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Orgreave: What they wouldn't say in public

As early as 1991 ministers were privately admitting that there may have been problems with the policing during the most infamous incident of the miners’ strike, writes SOLOMON HUGHES

Top Home Office officials admitted policing of pickets at Orgreave during the miners’ strike had been marred by “mistakes, or worse” when they were pressed for an inquiry on policing the strike in 1991, according to internal papers obtained by the Morning Star 

The Home Office admitted to “shortcomings” in Orgreave policing in private, but publicly ministers backed the police. 

There are now new calls for an inquiry into policing the miners’ strike following the Hillsborough inquiry, which exposed misbehaviour by some of the same officers in the same decade. 

The 1991 calls for an inquiry into the miners’ strike were prompted by South Yorkshire Police Authority paying £500,000 in an out-of-court settlement to 39 miners who launched civil actions for assault, unlawful arrest and false imprisonment from their arrests at Orgreave. 

The settlement followed court revelations that senior officers had dictated notes and a police video appeared to back the pickets’ complaints of police violence. 

The pickets, some of whom had been trampled by horses, had injuries including broken legs and multiple head wounds. 

A thick 28-page wodge of press cuttings is part of the Home Office file, almost all of them critical of Orgreave policing. 

They include a number of articles from the Morning Star and the Independent — both of which covered the Orgreave story in depth — describing the miners’ mistreatment.

The Civil Service “briefing” for the government on Orgreave argues against an inquiry, but only for political and emotional reasons. 

It says: “An inquiry would stir up deep feelings which were aroused by the miners’ strike and its policing at the time. If the objective for an inquiry is to apportion blame for mistakes, or worse, committed at the time, this seems an unconstructive approach.” 

According to the briefing, instead of an inquiry, “it would be better to ensure by training, by reviewing tactics, by improving the law and the arrangements for prosecuting offences and for handling complaints against the police that the problems of Orgreave are, so far as possible, avoided for the future.”

The Home Office paper, which reads like an admission of police wrongdoing at Orgreave, argued against an inquiry because “these improvements have been made” with better “training and tactics for policing public order” and “greater independence” for the Police Complaints Authority. 

The official, from the F8 division of the Home Office which deals with policing, is frank about police failures generally, saying: “Of course shortcomings in the practice of public order policing will continue: Wapping and the Trafalgar Square poll tax riot are recent examples.” 

Policing of striking printers at Rupert Murdoch’s Wapping plant in 1986 and at the 1990 anti-poll tax demonstration were criticised by protesters, who alleged violence by officers, but in public the police were fully supported by the Conservative government of the day. 

The name of the author of the briefing, which was written for home secretary Kenneth Baker, has been redacted. 

In public, ministers did not admit to any of the “mistakes, or worse,” or “shortcomings” by the police at Orgreave. Instead Baker said he was “glad to express my sincere admiration for the work of the police service.”

Baker maintained the line that there was “no need for an inquiry at this time.” 

However, the papers include a one-page “background note” outlining all the different possible inquiries which could be held on “disturbances at Orgreave,” from judicial inquiries to “non-statutory” inquiries. Ministers must have considered the question at some level.

There is also a draft letter to a constituent of home office minister Michael Jack. 

The constituent wrote to Jack following a Channel 4 Critical Eye documentary on Orgreave policing. The draft reply says that the minister “can understand how shocked you must have felt at the violent scenes shown” in the programme.   

The letter argues against an inquiry, but also says: “Since 1984 a great many significant steps have been taken which improve the protection available to the public and clarify the law.”

The file shows that the Home Office admitted internally that there were problems with Orgreave policing, but was keen to resist an inquiry. 

It shows ministers were under pressure from press coverage, from constituents and from motions and questions in Parliament. 

However, Labour’s 1991 leadership does not appear in the documents. There are no questions from Labour’s shadow home secretary Roy Hattersley or shadow leader Neil Kinnock — presumably after distancing themselves from the miners’ strike they felt unable to push the Orgreave issue. This made it easier for the Conservatives to avoid an inquiry.


How do Tories feel about bankers who abuse the market? George Osborne says he “understands the anger” about “irresponsible behaviour” in banking. 

This month a Tory backer, former JP Morgan banker Ian Hannam, had his £450,000 fine for “market abuse” upheld. 

Hannam was fined in 2012 by the Financial Services Authority because he had passed on confidential details about oil prospects discovered in Iraqi Kurdistan by Heritage Oil, a client of JP Morgan. 

The authority described this as “market abuse” dealing with “inside information.” Hannam appealed, and got loads of support from top Tories. 

David Davis MP offered vigorous support for Hannam. Davis then accepted a £34,000-a-year job from a German engineering firm called MKM, which is owned by Hannam.  

Hastings Tory MP Amber Rudd, who is George Osborne’s parliamentary private secretary, lists a £2,500 donation from Hannam to help run Hastings Conservative Party and help her get re-elected. Rudd was also a JP Morgan banker. 

So after Hannam got a record fine for abusing the market, two leading Tories were happy to accept his money for themselves or their party. 

Now Hannam’s appeal has failed and he is confirmed as a market abuser, will they distance themselves from the penalised financier?  

I suspect not.


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