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New report on Orgreave 1984 reveals state’s lies

A full inquiry is needed, At present crucial files will remain hidden until 2066
Pickets and police battle during the Miners' Strike of 1984 to 85

Miners defend themselves from police at Orgreave in 1984 (Picture: John Sturrock, Socialist Worker’s photographer at the time)

Campaigners demanding the truth about events at the Orgreave coking plant in South Yorkshire during the 1984-5 miners’ strike unveiled shocking new evidence on Tuesday.

Their report was to be delivered to the Home Office and the headquarters of major political parties.

It contains new information recently uncovered including public statements of police and government actions during the year-long strike. The report confirms the prime minister Margaret Thatcher and her government were influencing the miners’ strike and policing, while publicly stating a policy of “non-involvement”.

Orgreave on 18 June 1984 represents one of the most serious abuses of power by police and government in industrial and trade union history. The truth has never been acknowledged by the state. 

Instead, as this report confirms, successive Conservative Governments and senior police have worked to cover it up. Many files remain unexamined or inaccessible to the public until at least 2066.

Patrick McCarroll, a miner at Orgreave said, “At Orgreave I was terrified. Anyone who says they weren’t is a liar.

“We were in the field, near the back. There were dogs everywhere. I was chased all the way. The dogs were barking, I ran across the railway line, away from them. I ran and ran, there was an Asda, I ran through that, there were horses chasing men through the car park. There were people hiding up trees, people trying to hide everywhere.”

Striking coal miners who turned up at Orgreave to picket 40 years ago planned to hit steel production and go on the offensive against the Tories and the bosses.

For the government, it was an opportunity to crush the striking miners and prove that industrial resistance was hopeless.

The report confirms how the police and government worked together. It says, for example, “

“In the early 1980s the Home Office, civil servants and the Association of Chief Police Officers colluded to create a new police operational tactics manual for deployment at protest. The manual, created in secret, substantially increased police public order powers without any parliamentary scrutiny. It was instigated and signed off by the Home Office. Parliament knew nothing about it. 

“Whilst, following the Brixton riots of 1981, Home Secretary William Whitelaw publicly supported Lord Scarman’s liberal recommendations, he nonetheless secretly sanctioned the manual. The manual was classified so only ACPO officers (at the very top of the police force) were aware of this ‘fundamental’ shift in the policing of protest.

“Within a year of the Home Secretary’s approval some of the new tactics—including the use of horses, dogs, short shields and truncheons—were deployed at Orgreave but Parliament remained in the dark as to their existence and provenance.

“Short shields and truncheons were used for the first time at Orgreave; a tactic in the manual that enabled the police to ‘incapacitate’ protesters simply for their presence.”

Orgreave should have been a turning point that lifted the strikes. But union leaders did not come to the miners’ aid. 

Kate Flannery from the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign said, “It is important that the truth is established via an independent inquiry and that the police and government are brought to account for their actions.

“This day is particularly significant as it shines a light on what was going on in mining villages and communities throughout the strike.”

Kevin Horne, a miner arrested at Orgreave said, “There has been no accountability of policing at Orgreave. This sent a very clear message that the police could employ violence with impunity.

“This must surely have set a culture for the police cover up in 1989 at Hillsborough. We want the answers to questions about the lying and violent behaviour of the police. We want to know how police officers were briefed and why they were not held to account by the director of public prosecutions or their own employer.”

The effect of the police assault on individuals was terrible. Arthur Critchlow, arrested on the day but who then was cleared at his trial, says, “I’ve still got the scar from the busted head I had. I had a truncheon wield, a fractured skull. 

“I had to go back to the hospital as I started to get headaches and double vision. I had to have a drainage done. I have terrible paranoia that they are waiting to get us for something else because we challenged them and made them look stupid.

 “I have these thoughts that when I go to put the news on it will all start again. Others feel that their phones are being tapped. I’ve had to ask for psychiatric help. It never goes away. It’s in the news, in the paper. It never goes away. My kids have lived with it. They’ve seen me breakdown on occasions. I still do now. Something will trigger it and I’ll have a good cry.”

One of the first acts of a Labour government should be to release all the evidence about Orgreave and open the way for justice.

In its manifesto last week, Labour promised that, if elected, it would “ensure, through an investigation or inquiry, that the truth about the events at Orgreave comes to light”.

But previous Labour governments prioritised defending the state ahead of telling the truth about, for example, the Shrewsbury 24 case. It will take continuing pressure to win. 

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