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The police, past injustices and rewriting history

As at Hillsborough, the police at Orgreave doctored evidence.

The Battle of Orgreave is seared into the memory of the former Yorkshire miner Mick Appleyard. He remembers every minute of that day, 18 June 1984. He witnessed violence at the hands of the police of a kind he had never seen before and never thought could happen.

Since then, Appleyard has harboured no illusions about the police being brought to book for what they did to the miners at Orgreave – the cavalry charge, the beatings, the dogs tearing at men’s flesh, then the arrests and prose - cutions for “riot”.

The Hillsborough inquiry changed all that. With South Yorkshire Police and senior officers under investigation and facing possible prosecution for their actions, there is now a glimmer of hope in his mind that justice might be done. On 22 October, a BBC TV Inside Out documentary aired claims that officers were told what to write in their statements after Orgreave, suggesting a Hillsborough-style cover-up. Labour is calling for an inquiry. If the Hillsborough families could do it after 23 years, perhaps the miners can do it after 28.

Appleyard, now 67, was a miner at Sharlston colliery outside Wakefield in West Yorkshire. He was the pit’s surface workers’ representative for the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). The strike was four months old when Orgreave cokeworks in South Yorkshire was targeted for picketing on 18 June. There was no secret about the miners’ plan. Coaches and cars full of pickets were travelling from as far away as Scotland and south Wales.

Orgreave was intended to be the equivalent of the Battle of Saltley Gate, the 1972 confrontation in which thousands of engineering workers in the Midlands downed tools to reinforce pickets at another coke depot. But this time the miners, about 10,000 of them, were on their own. The police were waiting, their operation planned with military precision.

“I went [to Orgreave] in a car on the M1,” Appleyard recalls. When he got there, he met his old comrade Frank Watters, a Communist Party organiser in South Yorkshire. “Frank said, ‘We’re all right here. We’ve won this. The police are guiding us in. They’re very nice, these police.’

“But . . . there was a wall of police and they opened up and there were the horses. I’d never seen owt like it. At first they’d been so nice then it altered just like that . . . Frank was an old man. He said, ‘Christ, they’re going to fucking kill us.’ I ran up the banking. I’d a pain in my chest. I thought I was having a heart attack. I had to lie down, and I saw, there were the horses, they were braying everybody. We’d seen . . . what the apartheid police did to people in South Africa. It was worse than that. Dogs were ripping people. I’ve been down the pit all my life and it was terrible conditions, but that was the worst thing I’ve seen in my life, those police.”

The miners regrouped and retaliated. Notoriously, BBC television news switched the order of events, showing the miners attacking first and the police responding. In the end, 95 miners were arrested and charged with rioting, an offence carrying a potential life sentence. The courts threw out every case and the police had to pay compensation. Now it is emerging that police evidence had been rigged. The NUM is calling for an investigation into Orgreave and the events surrounding it.

The miners’ experience of the police in 1984- 85 took place in a political context that went far wider than the Hillsborough cover-up. They believed the police were being used as the military wing of the government in a planned strategy to destroy the miners’ union. The attitude towards the police of many of those involved in the miners’ strike was changed for ever.

The media had a role in Hillsborough, but with the miners it was more sinister. The rightwing press, predictably, did what was expected of it. But was the BBC acting knowingly and willingly as a government propaganda department? The switching of the sequence of events at Orgreave would suggest so.

The persistence of the Hillsborough families in pursuing justice may be the catalyst for a reexamination of many more cases of alleged injustice and police corruption – the Shrewsbury conspiracy trial involving Ricky Tomlinson and Des Warren has again become a live issue. More recently, alleged rioters and looters have been given hefty sentences for apparently minor misdemeanours such as stealing a bottle of water. How many more will there be?

Peter Lazenby was the industrial reporter on the Yorkshire Evening Post during the miners’ strike of 1984-85

This article first appeared in the 29 October 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Something Rotten

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.