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Woolas Appeal To Be Heard Next Week

Phil Woolas (left) and Gerald Shamash speak to the media after last Friday's verdict.

The latest attempt by former Saddleworth MP Phil Woolas to salvage his political career in the courts will take place next week. His appeal against the decision to strip him of his victory in May’s general election for knowingly lying about an opponent is to be heard on Tuesday.

Two High Court judges, sitting in Uppermill, ruled last Friday that Mr Woolas had broken election law by making false statements about Liberal Democrat Elwyn Watkins in various leaflets. He beat Mr Watkins by just 103 votes in the election, at the end of what was a bitterly-fought campaign.

On Monday, Mr Woolas made an initial attempt to force a judicial review of that verdict. But a High Court judge said that wouldn’t be an appropriate legal option, because it would involve the High Court effectively passing judgement on one of its own decisions.

That judge, Mr Justice Silber, gave Mr Woolas until the end of this week to lodge a new appeal. The reason for the speed was because the judge said it was “essential” for people in Oldham East and Saddleworth to have an MP as soon as possible, Mr Woolas having stopped being our MP the moment he lost the initial case last Friday. That view was backed up later in the day by the Speaker, meaning that no by-election can be held here until after all the legal processes are over.

Elwyn Watkins following last Friday's verdict. The judges agreed with him that the allegations were about his personal character.

Since then Mr Woolas has been fundraising to try to get the money together to pursue the matter further. Several of his former Labour colleagues are among those who have donated cash, and it seems those efforts have been successful.

It’s likely the appeal will focus on the notion of whether the statements made in the leaflets were about the personal character of Mr Watkins, or just related to his political views. That distinction was absolutely crucial in the initial case. Put simply, you can more or less say what you like about someone’s policies, but knowingly telling lies about their personal character or conduct is against the law.

During the four-day hearing in Uppermill back in September, lawyers argued about whether the claims made by Mr Woolas about Mr Watkins’ living arrangements, campaign funding and alleged failure to condemn so-called “Muslim extremists” fell into the category of ‘personal character or conduct’ or not. The judges ultimately held that they did.

After the verdict, the solicitor for Mr Woolas, Gerald Shamash, indicated this point of law would be the basis for any appeal. He said: “In reaching this decision, the court adopted an interpretation of conduct decided in a case nearly 100 years ago, when considering a 19th century statute.”

One of the controversial leaflets.

Mr Shamash continued: “The court has decided that an election should be overturned and an MP should lose his seat and be incapable of being elected to the House of Commons for three years because statements which attacked a candidate’s ‘political conduct’ were also attacks on his ‘honour’ and ‘purity.'”

Here’s what he was talking about. The law which Mr Woolas broke was passed in 1983, but was largely based on an earlier law called the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act 1895, hence the reference to a “19th century statute.” It was under that law that the last successful election court case was brought 99 years ago. That was so long ago it actually related to a constituency in County Louth in Ireland, which at the time still sent MPs to Westminster.

In Friday’s verdict, the judges referred back to a definition of ‘personal character or conduct’ given by the judge in the Louth case: “A politician for his public conduct may be criticised, held up to obloquy; for that the statute gives no redress, but when the man beneath the politician has his honour, veracity and purity assailed, he is entitled to demand that his constituents shall not be poisoned against him by false statements containing such unfounded imputations.”

All very flowery, but still good enough to help the judges find Mr Woolas guilty last Friday. His lawyers will no doubt argue in the appeal that such a definition is outdated, and that in modern politics it’s much harder to tell when ‘personal character or conduct’ stops and political views start. On that legal technicality hangs the political future of Phil Woolas.

(Editor’s note: I should probably have begun this article by writing ‘I’m no lawyer, but…’ I’m not claiming that this is anything like a definitive account of the legal points in this case. If anyone has anything to add, or knows better, please do leave a comment below, I’d be delighted to read it!)

(UPDATE 11/11: It’s now emerged from the PA that the hearing is scheduled for a day and a half, so we should get an outcome next Wednesday. Three judges will be presiding, led by appeals judge Lord Justice Thomas, sitting alongside Mr Justice Tugendhat and Mrs Justice Nicola Davies. I’m told it’s definitely another judicial review, although calling it an ‘appeal’ is fine)

You can read last Friday’s verdict in full here.

The story about the date of the appeal was first broken on Twitter by Granada’s Claire Ashforth. You can follow her account here.

The full archive of articles from Saddleworth News about the battle for Oldham East and Saddleworth is here.

32 comments to Woolas Appeal To Be Heard Next Week

  • Glittery Delpher

    I have heard that the Representation of the People Act was amended during Woolas’ parliamentary career. And Woolas voted for the Act as it now stands. I would be interested to know if it were true.

