The miners, their families, their communities, suffered false criminalisation and serious physical injury at the hands of the police in 1984, not just at Orgreave but throughout the strike. The effects have endured to this day. The rule of law was subverted by militaristic and brutal policing directed by an overtly doctrinaire Thatcherite government bent on the destruction of an industry and its workforce.
This legacy has now been granted indefinite immunity by the Home secretary’s lamentable decision to refuse any kind of inquiry or review, let alone investigation. This is repeatedly supported by the usual Tory voices of prehistory regurgitating the same mantra – that the violence of the miners was to blame, and anyway we won. Clearly, neither Amber Rudd nor Norman Tebbit (the Trade and Industry secretary at the time) want to expose the truth behind the massive debacle of collapsed prosecutions.
But miners, Mr Tebbit, were acquitted of all allegations of violence. Instead, witnesses say the police orchestrated a ruthless physical assault inflicting innumerable head injuries from which it was remarkable no one did die.
Together with a team of lawyers, I was in the trial representing the Orgreave miners. So, Mrs Rudd, we know what happened. We also know that not a single police officer has been disciplined, let alone prosecuted for the unlawful use of force, nor for the perjury. What happened is therefore well documented. That is not the point after all these years. The real question which remains unanswered is how such a manifest injustice was perpetrated and why it has been protected for so long from public scrutiny. Even the IPCC recognised this, but felt these were matters outside its remit and scope. Put shortly, what is woefully missing is the accountability of authority, dead or alive.
The explanation for inaction is almost certainly political. The miners were demonised as the “enemy within”. No police force could have acted in the way South Yorkshire did, with the confidence of implied impunity, unless both the strategy and the tactics had been given the green light from higher authority.The battlefield above the steelworks at Orgreave was deliberately chosen, in order to inflict maximum damage. It explains why miners normally roadblocked from travelling anywhere were ushered to the place of punishment, and why the arrest plan, charges, statement formats and even bail conditions had been sorted well in advance.
Thereafter all the mainstream politicians, and the media, were quick to portray the miners as rioters. A myth perpetuated to this day by those anxious to dissipate the truth in the mists of time.
The reasons finally and tardily provided for refusal are palpably thin – no one died, no one wrongfully convicted, too long ago, police procedures have changed, nothing to learn.
First of all, if any of this is true,how come it took the Home Office more than two years to work it out? They could have said this on day one, and saved the the families the anguish of delay and the charade of consultation. This became abundantly clear in September this year, after Rudd went through the motions of asking why the families wanted an inquiry (odd, really, since the whole case had been set out more than once nine months before, on her predecessor’s request), and assuring them that a decision would be made by the end of October. Within days of the meeting, a Home Office source had let it be known to at least two broadsheets and the BBC that there would be no public inquiry. Mr Tebbit was waiting in the wings ready once more to support this position. The Home Office issued no denial to the public nor the families. Now we know why.
This volte face is in stark contrast to the sentiments expressed by the previous Home secretary, our Prime Minister, Theresa May. At no time during the course of her tenure were any basic reservations raised. Had they been, they could easily have been addressed. The rule of law is not measured by fatal injuries. The passage of time does not erase the papers of state and matters of record, amply demonstrated by the HIP investigation prior to the Hillsborough inquests, which unravelled deep seated untruths and led to new inquests. Public order policing and procedure has not changed but worsened (look at the violence reported at protests in London against student fees).
Under the May regime, all representations were welcomed without reservation. Courteous and engaged enquiry was extended to the families and their supporters. without a hint of a hopeless endeavour. It went further. Nick Timothy, the then-Home secretary’s most senior adviser, observed that if the public wanted to ensure the police were above corruption, collusion and cover-ups, it was necessary to know how events such as Orgreave happened. Spot on.
May herself pulled off a bravura performance at the Police Federation conference, where she made exactly the same points with equal vigour and eloquence. “Historical inquires are not archaeological excavations,” she declared. “They are not purely exercises in truth and reconciliation. They do not just pursue resolution, they are about ensuring justice is done. Justice: it’s what you deal in. It’s your business. And, you, the police are its custodians.”
Most poignantly, she emphasised that:
“We must never underestimate how the poison of decades-old misdeeds seeps down through the years and is just as toxic today as it was then. That’s why difficult truths, however unpalatable they may be must be confronted head on.”
Hardly surprising that the families and the campaign nurtured a legitimate expectation that something constructive was about to happen.
Of course, this could just have been another Brexit moment, when views get ditched on the pyre of expediency.
No wonder the electorate has lost faith. Time for transparency and genuine accountability. Time to reinvigorate democracy.
Michael Mansfield is a barrister who represented miners caught up in the violence at Orgreave. Among other high profile cases, he has also represented the family of Stephen Lawrence, and the Hillsborough and Bloody Sunday families.