Last Friday Gerry Lavery from Unite Community Leeds attended a press conference in support of Orgreave campaigners and here gives his account of what happened.
Following the decision of the Independent Police Complaints Commission IPCC) not to investigate police behaviour at Orgreave in the 1984 Miners’ Strike any further, the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (OTJC) hosted a press conference at the NUM headquarters in Barnsley on Friday 12th June. The IPCC had looked at the question of potential police wrongdoing following a self-referral by the South Yorkshire Police.
The IPCC decision was made in spite of the fact that its report suggested there was evidence of police violence against miners, perversion of the course of justice and perjury in unsuccessful court actions to prosecute miners on serious charges. In launching their report, the IPCC recognised the impact of the allegations for communities but claimed that the passage of time prevented the viability of further investigation into any police wrongdoing.
Response of the Orgreave campaign to the IPCC decision
Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign panel at the press conference
The press conference was chaired by Joe Rollin, Chair of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign. Following an opening statement by Joe in which he condemned the IPCC decision, each member of a panel made a brief presentation. A formal response from the OTJC can be found on its website, and a statement on the IPCC decision by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) can be viewed here.
Granville Williams, a member of OTJC, felt that the campaign had been ‘in a cul-de-sac’ for the two and half years the IPCC had taken to make its report. He described the IPCC as ‘a flawed organisation’ for its delay, however, its report had at least cleared ‘a log-jam’ and would increase support for the Orgreave campaign from trade unions and political parties in the demand for a public inquiry. The OJTC, he added, remained determined and would not be going away. Rather than being down-hearted, he argued, the campaign was now ‘back on track’.
Chris Skidmore, Yorkshire Area NUM President and Orgreave veteran, said that Orgreave had been ‘a traumatic experience’. He made the point that many miners were not politically motivated during the strike but had simply wished ‘to get on with their lives’, to protect their jobs, and that miners had not gone to Orgreave ‘to have a go at the police.’
On the IPCC decision, Chris said the IPCC was wrong to claim a further investigation into the police was not in the public interest. The decision, he added, would not bring justice for those who had been seriously injured as a result of police behaviour. He noted that the Police Federation had suggested that it was time ‘to move on from Orgreave’ but insisted that the police should be accountable for having lied in court in order to prosecute miners.
Chris Kitchen, National Secretary of the NUM, said that the IPCC decision was expected. He felt that the police had been used as ‘a political army’ with a clear ‘political goal’. The only way to resolve the questions around Orgreave was to demand ‘a full public inquiry’.
Paul Winter, a former miner and member of OJTC, pointed to some of the media distortions in what happened at Orgreave and which still needed to be examined. For example, he referred to the fact that one film appeared to show the miners instigating the violence as one was filmed throwing a brick, however, it had later been shown that the police had instigated the violence and that the miners had been set up at Orgreave. These and other injustices, he argued, needed to be exposed.
Time for everyone to move on?
After presentations from the panel, questions were taken from the press and members of the public. Journalists asked that as key actors such as Thatcher were no longer around and that it is 31 years since Orgreave, what was the point of the campaign?
Chris Kitchen argued that the attack on the miners at Orgreave had been orchestrated and needed to be exposed to prevent this sort of thing happening again.
Granville Williams added that it was about truth and justice. Orgreave had resulted in a grievance, especially for older miners, which still needed to be redressed.
The memory of Orgreave lives on
An investigative journalist in the audience suggested that he had researched the IPCC and found that they did not want to engage with historical evidence, such as all of that held by the South Yorkshire Police. He claimed that the strategy of the IPCC had at first been to co-opt the Orgreave campaign and the NUM.
The legacy of Orgreave and the strike
Key questions about what happened at Orgreave were also raised by members of the audience. One contributor, Mick Stow, argued against the IPCC decision that many police officers at Orgreave had retired and so it was difficult to gather evidence; he made the point that there is no reason why responsibility for criminality should stop at retirement. He added that no one was above the law. He also said that the fact that some miners never worked again and were blacklisted after Orgreave was a matter worthy of investigation. The point was made that the police have never said sorry for what happened at Orgreave.
One telling intervention from the audience made it on to YouTube. Here John Dunn, an ex-miner, tells the press conference of the impact of the Miners’ Strike on him, his family and community after all these years. The fact that he still has a criminal record, that his grandchildren don’t have access to proper jobs and that his community has been destroyed can all be traced back to the Miners’ Strike.
Geoff Bright, now an academic, had been present at Orgreave as a member of the National Union of Railwaymen, commented that Orgreave had been a state operation which had left an ongoing legacy. It had left a legacy of injury, which has been left unaddressed and is therefore corrosive. Young people had been left marginalised as a result of the dispute and the pit closures. For example, he pointed to the fact that an examination of a map of school exclusions shows that children from former mining areas are strongly over-represented.
The final contribution was made by Bridget Bell, a representative from Women Against Pit Closures. She made the point that historically there had been a struggle to defend trade union rights. She added that there was no time limit on justice and that the government had shown itself capable of using the state to attack trade union rights. In this context, thirty years was nothing and that it is still important to expose what happened at Orgreave.
Where to now?
The Orgreave campaign may appear to have suffered a setback following the decision of the IPCC, however, this decision has been widely condemned. It has given considerable publicity to the injustices highlighted by the campaign and added momentum to it by calls for a public inquiry, not just by the OJTC but also by others, including politicians such as Andy Burnham, linked not only to the Labour leadership but also to the campaign for justice for the Hillsborough victims and their families. Even the Conservative Home secretary, Theresa May, says she will consider requests for a public inquiry. The struggle carries on.
14th June 2015.