Battle of Orgreave: “The genie can’t be put back in the bottle”

Images taken during the Battle of Orgreave in 1984 in South Yorkshire.
Images taken during the Battle of Orgreave in 1984 in South Yorkshire.
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WATCHING the Battle of Orgreave unfold on his television set in 1984 , a teenage Andy Burnham saw a scene of miners violently fighting with police.

Those images of one-sided agression outside the South Yorkshire coke plant stuck in his mind, just as they had done with the general public.

MP Andy Burnham outside the Birchwood coroners court. Families of the 96 victims that died at the Hillsborough disaster on the 15th April 1989 celebrate the verdict given at Birchwood coroners court in Birchwood, Mersey., A jury found that the 96 fans were unlawfully killed.

MP Andy Burnham outside the Birchwood coroners court. Families of the 96 victims that died at the Hillsborough disaster on the 15th April 1989 celebrate the verdict given at Birchwood coroners court in Birchwood, Mersey., A jury found that the 96 fans were unlawfully killed.

Only now is the real story beginning to reveal itself, one tiny shred of evidence at a time.

Speaking exclusively to the Yorkshire Post, the Shadow Home Secretary said: “I remember being 14-years-old watching that on the news.

“I remember the day it happened and they were portrayed to look like a football crowd. When the story first appeared it was put in such a way it looked like the miners were to blame and the images we’ve now seen of quite severe violence against them is taking time to come through.”

In December 2015 the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign submitted a request to Home Secretary Theresa May to open an inquiry into the policing of the Battle of Orgreave.

That bloody clash between miners and police became emblematic of the 1980s strikes and led to the arrest of 95 miners and left 50 people injured.

However when the cases against the miners came to court they collapsed due to unreliable police evidence.

Campaigners refuse to believe that the picketing miners deserved the rough treatment they received that day, and when the Yorkshire Post recently revealed clear links between the policing of Orgreave and at Hillsborough in 1989, a “head of steam” developed that can no longer be ignored, said Mr Burnham.

No Government can shy away from confronting policing matters from the past, no matter how uncomfortable the truth for the political parties involved.

He said: “I think we live in different times now in that the principle has now been established of transparency in the way we are governed and the way we are policed and that genie can’t be put back in the bottle.

“People have got a right to the truth and I think it is impossible for any politician in any party now to stand up and argue against it.”

On June 18 campaigners, backed by some of Britain’s top lawyers, will gather at Orgreave for a rally to encourage the Government into opening an inquiry, similar to the independent panel held into the deaths of 96 football fans at Hillsborough.

Mr Burnham admits that when Labour were in office, his party could have done more to push for an investigation into the incident, and has praised the work of Theresa May and Prime Minister David Cameron in facing up to difficult episodes in Britain’s history.

He said: “You have got to allow there to be this process of truth and reconciliation.”

Missing paperwork that shows the policing orders from the day and the wider political context must be produced, he said, to try and get to the bottom of myths that may or may not exist in terms of the Tory Government’s involvement.

He said: “It’s possible you could overstate their involvement or invent some of the things they did or didn’t do. So the question is let’s have clarity about it so nobody can be in any doubt.”

“I would doubt it if there was an order there to prosecute the miners...but this is what we need to know. How did that arise? What was the paper trail behind that decision? I would doubt it if that was mandated from a higher level. I’m not saying for a second there is not questions for the South Yorkshire Police to answer but I’m saying you also need to understand the policy context in which that day took place and you need to know both of those things - what the orders were.”

Any delay or a decision not to open an inquiry will be interpretted as a political move, he suggests, and would not help the Government or the police move on from the clash.

He hopes that an answer is delivered before the 32nd anniversary on June 18.

“The time has come to have a reckoning with our past as a country,” he said.