We have recently seen media coverage relating to the late Queen Elizabeth’s response to the police riot at the Orgreave coking plant in 1984 when miners striking to save their jobs and communities were violently assaulted in a preplanned paramilitary style police operation. However, the right wing media chose to only reveal part of the story in 1984.
Apparently the queen was shocked, upset and horrified, describing film footage of mounted officers charging into picketing miners at Orgreave as “awful”. This reaction to the incidents during the 1984/5 miners’ strike was recently disclosed by Julian Haviland, former political editor of The Times, when he was interviewed by the Times Radio in July 2023 not long before his death in August. Haviland worked for The Times between 1981 and 1986.
In the recent interview, Haviland stated that he confirmed the story about the Queen’s horror relating to the events at Orgreave at the time, but it was apparently dropped, as incrimination of the sources was likely because there were only two other people in the room when the Queen had said it.
When the footage emerged on television the Queen is said to have watched when the police horses charged through the crowd of miners. She was heard to have said “Oh, that’s awful! Oh, we shouldn’t do that!’,” Haviland felt that it was newsworthy that the Queen had made such a political comment.
This news story was given to Charles Douglas-Home, The Times editor in 1984. However, he declined Haviland’s suggestion that he write the story and asked Haviland to do it. Haviland apparently did so, but warned his boss the story would incriminate the sources in the room when it happened. One of those people was Robert Fellowes the Queen’s private secretary. The other was secretary of state for Scotland, George Younger. Douglas-Home decided not to run the story.
There were various newspaper articles in 1984 about the Queen making comments about Orgreave. The Daily Telegraph for Tuesday 19 June 1984 ran an article with a small heading “Queen shocked by clashes” above their main headline.
In the recent 2023 press coverage it is being reported that the Queen was critical of the police tactics, specifically the horses being used to charge into the picket line. However, there is another story here, a truth behind the headlines. The Daily Mirror 22 August 2023 article said: “The story was never published”. But this is not quite the whole truth because, as we saw in the 19 June 1984 Daily Telegraph, it was reported at the time that the Queen was “shocked”! What wasn’t published at the time was that the Queen was critical of the police! In fact, we can see quite clearly from the newspaper reports in 1984 that the Queen’s criticisms of the police tactics were actually presented as if she was critical of so-called picket line violence from miners. In other words, if it is indeed true that the Queen was critical of the policing, then it seems that the news coverage at the time was cleverly and ambiguously worded in such a way that it distorted the meaning of the Queen’s remarks. For example, the Telegraph coverage said:
‘The Queen has been shocked by clashes between miners and the police, says Our Political Correspondent. He quotes informed sources as saying that nothing has shocked her more since the inner city riots of 1981’
‘She has been particularly upset by the television news coverage of the violent scenes in the coal dispute’.
The Daily Mail, 20 June 1984 said: ‘The Queen has been kept closely informed, with daily reports on the situation. She is said to be appalled at the nightly television spectacle of her subjects fighting on the picket lines. The battle on Monday outside the Orgreave coking plant particularly horrified the Queen with its scenes of violence and brought back memories of the Brixton and Toxteth riots of 1981 which also caused her great concern’.
‘The Queen is said to be distressed at seeing on television the ever more bloody pitched battles between miners and police. It would be surprising if she were not. Her subjects share her concern’.
The Daily Express 20 June 1984 said: ‘The Government will never surrender to mob rule, Mrs Thatcher warned pit militants yesterday. Despite reports that the Queen has expressed concern over the violence at Orgreave, the Prime Minister told MPs: “The law must, and will, continue to be obeyed.”‘
It now appears that the late political editor of The Times, Julian Haviland knew all along that the Queen was critical of the police violence yet that version of the story was never printed. It seems it was also known in newspaper editorial circles that this was the case. The recent interview with Julian Haviland therefore strongly suggests that the 1980s newspapers originally reported the Queen’s dislike of what she saw on TV in a distorted fashion in order to give a deliberately misleading impression.
There is even some evidence which seems to suggest that the Government tried to prevent the Queen sticking to a pre-planned visit to the Yorkshire coalfield – perhaps because they were worried she would say something unhelpful to the Government?!
The Guardian article 22 June 1984 said that the Queen “cancelled” her official visit “after government advice that it would be unwise”: There was always the possibility of the Queen having to cross a picket line and the danger that the visit might appear to identify the monarch with one side in the dispute.
The Guardian further stated that: “Buckingham Palace said that the visit had been dropped for obvious reasons.”
However, in light of what we now know about the Queen’s views regarding what happened at Orgreave, are the reasons quite so obvious? We could possibly read this sentence in a new light today. It is therefore fair to say that, at the time, it was being implied that the danger was that the Queen would be seen to be taking sides with the Government and the police, but maybe Ministers harboured concerns that the Queen might have said something critical of the police at Orgreave?! After all, we are now told that one of the two people in the room with the Queen at the time she made her critical remarks was none other than George Younger, the Secretary of State for Scotland, who was a member of MISC 101 – Thatcher’s inner war-cabinet for managing the strike.
Julian Haviland interview, former political editor of The Times
Recent media coverage August 2023