June 12: Orgreave and the battle for truth

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EVEN though it is more than 30 years since the now infamous Battle of Orgreave, and the violent clashes that took place between police and striking miners who were picketing the British Steel coking plant, the passage of time has not healed the scars.

Images from this confrontation remain some of the most evocative – and symbolic – of the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike and continue to polarise opinion about whether the police response, in the most difficult of circumstances, was proportionate or not.

Yet, while South Yorkshire Police did, at the time, reach various out-of-court financial settlements after the collapse of a criminal trial involving 95 picketers, the sense of injustice remains. No officer has ever been sanctioned for the violence which took place and there is understandable dismay that the Independent Police Complaints Commission has now declined the opportunity to hold a fresh investigation into the conduct of officers at Orgreave and, specifically, those who continue to be accused of misconduct.

This is unacceptable – and a betrayal of the public interest. Just because the riot took place more than three decades ago, it should not prevent a rigorous inquiry from taking place, and it is very disappointing that the IPCC has not reached the same conclusion after spending more than two years investigating complaints.

As Hillsborough, and other inquiries, have shown, it is still possible for fresh evidence to emerge about historic events and for those in positions of power at the time to be held accountable.

Given the IPCC’s present workload, and how the South Yorkshire constabulary’s reputation has been tarnished by Orgreave and other more recent scandals, Ministers should be minded to order a full public inquiry. Without this exercise, it will be even harder for this troubled force to begin to regain the public’s confidence.

School security

Shock as teacher stabbed in chest

TWO Years after the much loved – and much missed – Ann Maguire was killed by a pupil at Corpus Christi College in Leeds, there was a terrifying echo of this senseless murder when a 50-year-old male teacher suffered knife wounds after being stabbed in the chest while in a class at Dixons Kings Academy in Bradford. Understandably the thoughts of all are with the victim, and also the school concerned which appears to have responded to this latest shocking incident with commendable calmness.

Yet, while the full facts will need to be ascertained before any judgment can be made on the effectiveness – or otherwise – of laws pertaining to the possession of knives and other offensive weapons, this stabbing is a painful reminder, if one was needed, about the importance of school security and the need for ongoing vigilance.

Though such cases are, thankfully, still relatively rare, teachers should not be expected to go to work each day in fear of their personal safety. Nor, in a supposedly civilised society, should youngsters be expected to pass through metal detectors and other airport-style security checks because headteachers

have been forced to turn their schools into fortresses – the education equivalent of Fort Knox.

A careful balance needs to be struck. As always, it should be up to individual heads to determine the safety arrangements that reflect the specific needs of their schools – and for the Government to ensure sufficient resources are available for any new measures deemed necessary. That would be the most practical response to the Bradford stabbing until the police investigation has been concluded.

Unsung heroes

Time to recognise role of carers

THE extent to which society takes carers for granted is laid bare in a new report which reveals the scale of the burden facing older people as they look after increasingly frail loved ones with complex medical conditions.

Without this unstinting commitment, the country’s hospitals and residential homes would be at breaking point. And the numbers

are stark – 49,540 individuals aged over 65

are now expected to provide in excess of 50 hours of unpaid care a week according to the Independent Age charity.

Yet, while most are accepting and understanding of their plight as they come to terms with old age, it does not excuse the lack of empathy that continues to be shown towards carers, many of whom have health difficulties of their own.

They’re not second class citizens. They’re unsung heroes and it is time that the Government, and day-to-day health agencies, started treating them as such. Nothing less should suffice.