The infamous Battle of Orgreave happened 32 years ago. JOE ROLLIN explains why it still matters today and encourages readers and activists to join the fight for the truth
THE Orgreave coking plant stood on the outskirts of Sheffield, just eight miles from Hillsborough stadium, scene of the Hillsborough disaster on April 15 1989, in which 96 Liverpool supporters were, as the jury at the recent inquests determined, unlawfully killed.
The year-long miners’ strike against pit closures started in March 1984, just five years before the Hillsborough disaster and subsequent cover-up.
Some of the same senior police officers and lawyers were involved in the Battle of Orgreave.
The Orgreave coking plant was the scene of demonstrations and picketing in May and June of 1984 where the NUM and its supporters tried to stop the flow of coke from the plant to the steelworks in Scunthorpe, thus increasing the pressure on the government to settle the dispute.
All previous attempts by the pickets had proved unsuccessful and had been met by the same regular road blocks and obstruction by the police.
However, miners and their supporters have reported how on June 18 the police welcomed them with open arms, in some cases even showing people where to park and directing them to the plant.
The Battle of Orgreave was in reality not a “battle” at all — it was a police trap which saw a highly planned militarised police force beat up, fit up and lock up dozens of miners. Ninety five in total were arrested — and faced lengthy custodial sentences for riot.
The police tactic of “kettling” activists into small areas is now common practice in modern British policing, as is the use of force and subsequent trumped-up charges and lengthy bail restrictions which will also be instantly recognisable to many of today’s protesters.
Then, as today, the police used these set-piece actions to arrest large numbers of activists on exaggerated charges and use the legal system to prevent these individuals from playing an active role in the struggle.
There are many similarities and links between what happened at Orgreave and Hillsborough, including senior officers dictating to police officers what they should write in their notebooks after the incidents took place.
However, one of the stark differences between the two events is that Orgreave was clearly a well-planned action carried out by the police, whereas Hillsborough was a terrible disaster after which the police later used the same tactics of misinformation and direct collusion to cover up the truth.
The aim of the Orgreave Truth and Justice campaign is to expose this pattern of behaviour.
At Orgreave on June 18 it was a miracle no-one was killed. One officer was seen on television straddling a defenceless miner on the ground and battering him repeatedly about the head with his truncheon.
Because the incident was witnessed by millions on TV, South Yorkshire Police interviewed the officer, PC Martin from the Northumbria force, two days later.
PC Martin said: “It’s not a case of me going off half-cock. The senior officers, supers and chief supers were there and getting stuck in too — they were encouraging the lads and I think their attitude to the situation affected what we all did.”
The case was referred to the director of public prosecutions, who advised that PC Martin should not be prosecuted. There is no record of PC Martin being disciplined either. This type of police behaviour is all too common today.
We have seen cases of police brutality very recently with the student protests involving high-profile cases like Alfie Meadows or, worse still, with the death of Ian Tomlinson at an anti-capitalist protest in London in 2009.
Other parallels can be drawn between Orgreave, Hillsborough and the modern day: the collusion between the police narrative of events and the way the media reports them.
After Orgreave, the pickets were described in the press as a riotous mob and the BBC famously had to apologise for reversing footage giving the illusion of pickets attacking police officers first, when in fact this action was in retaliation to a mounted police charge.
After Hillsborough, the Sun vilified Liverpool fans and even accused them of stealing from their fellow fans who had been crushed to death.
The same narrative is parroted today where the victims of crimes are branded the criminals.
Both Orgreave and Hillsborough are part of the same story. Both cases have at their heart South Yorkshire Police, although Orgreave involved officers from many other forces as well.
The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign is pressing for a full and independent inquiry into what happened, just as the Hillsborough campaigners demanded an impartial investigation into the causes of the Hillsborough disaster.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) decided in June 2015 that, partly because of its limited terms of reference, it would not carry out a full investigation into Orgreave, although its report contained some serious criticisms of the actions and attitudes of South Yorkshire Police, implicitly suggesting that a wider inquiry was called for.
Both cases, Orgreave and Hillsborough, involve serious wrongdoing by South Yorkshire Police.
At Orgreave this involved the assaults, wrongful arrests and false prosecutions of the miners and perjury in court.
At Hillsborough the inquest jury has now found that the 96 fans died as a result of criminally serious gross negligence by the police, and that the police told widespread lies to try and unfairly blame the fans.
Both cases involve strikingly similar attempts by the police to manipulate the evidence: and in both cases no police officers or people who helped to cover up the evidence have been brought to justice.
If the police were held to account for their actions at Orgreave, they may never have acted with such impunity at Hillsborough, and the same patterns of dishonesty and malpractice would not be repeating themselves today.
As I’m writing this piece, we are still waiting for an announcement about Orgreave from the Home Secretary Theresa May, but the pressure for her act continues to mount, with constant media attention and cross-party support.
Joe Rollin is chair of the OTJC.
The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign is hoping to secure a second meeting with May to hear her response to our legal submission that was presented to her in December 2015. Please help the campaign by emailing the Home Secretary email@example.com or tweeting the Home office @ukhomeoffice. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter and keep up to date with the campaign at www.otjc.org.uk
The OTJC would also like to invite you and your trade union branch or community group to attend this year’s rally on Saturday June 18 at the Old Bridge, Orgreave Lane S13 9NE starting at 5pm. Please bring your banners.