“There were no miscarriages of justice. There were no deaths.” Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s justification for not opening an inquiry into the Battle of Orgreave. Mick Bower, the Yorkshire Party’s candidate in the Sheffield City Region mayoral election, responds.
True; there were no convictions, but 95 pickets were charged with violent disorder and the archaic offence of riot and faced the prospect of life imprisonment until the trials collapsed due to unreliable police accounts. Officers on duty that day have since claimed that their statements were dictated by a senior South Yorkshire detective.
True, there were no deaths, but 6,000 officers in full riot gear, including mounted police and brutal snatch squads, repeatedly charged pickets in shorts and T-shirts resulting in serious injuries.
For those of us who lived through the miners’ strike, it was our defining political moment. Civil liberties went out of the window as the police effectively closed the border between Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire. We saw our families, friends and neighbours struggling through hardship to stand up for their communities. The national press told us about Scargill’s fanatical stormtroopers- fooled by their leader’s lies about plans to cut back coal production. Proud communities were destroyed.
Around that time, I used to go for a pint in The Plough at Catcliffe every Monday night. As 1984 dragged on and my mates who worked at Treeton pit and Fence workshop ran short on funds, we spent more time outside than in the bar. Naturally, we talked about the strike a lot. Even though we could see Orgreave from the wall we sat on, I can’t recall anyone ever mentioning the coking plant. So how did our quiet corner of town become the venue for the event that defined our nation’s politics for a generation?
Thatcher’s adviser David Hart claimed that the whole thing was orchestrated by the government. Knowing that Scargill had built his reputation on large scale demo’s at Saltley and Hadfields - they set a trap for him at Orgreave and had an army waiting to smash him. Obviously, a man with the ego the size of King Arthur rejects this version of events.
The BBC have admitted that their news reports, which were cut to show a mounted police charge in response to pickets throwing stones, did not truly represent what happened. In a statement, the BBC have since said that this was a “mistake”.
So we have credible allegations of state sponsored violent disorder with the aim of crushing the UK’s union movement- aided and abetted by the state broadcaster. More than enough for an inquiry I’d say. However, these aren’t the things that really bother me. My main concern is the role of the South Yorkshire Police force and what it means going forward.
The obviously coordinated statements produced by officers reflect the dodgy way of doing business that was exposed by the Hillsborough inquiries. As usual, no senior officers have been held to account. In the Rotherham scandal, evidence was lost and testimony from Child Sexual Exploitation survivorss that did not fit in with the police narrative was discarded. It appears that the unpunished sins of the 80s have created a cover up culture that survives today.
The force’s reputation is at an all time low. The public have no confidence in the top brass to get their house in order. I personally know good coppers who have left the job in recent years because they feel being a South Yorkshire Police officer is no longer something to be proud of.
This situation can’t go on, but sometimes the situation seems impossible. Who can we turn to? The Labour Party made plenty of hay yesterday - yet seem to have forgotten they had 13 years in office when they could have ordered their own inquiry. South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings said he was “shocked and dismayed” at the decision - and, in so doing, demonstrated his impotence. South Yorkshire Police said they were ready to co-operate fully with any enquiry - just a few months after they strung out the Hillsborough inquests (with their legal costs funded by Billings with money from the Home Office).
The chances are that there will not be a full Orgreave inquiry in the foreseeable future. Labour have promised one when they get back in office…so don’t hold your breath.
Copyright: Richard Newall
What we can do is address the problems we face here and now. If South Yorkshire Police and the SYPCC were serious about wanting an inquiry - why don’t they publish the evidence they would have given? Ranking officers must answer for what they have done. To restore confidence in the South Yorkshire force, we need full transparency about the mistakes made in the Rotherham Child Sexual Exploitation scandal. Labour could publish the details of their internal investigations about who knew what when and answer the allegations that senior Rotherham council figures could have done more to combat CSE.
After years of battling, we got the truth about Hillsborough - but we’re still waiting for justice.
The truth will eventually come out about what happened at Orgreave - probably after those responsible are long dead.
The Sheffield City Region Combined Authority meet in a room at the AMP that overlooks the pleasant housing development that now stands on the Orgreave battlefield. When the great and the good gather for their monthly talking shops - they must be aware of the damage these ongoing scandals do to reputation the area they represent.
This is not the time for grandstanding. We need to make sure that the South Yorkshire public get the police service that they deserve. There are police officers and politicians who know what’s going on and could set us on the right road - regardless of whether there is any official inquiry. They should be strongly encouraged to do so.
Until they stand up for the people they are supposed to serve, there can be no truth and justice - and we should not give them any peace.
Note: Mick Bower is the Yorkshire Party’s candidate in the Sheffield City Region mayoral election.