Coalition of unions, campaigners and lawyers want complaints relating to entire 1984 strike examined
Calls to erase the criminal records of the estimated 7,000 men detained and “falsely charged” during the miners’ strike have been made by campaigners demanding a fresh inquiry into the policing of the dispute.
As the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigates allegations of assault, perjury and misconduct in a public office during the “Battle of Orgreave” – the pivotal 1984 clash between police and pickets at the British Steel coking plant in Yorkshire – a coalition of unions, campaigners and lawyers want complaints relating to the entire strike examined.
They say that the vast majority of arrests were politically motivated – particularly those for picket-line offences, for which miners were threatened with custodial sentences but offered less severe punishment if they accepted bail conditions that prohibited them from picketing.
Ian Lavery, the Labour MP for Wansbeck in Northumberland, said: “At some stage we’ve got to recognise this and cleanse everybody arrested and subjected to plea bargaining during the miners’ strike. There should be a total amnesty and these charges erased from all records. Innocent, hard-working people were arrested for pushing or being shoved on the picket line and hauled up in court for serious offences like affray.
“Solicitors were telling them that if they accepted a public order offence they would avoid going to jail. The vast majority of these miners were family men who had never been in trouble before or since but who faced the prospect of going to jail for something they hadn’t done,” said Lavery, who is a former president of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).
The NUM estimates at least six in 10 of the 11,000 miners arrested during the strike were apprehended on “bogus” grounds.
The campaign for the policing of the miners’ strike to be re-examined follows the continuing inquiries into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster after the publication of evidence detailing a police cover-up and manipulation of evidence. South Yorkshire police face similar allegations in relation to Orgreave, amid claims that they fabricated dozens of police statements.
Michael Mansfield QC is currently reviewing evidence of police assaults against miners, and campaigners want the director of public prosecutions to follow suit.
A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said that the CPS had yet to be contacted by the IPCC in relation to Orgreave. “We would then, of course, work closely with them and advise them during that process,” he said.
Granville Williams, editor of the book Shafted: The Media, the Miners’ Strike and the Aftermath, said: “It’s enormously important to revisit what happened during the strike and uncover some of the massive injustices that affected law-abiding people.”
Solicitor Mark Berry, who worked for Thompsons solicitors in Newcastle during the strike, said the alleged collusion between police and magistrates to impose stringent bail conditions for picketing offences was an enduring concern.
“The way it was implemented was a way of taking the more active pickets off the scene by using bail conditions. You have to ask whether that’s a legitimate way for the police to behave. On one hand they are controlling public order, but on the other they are specifically targeting activists, imposing conditions on their movements which would not conceivably be part of the sentence that would be handed down by the court if convicted.”