On 18 June 1984, the policing of striking miners at Orgreave shocked the nation. The dishonest reporting by the broadcast and printed media—that it had been a riot by miners against the police, rather than the other way around—set the false narrative for the rest of the Miners’ Strike, with Margaret Thatcher calling striking miners and their supporters ‘the enemy within’.
Just over a year later, in July 1985, the trial of 15 miners charged with riot and unlawful assembly collapsed, with cases against a further 80 miners being subsequently dropped. The ‘enemy within’ were all acquitted, but the state machinery that had assaulted them and subsequently fitted them up has never been held to account.
In the weeks building up to the 18 June, policing at the coking plant in Orgreave had intensified. It was becoming clear to striking miners that the police were becoming increasingly militaristic in their tactics against them, but nothing prepared those there on that hot summer’s day for what they were about to experience.
Huge numbers of police from 13 different forces were there, waiting for them. Long lines of long-shielded riot police, mounted police, and dog handlers stood alongside short-shield snatch squads who could pursue and attack miners after a horse cavalry charge. The injuries sustained went far beyond cuts and bruises, with many suffering from broken bones and, in some cases, even fractured skulls.
The media referred to these events as the ‘Battle of Orgreave’. But it wasn’t a battle – that suggests a clash on equal terms. It was the might of the state ensuring the police had been trained and armed to literally and metaphorically crush the growing momentum and effectiveness of the strike that had been going for three months. Alongside their families and communities, those present, who were both physically and psychologically injured, deserve the truth to be known.
The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign stands in solidarity with the Hillsborough families. In the aftermath of those tragic events, they too suffered police fabrication of evidence, as well as victims being considered perpetrators by the media – just as the miners were blamed at Orgreave. The verdicts at the second inquest—that 96 Liverpool fans had been unlawfully killed, and the fans completely exonerated—was long overdue, and greatly important.
But sadly, no one has yet been held criminally responsible, with the last trial collapsing last month. Earlier this week, the Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill admitted that the Hillsborough families and campaigners did not get ‘justice and accountability’ through the criminal courts due to the trial collapsing over a legal technicality. 32 whole years, and still no full accountability.
This week also saw the publication of the Daniel Morgan independent panel’s report. In its findings, it said that the Metropolitan Police were ‘institutionally corrupt’ in their decades of cover-ups. Again, the media’s role in this case has been highlighted in the report as another ‘form of corruption’. After 34 years of determined campaigning by Daniel Morgan’s family, some light has been shone on this injustice, and both the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police now must address the issues raised.
Even more positive is the victory for the Shrewsbury 24 justice campaigners earlier this year, which shows that it is never too late for justice to prevail, and has given campaigns such as ours great hope.
But while we struggle to get truth and accountability for historic injustices such as Orgreave, we do so in the shadow of the government’s agenda to strengthen police powers. The Covert Human Intelligence Sources Act now gives agents of the state full immunity for any criminal behaviour while acting undercover. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill proposes further police powers to severely curtail the very act of peaceful protest.
Our concerns are not ‘anti-police’. Our concerns are that the extension of police powers can be used against anyone who challenges the state – be it for historic injustices such as Orgreave or current struggles such as campaigning against the failure to act on climate change and racism.
Much of the truth about what happened at Orgreave is already in the public domain. The release of contemporary cabinet papers, Home Office files, and trial transcripts themselves all contain vital evidence that needs to be properly scrutinised and reported on. Police files that are archived until 2066 need a formal body to order their release. Our call for a public inquiry continues along with a review process such as an Independent Review Panel as a starting point.
The road to justice is paved with truth. And just as the Hillsborough, Shrewsbury, and Daniel Morgan campaigns have shown, the struggle for accountability may be ongoing. But cover-ups can—and will—be exposed, false media narratives will be shown to be lies, and truth will ultimately prevail.