    Any truth to the rumour that Labour have already selected a candidate?

    I was amused by speculation on the Guido Fawkes blog that Shone Woodfine, Woolas’ ex-parliamentary assistant, was going for it. I can’t imagine they’d select anyone so muddled up in this scandal.

  • helen

    Where will the hearing be held?

  • Helen – At the Royal Courts of Justice in central London.

    GD – The law under which Phil Woolas was found guilty dates from 1983, and the wording of the law is based on an earlier statute from 1895. There were changes to election law in the period after 1997, but I don’t think it’s true to say he actually voted for this law specifically.

    As for Labour’s candidate, no they haven’t selected one. When a quick selection is needed a national panel draws up a shortlist then local members vote. This happened in Stalybridge and Hyde shortly before May’s election, when James Purnell decided to quit just before the campaign. Jonny Reynolds was first left off, then later included on, the shortlist, and ultimately won the vote of local party members.

  • Cllr Ken Hulme

    It would probably be a let off for the Lib Dems if Phil did win his appeal. Does anyone detect a real appetite for another election around here ? From my encounters with local residents (apart from politicos) there is a sense of bewilderment about it all.

    ‘Politicians telling lies about each other – so what’s new ?’

    Were the natives of Saddleworth out in the streets demanding Phil be hounded out of office and given a political lynching ?

    Did the bells of Saddleworth ring out and the populous take to the streets to thank Elwyn for freeing them from the evil tyranny of Phil Woolas ?

    Well no actually ! And I don’t think they would thank Elwyn via the ballot box either. The triumphalism of Elwyn and his supporters is a big mistake. People really don’t like seeing politicians (or anyone) kicking a man when he’s down.

    If Phil wins his appeal- Elwyn will be spared a pretty humiliating defeat – at least in my opinion.

    Tragedy bordering on Farce – only the lawyers win.

  • Geoff Frost

    ‘Politicians telling lies about each other – so what’s new ?’

    What’s not new is that it is an offence to libel somebody whether it be a politician or otherwise. I have no respect for any politician they all seem to be lying hypocrites and acquire obnoxious arrogance once they have gained power. I’d rather vote for the Monster Raving Looney Party in Saddleworth than any of the present candidates.

    However, to put this case in context let’s try this scenario. If a political opponent was to label his or her adversary as a fraudster or say a paedophile would that be simply political banter – or personal abuse (unless of course either was true)?

  • Steven Acres

    Mr Hulme,
    I realise that non-hyperbole doesn’t come easy to you. However I would just like to point out that Woolas isn’t being hounded out of office and given a political lynching.

    Instead, he has been convicted of an illegal practice, the penalty for which is that he cannot serve in public office. Those are the rules for everybody. He chose to break them and he did so knowingly.

    He also did so aided and abetted by many others, but that’s a differrent story.

  • Cllr Ken Hulme

    Steven & Geoff – I’m trying to take a step back from all of this and look at it from the point of view of those non political folk who comprise the great majority of the population in Saddleworth.

    Like me they aren’t consumed with the sort of hate and venom that has been displayed by political activists – particularly against Phil. I left the Labour Party some time ago because I had enough of the way those running the party did business – without any moral compass -something I feel very sad about but I’m not consumed with hate – for anyone. It just isn’t healthy.

    I was sickened by what I read in the Guardian this week about the E mails being sent behind the scenes in the Labour camp – I believe action should be taken by the Labour Party and not just against Phil.

    I suppose they wouldn’t have come to light without this court action by Elwyn – but like many others I feel very uneasy indeed about the whole process and really am not convinced the punishment fitted the crime.

    You may not agree with me but please allow me my concerns – they are shared by many.

    I am also concerned about the longer term impact of this whole fracas. The level of hatred and anger that is being generated towards BOTH Phil and Elwyn is poisoning the political life and local government in Oldham. This was a divided Borough before this all kicked off and it is really going to go downhill from now on.

    Bad news and will accentuate Oldham’s decline. That’s one reason why I think we need people to come forward as Independents in local elections – free from all this bile and wanting to unite people of all persuasions to work for a better Saddleworth – and Borough.

  • Glittery Delpher

    but Mr Hulme, Woolas is no longer an MP. The best he could hope for is to a candidate in the upcoming byelection. And that won’t be as a Labour candidate – Hattie has made that quite clear.

    and Mr Hulme, I know that you’re good friends with Phil Woolas and co. Are you prepared to swear on your honour that you played no part in preparing personal attacks on Elwyn?

  • Cllr Ken Hulme

    Oh the irony ! Glittery Delph complains – quite rightly – about dirty politics and then jumps into the gutter him or herself.

