Questions about whether South Yorkshire Police was used “against their own” in the 1980s are still an open wound which has not healed today, according to a Sheffield MP.
In a letter to the Home Secretary Theresa May two weeks after verdicts were returned in the Hillsborough inquests, Louise Haigh claims “the cloud of past wrongdoing and alleged wrongdoing continues to hang over senior officials and continues to cause harm”.
Calling for a public inquiry, she described The Yorkshire Post’s recent revelations of links between Britain’s worst sporting disaster and the 1984 Battle of Orgreave to be “chilling” and said they “render the need for truth utterly essential”.
Redacted sections of a watchdog’s report into clashes between police and striking miners reveal that the same senior officers and solicitor were involved both in the aftermath of Orgreave and of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.
They reveal that these officials became aware South Yorkshire Police officers had perjured themselves at the miners’ trial in 1984, but kept this fact secret.
Another officer interviewed about the alleged Hillsborough cover-up by South Yorkshire Police claimed that some of his colleagues were told by unspecified officers not to write anything in their notebooks at the time of Orgreave and then instructed to do the same in the aftermath of the 1989 disaster.
Her claims came as Dr Alan Billings, re-elected last week as South Yorkshire’s crime commissioner, said tonight that he expects Mrs May to announce an inquiry of some kind into Orgreave in the next month.
In an interview with Channel 4 News, he described the 1984-85 miners’ strike as being “the nearest we came in my life to a politicised police”, adding: “I think the police were dangerously close to being used as an instrument of the state.”
Earlier this week, the case for a inquiry into Orgreave was strengthened after The Yorkshire Post unearthed a previously confidential Downing Street memo highlighting Margaret Thatcher’s personal involvement in local Yorkshire policing during the Miners’ Strike.
One piece of correspondence shows the then-Prime Minister suggesting the Government could provide funds directly to South Yorkshire’s force to police the picket lines.
A later letter by Mrs Thatcher’s private secretary Andrew Turnbull, in response to problems the force was having with funding, said she agreed that chief constable Peter Wright “should be given every support in his efforts to uphold the law”.
The 1984 Battle of Orgreave saw 95 miners arrested at the coking plant, near Rotherham, after clashes with police which left 50 people injured. When the cases came to court, all were abandoned after it became clear that evidence provided by police was unreliable.
Since details of the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s redacted report into Orgreave were revealed last week, South Yorkshire’s new chief constable Dave Jones has said he would welcome an “independent assessment” of what happened.
In her letter to Theresa May, Ms Haigh, who has worked with the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign in calling for an inquiry, said this statement suggesting the full co-operation of South Yorkshire Police meant “establishing the full truth of that day becomes significantly easier”.
She said: “It is clear to me that unless we discover the truth of Orgreave we will not get to the bottom of the alleged malpractice at South Yorkshire Police in the 1980s. This of course has its own implications for ongoing enquiries relating to Hillsborough.”
She added: “I urge you to seize the opportunity to build bridges between the police and those still troubled by their actions and direction of certain forces in the 1980s.
“Those still troubled by how and whether a police force – ostensibly there to serve the community – was used against their own. These are questions which serve as an open wound which have not healed to this day.
“And I would also say that as a former special constable, I know that the work of police officers is essential and that they protect our communities every day but the cloud of past wrongdoing and alleged wrongdoing continues to hang over senior officials and continues to cause harm today.”
In his interview, Dr Billings said morale at South Yorkshire Police had fallen and officers felt “under constant battering” as a result of the historic scandals involving the force.
He said: “It’s almost as if they feel they cannot get out from under these things. Officers feel these legacy issues – if I can call them that – are just continually dragging them down and they can’t escape it.”