Smears and conspiracy theories in Oldham - our new reporting delves deeper

Plus: Controversy at Pride weekend, and the rest of our Monday briefing

Dear Millers — we don’t publish on bank holidays so we moved yesterday’s Monday briefing to today.

And it’s good timing because an exciting new project has just gone live: a long-form podcast about the weird, conspiratorial politics of Oldham. It’s a collaboration with our friends at Tortoise, who specialise in in-depth reporting and podcasts.

  • Scroll down for details about the podcast and a code that lets you listen for free.  

On Sunday we published another long-running project — about the experience of food delivery riders in Greater Manchester. Dani wrote a great long read, and we also published an 8-minute original film by our video reporter Jack Brooks, who worked as a delivery rider himself while doing the reporting. One member wrote under the video:

This was a real eyeopener. Yet again, The Mill draws attention to people we take for granted and pass by in the street, giving us an insight into their lives.

Read the story here and watch the video below.

☁This week’s weather

Covid-19 update

  • Case rates: The case rate for Greater Manchester is 309.5, up 1.6% compared to England’s 311.8, down 5.5.%. Cases are rising in all GM boroughs apart from Manchester. Tameside has the highest infection rate in GM, about 400. Bolton has the lowest, around the 300-mark.

  • Hospitalisations: As of 22nd August, there were 59 Covid-19 patients in critical care in GM hospitals down from 62 the week before. The total number of patients in our hospitals with Covid-19 minus critical care patients is 351, up from 302 the week before. You can find the latest data here.

  • Vaccinations: Over 1.6 million people in GM have had two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, and that figure was last updated just over a week ago. 92% of over-70s have received their second dose, 85% of 50-69s and 54% of 18-49s. That is 68% of all adults in GM.

The big story: Conspiracies and smears in Oldham

Top line: Early in July, we published a long read called ‘Grooming gangs, cartels and the poisoning of Oldham's politics’. It told the story of how a young Labour council leader had been ousted by an independent candidate in Failsworth, helped by an extraordinary online campaign that included allegations of grooming gangs, electoral fraud and Asian cartels.

Very quickly, the story became one of our most popular posts ever. Here’s how Sam Coates from Sky News shared the piece:

New reporting: Today we return to the story in a deeply podcast about what’s been happening in Oldham. The 52-minute podcast ‘Smear’ digs into:

  • The back story of Raja Miah, the man who claims Oldham council has protected Rochdale-style grooming gangs in the borough in return for votes. We’ve spoken to parents at his former schools and staff at his defunct charities.

  • How Miah’s videos helped to oust Sean Fielding, Oldham’s ex-council leader, in the May elections. In the podcast, he talks about the experience of losing his job and how he responded to the online allegations in a way that made the situation worse.

  • How this story links to some broader themes in UK and US politics, including the rise of social media populism and the vacuum created by the thinning out of local journalism.

Behind the story: The podcast is a co-production with Tortoise, one of our favourite media companies, started two years ago by the former Times and BBC News editor James Harding (who is also a paid-up Miller) and a team of leading journalists. Like us, they prefer to focus on reporting a small number of stories in-depth and they’ve become known for very rich and deeply reported long-form podcasts like this one.

  • The podcast is available to Tortoise members for the next few days, and it will go out publicly later on. If you’re a member, go to the Tortoise app now to listen.

  • If you’re not a Tortoise member you can still listen for free now. Use the code MILL50, which gives you a month’s free trial. It will also give you 40% off the usual price after the trial.

We will have more details on our new reporting coming up later this week, including details that didn’t make the cut. Join us as a member to get those in your inbox.

Home of the week

This charming 3-bedroom end of terrace in Bolton is Grade II* listed and features a “dreamy garden”. It’s on the market for £300,000.

Other local news in brief

  • Plans for a new eco park in Oldham have been revealed. The Northern Roots Project is seeking to “transform” 160 acres of land at Snipe Clough into the “UK’s largest urban farm.” At this stage, none of the proposals are fixed and Northern Roots is asking for public feedback. Read more.

  • An Afghan man who fled the Taliban twenty years ago and now lives in Manchester has spoken of his fears that his family will be executed in Kabul. In an interview with Sky News at his tailors in Altrincham, Najib Afzali said: "Every second in Kabul for them is a desperate situation and danger. There is no hope for them.” Read more.

  • Manchester-based social media influencer Molly Mae Hague is now creative director at online retailer PrettyLittleThing. The 22-year-old Love Island finalist reportedly struck a seven-figure deal with the Manchester clothing brand. Social media users are urging her to use her position to highlight the treatment of PrettyLittleThing’s garment workers. Read more.

Celebrations (and an ejection) at Manchester Pride

Doing the city proud: Manchester Pride weekend was a colourful and emotional celebration of LGBTQ life and culture, which saw thousands turn out for gigs, club nights, drag shows and marches, with flags and banners decorating the streets. Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham commended Pride organisers for putting on “a great, safe event” and the opening event was met with cheers and optimism. An emotional candlelit vigil on Monday honoured those who died from HIV/AIDs in Manchester.

Viral video: The vast majority of the weekend was dominated by celebration and positivity, but one divisive moment went viral online. A young man called Alexander Bramham was removed by police after marchers began screaming and shouting at him. He was wearing a hat that said LGB Alliance — an organisation that puts an emphasis on biological sex and is widely rejected by activists who advocate for trans rights.

  • The video on Twitter shows Bramham's hat being stolen while protestors around him shouted “Trans lives matter”. He shouted back but as the anger grew, eventually he was removed by police.

