Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign

Orgreave campaigners tell Amber Rudd trust in police remains broken

Activists pressing home secretary for full inquiry suggest Hillsborough might have been averted had South Yorkshire police been held accountable earlier

Trust in the police in many former mining communities in South Yorkshire remains broken more than three decades after the 1984-85 Orgreave miners strike, the home secretary has been told.

Amber Rudd is considering whether to hold an inquiry into South Yorkshire police malpractice during the strike.

In a 60-page legal submission, seen by the Guardian, the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign said many people had no faith reporting crime to the police, and that the mistrust continued through to the children and grandchildren of miners.

The submission details the brutality of the police operation against miners who picketed the Orgreave coking plant on 18 June 1984, and the alleged fabrication of evidence and perjury by police officers in the prosecutions of 95 miners, which collapsed a year later.

South Yorkshire police had claimed the miners were violent and police responded with proportionate force, but defence lawyers succeeded in having an internal police film of the events shown in court, which contradicted officers’ evidence.

The submission argues that South Yorkshire police developed a “culture of impunity” that led to almost identical malpractice five years later, when 96 people were unlawfully killed at Hillsborough.

Two criminal investigations are ongoing into whether manslaughter charges should be brought over the Hillsborough deaths, and possible charges include perverting the course of justice, perjury, and misconduct in a public office for the alleged cover-up after the disaster, in which South Yorkshire police relentlessly sought to shift blame on to Liverpool supporters.

The new inquests into the deaths of 96 people at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough concluded in April that they were unlawfully killed and that the supporters were in no way to blame.

The Orgreave campaigners, supported by the Hillsborough families, argue that only a full public inquiry – or a form of open inquiry that can compel evidence – can establish the truth about what happened at Orgreave, how it links to institutional failures that caused the deaths at Hillsborough and subsequent alleged cover-up, and begin to restore trust in the police.

Rudd, who met representatives from the campaign last month, promised that she will decide by the end of next week whether she will grant their request for a public inquiry. However, campaigners fear, due to briefings in the press, that she may announce a lesser form of inquiry, such as a review of evidence by a single lawyer.

Margaret Aspinall, the chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, whose 18-year-old son, James, died at Hillsborough, has said it is vital to have a full Orgreave inquiry.

“Now we know what the South Yorkshire police did at Orgreave in 1984, our bereaved families have a strong belief that if the police had been held accountable then, the [Hillsborough] disaster might not have happened,” Aspinall said. “The families absolutely want a full, independent inquiry, to establish the truth.”

The campaign submission, drafted by Henrietta Hill QC, was delivered to Theresa May last December, when she was home secretary. It said an inquiry was “imperative” because South Yorkshire police led “a pre-planned, militarised police operation that involved extensive violence against the miners … the wrongful arrest of 95 miners, the deliberate falsification of a narrative against them, the immediate presentation of that false narrative by police to the media and its uncritical acceptance by the media, and the construction of 95 prosecutions and trials based on that falsified narrative”.

Testimony from miners recalls a charge by police on horses without warning, the beating of miners before and after arrest, including of one man whose skull was fractured by a truncheon. The submission argues that the violence was planned to mete out a “defeat” to the striking National Union of Mineworkers.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission found evidence of excessive violence and perjury, and that the South Yorkshire police hierarchy covered it up, raising doubts about the ethical standards of senior officers.

However, the IPCC decided last June it could not conduct a full investigation due to the historic nature of the events and limitations on resources. In its review of evidence, the IPCC said it could not find any police planning documents, despite 6,000 officers having been drafted in from different forces, and the clearly orchestrated nature of the police action with horses, dogs, and short and long shield units on foot.

The South Yorkshire police chief constable, Peter Wright, had determined that, as a deterrent, more serious charges should be brought against miners committing public order offences, including charging them with riot, which carried a potential life sentence.

The legal submission notes that parts of police officers’ statements were dictated to them, despite this being denied on oath during prosecutions, and that evidence from officers about the accused miners was false and conflicted with the film of events.

An officer, Gary Heseltine, is quoted as having told the campaign that “statements were written collectively word for word”, and that an inspector told him to “write something I had not seen”. Since the submission was delivered, another former officer, Mike Freeman, has told the campaign that police on duty were instructed to sign statements written for them.

May, who supported the Hillsborough families through the new inquests and spoke strongly against historical injustice, seemed to be preparing to hold a substantial inquiry into the Orgreave scandals.

Nick Timothy, May’s chief of staff at No 10, wrote an article for the Conservative Home website in May, saying he still supported the Thatcher government stance on the miners’ strike but the evidence of serious police malpractice needed to be investigated.

The Hillsborough evidence, he wrote, showed that South Yorkshire police “lied, lied and lied again” and he said it was vital for trust in the police that malpractice was not tolerated. “If the police pre-planned a mass, unlawful assault on the miners at Orgreave, and then sought to cover up what they did and arrest people on trumped up charges, we need to know,” he wrote.

After May became prime minister, the government appeared to drop any idea of holding an Orgreave inquiry before Rudd reversed that stance following an urgent question from Andy Burnham, then shadow home secretary.

Rudd met campaigners last month and promised a decision by the end of this month, but immediately after the meeting, anonymous senior Home Office officials were quoted in press reports, first saying there would be a public inquiry, then that it would be only a review of documents by a lawyer.

Barbara Jackson, secretary of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, said they had been frustrated by the long delay since they first saw May 15 months ago, and the briefings after meeting Rudd.

“We are only a group of citizens raising issues of very serious concern to a home secretary,” she said, “we have been professional and responsible, producing a substantial legal submission by a QC. But we have had to continually push for meaningful communication with the Home Office and now we fear that we will be presented with a ‘take it or leave it’ offer which may fall very far short of what is required.”

Home Office sources indicated Rudd would make an announcement by the end of October, as pledged to the campaigners.

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