Ed Miliband has called for a “proper investigation” into alleged policemalpractice during and after the most notorious confrontation of the 1984-85 miners’ strike, at the Orgreave coking plant 30 years ago this week.
South Yorkshire police referred themselves in November 2012 to theIndependent Police Complaints Commission over allegations that police officers had assaulted miners at Orgreave, then committed perjury and misconduct in a public office, and perverted the course of justice in the subsequent prosecutions of 95 miners on riot charges, which collapsed in court.
Nineteen months on, the IPCC says it is still “scoping” evidence to determine whether to hold an investigation. The intervention by the Labour leader provides the most senior political backing yet for the growing campaign to have police conduct at Orgreave fully investigated.
In a recent speech to miners and representatives of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign at Hatfield Main colliery in his Doncaster constituency, soon to be Britain’s only working deep coalmine, Miliband was notably supportive of the miners’ strike, describing it as “a just cause”.
Previous Labour leaders have tended to distance themselves from it, mostly due to concerns about the tactics of Arthur Scargill, then president of the National Union of Mineworkers, which was striking against plans for massive pit closures and job losses. The legacy of almost the entire industry’s subsequent closure, in unemployment, poverty and alienation, is still bitterly felt in former mining areas.
“You were fighting for justice, for your community, for equality, for all the things that mattered,” Miliband said in his speech. “The values you fought for are the values that we have to take forward for the future.
“Very specifically,” he said, “there does need to be a proper investigation about what happened at Orgreave. We support that proper investigation taking place, as a matter of truth and a matter of justice.”
Clarifying what Miliband meant by “a proper investigation”, a Labour party spokesman said: “The IPCC is looking into whether they should investigate. We want them to do the right thing.”
On 18 June 1984, about 10,000 striking miners picketed the Orgreave plant, seeking to prevent coke being delivered to steelworks in Scunthorpe. Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government claimed 4,000 police were there, from a number of forces, commanded by South Yorkshire police. Gareth Peirce, the solicitor who defended miners subsequently charged with riot, said she believed there were 8,000 officers present.
In the police’s own footage of what followed, shown in court, mounted officers with batons drawn can be seen charging into miners, and officers on foot beat miners about the head with truncheons. The police claimed the miners had attacked first, and according to Home Office figures 72 police officers and 51 pickets were injured.
In parliament the following day, Thatcher condemned “mob violence and intimidation” only by miners, and said her government “have carried out their task of seeing that the law is upheld”.
The NUM has always believed police led its members into a prepared trap that day, and miners’ lawyers argued the film showed police charging first, at men who had been gathering peacefully. Only after the charge, the NUM said, did some miners retaliate or defend themselves against police violence which continued for hours.
Scores complained they were beaten up by police. One, Russell Broomhead, was shown on BBC news being beaten on the head by a police officer with a truncheon; another, David Bell, had a broken leg, which he said had been caused by police stamping on it. Arthur Critchlow had a fractured skull, blood running down his legs and into his shoes, and only received medical treatment after Peirce’s intervention on the day.
No police officer has ever been disciplined or charged with any offence arising out of Orgreave. However, 95 miners were charged with riot, which carried a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The trials all collapsed in July 1985, after defence questioning that had exposed police testimony at odds with the film of what happened, partially identical statements by different officers, officers saying they had had statements dictated to them, an allegedly forged signature by a police officer on a statement, and generally unconvincing police evidence in the witness box.
Michael Mansfield QC, who defended some of the accused miners, described it as “the biggest frame-up ever”.
In June 1991, without admitting liability, South Yorkshire police paid £425,000 to 39 miners who had sued for assault, wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution.
The force finally referred itself to the IPCC in November 2012, followingreporting about Orgreave by the Guardian and a BBC documentary. The IPCC said the referral contained “allegations of assault, perjury, perverting the course of justice and misconduct in a public office”.
The IPCC has for months since said that it might not be able to investigate if its predecessor body, the Police Complaints Authority, previously did so. However the IPCC has now confirmed the PCA received some complaints of assault by individual miners, but none about the police’s alleged fabrication of prosecution evidence.
Now, the IPCC said, “our task is to determine what matters remain that may require investigation, whether these matters are capable of investigation given the passage of time, and the resources that would be required”.
Chris Kitchen, the NUM general secretary, who is currently dealing with the loss of about 300 jobs when two of Britain’s last three deep coalmines, Thoresby and Kellingley, close next year, said of Orgreave: “The IPCC must investigate. Some of the men assaulted and falsely accused have had anger festering for 30 years. There is no time limit on injustice. Recognising the truth is part of a healing process.”
Mansfield said: “There was systemic police malpractice at Orgreave and elsewhere during the miners strike which has not been investigated. South Yorkshire Police referred itself. The IPCC has no excuse for further delay.”
On Sunday, Northumbria’s police and crime commissioner Vera Bairdtold the Observer the IPCC’s performance over Orgreave appeared so lamentable that she would rate its scoping assessment at “two-and-a-quarter” out of 10. “The IPCC is running out of time for trust to be sustained. One wants to have faith in the publicly established statutory organisation that investigates complaints against the police, but it’s impossible not to ask yourself: ‘What’s keeping them?'” she said.
South Yorkshire police and the Home Office declined to comment while the IPCC is considering the evidence.