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ORGREAVE campaigners rightly described as a “real kick in the teeth” the government’s decision last week to turn down an offer by the Bishop of Sheffield to set up an independent panel to examine the 1984 clash between striking miners and police.
As Chris Hockney, chair of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign said, “We had high hopes that his approach would be seen as a real chance to get to the truth about what happened at Orgreave.”
In response to the decision, the Bishop of Sheffield has said he will continue to push for a review into what is often referred to as the Battle of Orgreave after the Home Office rejected his offer.
As the Rt Rev Dr Pete Wilcox said, there is real public support for such a move and it would be a “real public benefit” for such an independent review of documents relating to the events at the miners’ strike in Orgreave, in South Yorkshire, on June 18 1984.
On that date, at the height of the miners’ strike, huge lines of police clashed with striking miners as they tried to stop lorries carrying coke to fuel the Scunthorpe steel furnaces.
Violence erupted and at one stage police horses were sent to charge the crowd up the field as officers followed to make arrests.
A total of 95 miners were charged following the clashes, but their trial collapsed amid allegations that officers had fabricated their accounts.
Campaigners have long been calling for an inquiry into the police tactics on that day, with the Orgreave Truth and Justice campaigners saying both that some of the thousands of officers drafted in to police the picketing used excessive violence, and that this was followed by the fabrication of accounts during the subsequent investigation.
In October 2016, then home secretary Amber Rudd announced, to widespread dismay, that there would be no inquiry or independent review.
At the time, I said: “There are few things in politics that are truly shocking. But home secretary Amber Rudd’s decision to deny any inquiry at all into the incidents at the Orgreave coking plant in 1984 and subsequent events definitely falls into that category.”
The decision was also described at the time as “a complete shock and a great disappointment” by the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign.
It was an especially disappointing decision for the campaigners as they felt that the two Tory (now former) home secretaries, including Theresa May herself, had led them up the garden path.
May’s principal policy adviser Nick Timothy previously argued in favour of an Orgreave inquiry, saying that “if the police pre-planned a mass, unlawful assault on the miners at Orgreave, and then sought to cover up what they did and arrest people on trumped-up charges, we need to know.”
The campaigners report that their discussions with the home secretaries had centred on the form an inquiry might take, and there was no suggestion there would not be an inquiry.
In the face of this disgraceful decision, the campaign for justice has continued, and grown, since.
The reality is that the decision to continue to deny an inquiry, including this latest proposal from the Bishop of Sheffield, is purely political.
This is perhaps not surprising as a central claim of the justice campaigners is that Orgreave showed that under Thatcher policing had come a political weapon.
Thatcher’s Cabinet was determined to crush the miners’ strike and found a willing instrument in the South Yorkshire force.
Those of us who were involved with campaigning at the time can remember how the miners were seen — and portrayed by Tory media and politicians — as not only a challenge to the Tory government, but also the “enemy within.”
An inquiry would establish whether this is the case, and whether members of the Cabinet were responsible for directing political policing, or the cover-up.
This is a further example that Sajid Javid doesn’t represent the change of direction as Home Secretary that some of his supporters have been suggesting. It’s the same old Tories when it comes to workers’ rights and the political abuse of power.
In contrast to the Tories, we in Labour have promised a full inquiry and will keep up this fight. As I said in my speech to Labour Conference last year, we want justice and we’ll have open inquiries into Orgreave and also into the blacklisting of trade unionists.
This denial of truth and justice cannot stand. Trade unionists, the labour movement, the leadership of the Labour Party and all those who believe that the state should not be above the law will continue this fight.
Diane Abbott is MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and shadow home secretary.
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