Tuesday, 1 November 2016


The apparent u-ey by the May government over an inquiry into the events at Orgreave coking plant during the NUM-led strike of the 1980s, and in particular the actions of the police both during the conflict and after when spurious criminal charges were brought, is hard to understand. After the Conservative-led coalition did the right thing by the victims of Hillsborough (which also involved the South Yorkshire Police), the logical next step was to clear the air over Orgreave. Not to do so will fuel suspicions that the already-discredited South Yorkshire police leadership did not act on their initiative alone in crossing a legal boundary in combating the strike.

I lived through those events though I had no direct experience of them. In fact, though there were some clashes in Wales, the major confrontations took place in Yorkshire and the English Midlands. I was however sitting in a café in Pontardawe when a group of men, clearly returned flying pickets, "debriefed" friends on events in England. I overheard accusations that police officers had all deliberately removed their collar numbers (required to be worn at all times by Metropolitan Police officers and by many other forces). There was also systematic vandalising (smashing with batons of headlights etc) of vehicles from out of area.

There was a ministerial statement in the House of Commons today. Home Office minister Brandon Lewis excused the department's resistance to an inquiry on the grounds that nobody died at Orgreave and that "lessons had been learned" by the police. In the face of strong accusations of systemic illegality this is a lame response. The only arguments added from the Conservative back-benches were of the "two wrongs make a right" variety. One should not doubt that there was violence on the part of some of the flying pickets. The killing of a strike-breaking taxi-driver (hundreds of miles away from Orgreave!) is also on the record. However, that does not excuse the readiness of the police at the time to "get their retaliation in first". Nor does the failure of the Blair-Brown governments to mount a serious inquiry into incidents during the miners' strike excuse succeeding governments for not doing so. The conclusion I draw is that Mr Cameron was prepared to take an objective view of the actions of previous Tory governments, while Mrs May is more resistant to any investigation which could possibly further tarnish the reputation of Margaret Thatcher.

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