The new Channel 4 series Miners’ Strike 1984: The Battle for Britain lays bare the police brutality and corruption at the heart of the “Battle of Orgreave”—a confrontation provoked by bosses and the Tory government.
The series details new footage showing orchestrated police violence as well as miners speaking publicly for the first time about the injustices they faced.
The first episode totally misses the mark by suggesting that viewers should feel sorry for the scabs. But the second episode covers Orgreave with much more accuracy.
Striking coal miners turned up at Orgreave coking plant to picket on 18 June 1984 and were faced with terrible police brutality under the encouragement of Margaret Thatcher’s government.
The plan was for miners to hit steel production and go on the offensive. For the government it was an opportunity to crush the striking miners and prove that industrial resistance was hopeless.
It happened in the middle of the 1984-5 miners’ strike—where miners struck against the Tories’ attempt to close coal mines as part of a wider attack on the working class.
The documentary follows the stories of three miners who peacefully picketed at Orgreave and then faced trumped-up charges.
The miners speak about the horrors of the police beatings and the systematic attempt to intimidate strikers through charges of riot. When lorries carrying coal start coming out of the plant, the documentary shows miners trying to disrupt and stop the lorries.
“Previous to Orgreave, you’d have your push, lorries would go by and everyone would go home,” remarked Arthur Critchlow, a striking miner.
This was not the case on 18 June. Police on horses began to charge out and run down the miners, with police with riot shields charging behind.
Footage is shown of police snatching anyone they can and beating them senseless. A number of miners were arrested and charged with unlawful assembly. This charge was upped to riot—a charge that at the time carried a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
But the miners charged with riot were acquitted when one of the longest criminal trials in British history collapsed due to revelations of police corruption. Police repeated lie after lie in their witness statements in court.
An officer in the documentary recounts, “The senior South Yorkshire detective comes in and says ‘Right everyone, I’m going to dictate what I want you to do and how to start your statement.’
But this isn’t a request, this is an order.
“He then dictated a paragraph that was essentially the components of the offence of riot such as fear and expectation of violence.”
Defence barrister Michael Mansfield says, “There was a catalogue of serious, not just errors, but fabrications. The prosecutor quite rightly finally capitulated.”
None of the police officers are yet to face any consequences—the law is routinely on the side of the oppressor.
Stef Wysocki, a striking miner, said, “I’d come from my home to be beaten up, locked up and then charged with a 25-year sentence.
“I’d been at Orgreave for no longer than 20 minutes.”
The series shows footage shot by two National Union of Mineworkers officials, which shows the miners’ perspective. Mainstream media documented the scenes from behind police lines and perpetuated lies about miner’s aggression.
The footage shows police smashing workers repeatedly on the head with truncheons. Police on horseback are seen charging down and trampling unarmed workers running from the scene.
Crucially—and contrary to what much of the mainstream media reported—the footage shows the police are the aggressors.
Wysocki remembers the police marching him down the street. When reaching the police cordon, the police “bounced me off their riot shields” and “punched, kneed, kicked”.
“I got fists and knees coming at me all over. I more or less walked into the police line and they more or less carried me out,” he said.
“The police were battering anyone they could.”
In the documentary Arthur recalls when he knelt down to help an injured miner and then “felt a really big thud on the back of my head”. Police officers fractured his skull.
“I was dragged up by my arms. My head was absolutely pounding. By the time we got to the holding area, the blood had gone down my back, down my legs and into my socks.”
This did not happen by chance. It was a massive police operation encouraged by Thatcher’s government. Convoys of police were brought to Orgreave in the early hours of the morning in preparation.
In other circumstances, the police set up roadblocks stopping striking miners from travelling to working class areas. This was not the case in Orgreave. But the documentary does not go far enough in this link between the police and the government.
“Without government support, the police would have not gone in like that,” states solicitor Jim Nichol.
“Orgreave was organised state violence to break the strikes. It is wrong to put the focus on the police for being responsible for Orgreave.
“It was the government giving the wink and the nod to the police to break the strikes by force.
“It was not just to break the miners but to break the trade union movement. It was not in isolation. This is a strategy from the Thatcher government to attack the working class. And putting the miners on trial for riot was part of this strategy.”
Arthur Critchlow’s solicitor, Gareth Peirce, visited the police station after the attack. She said, “It wasn’t like a police station with individuals who’ve been arrested in a normal way.
“This is like captured prisoners of war.”
What happened at Orgreave was a class war waged by the ruling class against the striking workers. The ruling class were threatened by the striking miners’ power and acted to crush it.
Orgreave rally, Sat 15 June, Sheffield. Called by Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign. Details here