Socialist Worker

Miners slam decision not to investigate Orgreave cops

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2457

Police at Orgreave

Police lines at Orgreave in June 1984 (Pic: John Sturrock)


Police attacked strikers and framed them during the 1984 Battle of Orgreave three months into the Great Miners' Strike. Officers covered up the actions at the highest level.

But some 31 years later the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has announced today, Friday, that no officer will be investigated.

It found "some evidence" of offences committed by police, including perjury and assault. But it concluded that it is "not necessary" to investigate them.

The Battle of Orgreave took place on 18 June 1984, during the Great Miners' Strike. Strikers were trying to shut down the Orgreave coking plant near Sheffield.

They wanted to hit steel production and manufacturing - and deepen the Tory government's crisis. But police launched a vicious assault on the pickets - then blamed them and charged 55 with riot.

Norman Strike was a miner in South Shields who travelled to the Orgreave picket. He said the IPCC decision was "a load of bollocks".

"It's just what I'd expect from a government-led institution," he told Socialist Worker.

"I was there that day. It was shocking. One of our lads had his collarbone broken by a truncheon. We went there to picket - we didn't go to riot."

Former striker Chris Skidmore told Socialist Worker the experience was "frightening".

"I was right up against the police riot shields," he said. "I had jeans, trainers and a t-shirt on. They had truncheons and shields.

"Every so often the police line would open up and an arm would come over with a truncheon. It was just indiscriminate."

Force

The IPCC accepted that "force" was used on pickets. Some documents "disclose that South Yorkshire Police (SYP) acknowledged privately that many officers did 'over-react'."

The IPCC said "there is evidence that offences of assault may have been committed". 

There is "some evidence" that officers committed perjury. The Director of Public Prosecutions previously accepted evidence of perjury - and said it wasn't in the public interest to prosecute.

One officer was reluctant to give evidence of potential perjury because of "opposition" at SYP HQ. Officers had parts of their statements dictated to them.

Some material "indicates that non-evidential considerations may have played a part in some charging decisions".

Even SYP accepts that some matters in the referral to the IPCC "are recordable conduct matters" which "include potential criminal offences".

Yet the IPCC will not investigate allegations of assault, perjury, perverting the course of justice, manipulating evidence and misconduct in a public office.

It said there was no "direct evidence" that cops encouraged pickets to go to Orgreave so that the NUM could be “defeated in a decisive battle”.

Ex-miners say different.

Former miner Dave Douglass told Socialist Worker, "It was obvious to anyone who was at Orgreave and had been at previous pickets that it was different. They'd prepared road signs telling you how to get there.

"But when you tried to go to picket in Nottingham, there were road blocks and your car got smashed."

Norman added, "They marched us up to the site. They weren't in riot gear, and they were laughing and joking.

Slaughter

"I got to the top of the bridge and looked out onto something like a scene from a civil war. There were horses, truncheons, shields. It wasn't what we expected. They led us to the slaughter."

The IPCC report quoted one officer interviewed about Orgreave in June 1984. He said, "It's not a case of me going off half cock. The Senior Officers, Supers and Chief Supers were there and getting stuck in too - they were encouraging the lads and I think their attitude to the situation affected what we all did."

SYP said that, following "disorder" at Orgreave on 29 and 30 May, the force had discussions with the County Prosecuting Solicitor and his Deputy. It said, "It was agreed that the nature of events at Orgreave, if repeated, would justify charges of unlawful assembly."

SYP chief constable Peter Wright also decided that if disorder escalated, charges of riot could be made.

But prosecutions for riot and unlawful assembly collapsed when it became clear police evidence was unreliable.

The police claim that miners started the violence is a flimsy lie. Even the IPCC report admits that most missiles were thrown at cops after they attacked pickets.

Chris said, "There was one lad sat eating an ice cream on the field nearby. I said if I was him, I'd get away. Then a police officer came up and hit him in the face with a truncheon.

"Afterwards people were criminalised for nothing."

The Battle of Orgreave aimed to intimidate strikers and take out the most militant. As Dave put it, "Was there a political hand behind Orgreave? We know there was. But the IPCC said it couldn't look at that.

"Who made the policy to allow us to get to Orgreave so police could carry out their pre-planned actions? That's what we need answered."

Protect

And in the wake of the assault, top cops worked to protect their officers.

The IPCC found "evidence that the senior officers became aware, after the event, of instances of perjury by SYP officers but did not wish it to be disclosed".

It added, “The unwillingness to disclose evidence of wrongdoing by officers does raise doubts about the ethical standards of officers in the highest ranks at SYP at that time.”

Unfortunately it would be "challenging" for the IPCC to investigate Orgreave given "the rapidly increasing number of ongoing serious incidents and deaths" it is already investigating.

For some campaigners, the IPCC decision clears the way to fight for a real inquiry. Granville Williams has campaigned with the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign since it was set up in 2012.

He told Socialist Worker, "We've been down a side road with the IPCC and now there's a clear road ahead for us to demand a public inquiry."

Norman said the strike has lessons for people fighting today. "We should've gone back to Orgreave the next day and the next day and the next," he said. "But the union leaders messed it up.

"I believe that if we'd won things would be very different today. But you've got to keep fighting."


Socialist Worker article on Orgreave from June 1984 here

The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign here

Still the Enemy Within film here


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