A council leader whose car was firebombed in an arson attack says she 'will not be diverted from the task in hand'.
The car belonging to Oldham council leader Arooj Shah, who only recently took up the top role following the May 6 local elections, was set on fire at around 1.30am on Tuesday morning.
Police said the attack which destroyed Coun Shah’s vehicle and caused damage to a neighbouring property on Greengate Street was deliberate.
A 23-year-old man has now been arrested on suspicion of arson with intent to endanger life.
However a criminal investigation remains ongoing and police continue to appeal for witnesses.
Detective Chief Inspector Wesley Knights of Greater Manchester Police’s Oldham division described it as a ‘reckless, abhorrent act’.
In her first public statement since the attack, speaking at a meeting of the full council on Wednesday night, Coun Shah told members she would not be cowed by the firebombing.
“The last 24 hours have been very difficult and I can’t say the attack outside my family home hasn’t affected me and the people I love, because it has,” she said.
“But what I am clear about is, whoever was responsible, and for whatever reason, I will not be diverted from the task in hand.
“Our town is facing some of its biggest challenges yet and as we emerge from Covid the fragile nature of our economy and society will be tested to the limits.
“My sole focus is on the town and its people. I came into public life because I demand better for every man, woman and child here.
“To realise better will require all the energy that I, and everyone in this chamber, and more widely, all the council and partners have in us.”
In response to a question by Labour councillor Graham Shuttleworth – who read out a social media post in which the mayor and other members were described as ‘parasites’ – Coun Shah condemned the use of ‘dehumanising’ language.
“We’re all very aware of the hate being stoked up in our communities,” she told the meeting.
“We’ve seen it online, locally and nationally with the shocking response to the result of the Euros.
“Like several other members in this chamber I’ve experienced a barrage of it in the last couple of years.
“You can attack my political decisions all you want but most of the time instead I get attacks against me as a person.
“Sadly we’ve seen people in this chamber echoing the arguments of those who would seek to divide us even when they admit elsewhere there is no evidence to support them.
“I hope they can now see the potential and real consequences of their actions. This is not a game, because real people’s lives are at stake.
“Oldham is better than this and it’s time for all of us to show it.”
During the meeting other councillors of all political stripes spoke up in support of Coun Shah.
Coun Howard Sykes, leader of the Liberal Democrat group said: “I’m sure everybody would join me in condemning what she’s had to experience recently.”
Conservative group leader Coun Graham Sheldon added he was ‘shocked’ by the news of the firebombing, and said such attacks ‘must not be tolerated’.
“The Conservative group condemns all verbal and physical abuse to any person carrying out their work or duties,” he said.
“There seems to be tension in Oldham at the moment and I’m hoping that by working with the local community and the police these tensions will be calmed and subside.”
Anyone with information about the incident has been asked to contact police on 0161 856 9059, quoting incident number 0041 of July 13. Information can also be passed to the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.