After 32 years the miners at Orgreave are being denied an inquiry by Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Brian Parkin finds that his hatred of the Tories and their police and ‘justice’ system just improves with age.
Home secretary Amber Rudd, following an initial consultation in September with members of the Orgreave Truth and Justice campaign, has decided that on the basis of internal police records, there will be no public inquiry into events in June 1984 outside the Orgreave coking coal plant near Rotherham. After already being on strike for two months, the miners were under no illusions that, following the deaths of two Yorkshire pickets, Davy Jones and Joe Green, the police were behaving in any other way than as Thatcher’s shock-troops to bludgeon the miners into a humiliating submission.
After weeks of being denied access to Nottinghamshire pits – most of which were defying the strike call – the National Union of Mineworkers decided on a change of tactics and chose to picket the strategic coking coal plant at Orgreave, the key supplier to the Scunthorpe steel works. At first, small detachments of pickets enjoyed partial success in turning away lorries from the plant and had encountered little in the way of police interference.
National police force
From the start, with sudden and arbitrary pit closure announcements and record power station coal stocks and oil supply back-up, it had been clear that the government had both prepared for and provoked the strike. However by late May things were not going to plan. It is clear from police records recently published that in order to press harder for a pre-winter victory, the methods, organisation and the very equipment would become matters of day-to-day cabinet concern.
For those of us at Orgreave on the gorgeous summer morning of 18 June 1984, an uncanny calm and co-operative mood on the part of the police seemed unnervingly eerie. No motorway blockades obstructed the pickets arriving near the coking plant. In fact, in many instances, miners spoke later of being assisted by the police with car parking arrangements. Hundreds of arriving miners parked up and without obstruction began to stroll across the golden fields of wheat and rape seed towards the plant.
Then, south of the coking plant, a young miner ran back over the brow of the hill shouting ‘ambush’. Disregarding his warnings, the pickets proceeded over the hill to see before them what is now admitted to be over 6,000 police in serried rows of mounted officers, long shield units and hundreds of short-shield and baton wielding snatch squads. And then the sting; turning around, those miners realised that they had been hemmed in from the rear by Land-Rovers and even more snatch squads.
Carnage and cover-up
The ensuing events of that day have now become the stuff of numerous reports and TV news and documentary footage. And what was clear from events on the ground was that, combined with a decision to make large numbers of arrests, the tactic of the police was becoming increasingly one of beating and maiming pickets through acts of systematic violence.
On 18 June 1984, hundreds of miners were arrested and many of them were beaten in the backs of police vans or police cells. At motorway service stations or on roadside verges many more were treated for wounds as if in some grotesque re-enactment of scenes from World War One field dressing stations. And many miners, upon eventually returning to their cars, found windscreens smashed and tyres slashed.
And now, thirty two years, five months and three weeks later, a Tory Home secretary has ruled that as ‘no-one was killed and as there were no miscarriages of justice or wrongful arrests’, there is no need to proceed with a Public Inquiry.
Condemnation of Rudd’s cover-up has been swift as well as from some unexpected quarters. Predictably Margaret Aspinall of the Hillsborough campaign has expressed shock and dismay as well as insisting that the Orgreave campaign ‘must not give up the fight for justice’.
But less expected perhaps is Dr Alan Billings, police Commissioner for South Yorkshire who has been joined by Vera Baird, Chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners who have joined in the accusations of a police and government cover-up. Yet in reply to Andy Burnham making the same points from Labour’s front bench, Amber Rudd accuses her critics of ‘politicising’ the Orgreave events of June 1984. Which of course, is why an inquiry cannot be allowed.
To do so would be to reveal that the myth of miners militancy being quelled by ‘impartial’ market forces was, and always, will be a lie. The miners, their families and their communities were subjected to the far from impartial forces of the state in the form of a highly politicised and semi-militarised police force as well as the denial of benefits. So to concede to an inquiry- even thirty two years later- would be to admit that in the process of allowing market forces to work their wonders, UK capitalism had to call upon the forces of law, order and injustice.
And thirty two years on from that glorious summer day in a South Yorkshire field of wheat, I find that my hatred of the Tories and their police and ‘justice’ system just improves with age.