No Road Blocks to Orgreave

Below is a PHD article by one of our supporters researching the police preparation for the miners strike.

 

There are no ‘road-blocks’ to Orgreave

In September 1981, a new approach was adopted by members of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) at their private annual conference in Preston where they met in emergency session to discuss the theme of public-order. Three forces with particular expertise were invited to address the event. Two of them were familiar from previous years. The London Met reviewed the events of the summer of 1981and gave a candid assessment of the inadequacy of police operations to contain disorder. The Royal Ulster Constabulary gave a presentation of crowd control techniques they adopted and refined for use in Northern Ireland. Then came the turning point. A new force, outside of the United Kingdom, was invited to describe measures it had perfected to contain public disorder. It brought to ACPO more than 20 years of experience of suppressing riots and uprisings and, moreover, was expert in coping with far greater levels of street violence than occurred in the United Kingdom.1The force in question was the Royal Hong Kong Police. Their commissioner, Roy Henry, was asked to send one of his top officers to teach British police a new method of crowd control, based on the Hong Kong model. Richard Quine, Hong Kong’s Director of Operations, flew to London to attend ACPO’s conference in Preston and to tell them all they wanted to know. Quine presented ACPO with the full range of Hong Kong’s public order and internal security arrangements. It set out the computerised system of communications which provides a minute-by-minute command and control network: the ‘riot suppression unit’ consisting of platoons of men in units with specific tasks such as wielding batons, firing CS gas, making arrests (snatch squads), use of firearms etc. This ‘lightning strike force’ could strike with the same power but with greater flexibility.

Quine then proceeded with the recommendations of the formation of an elite squad of police officers who would be committed to continuous training over a period of 10-weeks. In a concentrated burst of tactical exercises covering all kinds of disorder; crowd control and riot suppression in particular. Quine further showed the British police a handbook containing all of Hong Kong’s expertise in the art of public order curtailment. It was its manual of internal security instructions. Quines impressions as he spoke, was that his audience was very attentive and anxious to bring the Hong Kong model to Britain.2

The ACPO conference then, according to Northam, spent a whole morning talking about public order as if it were a new concept. The conference then made an important decision. They set up a working party to review British riot control tactics in the light of experience of other countries and came up with a programme of action. Its title was, ‘The Community Disorder Tactical Options Inter-Force Working Group’. One of the Chief Constables who was present at the conference has given an account of the thinking behind it:

We had learned some hard lessons about the training of police officers.

Forces in the main urban areas were already pretty well trained in the use

of the Police Support Unit (PSU). The tactics of crowd control, the use of

shields to form cordons and so on. But the forces that came to our aid from

rural areas were not as well trained and it became obvious that in order to

respond to emergencies, everyone had to be trained to the same standard,

with the same tactics. Otherwise it was just confusion…That meant that we

had to have a national training package, a national manual on which to work.

So ACPO set about devising one.3

Within two years they had prepared a massive volume of paramilitary and other manoeuvres called ,’The Public Order Manual of Tactical Options and Related Matters’. The whole project was encouraged by the Home Office.

When the manual was in its final draft then Home Secretary, William Whitelaw, read and sanctioned it. The preparations were carried out in compete secrecy. ACPO had produced its national manual of public order tactics for the 1980’s. But it was restricted from police officers up to and including the rank of Chief Superintendent. The stage was set for one of the most significant shifts in police strategy that Britain had known.

The last stages of training in the new public order tactics were completed in 1984. They were almost perfectly on-cue for the first test of their effectiveness, which was not to suppress a riot but to defeat a mass picket of coal miners.

One hundred days into the bitterest strike in living memory, thousands of miners gathered at the Orgreave Coking plant in South Yorkshire. As large numbers of pickets attempted to stop Lorries from moving in and out of the plant, police officers from all over the country were seconded to keep the supply lines open. One senior Metropolitan officer said that policemen were being asked to behave as soldiers. He gave a graphic description of coaches leaving Hendon (police training centre) every Sunday for the coalfields, saying that it was like watching an embarkation for war. While the army call them platoons, ACPO calls them PSU’s.4

Monday 18th June 1984 saw the worst and last day of the violence at Orgreave. Intelligence and information received indicated that many demonstrators would be arriving from Scotland, Kent, South Wales and Yorkshire. In response to this mass build up of pickets, extra police requested and received through the National Reporting Centre (NRC). At the end of the day, 93 pickets had been arrested, 79 of whom were charged with riot and unlawful assembly; 181 PSU’s, 50 police horses and 58 dogs had been deployed.5 Orgreave had become the supreme example to-date of the paramilitary approach in action.

