Orgreave: “The fact is that it was a set-up and it worked brilliantly.”

otjcThe Tories can whitewash and cover up with all the energy they can muster but the fight goes on. Please support the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign http://otjc.org.uk/

Here’s an excerpt from my book Look Back in Anger; the Miners’ Strike in Nottingham, published by Five Leaves 2014.

In a dispute filled with violence, the final showdown at Orgreave produced the most appalling scenes thus far. Even thirty years later, the footage has the power to shock. Pickets in trainers and t-shirts, some entirely shirtless on that beautiful summer’s day, were mercilessly battered by police officers in full riot-gear, flailing away indiscriminately with truncheons, while mounted officers charged fleeing bands of men, desperate to escape. On the miners’ side, barricades were erected and bricks and stones were hurled into the mêlée. A car from a nearby scrap-yard was dragged into the middle of the road and set alight and police pursued the miners into the nearby village, through gardens and houses, hammering down all they caught.

The numbers were formidable. Accounts vary but around 8000 pickets to 9,000 police is a generally accepted figure. The police deployed around sixty mounted officers, sixty attack-dogs and several thousand officers with short-shield riot-gear and the remainder sporting long-shield issue.

There remains little doubt that the violence meted out to the miners was pre-planned, deliberate and sanctioned at the highest level of the South Yorkshire force. Miners, en route to the plant, were amazed to see signs directing them to convenient car parks, smiling officers helpfully pointing the way and guiding them in with no attempts whatsoever to dissuade or turn back the thousands of pickets who had heeded Scargill’s call. Such behaviour stood in contrast to the manner in which all police forces had handled flying pickets up to that point.

For the Nottinghamshire miners, their experiences confirmed suspicions that ‘The Battle of Orgreave’ was a set-up orchestrated by the police. Years later, in a 1993 interview, Thatcher’s adviser and strike fixer David Hart would confirm  that view: “The coke was of no interest whatsoever. We didn’t need it. It was a set-up by us on a battle ground of our choosing .  The fact is that it was a set-up and it worked brilliantly.”

The fall-out from Orgreave was considerable although it would be many years before its full truth was revealed. TV viewers were treated to scenes of mobs of violent thugs hurling bricks and stones before embattled mounted police moved in to disperse the offenders. Only it wasn’t like that at all. As Red Pepper reported, nearly thirty years after the event, “When broadcasting footage of Orgreave, the BBC, incredibly, transposed the sequence of events, making it appear that police cavalry charges had been a defensive response to antagonism by stone-throwing pickets rather than an act of aggression. Only in 1991 did the BBC issue an apology for this, claiming that its action footage had been “inadvertently reversed.” The publicly-funded, ‘neutral’ state broadcaster had reversed footage which, in its original form, showed cowering pickets with nowhere to run, desperately fending off charging police with whatever they had to hand. Given the pre-digital era of 1984, with physical tape being used for filming, which required conscious human cutting, splicing and chopping for editing purposes, one can view the BBC’s claims of the footage being “inadvertently reversed” with a degree of contempt.

The South Yorkshire Police didn’t stop at merely bludgeoning defenceless men, either. Ninety five pickets were arrested and charged with a number of offences. The most serious being charges of rioting and affray which carried sentences of upwards of ten years. In 1987 the trials soon collapsed in a welter of conflicting police evidence, fabricated statements and embarrassing inconsistencies. Although described by renowned QC, Michael Mansfield, as “the biggest frame-up ever,” no officers were ever investigated or charged. This was despite South Yorkshire Police being forced to hand over nearly half-a-million pounds in compensation to thirty nine of the arrested pickets and incurring costs of over £100,000.

In light of the Hillsborough cover-up, it’s possible that an independent enquiry into Orgreave might yet bring further humiliation to a force that was institutionally corrupt. The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, Justice for Mineworkers and other organisations continue to press the case.

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