We will always remember March 23 this year. On that day, 47 years of injustice was finally overturned as the Court of Appeal set aside the convictions of the Shrewsbury 24. Let a glass be raised in celebration every year to mark the anniversary.
However, this one aside, those of us involved in justice campaigns tend not to enjoy anniversaries. They serve as reminders of justice delayed and justice denied. For the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign and our supporters, we have the Tories to thank for the Halloween anniversary of their refusal to grant an inquiry into the police riot of June 18, 1984 at the Orgreave coking plant in South Yorkshire.
The injustice meted out to striking miners that rippled through their communities and down through generations is now thirty-seven years old. But to those who were present on the day, the memories are vivid—and the sense of betrayal still raw.
After all, the police tactics of June 18, 1984 were unprecedented and being on the receiving end of such paramilitary-style operations cannot be easily forgotten, let alone forgiven. Some miners still bear the scars, physically and emotionally.
Many more still carry the anger and knowledge of what that day at Orgreave was really about—the Tory government’s determination to crush the trade union movement and replace a country of organised labour with their model of privatisation, casualisation and a race to the bottom.
Fast forward thirty-seven years and what you see now is that aim accomplished. Public services starved of cash or sold off, wages falling in real terms and insecure work on the rise. The Britain we now live in is the Thatcher government’s dream—and our nightmare.
For nine years, the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign has fought to continue the work of those who never gave up hope of there being some kind of accountability over the events at Orgreave. We have always maintained this was a politically-driven event. The only way justice could be delivered is a full acceptance that the Tory-led state used the police as their authoritarian arm to beat and batter the way for their very own chamber of horrors.
When we handed in our legal submission detailing the reasons why there should be an inquiry into Orgreave back in December 2015, we never dreamt we’d end up with a Halloween anniversary each year to mark.
Our arguments were also included in the findings of the then Independent Police Complaints Commission’s report of the same year; these were that the police had used excessive violence, engaged in a cover-up after the event and fabricated evidence that was later presented in court at the criminal trial in 1985, a trial that collapsed and resulted in the exoneration of 95 miners charged with riot and unlawful assembly.
We made the point that subsequent policing of public protest continued to suffer because of the immunity the police enjoyed over not being held to account for what happened that day. The role played by the unholy trinity of state, police and media was drilled down as well.
The meetings that followed with Theresa May and Amber Rudd provided glimpses of hope, also backed up by the Times reporting that ‘Rudd bows to demands on Battle of Orgreave’ and that an official inquiry was ‘set to be announced by the Home Secretary.’
But we soon found out this too was further lies and deceit, the full blows of which we felt on October 31, with a killer blow, delivered bluntly and cruelly in the House of Commons, as many of us watched the horror play out from the public gallery.
We watched as Rudd outlined her alleged ‘reasons’ why an inquiry was not in the public interest —nobody died, there were no miscarriages of justice and the police had improved so much that they had nothing new to learn.
As she spoke, I watched a visibly broken ‘strike baby’ (a baby born during the 1984/85 strike) take comfort in the arms of a valiant Woman Against Pit Closures sister, tears pouring down their cheeks as they held each other. I saw the hero that is Kevin Horne, one of the 95 miners arrested at Orgreave, stand firm saying we would fight on. I heard the loud roar of the anger of John Dunn, another striking miner, standing up for our class.
While I felt broken after what was, by then, four years of hard campaigning, I knew we weren’t beaten and we’d come back stronger. We would not be the ones running scared.
Since that day new evidence has been released into the public domain. We have seen the Scottish Parliament bring forward legislation last week for a collective pardon for miners convicted in Scotland during the 1984/85 strike, a step towards truth and reconciliation we have long fought for.
The support for our campaign continues to grow, with our online petition this weekend reaching nearly 10,000 signatures in just one day.
We have also recently seen the Tory mask slip as well—thanks to revelations in Sasha Swire’s recent book, we know that Amber Rudd really swerved ordering an inquiry because it would ‘slur the memory of Thatcher and the [Conservative] party wouldn’t like it.’
The ranks of our campaign continue to be filled by new supporters, particularly young campaigners who recognise that the injustices they fight against share many similarities with ours.
Current Tory attempts to silence and criminalise anyone who shows dissent through the Police and Crime Bill echo an earlier era; they should remind us all to cast an eye back thirty-seven years and stand in solidarity with those who have fought state repression before.
The most powerful tool we have is knowing we are, and have always been, right. We deal in truths, not in fictitious ghost stories like the Tories, and the truth will prevail.