South Yorkshire’s Chief Constable has said his force will control the way its archives on the 1984/5 Miners’ Strike are released to the public because he does not want to “just empty stuff onto the street and let people pick at it”.
The force has employed a professional archivist to catalogue its material relating to the strike, including the notorious 1984 Battle of Orgreave, which has only rarely been seen and never been made public.
Campaigners, who last year were frustrated by the Home Secretary’s refusal to hold a public inquiry into the events at Orgreave, have been calling for all available files to be brought into the public domain.
Stephen Watson, who became Chief Constable last July, said the issue had been “of real concern to people locally”, but suggested there was “a fatigue in the public” about the cost of a further inquiry amid years of funding cuts to the police service.
But his comments have prompted concern from campaigners, who say “transparency and full disclosure” are the only way to get to make sure the full facts about what happened are known.
Ninety-five miners were arrested at the Orgreave coking plant, near Rotherham, 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.
Surely the lesson of Hillsborough is that only through transparency and full disclosure will be get to the truth about what happened at Orgreave.Granville Williams, Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign
Last May, The Yorkshire Post revealed that previously censored documents showed the links between an alleged cover-up carried out by senior South Yorkshire Police officers at the time and the force’s actions five years later at Hillsborough.
South Yorkshire Police, which has faced calls to release any files it has relating to Orgreave, has its Miners’ Strike material stored at Sheffield City Archives and South Yorkshire Police’s headquarters at Carbrook House, Sheffield.
None of this material, including witness statements, operational papers and arrest records, will be disclosed until the criminal proceedings relating to the Hillsborough disaster have concluded.
But Mr Watson told The Yorkshire Post that it was being “independently and professionally archived, catalogued and rendered into the position where it could be disclosed” at some point.
He said: “If in the fullness of time some properly structured, independent inquiry comes to the fore, then that would be great.
“Because it will, in fairness to a lot of people who are very concerned about this, will provide them with some of the answers that they seek.
“In the absence of that, we have got some difficult judgements to come forward because what I am not prepared to do is just empty stuff onto the street and let people just pick at it.
“Because we will never keep effective control on public discourse, and it is far from me saying there are things I don’t want the public to know about, and things I do want the public to know about.
“I just want, if the public know about anything, you have got to see it in the full context, and it has got to be done effectively and professionally and in good faith.
“What I am not going to do in trying to achieve that, is find the force being pulled from pillar to post and spending an absolute fortune in dealing with these matters in an unstructured and un-thought through way.”
He added that some material in the archives would not be published, for example sensitive policing tactics or individuals’ details, but that this decision would be independently reviewed.
In May last year, Dave Jones, who at the time was serving as South Yorkshire’s Interim Chief Constable, said he would welcome an independent assessment of Orgreave because of the need to “understand and confront the past”.
But Mr Watson said: “It’s a difficult one because one one hand I think there is a fatigue, at least coming out of the Government, but I think a fatigue in the public, to say ‘keep digging up stuff that’s three decades old’, particularly when it comes at a real cost in the here today, hundreds of thousands, millions of pounds.
“People start to think ‘actually it might be nice to do, but in the context of straitened times, is it really what we want to spend our money on and what is the practical benefit going to be’.
“On the other side, I do know this is an issue that has been of real concern to people locally, there are a lot of people still very much engaged with matters Orgreave.”
Granville Williams, one of the founders of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, said he had “really serious concerns” about the Chief Constable’s remarks questioning the benefit of a further inquiry.
He said: “That’s not the view of the OTJC, which remains fully committed to a public inquiry into policing at Orgreave even though Home Secretary Amber Rudd has dismissed this request.
“The Chief Constable uses revealing phrases about how to manage the files in order to ensure ‘effective control of public disclosure’ and not wanting to ‘empty stuff onto the street and let people just pick at it’.
“Surely the lesson of Hillsborough is that only through transparency and full disclosure will be get to the truth about what happened at Orgreave.”