There was a remarkable outcome to the subsequent Orgreave ‘riot’ trials. It was certainly a most unwelcome outcome so far as ACPO was concerned. It was the disclosure for the first time of the existence of their new and highly contentious Public Order Manual. During the trial, and under cross-examination by defence counsel, Tony Clements, then South Yorkshire deputy Chief Constable, agreed that, ‘drumming on the shields was legitimate in the circumstances and was, indeed, authorised in the manual’. ‘What manual was this’, asked defence counsel; inviting Clements to quote the relevant section. The Assistant Chief Constable, under the direction of the trial judge, referred to a section of the manual governing long shields, short shields and horses. ACPO’s secret was out.6 Three sections of the manual that was read out in court caused immediate concern 1. The instruction to short shield officers to ‘disperse and/or incapacitate demonstrators’ 2. The instruction that long shield officers should give a show of force by making a formidable appearance and 3. The stated objective of using police horses to create fear among a crowd.7

After prolonged consultations with the defence the prosecution told the judge that the crown would not proceed with the charges. The prosecution also dropped another 79 charges against miners awaiting trial resulting from the Orgreave disturbances. The crowns argument cited the length of time that it would take to complete outstanding files as its reasons for abandoning the prosecutions.8 Defence lawyers however maintained that this decision was taken to prevent further exposure in court of the police tactics outlined in the secret ACPO manual.

Orgreave on the 18th June revealed that in this country we now have a standing army available to be deployed against gatherings of civilians whose congregation is disliked by senior officers whose trained tactics included the deliberate maiming and injury of persons to disperse them in complete violation of the law.9

Orgreave has been mythologised as the day South Yorkshire regained what Birmingham had lost in 1972 at Saltley Gates. To one side of the argument Orgreave represented a turning-point in the struggle of the law against trade union infamy. To the other side, it symbolised the victory of state violence over workers. Orgreave however has ensured its place in the dissenters’ pageant of state repression alongside Peterloo, Tonypandy, the 1926 General Strike and attacks upon the National Unemployed Workers Movements of the 1930’s.

In concluding this chapter on Orgreave it is essential we remind ourselves of the events leading up to the day of the mass picket: A sudden decision by the local British Steel management to increase the supply of coking coal to their Scunthorpe works above the quantity already agreed with officials of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation (ISTC) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was carried out. Was there a connection between this decision to increase coke supplies from Orgreave with why a mass picket was able to take place at all? After all, the police had previously shown themselves to be very effective in preventing mass picketing of this kind elsewhere by stopping pickets en route and closing approach roads to venues. (see Appendix 2 for an example of police effectiveness in preventing large gatherings of demonstrators during the 1984-85 strike). Whatever strategic decision was made and the basis for it, the effect was to lead many miners to believe in retrospect that they had been led into a trap! Moreover, to make sure that pickets did fall back on Orgreave, the police tightened their road-blocks in Yorkshire and the Nottinghamshire border.10

Orgreave seems to have been identified by the police as the showdown with the miners; the outcome of which was to have a profound effect upon the future developments of the strike. The events at Orgreave were removed from a local context, with its potential for locally negotiated agreements between the police and pickets and inserted into a national arena of irreconcilable conflict. As McCabe and Wallington commented, ‘the admission of defeat by the miners at Orgreave did not end the strike. It simply opened the door for the use of heavier police tactics at the colliery gates’.11

References

  1. Gerry Northam, Shooting in the Dark. Faber and Faber, 1988 p.39
  2. Op cit..p.40
  3. Op cit..p.41
  4. Op cit..p.52
  5. Report by Peter Wright, Chief Constable of South Yorkshire. Policing the Coal Industry Dispute in South Yorkshire, 1985.
  6. Northam op cit..p.58
  7. Ibid.p.58
  8. Daily Telegraph, 06/08/1985
  9. Quoted in Peter Hain, Ploitical strikes, Penguin 1986, p.194
  10. Quoted in Waddington et al, Flashpoints-Studies in public disorder, Routledge, 1989, p.89
  11. Quoted in Jefferson, The case against paramilitary policing, Open University, 1990, p.99