Home Secretary Amber Rudd - not a description to inspire confidence, nor justify deprecation of her Labour shadow Diane Abbott - had been considering calls from the Orgreave Truth And Justice Campaign for some kind of Inquiry into the events of June 1984, when a stand-off between Police and pickets outside the Orgreave coking plant near Sheffield was swiftly escalated and transformed into a violent conflict.
Amber Rudd - lamentable excuses
This took place before the back-drop of the UK mining strike of 1984-5, where most - but not all - members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) took strike action over the National Coal Board (NCB) proposals to close as many as 75 pits. The use of mass picketing was a feature of the dispute, as was a Police response that extended to preventing striking miners from travelling to other coalfields to picket.
Despite the strength of the petitioning of Parliament by campaigners, when Ms Rudd stood before the Commons yesterday afternoon, it was to tell “This has been a difficult decision to make, and one which I have thought about very carefully. I have now concluded that there is not a sufficient basis for me to instigate either a statutory inquiry or an independent review”. There were gasps of disbelief and anger from Labour MPs.
The reasoning she gave was less than convincing: “Despite the forceful accounts and arguments provided by the campaigners and former miners who were present that day, about the effect that these events have had on them, ultimately there were no deaths or wrongful convictions”. That does not mean there was no injustice perpetrated, and many of those arrested were deprived of their liberty until after their trials later collapsed.
Ms Rudd blundered on: “The Campaigners say that had the consequences of the events at Orgreave been addressed properly at the time, the tragic events at Hillsborough would never have happened five years later. That is not a conclusion which I believe can be reached with any certainty”. That conclusion cannot be reached because an Inquiry will now not be held. We need the Inquiry to demonstrate the link.
Justice denied - a legacy preserved
Nor does she score ant Brownie points by asserting “there have been very significant changes in the oversight of policing since 1984, at every level, including major reforms to criminal procedure, changes to public order policing and practice, stronger external scrutiny and greater local accountability”. That’s as may be, but is effectively irrelevant. We are talking about what happened at the time, on the day.
So let me put Ms Rudd straight about the events of 18 June 1984, and the wider issues, and why she is plain flat wrong to deny justice to those involved, and their families.
The link between Orgreave and Hillsborough is all too obvious. Both were in the area overseen by South Yorkshire Police (SYP). In both cases, Police statements were effectively specified to those making them. In both case, there was institutional lying, up to the highest level. The charge is that the systematic dishonesty and attempted cover-up perpetrated at Orgreave, and subsequently unchecked, resurfaced after Hillsborough.
There are rights and liberties issues needing addressing. Throughout the miners’ strike, freedom of movement was restricted by several Police forces - including SYP. This Inquiry would have been able to investigate how this decision - clearly made above the level of individual Chief Constables - was made, and who made it.
The conduct of Metropolitan Police officers was frequently controversial. At Orgreave and elsewhere, many officers from the Met were drafted in to reinforce Police numbers. The propensity of those officers to, shall we say, deviate from working by the book caused great concern to their colleagues from provincial forces, especially the tendency to dispense violent and sometimes unprovoked retribution.
Political involvement laid bare
The involvement of the Army was suspected. It was noted by many observers that, at the largest gatherings of Police and pickets, many Police officers did not display any identity markings - their number, for instance, at the time shown on shoulder epaulettes. It was speculated that these were in fact serving soldiers who had been drafted in to augment Police numbers. This, too, was a feature of Orgreave.
The sudden escalation of the Orgreave confrontation has never been explained. At first, the 18 June 1984 stand-off was just that - Police and pickets lined up against one another. This was very quickly escalated by the appearance of officers in riot gear with short shields, and of course mounted Police, also brandishing weapons. Only after this were most arrests of picketing miners, on trumped-up charges, made.
The direct involvement of the Government. Andy Burnham, who has championed the cause of the Orgreave campaigners as he did the Hillsborough families earlier, has revealed that the Home Secretary at the time, Leon Brittan, was “seeking to persuade” Police forces “to increase the rate of prosecutions and to give priority to the most serious cases”. That level of control is by itself disturbing. But there is more.
The Certainty of Margaret Thatcher. After the Orgreave confrontation, Mrs T stated “We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty”. What was her part in the “fight” she described, and specifically the escalation at Orgreave?
So it can be seen that when Burnham responded to Ms Rudd by stating “Given that the IPCC found evidence of perjury and perverting the course of justice, and given that in the last month new evidence has emerged from former police officers who were at Orgreave of orchestrated violence and the mass manufacture of police statements, aren't we right in concluding that the establishment stitch-up that she has just announced today is nothing more than a naked political act?” he was dead right.
When Amber Rudd responded by accusing Burnham of “Politicising” the decision, she had it the wrong way round. It was her decision that will shield the legacy of Margaret Thatcher from the kind of analysis that would lay bare her involvement in the affair. Hers was indeed a naked political act, and the reasons for making the decision are all too clear.
Yesterday was a day of shame not merely for the causes of truth and justice, but for the Tory Party. As ever, the party of the Establishment looks after its own - and their legacy.