LEGAL EAGLE: The toll of Orgreave

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Readers over a certain age will recall the events at Orgreave in June 1984, when 8,000 striking miners were met by 6,000 police officers drafted in from all over the country.

One of the most violent clashes of the strike followed, with many miners and police officers injured.

Hospital records, however, indicated more miners were injured than police officers; some injuries to miners were serious, including head injuries.

As a result of the incident, faith in the police was destroyed in many mining communities.

Ninety-five miners were charged with criminal offences , some of which carried potential life imprisonment.

The criminal trial collapsed after it became clear police evidence was unreliable. There were claims of forged evidence by the police and collusion with written statements.

The Orgreave incident led to the infamous news footage of the event shown by the BBC.

The TV footage when broadcast was reversed to show the miners throwing stones before the police charge – an accusation never officially accepted by the BBC.

Thirty-nine of the miners who were charged with offences sued South Yorkshire Police for wrongful arrest/unlawful detention and malicious prosecution.

The case settled with the police paying out a total of £425,000 damages and £100,000 costs but with no admission of liability.

In 2013 a BBC documentary claimed officers may have colluded in writing witness statements during the prosecution of the miners. Following this South Yorkshire police referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) – the independent watchdog responsible for overseeing the Police complaints process.

On June 12, 2015, the IPCC announced it would not conduct an investigation into the events at Orgreave for reasons including the passage of time.

The majority of police officers involved were no longer serving and witness recollection fades over time.

When considering the case, the IPCC discovered documents held by South Yorkshire Police’s own solicitors which stated South Yorkshire police had acknowledged in private that many officers did overreact and there was evidence of perjury by police officers.

The documents also suggested Force Headquarters had objected to evidence of perjury coming to light – leaving an impression of a police cover up.

In many countries there are time limits on the bringing of criminal proceedings. There is no such limitation here but the passage of time does make it more difficult to bring cases.

Much depends on the evidence including availability and recollection of witnesses.

Historic offences are however often prosecuted – readers will be aware of the many and often high profile historic sex offences which have recently come before the courts.