On a pleasant June afternoon some 31 years ago, an army of over 6,000 police officers, clad in riot gear and supported by police dogs, descended upon the BSC coking plant in Orgreave. A large picket had been organised by Arthur Scargills’s National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), intent on stopping lorries collecting coke (a form of coal) from the mining plants. Huge numbers of miners had shown up to protest against the systematic destruction of the mines at the callous hands of Margaret Thatcher.
What occurred that day between police and miners, turned out to be one of the most notorious and bloodiest confrontations in modern British history. Described then and remembered even now as the ‘Battle of Orgreave’, 123 people were injured while 95 were arrested. Following the horror seen on that bleak Yorkshire hillside, men were arrested and taken to court on charges of ‘unlawful assembly’. The cases were subsequently thrown out, while accusations of police brutality and assault were lodged. Yorkshire Constabulary eventually paid out damages of £425,000. Although unsurprisingly, no officer was ever fired or accused of misconduct.
As a chilling precursor to 1989’s Hillsborough disaster, the British press were quick to side with those in authority. Typically, The Sun facetiously led with a picture of horses charging toward miners and the accompanying headline of “Charge: Mounties rout miners”. This was certainly not the first time that the The Sun had disparaged the miners’ strikes. In an edition prior to the battle of Orgreave, and in the midst of the strikes, it labelled union leader Arthur Scargill as ‘Mine Fuhrer’ in vitriolic attempt to portray him as a Hitler. Yet, most contentious of all was the BBC’s original coverage of the violence. NUM claimed that the BBC’s editing represented an imbalance of the way scenes were depicted, and also failed to expose police brutality. The BBC denied any culpability and argued back that it had unfortunately “failed to record some of the violence due to a camera error.”
“As a chilling precursor to 1989’s Hillsborough disaster, the British press were quick to side with those in authority.”
While the fourth estate failed miserably to portray the true ugliness at Orgreave, it has since been able to expose many of the lies that followed in the aftermath. Following the horror of that day and the subsequent mistruths that surround its history, the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign was set up to bring justice to those who suffered. Despite several pleas and much campaigning, successive governments have refused to deliver a transparent inquiry into events of that day. While many Labour politicians have campaigned stoically in the past, it has to be sadly conceded that both Blair and Brown’s Labour governments failed to deliver justice to the families at Orgreave.
In an unusual turn of good-will, the Conservative Party had offered an olive branch last year when they announced that they would consider opening up an enquiry. That has however now been monumentally crushed by new Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
Announced in parliament on the 31st October, Rudd cruelly delivered her verdict that she considered there to be insufficient evidence to warrant either a statutory enquiry or an independent review. In a statement Rudd said: “There would therefore be very few lessons for the policing system today to be learned from any review of the events and practices of three decades ago.” She continued: “This is a very important consideration when looking at the necessity for an inquiry or independent review and the public interest to be derived from holding one.”
As Ms. Rudd announced her decision, the commons rightfully erupted into calls of “disgraceful” and “shameful”. Labour MP and Manchester mayoral candidate Andy Burnham, was incredulous with rage at the decision, lambasting it as an “establishment stitch-up”.
Burnham pointed out correctly that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) had found evidence of perjury and perversion of the course of justice. It also confirmed that new evidence had emerged from former police officers who were at Orgreave, confirming that there was orchestrated violence and a mass manufacturing of police statements.
After months of being ‘led down the garden path’, the Orgreave Campaign and their valiant secretary Barbra Jackson, have had the rug pulled out from underneath them. What will surely send an uncanny shiver down the back of every campaigner’s spine, is the Tory governments total refusal to engage in any form of open transparency.
Like Hillsborough’s botched attempts at truth before them, the Orgreave campaign must surely wonder what they have to do to have the truth aired. Make no mistake about it; the Conservative government are looking out for number one, not their beloved “will of the people”. This decision stinks of a cover-up at the highest level, just like in the Hillsborough case, Stephen Lawrence and the Daniel Morgan murder case, the government will do its upmost to maintain the status quo by protecting the police’s interests.
Moreover, the real shit sandwich, sucker-punch, hammer to the groin in this entire case, is that 26 years after her poisonous reign, the Tories are still willing sacrifice the proletariat in order to preserve the inviolable legacy of their eternal lord and master, Margaret Thatcher.
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