Tom Richmond: The confidential Cabinet papers – and how Thatcher interfered in policing of Miners’ Strike

The battle lines at Orgreave during the Miners' Strike.
The battle lines at Orgreave during the Miners' Strike.
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WHAT more evidence does Home Secretary Theresa May require before she orders a new inquiry – and the disclosure of all official papers – on the policing of Orgreave, and its aftermath, during the Miners’ Strike?

Ten days ago, The Yorkshire Post exclusively revealed redacted sections of a police watchdog’s report which revealed that the same senior officers and solicitor were involved in the handling of both Orgreave and then the Hillsborough tragedy five years later.

This newspaper then revealed on Tuesday how Margaret Thatcher, the then Prime Minister, was personally involved in South Yorkshire Police’s handling of the dispute, endorsing at least one memo written by Leon Brittan, the then Home Secretary, with handwritten remarks of her own.

Now it can be disclosed that a Cabinet meeting on September 13, 1984, endorsed plans to speed up the prosecution of miners and pickets who had been arrested during the bitter dispute.

A direct contradiction of Mrs Thatcher’s statement to Parliament immediately after the so-called Battle of Orgreave – the biggest and most infamous flashpoint of the Miners’ Strike – when she declared that it “would be quite wrong for politicians to interfere in such matters”, Mrs May cannot ignore this mounting evidence any longer.

Having presided over the legal process which belatedly uncovered the truth over the unlawful killing of 96 Liverpool football fans at Hillsborough after they were crushed to death at Britain’s worst ever sporting disaster, there needs to be full disclosure over the policing Orgreave, why the prosecution case collapsed against those arrested at the Rotherham coking plant and the nature of links with the subsequent Hillsborough cover-up.

Did police chiefs believe – erroneously – that they could circumvent the law or were they subjected to political interference that was a betrayal of judicial independence? South Yorkshire’s crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings thinks so – he claimed in a Channel Four News interview on Tuesday that the force was “dangerously close to being used as an instrument of state”. The typed Cabinet minutes – stamped ‘Confidential’ – appear to justify this assertion. After an update on energy stocks, Mr Brittan updated Ministers on “law and order”.

“There was, however, delay in bringing the most serious case to trial,” say the minutes. The Cabinet then heard that an additional 10 stipendiary magistrates had been appointed to speed up the process.

There is then a summary of the “main points” covered in the subsequent discussion, namely:

1. “The Government might, for example, make it known that the cause of delay was at local level and challenge the magistrates’ committees to be more co-operative.”

2. “The effect of maintaining law and order on pickets’ lines inevitably reduced policing elsewhere. The Government was bound to be criticised for the consequent increase in crime.”

3. “The NUM continued to be more effective than the NCB (National Coal Board) in presenting its case quickly to the media. The Chairman of the NCB (Sir Ian McGregor) should be encouraged to try to put this right.”

Mrs Thatcher then updated Ministers on the state of talks to resolve the dispute before the Cabinet took note – “with approval” – of the PM’s summing up; invited Energy Secretary Peter Walker to inform the aforementioned Sir Ian of the Cabinet’s resolve and invite the Home Secretary and Lord Chancellor (Lord Hailsham) “to consider what action could be taken to reduce delays in bringing to trial serious criminal cases arising out of the current dispute”.

Some will say, with justification, that the Cabinet’s stance was the correct one because the NUM and unions were committed to bringing down a democratically-elected government. Other, however, will argue that Ministers overstepped the mark when they started interfering with the judicial process.

Either way, it is clear that the South Yorkshire force will struggle to regain the public’s trust until the truth is known about the police investigation, the extent of the cover-up and the Government’s role.

Mrs May has proven to be a Home Secretary of integrity over Hillsborough, the gravest miscarriage of justice in this country’s legal history. She must now show similar resolve over Orgreave.

THE September 1984 Cabinet minutes make fascinating reading because of these vignettes – comment on “prolonged absence from public view” of Soviet Union president Konstantin Chernenko and Kremlin machinations which suggested the USSR wanted “to re-establish its status as a super power”; negotations with China on the future of Hong Kong “moving forward reasonably well” and detailed discussion on milk and fish quotas, particularly herring.

How times change. I, for one, would love to know the number of occasions when rural affairs was discussed at meetings of the Blair, Brown and Cameron Cabinets.

GIVEN that former Labour Minister Andrew Adonis now heads the National Infrastructure Commission, a body set up to preside over the construction of new roads and railways, it’s surely a conflict of interest for him to become deputy mayor for transport in London with responsibility for getting a second Crossrail train line off the ground from Surrey to Hertfordshire. It speaks volumes about his priorities. What about the so-called Northern Powerhouse?

TALKING of the Northern Powerhouse, its champion George Osborne has spoken about the need for a generation of leaders to provide “sober, serious, principled answers to the big problems the country faces”. The remarks were interpreted as a swipe at Boris Johnson. Given the Chancellor’s use of the word ‘principled’, and the fact that his plan to force all schools to become academies is the latest Budget measure to have been abandoned, I assumed that Mr Osborne was counting himself out of the next Tory leadership race.

HEADINGLEY must have been a delight on Monday as Yorkshire tyros Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow put on a record-breaking 372-run partnership in double-quick time. It was even exciting following their progress on the Cricinfo website. What was disconcerting, however, was how it offered odds on who would be the next batsman out – and a link to a betting website. Bairstow, the first to go, was 8/11 and Root 11/10. Given how cricket is one of many sports to be enveloped by corruption, is this healthy for the game as England prepares to host Sri Lanka at Headingley next week in the first Test of the 2016 summer?

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk