Will the miners who faced life imprisonment on false evidence after the Battle of Orgreave ever get justice?

Police watchdog slammed for delay in probe into officers who fabricated evidence against striking miners

Photo taken on 18/06/1984 of ranks of police face the picketing line outside Orgreave coking plant near Rotherham
Photo taken on 18/06/1984 of ranks of police face the picketing line outside Orgreave coking plant near Rotherham

Whilst the miner’s strike of 1984/85 ended 30 years ago in March, as a political issue it refuses to go away.

In some ways it is gaining a fresh momentum.

At the time the miners were labelled the ‘enemy within’ by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government which was in contrast portrayed as the champions of freedom and the police as the nation’s protectors.

Attitudes in many quarters have changed.

First the integrity of the Government have been questioned of late due to the contents of cabinet documents from the time released under the 30 year rule.

They revealed that, as the demonised NUM President Arthur Scargill had warned, the Government planned to shut down 75 pits and not just the 20 ‘uneconomic’ ones they said publicly.

Then there was the influence on police tactics by the Government.

At Orgreave, after whose bloody clashes Mrs Thatcher gave the striking miners the ‘enemy within’ tag, many saw a political hand at work.

Today, the Independent Police Complaints Commission is still deliberating as to whether to carry out an investigation into the actions of South Yorkshire Police more than two years after the force referred itself to the IPCC for possible investigation.

Photo taken on 18/06/1984 of police in anti-riot gear escort picketers away from their position near the Orgreave coking plant near Rotherham
Photo taken on 18/06/1984 of police in anti-riot gear escort picketers away from their position near the Orgreave coking plant near Rotherham
 

This after a TV documentary broadcast allegations of police officers fabricating evidence and committing perjury.

Vera Baird, now Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, represented a number of the strikers facing life sentences for riotous assembly on fabricated evidence after Orgreave and is at a loss to understand the delay.

She said: “My understanding is that this is not about what happened at the events on the field at Orgreave but at the trial. That will all be on the court record. It will show that officers admitted that details of ‘ a scene of riot’ were dictated to them by detectives, when they had arrested someone and gone into a classroom to write up their statements .”

She said it was very clear that there had been serious misconduct in connection with this trial and she urged the IPCC to quickly make their decision on an issue which happened over 30 years ago. “

Dave Anderson, now Labour MP for Blaydon, was a striking miner at the time and was at Orgreave that day on June 18, 1984.

The National Union of Mineworkers organised a mass picket at the British Steel coking plant with the intention of blockading the plant and forcing its temporary closure. Around 10,000 miners turned up and were faced by around 5,000 police deployed from various parts of the country.

Photo taken on 29/05/1984 of police officers move into the picket lines at the Orgreave coking plant near Rotherham, where more than a dozen arrests were made
Photo taken on 29/05/1984 of police officers move into the picket lines at the Orgreave coking plant near Rotherham, where more than a dozen arrests were made
 

Mr Anderson said: “It was clear right away that the police tactics that day were very different. After months of stopping people going anywhere they suddenly starting rolling out the red carpet, allowing the miners in. It was obvious they wanted to give them a good hiding.”

The good hiding they got was shown on the nightly news bulletins which, themselves, have become a source of controversy. The BBC was accused of altering the sequence of the clashes on its footage showing the striking miners charging the police first, rather than the police conducting a baton charge against the miners.

During the course of what was to become known as the ‘Battle of Orgreave’, 93 arrests were made, with 51 picketers and 72 policemen injured.

As a result 95 of the picketers were charged with riot, unlawful assembly and similar offences.

A number of these were put on trial in 1987, but the trials collapsed, all charges were dropped and a number of lawsuits were brought against the police for assault, unlawful arrest and malicious prosecution.

South Yorkshire Police later agreed to pay £425,000 compensation and £100,000 in legal costs to 39 pickets in an out of court settlement.

Michael Mansfield QC who, along with Mrs Baird was to represent many of the Orgreave defendants, called the evidence given by South Yorkshire Police as “the biggest frame-up ever”.

Police and Pickets clash, Orgreave coking plant near Sheffield, Yorkshire, Friday 1st June 1984
Police and Pickets clash, Orgreave coking plant near Sheffield, Yorkshire, Friday 1st June 1984
 

Yet no officer was disciplined for misconduct let alone arrested as a result. This, and the knowledge that more than 11,000 miners were arrested during the year-long strike and more than 8,000 charged with often minor offences, infuriates many.

Mr Anderson said: “The police on the day were supposed to be upholding freedom and liberty. Instead they were abusing freedom and liberty.

“Nothing has been done about them as yet. I think they’re hoping it will all just go away and people will forget,” said Mr Anderson.

“But we won’t forget. We’ll never forget.”

Alan Cummings is Chairman of the Durham Miners Association, two of whose members faced charges of riot before their cases being thrown out.

He said: “I was at the court hearing and what the police tried to get up to beggar’s belief. It was a joke - forged and pre-prepared statements - huge amounts of stuff came out like that that pointed to evidence of a police cover up. Yet no criminal action has been taken against any officers as yet.”

He added: “You’ve got to remember these people on trial - including the two Durham miners - were charged with two of the most serious crimes there are (riot and unlawful assembly). They’re not far short of treason.

“And you have to understand that for these charges to be put relied on police officers in a court room going before a judge and jury and committing perjury. The case collapsed because of all the lies they told. They were caught out.

“And it’s highly likely that a lot of senior police in charge at Orgreave were also in place at Hillsborough.”

The link is inescapable.

Miner, Eric Hudson, inspects the guard of police officers, in the front line at Orgreave coking plant near Sheffield, Yorkshire, Monday 4th June 1984
Miner, Eric Hudson, inspects the guard of police officers, in the front line at Orgreave coking plant near Sheffield, Yorkshire, Monday 4th June 1984
 

The Hillsborough disaster in April 1989 - five years after Orgreave - occurred when 96 Liverpool fans died after they were crushed in Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium during the 1989 FA Cup semi-final with Nottingham Forest.

The same police force - South Yorkshire - was in charge as was the same chief constable at the time of Orgreave, Peter Wright.

Amongst a series of damning findings by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, was the following, outlined in its report.

“It is evident from the disclosed documents that from the outset SYP (South Yorkshire Police) sought to establish a case emphasising exceptional levels of drunkenness and aggression among Liverpool fans, alleging that many arrived at the stadium late, without tickets and determined to force entry.

“Eight years after the disaster it was revealed publicly for the first time that statements made by SYP officers were initially handwritten as ‘recollections’, then subjected to a process of ‘review and alteration’ involving SYP solicitors and a team of SYP officers.

“Some 116 of the 164 statements identified for substantive amendment were amended to remove or alter comments unfavourable to SYP.”

It led to Prime Minister David Cameron offering a “profound apology” to the Hillsborough families.

For over 30 years the South Yorkshire police and the then Conservative government’s version of events at the Orgreave coking plant has never been officially revised. Neither the police nor the then Tory government has admitted any fault.

At some stage the IPCC will have to make its mind up. But when?

Mr Cummings said: “I think if there is enough pressure put on it could happen. It’s about justice for the miners in general - there should have been an investigation into what took place during the whole of the miners strike.

“People should be brought to account, no matter how many years after the event, because they told lies about hard working miners who were fighting for their livelihoods.”

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