Justice for miners? Theresa May to consider Battle of Orgreave inquiry into police misconduct

Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May. © Peter Nicholls
Campaigners have met with Home Secretary Theresa May before handing over an 85-page legal submission calling for an investigation into the 1984 Orgreave clashes between striking coalminers and South Yorkshire Police.

The Home Secretary has expressed willingness to “carefully consider” an inquiry into police misconduct during the violence that left 50 people injured and 95 arrested, which occurred at the so-called “Battle of Orgreave,” in which baton-wielding police on horseback charged striking miners during one of the bitterest industrial disputes in the UK in the last half-century. 

As many as 100,000 members of the National Union of Mineworkers went on a year-long strike against PM Margarget Thatcher’s plans to close scores of pits, but were eventually forced back to work without reaching a deal. Three decades later, Britain’s coal industry has practically disappeared.

Members of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (OTJC) met with May on Tuesday afternoon before presenting an 85-page legal submission containing testimony from miners, their families and other witnesses.

The OTJC said it wants May to “consider either establishing an Independent Panel, similar to that established in 2009 to investigate the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, or a public inquiry.”

In 1991, South Yorkshire police paid £425,000 to 39 pickets in out-of-court settlements but admitted no wrongdoing. The case fell apart in court after evidence provided by the police proved unreliable.

In June, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) publically acknowledged “doubts about the ethical standards of officers in the highest ranks at South Yorkshire Police at that time,” but dismissed calls for an inquiry, saying it would not “be in the public interest” to launch a full investigation into the claims.

Later that month, over 70, mostly Labour MPs signed a motion calling for an inquiry.

In the months following, OTJC worked on the legal submission, drafted by lawyers Gareth Peirce and Michael Mansfield QC.

The group said it had a “very positive” meeting with May in July.

OTJC secretary Barbara Jackson told the Yorkshire Post on Tuesday: “The legal arguments are that when the trial collapsed after millions of pounds had been spent on bringing the miners to trial, there was no investigation into why the trial collapsed, it was swept under the carpet.

“Police officers were giving evidence that didn’t match up with the police’s own video. Their statements were inconsistent with one another.

“Police officers were saying they were arresting X and Y and they weren’t the arresting officer and in some cases weren’t even on site at the time.”

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “Serious concerns were raised about incidents that took place in 1984 at the Orgreave coking plant and it was right that the IPCC reviewed these matters. The home secretary will carefully consider any further legal submissions.”