By Charlotte Green, local democracy reporter
POLICE were called into Oldham’s council chamber as its full council meeting descended into chaos on Wednesday, November 6.
Residents sitting in the public gallery refused to leave before questions about historic safeguarding allegations were heard, causing proceedings to be adjourned twice.
The disarray began when one resident, Debbie Cole, took to a podium and began speaking after the deputy mayor had announced the end of public question time.
Ms Cole said she wanted to ask about the launch of a review into whether authorities – including the council and police – responded appropriately to allegations of grooming in the borough in recent years.
“Can the council please tell the residents of Oldham why an independent investigation into the historic grooming has not been sorted out and is now a review?” she said.
Deputy Mayor Jenny Harrison paused the meeting but protesters continued to remonstrate from the public gallery, refusing to leave until the question was answered.
Cllr Harrison said: “If people impede the progress of the meeting I’m afraid I will have no alternative but to ask them to leave.”
The situation became so tense GMP officers had to be called to the council chamber by council staff to speak to the residents.
In total, the meeting was delayed by an hour and 22 minutes as police and council officers dealt with protestors.
However, they were allowed to remain in the council chamber, where they heckled from the public benches for the remainder of the meeting. Ms Cole left voluntarily before the meeting had concluded.
The section of the full council meeting reserved for public questions lasts 15 minutes, where councillors answer questions in the order they were submitted to the town hall.
Unheard questions are published with the answer on the council’s website the next day.
During the permitted public question time period, Jackie Stanton, Oldham’s former Liberal Democrat deputy leader, stood up to ask about the allegations.
She said the reputation of the borough council appears to be at an “all-time low”.
“It continues with the extremely serious allegations of child sexual exploitation, there are allegations appearing daily on social media relating to alleged mismanagement and poor decision making by senior officers of this council,” Ms Stanton added.
“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.”
Council leader Sean Fielding responded: “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.”
He added he would urge people to “think twice about the things they read online”.
The historic safeguarding review is being led by academic Mark Peel, who chairs both the Leeds and Lambeth safeguarding children’s partnerships.
The police part of the joint review will be undertaken by Martin Bottomley, head of the Major Crime Review Team.
In a statement, Oldham Council said the allegations surround how the town hall and GMP dealt with “allegations of inappropriate access to young people” involving shisha bars, taxi companies and children’s homes.