IF Home Secretary Sajid Javid refuses to agree an independent inquiry into the police riot at Orgreave during the 1984-5 miners’ strike, no-one will be surprised.
This Tory government has form on this issue, with Javid’s predecessor Amber Rudd reneging two years ago on her previous undertaking to institute an inquiry.
British governments have a remarkable ability to pronounce on other countries’ shortcomings in the areas of democracy and due process but are less inclined to allow the spotlight of publicity into murky goings-on in our own recent history.
Few are murkier than Orgreave, which typified Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government’s readiness to use all state powers to smash National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) efforts to protect miners’ jobs, conditions and communities.
The Tories had been preparing for a decade since their previous Edward Heath government was defeated by the NUM.
The event that symbolised its victory was when senior police intervened to order the gates to the Saltley Coke Depot in Birmingham be closed after picketing Yorkshire miners were reinforced by a human tide of mainly engineering trade unionists who had walked out of their factories to back their NUM comrades.
This effectively quarantined the only remaining large stock of coal in the region, giving the NUM victory.
The Tories learned political lessons from this defeat, understanding the need to prepare better and coordinate the state forces of repression on a national basis for the next confrontation with the best organised section of the working class.
The Thatcher government sought to neuter trade unionism — historically the most effective defender of working people’s living standards — by deploying a combination of new anti-union laws, politicised judiciary, a new confrontational coal board chairman imported from the US, a concerted propaganda barrage from the private media and the national broadcaster and tooled-up police, dubbed “Thatcher’s boot-boys,” to beat mining communities into submission.
Tory MP Nicholas Ridley was deputed to draw up his Ridley Plan to ensure, among other provisions, large stockpiles of coal prior to a strike and, when ready, the government engineered a dispute.
Orgreave was an integral part of that programme, with the government intention of putting an end to NUM organisation of despatching “flying pickets” to persuade non-striking pits and depots to join the dispute.
Police had previously prevented pickets from getting near the coke depot but, on June 18 1984, their ranks parted allowing hundreds of miners entry into a nearby field, where they were surrounded by Thatcher’s boot-boys, reinforced, it is said, by regular army units.
The “forces of law and order,” in riot gear, engaged in a no-holds-barred assault on the NUM, including a cavalry charge during which riders’ long batons were swung freely at miners’ heads while police on foot used batons and shields to similar effect.
BBC TV coverage showed the cavalry charging after clips of miners throwing stones, which was used to justify the police action.
Years later, the BBC admitted to transposing the two pieces of film but couldn’t explain how this “mistake” had come about.
In this atmosphere, 95 miners faced riot charges, with possible life imprisonment, but police incompetence in fabricating their statements and representation by excellent legal defence teams saw them acquitted.
Amber Rudd claims that, because “there were no deaths or wrongful convictions,” there is no need for an inquiry, which sounds like an attempted whitewash.
The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, which is demanding an independent inquiry, must be supported.
This scandalous abuse of state power must be opened to independent public investigation.
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