Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign

Former chief constable calls for public inquiry into Orgreave clashes and beyond

This story originally appeared in The Guardian 4/5/16

Sir Peter Fahy joins call for public inquiry over 1980s ‘police army of occupation’ and agenda of Margaret Thatcher government

Police at Orgreave, Rotherham, June 1984, dealing with the miners’ strike.
Police at Orgreave, Rotherham, June 1984, dealing with the miners’ strike. Photograph: PA

Sir Peter Fahy said the police attitudes that caused public outrage last week, following the Hillsborough inquest verdicts, were fostered by events such as the government using officers to crush one of Britain’s bitterest industrial disputes.

Fahy retired in 2015 as chief constable of Greater Manchester police, one of Britain’s biggest forces. He said the use of police to serve a political agenda in the 1980s created a “them and us” culture, evident in the police response at Hillsborough. The legacy was still causing damage to the reputation of the police today as well as grief to families on the receiving end, he said.

Fahy said: “It’s time for a public inquiry into the policing of the miners’ strike, not just Orgreave and the role of the police, but also the role of politicians. We need to look at the wider context of the way the police were used and the agenda set for them by government. Clearly it was about, in effect, national control of the police, in pursuit of a political agenda at the time.

“We need to look at the way police in those communities were used as an army of occupation, created a culture of them and us – which people are concerned about at Hillsborough. The way the police force was used at that time helped to create a damaging culture.

“The concern about Hillsborough is that the police saw it as an enforcement role and not public safety. If you are wondering how that came about, it’s about the culture created in the 1980s, from the inner city riots, to the policing of the miners’ strike, where the police then saw it as about enforcement and controlling role rather than a public safety role. Where did those attitudes [at Orgreave] come from? If you want to look at Orgreave you need to look at the wider context.”

Fahy’s comments came as critics of the police action confronting workers at the Orgreave steel production coking plant in 1984 called on the new interim chief constable of South Yorkshire police to open up the force’s archives.

The challenge from the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign came the day after Dave Jones, chief constable of North Yorkshire police, marked the moment he took over temporary control of the South Yorkshire force by offering to listen to activists, as well as to the families of the 96 people who died in the Hillsborough football stadium disaster.

Barbara Jackson, secretary for the campaign, said campaigners would take up the offer from Jones but said they did not want it to be a token gesture. She said they wanted the chief constable to intervene in their legal effort to persuade the home secretary, Theresa May, to hold a public inquiry into the events at Orgreave 32 years ago.

Arthur Scargill, the politician and trade unionist who led the National Union of Mineworkers in the 1984-85 miners’ strike, and was arrested during the disturbances, has also called for a public inquiry into the events.

The rare public intervention by Scargill, 78, came as the Yorkshire Post said it had seen redacted sections of an Independent Police Complaints Commission report that the paper said revealed that the same senior officers and solicitor were involved both in the aftermath of Orgreave and Hillsborough in 1989.

South Yorkshire police referred itself to the IPCC in 2012 over allegations that officers colluded to write court statements relating to Orgreave.

The IPCC later said the passage of time prevented a formal investigation but said there was support for the allegation that senior police exaggerated pickets’ use of violence. The commission said on Tuesday it was now considering whether an unredacted version of the report could be made public.

Jackson said: “We would be prepared to meet with Dave Jones if it’s going to be a productive meeting, and not just a token gesture.”

The events of the “Battle of Orgreave” at the coking plant on the borders of Rotherham and Sheffield came to symbolise the miners’ strike. Large numbers of pickets were confronted by about 6,000 police from across the UK. Police charged 95 miners following the disturbances but the workers’ trial collapsed. Virtually all traces of the coking plant and the pit next to it have since been eradicated.

Andy Burnham, the shadow home secretary, said: “As I’ve always said, we won’t have the truth about Hillsborough until we have the full truth about Orgreave. Finally, this report provides proof of what has long been suspected – that underhand tactics were used first against South Yorkshire miners, before being deployed to much more deadly effect against Liverpool supporters.”

Burnham added: “Like the people of Liverpool, the mining communities of South Yorkshire now need to be told the truth about their police force and the policing of the miners’ strike. On the back of these revelations Theresa May must now order a disclosure process not just on Orgreave but on the policing of the miners’ strike.”

The appointment of Jones follows the suspension of the South Yorkshire chief constable David Crompton, following the Hillsborough inquests, and the short-lived tenure of his deputy, Dawn Copley, who stood down from the temporary role after it emerged she was under investigation by her previous force for alleged misconduct.

The Home Office said: “These powers are only to be used once an individual has been arrested on suspicion of having committed a criminal offence. They are reactive in nature and should not negatively impact community relations.”