Daniel Boffey writes:
A group of retired police officers has offered to give damning evidence to any inquiry into the tactics deployed at the 1984 Orgreave confrontation with striking miners.
Henrietta Hill QC, legal counsel for the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (OTJC), said that the number of officers who had so far come forward was “in single figures”, but she expected more to follow once the terms of any inquiry were announced.
“A range of police officers have come forward through various routes, including to the IPCC [Independent Police Complaints Commission],” she said, “and the Hillsborough inquiry heard from many, many senior and junior police officers when it was established.”
There is growing clamour for the government to offer to establish an open inquiry into the events at Orgreave.
On 18 June 1984, about 6,000 police officers – many wearing riot gear, on horseback or with dogs – are alleged to have used excessive force in a violent confrontation with pickets at the coking plant in South Yorkshire.
It was the start of the Thatcher government’s battle with striking miners – 95 were arrested and prosecuted, but the legal cases collapsed due to a lack of evidence.
The IPCC recommended in 2015 that claims of a political conspiracy behind the police measures at Orgreave could only be dealt with by “public inquiry or an exercise like the Hillsborough Independent Panel”.
It found that there had been manipulation and concealment of evidence in both the criminal trial of arrested miners and subsequent civil litigation.
The Observer understands, however, that the home secretary, Amber Rudd, has now ruled out both a public inquiry and a major independent panel inquiry.
It has been reported that Rudd is instead minded to appoint a lawyer this month to carry out a formal review of material, although it is unclear how this process would offer justice to the aggrieved.
A delegation from the OTJC met Rudd last month to press for an inquiry.
Campaign organiser Barbara Jackson – who in a show of support went on strike from her job at the National Coal Board for the whole year of the dispute – said:
“We know we are swimming with sharks. But if the political class wants to disgrace itself again and give us nothing, then there will be a huge uproar.”
Campaigners claim that cabinet documents only recently made public suggest that a politically motivated operation involving ministers, the police and courts was at the heart of events in 1984.
In 1991, £425,000 was paid in compensation to 39 miners who sued for assault, wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution.
But the force admitted no wrongdoing and no officer was ever disciplined.
Mike Freeman, a former officer who was at Orgreave, last month claimed that arresting officers at the confrontation were told at the time that they would not write their own statements that day, but instead sign pre-written testimonies.
Freeman, who was later a detective superintendent in Manchester’s police standards department, said that he refused to arrest anyone because he realised that it was inappropriate, if not illegal.
“And no one has come back since I spoke out about this to contradict me,” the retired officer said.
Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham said the decision on Orgreave was a test of the prime minister’s conviction in a government acting for all its citizens.
“Theresa May came into office promising to heal divides in our society and, if she is to be true to those words, she without any further delay.
“This is further new evidence that makes the case for an inquiry overwhelming.
“It has direct echoes of the Hillsborough cover-up and reinforces the case that there can be no truth about Hillsborough until there is truth about Orgreave.
“There now needs to be urgent progress on this issue and people will be looking to Theresa May’s conference speech this week.
“This is the same police force, using the same tactics just five years before, including falsifying evidence and the statements of officers.”