  • Bramham told The Mill it made him concerned for his personal safety: “I think there was a genuine desire to tear me apart,” he says.

Fallout: Among the protestors was Withington Lib Dem candidate April Preston, who tweeted: “Five mins in got a terf removed — happy with that” (a terf is a “trans-exclusionary radical feminist”).

  • Speaking to The Mill, Preston admits she shouted at Bramham but denies he was assaulted by people in the crowd. She says she has lost two trans friends to suicide, which motivated her anger during the incident.

  • Bramham told us: “I’m not anti-trans. I don’t want to take anyone’s rights away,” he said. “But there is a recognisable split between Stonewall going beyond their remit in gender ideology. They’ve acted inappropriately.”

Grist to The Mill: If you want to tell us about a story or pass us some information, please email, or We are always happy to speak to people off the record in the first instance, and we will treat your information with confidence and sensitivity. Get in touch.

Our favourite reads

There’s hope for the future of Rochdale’s social housing in The Meteor, where we meet two local community workers who have set up a co-operative with the aim to build 10 homes on formerly council-owned land on Langley Estate in Middleton. "I was all about the money when I was a young man. I landed in prison. But then one day, after I got out, Father Mullins allowed me to fix and do up his dilapidated church. Now, I’m not religious, but — metaphorically speaking — I made a deal with God there at that moment."

War photographer Don McCullin, who spent much of his career documenting the atrocities of conflict, was sent to Manchester as a child and lived here for some time. We enjoyed this Apollo Magazine interview, where Daniel Trilling writes: “There, he stayed with ‘a brutal family, who used to punch me around. I never had a bath in months up there, and they used to lock me out at night in the winter, because they wouldn’t have us in the house until 10 o’clock, when we’d sleep on the floor on a mattress.’”

In an interview with Manchester Confidentials, Green councillor Rob Nunney says there's “point-scoring and tribalism” in the Labour-dominated Manchester Town Hall. Nunney is Manchester’s only Green councillor, elected in Woodhouse Park in Wythenshawe this year. "I know what to expect in future, but it's a real shame. There are just two members of the council who are not Labour. What's Councillor Leese afraid of — that we're going to take over the council? Why can't he take suggestions in a more welcoming and open manner?”

This 2019 article from Huck Magazine about the Northern Quarter takes a look at gentrification and what the future holds for Manchester’s "“indie heartland.’ It’s written by longtime Miller Andrea Sandor. “‘The Northern Quarter needs a spiritual kick up the ass’, says architect and academic Dominic Sagar.”

Photo of the week

A vintage twist on a modern scene: Deansgate on black and white film. Photo: u/alwaysslepton via Reddit

Things to do

Podcast | There’s two in-depth podcast episodes by The Case Files which we recommend delving into. They’re about the sexual abuse scandal at Chetham’s School of Music, and the fight for legal justice. Listen here.

Astronomy exhibition | An exhibition showing the greatest space photography from 2021 is on at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Macclesfield, including remnants of a giant supernova explosion, the Milky Way over lavender fields in Valensole, and sunrise over Shanghai. More info here.

Book launch | If you’d like to travel to a far and distant land this Wednesday, Comma Press invites you to join them for their online launch of The Book of Reykjavik: A City in Short Fiction. It includes 10 stories that have been translated into English for the first time. You’ll get to hear from the authors about their work. Tickets here.

Bat walk | Join bat expert and ecologist Stuart Spray for a guided walk around Worsley Woods on Friday. It looks like a great chance to get some fresh air and enjoy nature at dusk. Book tickets here.

Psychedelic festival | There are a few tickets left for Manchester Psych Festival, a weekend celebration of “the strange, the far-out and the open-minded”, entrancing visitors with art exhibitions, street food, and live music from Stereolab, KOKOROKO and up-and-coming bands in the psychedelic scene. It's at multiple venues across the city centre, including Hatch, YES, and o2 Ritz. Book here.

Food festival | Stockport’s free Food and Drink festival is returning, with over 30 food and drink stalls popping up across the town centre. Expect masterclasses from local chefs, worldwide cuisine, shire horses and a children’s fruit trail. More info here.

Book of the week: Faith, Hope and Mischief by Andrew Graystone

In the aftermath of the 2019 New Zealand Christchurch Shooting — which saw 51 people killed and a further 49 wounded as they attended Friday prayers at a mosque — a Manchester man went viral after a photo of him holding a message of love and solidarity was posted online. This was Andrew Graystone, who has written his account of that day. Val Fraser writes in Sorted Magazine:

Graystone wanted to be near his Muslim neighbours for their own Friday prayers and made a last-minute decision to go and stand outside his local mosque holding a simple handwritten message. It read: “You are my friends. I will keep watch while you pray.”

Faith, Hope and Mischief is available to buy here.

Letters to the editor

The attitude of the residents is crucial here. (‘Inside Harpuhey, a ‘suburb on its way up’.) It becomes self-defeating and a difficult breeding ground for enthusiastic volunteers and community projects. Unfortunately, it really needs a massive injection of cash alongside a 5-year program of events, focused on community engagement that would 'hand over' to community groups as they came on board. In my view, the community need to feel they are 'worthy' of investment to lift their esteem. Linda, Manchester

I’m looking forward to your Northern Project series. Greater Manchester is indeed extremely divided, with most of the alliance in the southern boroughs. I appreciate your humility and honesty about how The Mill has tended to report more stories in the areas where its writers and editors live. That’s natural, as you say, but well done for recognising it and launching this great project. Just please resist the temptation to collapse into stereotypes or generalisations about places like Bury, Bolton and Rochdale — there’s plenty of variety up here. Graham, Bury