Miners' strike files suggest 'hints of political direction' of police

Alan Travis and Matthew Weaver
Police horses charge pickets during the ‘Battle of Orgreave’, part of the 1984-85 miners’ strike. Photograph: Jim Duxbury/ANL/Rex/Shutterstock

There are “hints of political direction of the police” in the 1984-85 miners’ strike that need to be examined in the latest release of secret Home Office files, the South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner has said.

Dr Alan Billings said he was deeply shocked by some of the disclosures in the batch of Whitehall files. “There are hints of that [political direction] in these documents that are being released. That wants examining.

“[What] the people of South Yorkshire and the areas where the pit villages of South Yorkshire were want is natural justice and the truth about Orgreave and the miners’ strike,” he told the BBC.

The documents, he said, also contained a warning from the then chief inspector of constabulary Sir Lawrence Byford that the apparent image of police as a paramilitary force during the “Battle of Orgreave” could lead to a loss of confidence among moderate public opinion.

The release of the files has prompted Yvette Cooper, the chair of the home affairs select committee, to renew her call for the remaining Whitehall files on Orgreave and the miners’ strike to be released.

“The publication of these government files comes as a result of a request from the home affairs select committee. While it is welcome that incrementally more information is being released into the public domain, we are still waiting for answers on other files that are under review by the Home Office,” she said.

“The committee is continuing to investigate the police about information they hold relating to Orgreave. The public should be able to see all the information about what happened that day.”

An earlier batch of files released last November and seen by the Guardian showed that on the day after the collapse of the first major trial of Orgreave pickets, Margaret Thatcher was told about serious Home Office concerns that flaws in police evidence could lead to an official investigation.

They also showed that the Home Office seriously considered setting up a separate French CRS-style paramilitary force after Orgreave.

The latest newly declassified files show the Thatcher government feared an “anti-police ... witch hunt” if a public inquiry were held into policing during the miners’ strike.

The then home secretary Leon Brittan said the “government should not encourage any form of inquiry into the behaviour of the police”, according to declassified minutes of a 1985 meeting reported by the BBC.

He said an inquiry into picket line tactics during the strike would “turn into a witch hunt” with an “anti-police bias”, according to one of 18 files released to the National Archives.

Another file cited by the BBC showed that Sir Brian Cubbon, Brittan’s permanent secretary at the Home Office, said “internal questions” needed to be asked about “political influence” on operational police policy. Another document quoted Byford urging ministers to show “greater evidence of neutrality” when it came to supporting police.

South Yorkshire police’s then chief constable Peter Wright called on the government to introduce a new offence of “missile throwing”, according to the BBC.

The documents were released after the home secretary, Amber Rudd, ruled out an inquiry into Orgreave, where there were brutal clashes between police and striking miners.

Police charged on horseback and baton-wielding “snatch squads” were deployed as 6,000 officers tried to prevent striking miners from blocking deliveries to a coking plant.

South Yorkshire police has been heavily criticised over its conduct during the incident.

The force was required to pay compensation following the collapse of cases, after 95 people were charged with riot and violent disorder.

Further files are expected to be released as Rudd previously said a total of 30 would be made public.

In ruling out any kind of inquiry last October, she said very few lessons for the policing system of today could be learned from any review of events 30 years ago.

On Monday, Orgreave supporters, trade unionists and Labour MPs will take part in a demonstration outside the Home Office to urge Rudd to reconsider.

Joe Rollin, a Unite organiser and chairperson of the Orgreave truth and justice campaign, said: “We want to send a clear message to the home secretary and the Tories that we aren’t going away and that our fight for the truth will go on.

“The only people who didn’t want an investigation were the Tories and that’s because Margaret Thatcher and the Tories were ultimately responsible for brutal police behaviour during the miners’ strike.”

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