    I suggest you start using your real name when you post these sort of wholly false innuendos – it might make you think twice before descending to this level.

    Clearly some political motive here !

  • Glittery Delpher

    Gosh. Mr Hulme’s gone quiet. Not used to that from him.

  • Steven Acres

    GD, I doubt if I am the only one to notice that non-denying denial from the “Independent” Cllr, Ken Hulme.

    I also notice his use of the tactic od attack being the best form of defence. I think this requires more investigation.

    (Oh, and please don’t take any lectures from him about using pseudonyms.)

  • Glittery Delpher

    Are you prepared to swear on your honour that you played no part in preparing personal attacks on Elwyn?

  • Cllr Ken Hulme

    Do you also want to know ‘when did I stopped beating my wife’?

    If you want to spread falsehoods about people I suggest once again you have the courage to come out from behind a non de plume.

    Your behaviour is the internet version of writing rude comments on lavatory walls – you should know better.

    But does Elwyn know you and Steven are up to this sort of thing ?

    Are you trying to turn people against Elwyn and persuade people like me who sit on the fence to come off it – and vote against him.

    As one of my political heroes Denis Healey would say – ‘Silly Billy’

  • Geoff Frost

    I think you have your answer Glittery – the silence says it all.

    I laughed at the remark “I’m trying to take a step back from all of this and look at it from the point of view of those non political folk who comprise the great majority of the population in Saddleworth.”

    So there we have it. The great majority of folk in Saddleworth are non- political. Ah well, I think Ken hasn’t seen the runway at Manchester Airport for flying pigs.

  • Cllr Ken Hulme

    Geoff et al

    which bit of ‘wholly false innuendos’don’t you understand ?

  • Steven Acres

    I noticed the technique as well, Geoff. The silence says it all.

    KH is asked a perfectly reasonable question and flies off the handle with accusations and steadfastly refuses to answer.

    If someone asked me whether I had contributed to the Woolas campaign I would be perfectly happy to respond. (The answer would be a definite ‘no’, by the way).

  • Cllr Ken Hulme

    This is very entertaining and smacks of desperation.

    No political party I know of has non party members on its campaign team – let alone people who are standing against them – Silly Billys.

  • Geoff Frost

    Ken, I hate to continue this as it’s beginning to look as if it’s personal – which it is not. Indeed I have much respect for you in many ways as an Independent Councillor and although I don’t agree with all your views I sometimes do.

    The problem here is you were asked a straightforward question which can easily be answered yes or no. Unlike the “Do you also want to know ‘when did I stop beating my wife’?” question which obviously cannot be answered as either a yes or no without incrimination.

    Anyway, I’ll leave it there as I don’t wish to make it appear personal, but I would like to say I am not involved with any of the political parties.

  • Cllr Ken Hulme

    Geoff – ‘wholly false’ means NO it also means I find the question offensive.

    I don’t do racism and I never have – I have spent all my adult life and a great deal of time in Oldham and Saddleworth campaigning against it. I find the insinuation that I would ‘ get the white folks angry’ or be in ANY way involved in the production of those awful leaflets deeply offensive.

    The irony is that during the election campaign some of the Labour insiders accused me of being pro-Elwyn because of my involvement in the peace movement and the anti Trident campaign which gave Elwyn much deserved credit and publicity for the stand he made.

    The only picture you will find of me during the run up to the election with a candidate is with Elwyn at a Peace Movement stall in Uppermill. I publicly thanked Elwyn for the stand he took at a public meeting we held with Bruce Kent in Uppermill – and did all I could to publicise it – on behalf of Saddleworth Peace Movement.

    The fact that I am no ‘fair weather friend ‘ and was, am and will continue to be a friend of Phil and his family despite any political differences – whether over the Iraq War or Trident – does not affect that.

    I answer questions in my own way and I am certainly not accountable to anonymous bloggers. If you ask me a question I find offensive I will tell you.

  • Glittery Delpher

    Ken – I didn’t ask about racism (although you did agree with some rather remarkable comments on another post).

    I asked whether you helped prepare any personal attacks on Elwyn Watkins.

  • Cllr Ken Hulme

    Question answered

  • Glittery Delpher

    This is why politicians have a bad reputation – they won’t give a straight answer.

    They’ll weave and dodge, and then they’ll answer another question that you didn’t ask.

    And then when you ask it again, they will say they’ve already answered the question. When of course they haven’t.

    Ken Hulme: Are you prepared to swear on your honour that you played no part in preparing personal attacks on Elwyn?

