The man who used to edit one of Britain's biggest popular newspapers last week made an astonishing admission. He confessed that a major smear campaign his paper ran against the left wing leader of one of Britain's key trade unions was in fact a pack of lies. Roy Greenslade, the former editor of the Mirror newspaper, offered 'the sincerest of apologies' to National Union of Mineworkers leader Arthur Scargill for the lies the paper told during a six-month campaign in 1990.
The Mirror, under Greenslade's editorship, ran a savage campaign against the then miners' union leaders Arthur Scargill and Peter Heathfield. It published allegation after allegation of what Greenslade now calls 'cloak and dagger tales', without a shred of evidence. The paper accused Scargill of being corrupt, taking money from Libya to pay off his mortgage and lining his own pocket during the year-long miners' strike in 1984-5.
The smears were an attack on all those who took part in and supported the great 1984-5 miners' strike. The then owner of the Mirror, millionaire press baron, Labour Party member and crook Robert Maxwell, orchestrated the witchhunt. He was later found to be stealing from the Mirror's own pension fund.
The then Tory government and the right wing press had a field day, gleefully predicting that Scargill would be jailed. Deputy Tory prime minister Geoffrey Howe announced in parliament that the police were ready to act against Scargill. Every mainstream newspaper at the time and the leaders of the Labour Party went along with the witchhunt against Scargill. Even after an independent report by QC Gavin Lightman cleared Scargill, the Mirror continued to print filthy lies as if they were fact.
In 1991 the three journalists who made the story up were awarded the 'Reporters of the Year' prize at the British Press Awards for the story which Lightman had described as 'entirely untrue'. Labour leader Neil Kinnock handed out the award and personally congratulated the three.
Such was the witchhunting atmosphere that even many of those who supported Scargill and the miners worried that there was at least a grain of truth in the allegations. Socialist Worker was the only paper to stand up and defend Scargill. We produced two special editions of the paper which systematically disproved every single allegation against him.
We were also key in launching a defence campaign. The campaign held huge public meetings and gathered thousands of signatures in support of Scargill. The campaign saw off the threats against him. All of the court actions and prosecutions collapsed.
Now, 12 years later, Greenslade has admitted what Socialist Worker said at the time-that all the allegations were lies. The witchhunt shows just how far the bosses and press barons are prepared to go to fit up a union leader. Greenslade was not a rabid right winger. He says he supported and gave money to the miners during the 1984-5 strike.
But such was the pressure that he ran the smears, even though he says he doubted their truth. Greenslade now accepts he was completely wrong to do so. But 12 years after the event is too little, too late. Today right wing media barons, the New Labour government and right wingers in the trade union movement are resorting to the same kind of dirty tricks to discredit left wing union leaders.
The right wing executive of the civil servants' PCS union has torn up democracy and tried to oust left winger Mark Serwotka from the leadership of the union. Earlier this year papers like the Sun and the Evening Standard ran a flood of scare stories against left wing union leaders like RMT rail workers' union leader Bob Crow.
The witchhunts are because the media and the bosses are terrified that groups of workers are beginning to organise today to fight back against low pay and privatisation. In January this year Socialist Worker revealed that even figures inside the labour movement were attempting to smear left wingers. We exposed how an official inside the Trades Union Congress had spun his own witchhunting stories to try and prevent the election of Bob Crow. Just as we didn't wait in 1990, Socialist Worker argues it is vital that we speak out now against these attacks.
That is why Socialist Worker is part of launching a vigorous campaign to defend Mark Serwotka, and why we will defend all the other left wing union leaders when they are attacked and vilified by the right.
'We've been vindicated'
MIKE SIMONS was the Socialist Worker journalist who exposed the Mirror's lies about Scargill.
He says, 'We were the only people to stand up for Scargill. With some digging we immediately started to unravel the lies. We knew it was being pushed through by the millionaire crook Maxwell, who was at the time ripping off his own pension fund.
We discovered that all the witnesses against Scargill were frauds. Every other group on the left said it was down to Scargill to prove his innocence. But the front page of Socialist Worker was, 'Don't let Them Get Scargill'.
We knew that if they got Scargill it would be a massive assault not just on him, but on the whole trade union movement. We have now been completely vindicated. Everything we published in the special edition of Socialist Worker we produced has held up, while everything the Mirror wrote has been proven to be a tissue of lies.
The labour movement should learn the lessons, that you have to stand up for those who stand up for the working class. It is all about class solidarity.'
'It was an attack on us all'
'The attack on Scargill and Heathfield was an attack on us all. The establishment wanted to discredit all those who took part in and supported the Great Miners' Strike of 1984-5. Greenslade is not the only one who should be apologising. Along with the Mirror and MI5 were right wing trade union leaders and Labour MPs.
Despite the witchhunt many people did not swallow the lies. We circulated an open letter in defence of Scargill and Heathfield. Well respected individuals like Tony Benn and Paul Foot were the first to add their names. This made it easy to get other people in the labour movement to sign it. Even people who had major differences with Scargill knew that he was not corrupt. We organised a packed rally of hundreds, backed by Women Against Pit Closures, at the Sheffield Memorial Hall.
A special bulletin produced to counteract the lies sold in its thousands. NUM and other trade union branches ordered it in its hundreds. This would not have been possible without socialists. This was recognised at the Sheffield rally when Arthur Scargill thanked Socialist Worker for its role in refuting the lies.'
IAN MITCHELL, ex-miner, Silverwood pit, South Yorkshire
'The smears against Scargill did not begin with an investigation-they were paid for. The Mirror's two star witnesses, former NUM employees Roger Windsor and Jim Parker, were paid thousands for their stories.'
Socialist Worker, 17 March 1990
Greenslade now admits the Mirror paid over £80,000 to former NUM chief executive Roger Windsor for a story which was a lie.
- 'The allegation that the NUM asked for Libyan money just doesn't stand up. The Mirror has no proof that Libyan money was received by the NUM.'
Socialist Worker, 17 March 1990
'I am now convinced that Scargill didn't misuse strike funds and that the union didn't get money from Libya.'
Roy Greenslade, 27 May 2002
- 'The NUM president is quite right not to fall into the trap set by billionaire publisher Robert Maxwell. Inviting legal action is one of the oldest tricks played by the rich when they want to destroy their class enemy. A libel action could bankrupt Arthur Scargill and the NUM and even if they won it wouldn't cost Maxwell a day's profits from his media empire.'
Socialist Worker, 14 July 1990
'I also concede that, given the supposed wealth of Maxwell's Mirror and the state of NUM finances, it was understandable that Scargill didn't sue.'
Roy Greenslade, 27 May 2002
The Tory prime minister in 1990 was Margaret Thatcher. She wanted to wage war against the miners' union. Thatcher was out for revenge for the miners' strike.
The miners lost the 1984-5 strike after a year-long heroic struggle. But Thatcher had failed to crush Scargill and the NUM, who she called 'the enemy within'. In 1990 she wanted to inflict a blow on the miners' union and its tradition of militancy so she could ram through a massive programme of pit closures.