CROSS POSTED on BYLINE.COM
UPDATE: Since this post was written the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign submitted their findings today (Tuesday 15 December)
An extraordinary decision may soon be made by one of the most right ring of Tory ministers, Theresa May, to set up either an independent panel or public inquiry into the police handling of the 1984 miners strike.
The epic battle between the Arthur Scargill led National Union of Mineworkers and the Thatcher government over pit closures was one of the most iconic events of its time. It divided miners and led to pitch battles between the police and miners, notably at Orgreave coking plant in South Yorkshire but also in Wales, Scotland and Kent.
The role of the police in handling the strike has left a bitter residue between mining communities and the police which still exists today long after the pits were closed and communities were left without work.
As I wrote in Exaro News last week Theresa May agreed to meet an extraordinary delegation of Labour MPs, lawyers, ex miners through the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign ( see their website here) at the end of July and has agreed to accept a detailed legal submission from Mike Mansfield and three other distinguished barristers arguing for the case to set up an independent inquiry.
Barbara Jackson, secretary of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, said that May seemed receptive to the idea of an inquiry, said: “As a first step, we would like to see an independent panel set up that would gather together all the documents and search for others that have not come to light, before we have a public inquiry.”
“We would want Theresa May to examine the submission, which will be a very substantial document.”
Louise Haigh, newly-elected MP for Sheffield Heeley and shadow minister for the Cabinet Office and another Labour MP, Ian Lavery, a newly-appointed shadow civil service minister and former president of the National Union of Mineworkers, attended the meeting with May. So far, 65 MPs back the inquiry call.
Haigh, whose uncle took part in the miners’ strike, said: “Serious questions – which have undermined trust in the police in those communities affected and more widely – remain unanswered. Perjury, perverting the course of justice, misconduct in a public office, and whether actions were influenced by the highest levels of government are just some of the allegations levelled at the police.”
This is all the more interesting as the Independent Police Complaints Commission had thrown out re-opening the issue claiming that most of the documents would no longer exist because of the passage of time.
There seems to be me to be a rather unusual move by May, who would have sided with Thatcher over the dispute. However I have noticed that she is very independently minded – setting up the Goddard Inquiry into child sexual abuse despite a spate of problems – and also wanting an inquiry into the use of undercover police infiltrating protest movements.
This is happening because of a rather extraordinary confluence of events – May is seen to be increasingly wanting to question police methods while those fighting for justice for the Orgreave miners show no sign of going away.
The two could well combine to create an independent panel inquiry which could at last get to the roots of one of the biggest festering sores in trade union history. It is just ironic that it could take a Tory home secretary to do something that a Blair and Brown government did nothing about for 13 years.