  • Geoff Frost

    Well, I was going to leave this alone but I am saddened by the disingenuous answers from KH. You asked me “which bit of ‘wholly false innuendos’don’t you understand ?” And I’ll tell you.

    The statement is nebulous (as we’ve become used to from any politician). Because in encompasses various innuendos without being specific, so some might be false and others might be true – but we don’t know which! Glitter has asked several times “Are you prepared to swear on your honour that you played no part in preparing personal attacks on Elwyn?” You have refused to answer this directly but continue to muddy the waters. You might find the question offensive (as I find many politicians) but you can easily answer yes or no. Until you do so I will draw my own conclusions and take back about having any respect for you.

  • Cllr Ken Hulme

    Glittery – most people, including politicians, wouldn’t reply to anonymous bloggers at all let alone provide the full and comprehensive response that I have.

    Time to move on perhaps ?

  • Steven Acres

    An account of the Saddleworth Peace Group meeting that KH refers to appeared in the Labour newsxpaper at the centre of much of this controversy. It was a highly partial telling of events that I understand nobody from the Labour Party attended. I for one would be intrigued to find out who passed on these details to the Woolas team.

  • Cllr Ken Hulme

    Ha so that’s what this about Steven – a public meeting of the Saddleworth Peace Movement with Bruce Kent widely reported in the media including Saddleworthnews (Still there I see) at which Elwyn made some very creditable comments on Trident which he can be seen repeating on U tube with my good friend Rae Street of Rochdale & Littleborough Peace Movement.

    On behalf on Saddleworth Peace Movement I strongly praised Elwyn’s stand and as spokesperson for SPM publicised them as widely as possible in a press release which went out to hundreds of people by Email – including I believe all the candidates.

    Isn’t that exactly what Elwyn would have wanted ? He certainly didn’t complain

    It doubtless helped Elwyn secure the votes of many in the local Peace Movement and annoyed some in the Labour & Tory camps.

    I saw the piece in the Labour leaflet – appalling – and that lost Phil a lot of votes.

    And you are trying to make something of this !!! Utterly ridiculous – and for the record I don’t know who is feeding you this information but several Labour Party members were at the meeting.

    Well well I wondered what on earth you lot were on about. Thanks for clearing that up Steven – you and your chums are so wrong I think you owe me an apology.

    You amaze me you really do.

  • Steven Acres

    I think you have hold of the wrong end of the stick, KH. That’s about the fifth time in a row that you have complained about me attacking you when I haven’t even mentioned your name in crtiticism.

    My point about the Peace Group meeting is that someone fed that information to the Labour Party and totally misinterpreted what was said at it.

    My only slight disagreement with you is to be a little surprised that you haven’t been more vocal about this abuse of your collective good name.

    Maybe it is still possible to find out who was responsible for sending them this nonsense.

  • Glittery Delpher

    Ken Hulme: You have certainly not answered what is basically a very simple question:

    Are you prepared to swear on your honour that you played no part in preparing personal attacks on Elwyn?

    As you don’t answer this clearly, I can only assume that you are being an out and out hypocrite: decrying negative politics on here and to anyone else who will listen, but secretly plotting with your mate Phil to muddy an innocent man’s name. Hypocrite.

  • Cllr Ken Hulme

    You really are a disgrace Glittery & Steven.

    Your accusations are utter nonsense and the idea that you think I should swear anything to an anonymous blogger beggars believe.

    No Glittery in this country the presumption is Innocent until proven Guilty.

    You’ve got an accusation then have the guts to make it – put up or shut up is the expression.

    I repeat you and Steven should apologise for your outrageous accusations and frankly what reeks of a smear campaign.

  • Glittery Delpher

    If you say “I did not help Phil Woolas and his campaign to prepare negative attacks on Elwyn Watkins” I will take you at face value and apologise.

    Until then I will continue to believe the reports I have heard that you are Labour in all but name, that you helped Phil Woolas plan his disgusting and illegal campaign – and these reports come from well before May.

    For the record, I am nothing to do with the Elwyn Watkins campaign. But I am supportive of it if the alternative is you and Phil.

    You pretend to be postive, but you take part in negative campaigning. You pretend to be working for the good of the community, but really you are just in perpetual opposition – criticising everything put never putting forward your own policies.

    So: Ken Hulme: Are you prepared to swear on your honour that you played no part in preparing personal attacks on Elwyn?

  • Cllr Ken Hulme

    Still at it Glittery – peddling falsehoods and abuse.

    I repeat I think you are a silly little blogger – and I will answer questions in my own way thank you very much.

    I wonder who has been spinning you these nasty little stories – perhaps they would like to come out into the open instead of using you and others as front men – name some names – or at least which party !

    If you have a specific allegation then make it – put up or shut up.

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