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IT’S 31 YEARS SINCE THE MINERS STRIKE ended but for those of us who fought for a whole year it seems like yesterday. 18 June 1984 was a blazing hot day. To listen to the BBC news that evening you would have thought that miners from all over Britain woke that morning and decided to put on their trainers, a clean T-shirt and their best pair of shorts as part of their preparation to attack heavily armed riot police.
That day has gone down in history as ‘The Battle of Orgreave’. The BBC provided a running commentary on “... the worst day of violence of the miners’ strike”. They showed police randomly beating miners, cavalry charges and snarling dogs as evidence of miners’ violence, even showing “barricades” built from which to attack police. It was a pity that they didn’t ask their military correspondents to explain that barricades are built as a line of defence, not attack.
As true agents of the government, their news that evening was edited in reverse to show pickets apparently attacking the police rather than the actual reality of defending themselves against numerous brutal attacks and cavalry charges. Many years later they apologised for this blatant lie, claiming an “accident” in the rush to get out the story.
Alongside them, the whole yellow press hailed the police victory against thuggery. It was a seminal moment of the strike. 95 miners were arrested and charged with riot, an offence carrying a potential life sentence. It took over a year for the start of their trials. In May 1985 the trial of the first 15 commenced, and for 48 days the prosecution gave their evidence. Then on 17 July the police evidence collapsed. Defence lawyers had proved massive discrepancies in police statements, and some officers’ oral evidence differed from their written statements. Photographs proved that officers’ evidence was inaccurate, and that several who claimed to have arrested men had not even been at the scene! As a result the prosecution of the further 80 miners was withdrawn. You would think that police evidence found to be falsified might result in charges of perjury or, at the very least, perverting the course of justice, perhaps even an apology or two. Dream on! Out of court settlements ensured that nothing entered the public domain. No charges were brought, no officer ever disciplined.
In 2012 a BBC documentary, Inside Out (unfortunately only shown in the North), found evidence of police collusion, with dozens of identical written statements having been dictated by some secretive official to junior officers. Such actions were to be paralleled five years later after the Hillsborough disaster. This led to the formation of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Committee. A year later the release of Thatcher’s secret Cabinet papers showed that from personally calculating the numbers of scab lorries needed, to instructing the police and courts to “get tough” with strikers, she was directing the show. Finally there was proof that a hit list of pits to be closed existed. We still live with the aftermath of the defeat of the strike - destroyed communities, dole and despair and an industry butchered. All around us are the boarded shop windows, the closed miners’ welfares, not to mention the despair in people’s eyes. My union, the NUM, faced a brutal onslaught. Our funds were sequestrated, our members and their communities attacked and brutalised by the paramilitary police but we never flinched, marching back to work, after a whole year, unbowed. How did we do it? Undoubtedly the support of our communities and the determination to fight sustained us, but the rank and file of the movement came to our aid. Support groups raised funds, food convoys ensured we did not starve and the working class showed solidarity at its finest.
I know many of the victims of that Orgreave police riot. One in particular represents all that happened. On 18 June 1984 he was beaten and bludgeoned beyond recognition. The NUM’s solicitor found him lying, barely alive, on the floor among dozens of fellow pickets. Those pickets had removed their shirts to bandage the severely injured who had been denied medical assistance. After protesting, the solicitor got him aid, only for him to be charged with riot, carrying the potential life sentence. He was held in Armley prison among the country’s most violent offenders for three weeks before obtaining bail. After near death, imprisonment and a year of mental hell, he walked free. But he will never be a free man. Hardly able to speak about that terrible day, his physical scars, still apparent, may have healed but the mental ones still haunt him.
11,000 of us were arrested and criminalised simply for wanting to work. Two pickets were murdered. Over 7000, myself included, were injured. I carry my criminal conviction and my scars to this day, like so many others. Orgreave is the tip of that iceberg of brutality and state oppression. That is why we demand an inquiry. By exposing the criminal conspiracy of the entire forces against us on that one day we can begin to start the process of righting such terrible wrongs. It is too late to save our industry, but while we still breathe, we fight!