Sunderland Council backs calls for public inquiry into ‘Battle of Orgreave’ during 1984 Miners Strike

Sunderland City Council has backed calls for a public probe into the infamous clash between striking miners and police at Orgreave.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 31 January, 2019, 11:38

This week, (January 30) councillors threw their support behind the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign.

The pledge calls on Home Secretary Sajid Javid to launch an investigation into  the policing of picket lines at the Yorkshire coking plant during the 1984 miners’ strike.

It also calls for “meaningful discussions” with campaigners, the National Union of Mineworkers and MPs on the issue.

The strike was one of most violent clashes during the period of industrial unrest with scores of miners charged with riot and disorder offences and many injured.

While all charges were later dropped, campaigners have pressed for a review of South Yorkshire Police’s tactics at the time.

Coun Kevin Johnston, launching the motion at Sunderland Civic Centre, said Orgreave was “close to his heart” due its impact on his family and noted the event’s legacy of “police mistrust” in mining communities.

In an impassioned speech to full council, he recounted the events of the strike and the impact on miners from physical injuries and psychological damage to job losses and family breakdown.

He added Orgreave was the culmination of a political campaign to “diminish the strength of the trade unions without any thought or compassion for the people in the communities who were standing in their way.”

“What happened that day (Orgreave) was not a battle, but a rout,” he said.

“All of this violence encouraged and directed at our miners, who were good hard-working and decent human beings, striking to save their jobs, their families and their communities, from that establishment that had decided to take them on.

“Defenceless men being chased down the streets by mounted police officers and attacked with extended batons.

“No one was reigning in the police and nobody was keeping them in check and why would they be, when the prime minister Margaret Thatcher at that time had even called them the ‘enemy within’.”

He added: “Orgreave represents one of the most serious miscarriages of justice in this country’s history” and it’s important that the truth is established and that the police are brought to account.”

At the meeting, several councillors shared their memories of Orgreave and the impact it had on their lives and families including Coun Claire Rowntree, Coun Rebecca Atkinson and Coun John Kelly.

Coun Stuart Porthouse, who worked in the mining industry in management during the strikes, recalled the“hardship and violence” miners faced and said a public inquiry was “absolutely essential”.

The motion – which received majority backing and a standing ovation from Labour councillors – will see Sunderland join a group of councils already backing the campaign.

This includes Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster, Wakefield, Bradford, Rotherham, North East Derbyshire District, Derby, Durham, Bolsover, West Lancashire, Leeds, Chesterfield, Salford and Wirral.

Although the council’s Liberal Democrat and Others Group backed the motion, leader of the Conservatives group, Coun Robert Oliver, voted against it.

The meeting heard that since 1984 there have been changes in the oversight of policing, including the creation of the crown prosecution services and Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

The IPCC, Coun Oliver explained, was currently looking through evidence to see if there were links between Orgreave and the Hillsborough disaster.

And the councillor also questioned whether an Orgreave inquiry would be possible, even with a change of government.

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“We have had 13 years of a Labour government after Orgreave, 13 years in which you could have had an inquiry,” he said.

“David Blunkett the home secretary said no, Vera Baird was solicitor general and an MP for the North East at the time, she is now campaigning for an inquiry but at the time she was in parliament she did not succeed in getting her own party to bring it about.”

Conservative councillor, Michael Dixon, also said he was torn about the motion due to his close contacts with the mining community.

But he also raised concerns about what the inquiry could achieve in “opening up old wounds” within both mining communities and the country.

Labour councillor, Jack Cunningham, added that “injustice” also extended to news coverage at the time, which presented miners as aggressors.

He said: “Amongst all the desperation that was witnessed first hand, most of all it’s shown what our community and our people in the Coalfields are made of, passion, pride, solidarity.

“The Tories tried to crush the enemy but I have a message for Coun Oliver and it’s that they never have and they never will.”

The motion was passed with 56 votes in favour, four against and one absention.

In 2016, the Foreign Secretary at the time, Amber Rudd, ruled out the prospect of an inquiry or review into the clash.

But the campaign has continued, with parades marching last year in Orgreave, between Rotherham and Sheffield, to mark the 34th anniversary of the strike.

Members of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, Sunderland Trades Union Council and city branch of Keep Our NHS Public also attended the meeting in support.

The motion reads:

Sunderland City Council believes that issues relating to events at the picketing of Orgreave on 18 June 1984 are of both local and national importance.

In Sunderland, miners and their families were adversely affected by the events of that day in terms of wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, ill-health, family breakdown and termination of employment and as a direct result of policing tactics at Orgreave.

A full investigation into the military-style policing used on that day is long overdue and only a full public inquiry can fully investigate this.

Sunderland City Council therefore calls on the Home Secretary to order a full public inquiry into the deployment and actions of the police on June 18 1984, and to hold meaningful discussions with the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, The NUM and concerned MPs.

Captions: 

Copt Hill councillors, (l-r) Kevin Johnston and Jack Cunningham, at Sunderland Civic Centre

Coun Jack Cunningham (second from left), Coun Kevin Johnston (second from right) and with members of the Orgreave Truth and Justice campaign (l-r)  Beverley Morris, Jack Hockridge, Derek Hockridge and John Dunn.

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service