Before Parliament broke for the summer recess, the new Home Secretary Amber Rudd said she would not “rush” any decision over whether there should be a public inquiry into what happened at Orgreave in 1984. She said she would consider the evidence over the break and meet those campaigning for justice.
But the truth is we’ve been here before. Theresa May met campaign representatives in July last year when she was Home Secretary and promised to “carefully consider” the case. Nothing happened.
And talking of the truth, the events of June 1984, when around 5,000 police officers confronted striking miners at the Orgreave coking plant, will remain a stain on the reputation British justice and policing until we establish the truth at a public inquiry.
We know that mounted police officers charged picketing miners, assaulted them using excessive force and then committed perjury and perverted the course of justice. Those were the findings of the Independent Police Commission last year when it decided not to mount a formal investigation into criminal wrongdoing by police at Orgreave. My colleague and historian Tristram Hunt MP described the confrontation as “almost medieval in its choreography… at various stages a siege, a battle, a chase, a rout and, finally, a brutal example of legalised state violence.”
In 1991, South Yorkshire Police paid out £425,000 in compensation to 39 miners who successfully sued for assault, malicious prosecution and wrongful arrest. Astonishingly, despite the payouts and the widespread allegations of the fabrication of evidence, the Force admitted no wrongdoing and no officer was disciplined.
In January 2014, I launched Labour’s “Justice for the Coalfields” campaign. This followed a number revelations from newly released cabinet papers. Amongst other things they revealed the government did have a secret plan in 1984 to shut down 75 pits – contrary to denials at the time. There was confirmation that the government did indeed see the striking miners and their communities as the “enemy within” and even considered deploying the army to win what ministers saw as a political fight.
And as part of the campaign, I led a debate on a motion in the House of Commons that highlighted the fact that the Thatcher government misled the public and importantly that they did seek to influence police tactics.At the time of the Strike, I was a boy who lived right by the site of the Yorkshire Main Colliery in South Yorkshire. I had family and friends on strike.
Indeed, one of the abiding images from Orgreave was that of a striking miner, George Brealey, ‘inspecting’ a line of police officers in his toy police helmet with an NUM sticker on the side of it. That man was my neighbour. His garden backed onto my own childhood home and me and my brother used to play his young sons.
Today as the MP representing so many former pit villages in Barnsley, I know the deep the sense of lasting injustice is over what happened at Orgreave.The impact of the Strike and the subsequent pit closure programme had a devastating impact on coalfield communities – damage from which many never recovered.
We will never undo all the damage. But we can help rebuild trust and reconciliation by getting to the truth about Orgreave – the allegations of serious assaults, wrongful arrests and malicious prosecutions. Our new Home Secretary says Orgreave is “one of the most important issues in my in-tray” and she will apparently meet campaign representatives this month.
As well as a new Home Secretary, South Yorkshire Police has a new chief constable in Stephen Watson. Both have a huge task to restore the Force’s battered reputation in the wake of Hillsborough.
We know it took decades for the victims at Hillsborough to get justice. Orgreave campaigners have waiting more than 32 years and counting. For too long successive governments chose to ignore the terrible events at Orgreave.
Until we get to the truth about the events of 18 June 1984, we will never get justice for the coalfields. The government must stop dithering and hold an immediate, swift and independent public inquiry. The victims of Orgreave – and coalfield communities across the country – have waited long enough.