When the BBC aired a documentary in October 2012 covering the actions of South Yorkshire Police (SYP) in the aftermath of the battle between police and miners at the Orgreave coking plant in 1984, the IPCC quickly set up an internal Police investigation. The TV programme came quickly after the damning report into the same police force’s deliberate attempts to pervert the course of justice over the Hillsborough football stadium disaster.
It has taken over 2 years for them to conclude that they will not do anything about it. We shouldn’t be surprised of course, police investigating police rarely gets anywhere. However, the excuses were weak, citing ‘time lapse’ conveniently overlooks the 1987 court cases where 95 pickets were charged with riot, unlawful assembly and other offences. All of the papers from that time are available and there is a lot of very clear evidence. All of the cases collapsed in court, SYP eventually paid over £500k in compensation and costs to 35 miners. No police officers were charged with misconduct.
But the new evidence didn’t tell us much that didn’t all know already. We all already knew that news footage was edited to show miners attacking police first rather than the other way round. We knew about the actions of SYP at Hillsborough. We have all heard about allegations of serving soldiers disguised as police on the day at Orgreave. I personally know of three cases of this. One, a woman from our village identifying her son (a serving soldier) on TV dressed as a police officer convinced me very early. I have a friend who’s cousin was in the army and was detailed for action at Polkemmet here in Scotland. He was given leave not to attend as he could have been identified. And I met a former soldier on a college course in 1993 who told our whole class of his experiences serving at the Kent coalfield during the strike as a Coldstream Guard but dressed as a Met officer. It was a military operation. There had been pickets at Orgreave for days leading up to the battle. Everyone who was there on any of those day,s and the final day, retrospectively remembers how relatively easy it was to picket. Whereas police made great efforts to prevent miners getting from one part of the country to another, and made strenuous efforts to contain them when they arrived, at Orgreave it was almost like an open invite, police watching as hundreds of miners arrived and proceeded to gates of the plant without interruption. It was, of course, a trap.
This was the state and all of its arms, Whitehall, the Govt, the police, the armed forces, at war with organised workers. The authorities would be delighted to keep focussing on the actions of one single police force to deflect from that fact.
The brutality on the day was designed to break the back of a militant union, to issue a vicious show of strength from the state. The miners represented more than workplace organisation. They were willing to go further than just their own dispute over closures and terms. They had shown that in the past. For the Tory Govt to implement the law changes planned to weaken the unions, the labour movement’s front line troops had to be brought into line. Only active and militant unions challenge the state and vested interests, the NUM were the prime example having brought down a previous Tory Goverment ten years earlier. Paul Kenny of the GMB will not need to fear state intervention or undercover troops interfering with his cucumber sandwiches in the Lords tearoom, that’s for sure.
The Orgreave Truth and Justice Commission was set up at the NUM offices in Barnsley shortly after BBC documentary in 2012 bringing miners, trade unionist and activists together to campaign for truth. But, with the Tories in charge and with a majority we all know that the UK Government will do nothing – a full enquiry will not happen any time in the next 5 years. Andy Burnham can make a call for one but, unlike Hillsborough, this is about the full state and its organs, not just a police cover up where Patsy’s can be found to hang out to dry.
So are we stuck? No, there is a way to force the issue from here in Scotland. Neil Findlay MSP made a call to the Scottish Government in 2012 to re-open the cases of ALL miners convicted during the strike and it’s aftermath. The then Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill ignored it, but new blood in the shape of Michael Mathieson, and Nicola Sturgeon’s efforts to portray her party as the party of Social Justice gives us an opportunity to open enquiries where the evidence from Yorkshire, Westminster and Whitehall could be called upon. The SNP would have nothing to fear from the enquiry and could score big with the public if they took up the baton on this issue.
We often talk about the powers we do and don’t have in Scotland, sadly far less than talking about what we can do with powers we already have. We have an opportunity to expose the UK state as the brutal corrupt entity that it is. We should that grasp that thistle now.