Two days to remember: Orgreave Truth & Justice campaign
Balloons to commemorate the 95 miners who were falsely charged at Orgreave and subsequently acquitted - © Mark Harvey
Michael Mansfield and Orgreave veterans - © Mark Harvey
OTJC planning committee including Barbara Jackson and Bridget Bell - © Mark Harvey
26 June 2014
The 18 June 1984 was a hot summer's day. The miners were lightly-clad – many in shorts, tee-shirts, plimsolls. The mood was good-natured. There was the usual humorous banter from the pickets with the police and then, without warning, the police ranks parted, and mounted, armoured, baton-wielding officers charged. At full gallop they hurtled into the ranks of the miners, battering all within reach. The cavalry charge was followed by the infantry – police on foot, again wielding batons.
The miners were in disarray, scattering, running for their very lives. As they did so they were attacked from behind by police, battering their backs and heads. Beaten miners, heads pouring blood, were arrested as the assault continued. The miners fled in the only direction open to them, up a hillside, into woods. They regrouped and returned, and using whatever they could lay their hands on – fence stakes, branches, stones – retaliated.
That evening, film of the events at Orgreave was edited by the BBC to show the miners attacking first, and police responding with a charge – the exact reverse of what had really happened. Ninety-five miners were arrested and many of them charged with riot – an offence which carries a potential life sentence. In the aftermath, the charges were thrown out by the courts as evidence mounted of police collusion in the preparation of statements. Falsely-charged miners collectively were paid £425,000 in compensation.
This then was the story of the Battle of Orgreave – an event which has gone down in Britain's history of industrial struggle as one of the state's most brutal acts of violence against its own people.
But this was 30 years ago. So why has it become topical and relevant today? The answer lies with another act of infamy involving the South Yorkshire police – the Hillsborough disaster.
Ninety-six Liverpool United football fans died in 1989 at Hillsborough football ground. Sections of the media, many politicians, and the police themselves, blamed the Liverpool fans for the disaster. But families of those who died believed differently. It was the success of the Hillsborough families which inspired the launching of a campaign for a full public inquiry into what happened at the Orgreave coke depot.
The call came first from a Sheffield woman, Barbara Jackson. She had been a clerical worker employed by the National Coal Board during the 1984-85 strike. For a year she was on strike herself, supporting the fight for the very survival of Britain's proud coal industry, its miners, families and communities. The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (OTJC) was launched on 8 November 2012 and it is now a powerful force with strong support in the trade union movement. The NUJ voted to support the OTJC at its delegate meeting (DM) in Eastbourne this year.
A sign of that support was demonstrated at a well-organised event near the site of the original police assault. The weather for the Orgreave Mass Picnic and Festival, held on 14 June 2014, started out cloudy and rainy, in contrast with thirty years before. But it didn't dampen the spirits as coaches brought people to join local residents who had witnessed the events thirty years before. About 1,500 people attended the picnic to listen to a stellar range of speakers, including Michael Mansfield, Betty Cook from Women Against Pit Closures, former NUM official Dave Douglass, and veteran of the Wapping dispute, Ann Field.
Banner Theatre did a great piece with new material and songs including 'The Battle of Orgreave', and a stunning array of music followed with Omar Puente and Friends, Sean Taylor, The Hurriers, Snide Remarks and many more on the main stage and in a separate acoustic stage. The beer tent did a great trade too (they donated £100 to OTJC from their sales) and the stalls also were incredibly busy.
There were all sorts of memorable moments. I listened to Lesley Bolton – the woman who is in the iconic photo by John Harris, taken as a mounted policeman is about to club her – in conversation with a miner, twenty at the time, who was yards away from her when the incident happened and relived the traumatic events which still clearly visible affected him. Another man gave me convincing details of army involvement in the miners' strike – the roads army trucks drove on, the times and other credible details. A big story to follow up on. And then there was the honour of signing Gareth Peirce's copy of Settling Scores.
The only sour note was about an hour from the end when a police helicopter flew around and hovered over the picnic provoking angry shouts and gestures. There were no incidents, no violence and the atmosphere was completely friendly so why did they do it?
The Picnic was a great success but the OTJC knows that picnics won't get truth and justice for the miners and their families about police conduct at Orgreave and more widely during the strike. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is dragging its heels, and has spent a year and a half conducting a scoping exercise to decide whether even to hold an inquiry. As Barbara Jackson points out, "We are in the foothills of a large mountain and we are going to need lots of help to push this issue back up the political agenda."
The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign needs your support.
Visit the campaign's website.
Facebook page: Orgreave Truth and Justice Camapign
A founder member of OTJC, Granville Williams is the editor of Settling Scores: The Media, the Police and the Miners' Strike published by the Campaign for Press & Broadcasting Freedom (CPBF) for the 30th anniversary of the strike. His most recent book is Big Media & Internet Titans, also published by the CPBF.