Socialist Worker

Scottish miners could be pardoned, but fight for justice continues

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2729

Miners picketing at Killoch pit in Ayrshire in 1984 faced police attacks

Miners picketing at Killoch pit in Ayrshire in 1984 faced police attacks (Pic: John Sturrock)


Hundreds of miners in Scotland who were convicted of crimes during the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike might be pardoned.

In a statement to the Scottish parliament on Wednesday, justice secretary Humza Yousaf said that an independent review into policing during the strike had made a single recommendation - that miners convicted of crimes related to the strike should be pardoned.

Yousaf said, “I can confirm the Scottish government accepts the recommendation in principle. We intend on bringing forward legislation that will bring a collective pardon to miners.”

The Scott Review heard that miners affected felt they had been punished in a “grossly excessive manner”.  

Jim Tierney worked at Castlehill Mine in Fife, and is one of those who could now be pardoned. 

Jim told Socialist Worker, “I’m pleasantly surprised with what they’re saying. It’s not before time that we’re being pardoned. The convictions affected a whole load of people. Some people never got over it.” 

Jim was framed for an attack on a scab van during the strike. “We were just standing outside the Miners’ Welfare and police brought some scabs in,” he explained. 

“You can imagine the response. There were a few bricks getting hurled, but me and my mates were nowhere near this. The police just came and arrested us.” 

Jim spent over three weeks in custody before a trial found him and four others guilty. “The police completely perjured themselves,” he said. “Every witness except two policemen said we did nothing. Even the scabs. It made no difference. 

“At the end of the trial the Sheriff just said, ‘You’re guilty’ and that was that. We were then sacked.” 

Campaigning

The move to pardon some ex-miners shows how years of campaigning have stopped the crimes committed against them from being swept under the carpet.  

But it is nowhere near enough. 

It is not as yet clear whether any legislation would apply to all miners affected. Yousaf said that he would now “consider carefully the criteria that might apply to the pardon scheme”.

He also said that not allowing a pardon for miners with previous or subsequent convictions would be a “good basis” to start from.

It would be a disgrace if miners with other convictions are excluded from the collective pardon.

There is also a risk that miners who were convicted of more serious crimes will be excluded. And it isn't clear how long it will take the Scottish government to bring in the legislation to grant the pardons.

The Scott Review said convictions meant miners were sacked, lost pension money and found it hard to find new jobs. Many felt “crushed”. Some suffered nervous breakdowns or killed themselves.  

South Wales miners were arrested  at the Llanwern steel works

South Wales miners were arrested at the Llanwern steel works (Pic: John Sturrock)


The inquiry hasn’t examined why miners faced such brutality during the strike, or who ordered it. And the pardons give nothing to miners across England and Wales who suffered during the strike. 

Ian Mitchell was a miner at Silverwood colliery in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, during the strike. He told Socialist Worker, “It’s good that this review happened. We’ve again seen attempts to criminalise protesters with Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter. 

“The police need to be called to account – and we want the cops and the politicians to at least be looking over their shoulders. If this review gains that, then it’s something. But it’s not enough.” 

Ian described how state repression during and after the strike devastated working class people. 

“The country’s littered with people whose lives were wrecked because they tried to defend their livelihoods,” he said. 

Ian Mitchell in 1984

Ian Mitchell in 1984


“Mass arrests led to some people being put onto blacklists. A lot of people never went back to work because of the convictions that they had. How do you compensate for all that? 

“You hear the argument that it was a long time ago and so let sleeping dogs lie. Bollocks to that.” 

Jim said he was “lucky” as he was able to later retrain as a teacher. But another miner he was on trial with had a nervous breakdown, as did his wife. “It had a huge effect on so many people,” he said. “Some guys in mining communities knew nothing else. 

“Some people have still got very little. I definitely think there should be compensation – it’s the least they could do.” 

Ian was blacklisted after the strike, and described being “knocked back” time after time when trying to find work. 

“I got nothing,” he said. “It was hard going. You were feeling like your back was against the wall. 

“Apologies are all well and good, but there are a lot of people who deserve some form of compensation. Some people never recovered.” 

Orgreave

Joe Rollin, deputy chair of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (OTJC), agreed that much more needs to be done. “Headlines can look great but you have to look under the surface,” he told Socialist Worker.  

“How many people have passed away, been blacklisted and not been able to find work because of it? There’s no talk of compensation that I’ve seen. You have to ask what this would do to stop future injustices.  

“And we don’t see why English and Welsh miners should be treated any differently to Scottish miners.”  

Former miners and their supporters now want to renew the fight for a full inquiry into policing and repression during the strike. Orgreave was a key flashpoint.

Police systematically assaulted miners at Orgreave

Police systematically assaulted miners at Orgreave (Pic: John Sturrock)


At the Battle of Orgreave on 18 June 1984, cops attacked miners who were picketing the Orgreave coking plant near Rotherham, south Yorkshire.  

Cops charged into strikers – then tried to frame miners for riot and violent disorder. Trials collapsed because of “unreliable” police evidence.  

“Halloween marks four years since then home secretary Amber Rudd turned down our campaign for an inquiry,” said Joe. 

“But there’s overwhelming evidence that police perjured themselves at Orgreave.” 

He added that Orgreave is by no means the only injustice that took place. 

“Miners suffered throughout the strike, not just on 18 June,” he said. “We concentrated on Orgreave because it would have been impossible to campaign on the hundreds of injustices that miners suffered.  

“But we were never blinkered to the fact that there were mini-Orgreaves going on throughout the strike.” 

Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government waged war on the miners to undermine the power of unions and workers in Britain. The Tories are desperate to keep the full truth about how the state organised to crush the miners hidden.  

Ian said there should be an inquiry “not just about individual acts of brutality but about how they came about”. 

“There was definitely political direction from the government,” he said. “Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet discussed how to defend the police’s behaviour within months of the strike ending. 

Miners remained defiant despite police assaults

Miners remained defiant despite police assaults (Pic: John Sturrock)


“They knew that any inquiry into police actions would end up at their door. At the end of the day, responsibility lies with Thatcher and the Tory government. They gave police the green light to act as they did.” 

Ian described how cops “singled out” left wingers and activists. 

“It was very nasty,” he said. “They had a clear agenda to go for people and they wanted to scare the shit out of us. 

How the Miners Strike could have won
How the Miners' Strike could have won
  Read More

“My worst experience was being followed by a vanload of cops while pushing my daughter in a pram. They were calling me by my name and saying they were going to kick my head in. 

“They only felt confident to do that because of what was coming from above.” 

The OTJC is encouraging people to write to their MPs asking them to support an Early Day Motion (EDM) calling for a broader inquiry.  

The EDM notes that 11,291 people were arrested across Britain during the strike, 8,392 charged and up to 200 jailed.  

It calls for “an independent review into policing during the dispute with a view to issuing pardons to all of those convicted”.  

“It’s coming up to 40 years now,” said Ian. “And we’re still trying to get the bastards to admit they did something wrong. People will have to continue to protest to get justice.” 

Go to otjc.org.uk/take-action for more information and follow @orgreavejustice on Twitter  Read Socialist Worker's special edition remembering 30 years since the strike here

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.