Questions remain after Home Office releases 18 ‘Battle of Orgreave’ files

A picket inspecting a line of police officersoutside the Orgreave coking plant near Rotherham.
A picket inspecting a line of police officersoutside the Orgreave coking plant near Rotherham.
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Campaigners say “deeply disturbing” questions still remain about the role of Margaret Thatcher’s Government in the policing of the 1984 Battle of Orgreave after the Home Office released 18 files of documentation relating to the scandal.

The newly declassified documents, released without fanfare to the National Archive, show that in 1985 former Home Secretary Leon Brittan feared a “witch hunt” if a public inquiry was held into the policing of the miners’ strike.

The revelation that in 1985 Tory Home Secretary Leon Brittan wanted to avoid any sort of inquiry into policing at Orgreave in June 1984 helps us to put one more piece of the jigsaw into place.

Granville Williams, Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign

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But they do not include the all-important operational order, which would have revealed the tactics officers were told to adopt and who gave them the commands before the clashes between striking miners and police at the Orgreave coking plant near Rotherham on June 18, 1984.

A further 15 files are yet to be made public, and West Yorkshire MP Yvette Cooper, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, has called on the Government to make sure the public can see “all the information about what happened that day”.

The files relating to the 1984/5 Miners’ Strike were released four months after Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced she would not be ordering a public inquiry into the Battle of Orgreave.

A total of 95 miners arrested at the Orgreave coking plant on the day after clashes with police which left 50 people injured. When the cases came to court, all were abandoned after it became clear that evidence provided by police was unreliable.

The first 18 files were deposited with the National Archive with no public announcement or guidance as to what they contained. They can only be accessed by physically going to the archive in Kew, west London or applying online, a process which can take weeks.

The Home Office says its remaining files will be disclosed in the same way at some point in the first half of 2017.

A BBC report published today says the documents contain the revelation that Mr Brittan told a 1985 meeting that the “Government should not encourage any form of enquiry into the behaviour of the police”.

The former Home Secretary, who became Baron Brittan of Spennithorne, North Yorkshire, in 2000, believed an inquiry into picket line tactics during the 1984-85 strike would “turn into a witch hunt” with an “anti-police bias”.

Other revelations include the fact that South Yorkshire’s then-chief constable Peter Wright called on the Government to introduce a new offence of “missile throwing” after the events at Orgreave.

Nicholas Jones, who covered the strike as the BBC’s industrial correspondent, has also been to the National Archives to look at the files.

He wrote in a blog that the files “have so far failed to reveal the operational secrets behind the Battle of Orgreave”.

But he said: “The files indicate that the South Yorkshire force had few if any doubts about the effectiveness of its command structure and conduct in the immediate aftermath of Orgreave, in the period that preceded its fateful role in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.

“Mr Wright said the way round the difficulties of identification and of gathering evidence when bringing riot and assault charges would have been to introduce new, lower level offences of missile throwing and of failing to disperse after police warnings that a gathering was disorderly.”

On Monday, hundreds of campaigners from the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (OTJC) and other groups will descend on London for a protest outside the Home Office.

OTJC founder member Granville Williams said: “The revelation that in 1985 Tory Home Secretary Leon Brittan wanted to avoid any sort of inquiry into policing at Orgreave in June 1984 helps us to put one more piece of the jigsaw into place.

“It also helps us to understand why, 32 years later, in spite of the compelling evidence presented to her by the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, Home Secretary Amber Rudd blocked an enquiry.

“There are deeply disturbing questions about the role of Margaret Thatcher’s Government which we need answers to, and the OTJC is determined to continue campaigning for a full inquiry into Orgreave.”

In addition to the Home Office’s files on Orgreave being released, South Yorkshire crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings has paid for an archivist to look through the 65 boxes of material South Yorkshire Police holds, a task that is expected to take a year.

And Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, has asked 18 police forces to hand over any Orgreave material they hold. The majority have replied to say they do not hold any relevant documents.

Mrs Cooper said: “While it is welcome that incrementally more information is being released into the public domain, we are still waiting for answers on other files which are under review by the Home office.

“The Home Affairs Select Committee is continuing to probe the police about information which they hold relating to Orgreave. The public should be able to see all the information about what happened that day.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “The Home Secretary’s decision that there will no inquiry into the events at Orgreave was made after careful consideration of the key purposes of an inquiry and, critically, taking into account how the policing landscape has changed fundamentally since 1984 at all levels.

“There would be very few lessons for the policing system today to be learned from any review of the events and practices of three decades ago.”

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