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Orgreave It’s time for truth and justice

The uncovering of new files by the home affairs select committee has again raised the need for a full inquiry into what happened at Orgreave and afterwards, writes DIANE ABBOTT

UNRELEASED files about the 1984 Battle of Orgreave from five police forces have recently been uncovered by the cross-party House of Commons home affairs select committee.

This material includes files from the Merseyside, Metropolitan, Norfolk, Northumbria and West Yorkshire police forces, including reports from senior “liaison” officers for units deployed at Orgreave. At least two Met police files have also been identified as containing information relating to Orgreave.

The uncovering of these new files swiftly followed the recent identification of nearly 800 unreleased South Yorkshire police files that were not considered when the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, ruled out an independent public inquiry or statutory inquiry into Orgreave in October 2016.

Specifically, South Yorkshire Police have completed the cataloguing of 782 files in 84 archive boxes related to Orgreave, with a further 10 boxes since located.

My colleague Yvette Cooper, the chair of the committee, has written to the Home Secretary asking that an independent “review and publish” process is set up for the newly discovered files to determine which should be made public.

She added that “it would not be appropriate for South Yorkshire Police to be the arbiter of what is and is not placed into the public domain. That needs to be done independently and must have credibility.”

The call for an independent review of the files has been reported as being supported by South Yorkshire Police and by the South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings.

What has become known as the Battle of Orgreave saw thousands of police officers and miners involved in violent clashes at the coke plant in South Yorkshire. At one stage police horses were sent to charge the crowd up the field as officers followed to make arrests.

It led to 95 people being charged with riot and violent disorders but their cases were dropped amid questions about the reliability of police evidence.

The Orgeave Truth and Justice Campaigners say some of the thousands of officers drafted in to police the picketing used excessive violence — and that this was followed by the fabrication of accounts during the subsequent investigation. 

What happened at Orgreave was followed by a cover-up of deaths at Hillsborough. The same police force, South Yorkshire, was led by the same chief constable, Peter Wright.

It has now been shown that at Hillsborough they withheld information on their own responsibility for the deaths of 96 football fans, and hundreds of serious injuries.

You can’t understand what happened at Hillsborough unless you get to the bottom of Orgreave. It was the same force, the same leadership and very similar methods in the aftermath.

We finally had an inquiry into the Hillsborough tragedy, thanks to the tireless campaigning of the people of Liverpool.

These further papers being uncovered has further illustrated why the Orgreave families’ campaigners need the same justice as Hillsborough had and the same type of independent inquiry to establish the truth.

The Home Secretary’s 2016 decision to deny any inquiry at all into Orgreave was shocking. There was widespread disbelief and anger at the time. Barbara Jackson, secretary of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, described the decision as “a complete shock and a great disappointment.”

This was particularly the case as Theresa May’s principal policy adviser Nick Timothy had previously argued in favour of an Orgreave inquiry, saying that “if the police pre-planned a mass, unlawful assault on the miners at Orgreave, and then sought to cover up what they did and arrest people on trumped-up charges, we need to know.”

Indeed, the campaigners reported at the time of Amber Rudd’s shock announcement that their discussions with the home secretaries (May and then Rudd) had centred on the form an inquiry might take, rather than whether there would be one at all.

The central claim of the truth and justice campaigners is that Orgreave showed that policing had become a political weapon under Thatcher.

Her Cabinet was determined to crush the miners’ strike and found a willing instrument in the South Yorkshire force. The miners were seen as a challenge to the Tory government. They were the “enemy within.”

An inquiry would establish whether this is the case, and whether members of the Cabinet were responsible for directing political policing, or the cover-up.

This denial of truth and justice cannot stand and the developments around these papers show that the issue will not simply go away.

Trade unionists, the labour movement, and all those who believe the state should not be above the law will continue this fight. 

It is for these reasons that Labour has promised a full inquiry. As I said at Labour conference last year, the people involved in Orgreave deserve justice, and need to know the truth about what happened.

Diane Abbott is shadow home secretary.

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