Call for new panel to study Orgreave archives

VIOLENCE:  The Battle of Orgreave remains a source of anger for South Yorkshire's mining communities 34 years on.
VIOLENCE: The Battle of Orgreave remains a source of anger for South Yorkshire's mining communities 34 years on.

AN INDEPENDENT panel should be set up to examine the actions of South Yorkshire Police during the Battle of Orgreave, its police and crime commissioner has said.

Dr Alan Billings said central funding would be needed for the exercise, which would also allow hundreds of secret police files about the clash with pickets during the miners’ strike to be brought into the public domain for the first time.

He said it could be a way forward after the Home Office “closed the door firmly” on calls for a full public inquiry.

Thousands of pickets and police officers clashed at Orgreave in some of the most violent confrontations in the year-long miners’ strike. A total of 95 people were charged with riot and violent disorder but their cases were dropped.

Campaigners have long been calling for police files about the events to be made public, claiming that striking miners were assaulted and arrested without cause. Dr Billings said he wanted to emulate the model of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, in which a team oversaw the disclosure of documents about the disaster as well as publishing a report.

He said: “We need something like that but it costs money and we are not a force that has got spare change.”

South Yorkshire Police has already committed to publishing the bulk of the files and the office of the police and crime commissioner has been paying an archivist to assemble and catalogue all the force’s documents about the Battle of Orgreave, a process which Dr Billings said is “more or less complete now”.

He said the “eventual aim is to get all that into the public domain” but that some information, such as private medical details, would need to be redacted.

He said these redactions needed to be done “in a way that the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign and the ex-miners and the mining communities find acceptable – ie that we are not trying to cover anything up”.

He said: “The terms of any independent panel would have to be agreed between South Yorkshire Police and Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign. Both parties would need to be able to trust and have confidence in the members. Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign in particular, and the wider public, would want to be reassured that material was only being redacted for those legitimate reasons, and not to hide inconvenient truth.”

Barbara Jackson, a founding member of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, said the idea of an independent panel was one they would consider.

“But an enormous question about it is who is going to fund it?” she said.

A spokeswoman for South Yorkshire Police said once the archivist had completed the reviewing and cataloguing work, the force would seek to “place the documents in a recognised public archive”.

But a Home Office spokesman said the Government’s decision that there would be no inquiry into the events at Orgreave was made after careful consideration of the key purposes of an inquiry and taking into account how the policing landscape had changed fundamentally since 1984.

HOME Affairs select committee chairman Yvette Cooper has called on the Home Office to “step up” and support the publication of papers concerning the Battle of Orgreave.

The Normanton MP, who has been pushing for a full public inquiry into the circumstances of the clash in 1984, said: “I welcome Dr Alan Billings’ work both to support the need for an inquiry and to work to ensure any files are properly reviewed and made public too as part of an independent process.

“It is vital that the Home Office steps up and supports processes to review and publish Orgreave papers.”