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Orgreave: 'We will show what happened was wrong'

As thousands gather at the site where police attacked striking miners, the call for an inquiry is gaining ground, writes PETER LAZENBY

‘‘We are trying in a small way to retrieve the landscape here and put it into a happier, family context, at least for a day.”

Barbara Jackson, secretary of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (OTJC), was speaking to the Morning Star a few hours before hundreds of people began making their way to Orgreave, site 30 years ago of state-organised violence against striking miners in retaliation for their audacity in fighting for their jobs, their industry, their families and their communities.

Pickets at Orgreave, the coking plant which provided fuel for Britain’s steel industry, were surrounded on three sides by massed ranks of police, armed and heavily clad cavalry and riot police wielding shields and batons.

Miners, many in shorts and stripped to the waist in the hot summer sun, were unaware of the carnage to come — vicious and unprovoked police violence which turned the countryside into a battlefield.

Today the scene will be vastly different. Marquees and tents cover the former battleground. Coaches from northern English towns and cities are booked by trades councils and unions are arriving. 

Speakers will address the crowd, the beer tent is ready for business, musicians are waiting to perform and the smell of sausages and burgers will soon waft across the site.

Jackson and the OTJC are well on the way to achieving one of their declared aims — reclaiming the site of the battle of Orgreave for something far more positive.

But there is more, of course, because, says Jackson: “We want to show that we are not defeated. We are still here. We will show that what happened here was wrong.”

Jackson’s knowledge of Orgreave began with her own involvement in the epic miners’ strike against pit closures of 1984-5.

In March 1984 she was a clerical worker at the regional headquarters of the National Coal Board in Sheffield. 

She was a member of the National Union of Mineworkers’ white-collar section Cosa (Colliery Office Staffs Association).

“There were 1,000 of us in the office,” she says. “Nine of us came out, and stayed out. We believed the call to strike was to us as well. 

“We believed the coal industry was in danger. Without the coal industry jobs like ours would not exist.”

Her group picketed the Sheffield workplace every day.

News of the appalling violence against the miners at Orgreave on June 18 1984 spread fast.

She lived only five or six miles from Orgreave coking plant and there were regular visits to Sheffield by pickets from surrounding pits, such as Brodsworth.

“They brought us news from the pit villages,” she says.

“We heard all about it. Everybody knew what was going on at Orgreave, that it was a set-up, a psychological moment — state power being displayed.”

The strike lasted for another nine months after Orgeave.

When it ended, the nine defiant Cosa members marched back to work together. “But inside we were hived off individually,” says Jackson. 

“I was taken into an office and a manager told me I was on probation for three months and that I should think about it. I went home. I thought: ‘I don’t want to work there.’ So I resigned.”

She studied for a social science degree, worked for a charity, then got a job with Sheffield Council’s housing department. She is now retired.

In Yorkshire’s pit communities, as elsewhere, the memory of Orgreave remained strong during and after the Tories’ butchery of the coalmining industry.

There was the trial of more than 90 miners charged with riot, the revelations of collusion in the preparation of police statements, the riot charges being thrown out — but no action taken against the police officers who mounted the vicious assaults on pickets and no charges of perjury.

In 1989 came the Hillsborough tragedy in Sheffield, when 96 Liverpool fans died and the cover-up by South Yorkshire Police willingly abetted by politicians and the media. 

For 23 years families and friends of the dead campaigned to uncover the truth. It emerged in 2012 at an independent inquiry organised by the campaigners — the cover-up, the lies, the concocted police statements.

Then there was a development involving Orgreave. Dan Johnson, an investigative reporter at BBC TV North, received from an informant copies of police statements used at the Orgreave riot trials that were subsequently discredited. 

They were used to dramatic effect in the documentary programme Inside Out. And at the centre of the controversy was South Yorkshire Police.

In Yorkshire the Hillsborough families’ success prompted the question: If the Hillsborough campaigners can uncover the truth, why can’t we do the same about Orgreave?

“We thought we at least ought to have a bash at doing it,” says Jackson. “I still had contacts around — Women Against Pit Closures in Sheffield, a network of people.”

In August 2012 she organised a meeting. “There were 10 of us,” she recalls.

Among those present was Lesley Boulton. Her image has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people, — a young woman, caught on camera, her arm raised defensively as a huge police horse descends on her, the cavalryman with baton raised to strike her. 

The iconic image is today the logo of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign.

Others at the meeting included Granville Williams, a journalist and leading figure in the national Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, Brian Munsey, long-time activist with Sheffield Morning Star readers and supporters group, Gary Kirby, an ex-miner from north-east England, and Joe Rollin, Unite northern regional organiser with the union’s community membership initiative.

By now South Yorkshire Police was reeling from Hillsborough. A former South Yorkshire senior officer stood down from his post with West Yorkshire Police. 

South Yorkshire Police referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission over both Hillsborough and Orgreave.

Following the initial meeting organised by Jackson, the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign was launched in November 2012.

It wants an independent public inquiry into what happened at Orgreave. It wants the police and the government called to account.

It has won widespread support in the labour and trade union movement. 

It helped to prompt calls for a deeper inquiry into police conduct throughout the miners’ strike, including the invasion of defenceless mining communities, the random beatings and arrests and the repeated perjury in court.

The Parliamentary Labour Party has called for an investigation into government and police conduct throughout the strike.

The Orgreave campaigners though decided to stick to their original remit — an inquiry into Orgreave itself.

More than a year after the referral to the IPCC the campaigners are still waiting for the commission to complete an initial “scoping exercise” — looking at the evidence before deciding if an investigation is necessary.

The OTJC campaigners have twice picketed the IPCC’s regional headquarters in Wakefield in West Yorkshire. They have no intention of lessening the pressure.

The campaigners will continue to press for an independent public inquiry. If Labour wins next year’s general election, the campaigners will be seeking government intervention with that aim.

Today’s event at Orgreave will reinforce the campaign.

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