mill is crossing the road. “Found out anything new?” he asks me. I say not much.
He is short and tanned, with sharp features that draw to the centre of his face when asked a question. “I remember it like it was yesterday, I remember all of it,” he says, though he doesn’t want to relive it or tell me anything more about the discovery that has prompted a major police investigation and become national news.
He found the remains on Saturday, working as part of a demolition team that was bringing down the mill. It was destroyed in a fire that started at around 2am on the 7th of May. “I woke up and the sky was red,” says A.J, a woman who lives in one of the terraced houses nearby, “I thought I was dreaming.” One man who lives 20 minutes away woke up to find his car under a layer of ash.
“You could see it across Oldham,” says Nathan, who breaks down cars at a nearby scrapyard. At the time, Greater Manchester Police and the fire service understood the building to be empty and unsafe to enter. One source says there was another reason that the fire service chose to fight the fire from the outside rather than entering: the building was locked. (A spokesperson for the fire service didn’t comment on that when we asked this morning).
There was no search of the premises once the fire was extinguished, and the owner of the building set about having it demolished. Both the police and the fire service now face official scrutiny for their responses to the blaze.
The area around the mill is dominated by storage units, tool shops and mechanics. Engine parts litter the pavement, but despite this, it’s the sort of place local driving instructors take their students to practise.
Since the first remains were found, it has been flooded with crime scene investigation teams and search and rescue vehicles looking for the remains of four Vietnamese nationals who were reported as missing to GMP last Thursday.
Yesterday, I could hear the barks of search dogs but couldn't see them. Scaffolders were setting up tall white sheets to block the view of the site. Teams in hazmat suits and gas masks were looking over the basement area of the building, where a second discovery had been made. Someone who lives nearby shared a photo with me, showing what appears to be a forensic recovery: four figures in white suits and masks carrying something away.
“Specialist officers searching Bismark House Mill, Bower Street have recovered further human remains, indicating a second victim,” said a police statement yesterday morning. Detective Superintendent Lewis Hughes added: “We are carrying out an extensive search of the remnants of the mill to ensure any further human remains are recovered in a way which is respectful to both the deceased and the bereaved.”
The Vietnamese people were reported as missing via intermediaries. One man’s family in Vietnam reached out to the Vietnamese Catholic Community in London. Its assistant chaplain, Father Anthony Nguyen Van Tri, said the man “hadn’t been heard from in almost three months”.
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