Michael McColgan obituary

My brother, Michael McColgan, who has died aged 83, was a lifelong socialist and political activist. He gave up his career as a German university lecturer to retrain as a lawyer so that he could represent people fighting for justice, and was involved in the cases of the Orgreave miners in the 1980s and in the fight for truth and justice following the Hillsborough disaster.

Mike was born in Islington, north London, the son of Lilian (nee Martin), a librarian, and Patrick McColgan, a local government officer – both leftwing activists. He grew up in Chingford, Essex, and attended the Monoux grammar school, Walthamstow (now Sir George Monoux college).

Mike studied languages at Reading University, graduating in 1961. Here he met Hope Hanlan, and they married in 1963. They later divorced but remained lifelong friends.

In 1964 Michael started work as a lecturer in German literature at Sheffield University, where he translated George Lukacs’s Tactics and Ethics: Political Essays, 1919–1929 (1974). He settled in Pitsmoor, a deprived area of Sheffield, where he became active in campaigns highlighting police harassment of black youths.

In the mid-1970s his political commitments increasingly drew him away from academia. The US civil rights and the anti-apartheid movements influenced Mike and he was drawn to solidarity work with struggles in Palestine and Northern Ireland.

Around the same time, he met and fell in love with Olive Morris, a community activist in Brixton and member of the British Black Panthers. He became dedicated to anti-racist campaigning, believing that racism was largely driven by the state. Mike and Olive were devoted partners until Olive died of cancer in 1979.

In the 1980s, Mike retrained as a solicitor and worked with Gareth Peirce in the defence of 95 miners charged with riot and unlawful assembly at the picket at Orgreave in 1984. The case against them was exposed as resting on fabricated evidence and collapsed. Mike continued to be active in the Orgreave Truth and Justice campaign to secure compensation for the miners and for the release of official records on the government’s role in the police’s tactics. Mike later contributed to the work that led to the families of the 97 football supporters killed in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster securing a fresh inquest verdict clearing the victims and Liverpool fans of responsibility for the deaths. He also worked for two solicitors’ firms in Sheffield, retiring in 2011, but continuing with his Hillsborough work with Birnberg Peirce.

Mike also made numerous visits abroad reporting for human rights organisations on the treatment of prisoners in the US, France, India, Mauritania and Ethiopia.

Gregarious and family-loving, Mike loved walking, cycling and touring the landscapes of Epping Forest, the Peak District and especially his father’s homeland, County Donegal. He organised several fundraising cycle rides for Liberty for which he was a director for two spells, 1996-98 and 2001-08.

He is survived by his daughter, Rachel, from his first marriage, his granddaughter, Maddie, and his son, Owen, from his second marriage, to Pam Grindey, from whom he was separated.