The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (OTJC) was established in 2012 to campaign for a public inquiry into the conduct of the police at the mass picket of the Orgreave coking plant on 18 June 1984. The bloody confrontation between police and miners that unfolded is now infamously known as the ‘Battle of Orgreave.’
The OTJC was partly inspired by the Hillsborough Justice Campaign which has successfully sought to get the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to review the policing of the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster. The cover up and doctored evidence by the police at Hillsborough has strong parallels with what occurred at the Orgreave coking plant during the 1984-85 miners’ strike. The OTJC has considerable support from major trade unions and individuals, including Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, who has called for a ‘proper investigation’ into alleged police malpractice.
Following a referral from the South Yorkshire Police in 2012 the IPCC began conducting a scoping exercise to determine what matters may call for investigation, e.g. claims that officers “fitted up” 95 miners arrested at Orgreave in 1984. Many of the miners who suffered the most terrible police brutality faced serious charges such as riot, but all miners were cleared amid allegations that the police fabricated evidence after the incident.
Earlier this year the IPCC made a decision on the scoping exercise and whether to further investigate the referral, yet no public announcement has been made, keeping the miners and their families and the OTJC waiting for the outcome.
The Policing of Orgreave
The Orgreave coking plant was situated close to Sheffield and supplied the British Steel Corporation Works at Scunthorpe. During the strike a decision was made to step up deliveries and, accordingly, Orgreave became the subject of more intense picketing. The height of the picketing occurred on the 18 June when thousands of miners descended on the plant. On their arrival they were ushered into a field by police – a change from the normal practice of blocking access routes and turning miners away from picketing. The miners were met by a considerable force of police and they were charged by mounted police and officers wielding truncheons and shields. There is evidence that Orgreave was a testing ground for carefully pre-planned police tactics that involved violent and aggressive practices aimed at demoralising and breaking the miners.
Arthur Wakefield, a striking miner, in his diary of the event commented: ‘The Riot Squad charge up the field and did something that we have not seen before. They turn to where we are standing peacefully and start hitting whoever they come across.’ 59 miners were injured that day. Significantly, an ex-policeman who served with the Hertfordshire force said he was told what to put in his statement ‘by a senior South Yorkshire detective’ after he arrested a miner during the Orgreave confrontation. ‘I’ve never before or since, while I’ve been a police officer, been involved where effectively chunks of a statement were dictated. They weren’t my words,’ he said.
Mark George, a criminal barrister who has studied the accounts, said it was ‘not unacceptable at the time for officers to pool their recollections’ to ensure accuracy. However, he added: ‘When the copying is as blatant as it was in this case it smacks of manufacturing an account that suited the narrative the police wished to present. If that was the case and it was an untrue account, it amounts to perverting the course of justice. The evidence of collusion is, I suggest, overwhelming.’
No police officer is understood to have been disciplined for anything arising out of Orgreave, for either the alleged assaults on miners or the allegations of fabricated evidence. In June 1991, with little national reporting, 39 miners were paid £425,000 by South Yorkshire police to settle their civil actions.
The significance and relevance of the OTJC Campaign – why it matters
The coalminers’ strike of 1984/5 was the longest national strike in British history. For a year thousands of members of the National Union of Mineworkers, their families and supporters, in communities all over Britain, battled to prevent the decimation of the coal industry on which their livelihoods and communities depended. The attacks on the miners involved the use of the courts and anti-trade union laws, restrictions on welfare benefits, the involvement of the security services and deliberately biased reporting from the BBC. These tactics have been used countless times since.
Bringing the police to account is seen as key in resisting the state’s attempt to implement more oppressive and violent attacks on the trade union and labour movement. Michael Mansfield QC, who represented a number of miners at Orgreave, reflects the mood of the OTJC when he states ‘Thirty years since the assaults and grievous injustice that followed, and 19 months since the allegations were referred . . . the blatant unaccountability and virtual immunity of officers on that day cannot be allowed to continue.’
For more information about the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign and on how to lobby the IPCC and Ed Miliband visit http://otjc.org.uk/get-involved