How We Met: Arthur Scargill and Michael Mansfield

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The Independent Culture
Arthur Scargill, 54, was born near Barnsley, and at 15 he started work as a miner. In 1981 he was elected National President of the NUM and was re-elected in 1988, after the 1984/85 miners' strike. He lives with his wife, Anne, in Worsbrough, South Yorkshire. They have one daughter, Margaret, a nurse. Michael Mansfield, 51, is a leading defence barrister who has represented Judith Ward, five of the Birmingham Six and many others. He is an honorary member of the NUM. He has six children and lives in London with his second wife, Yvette Vanson, and their young son.

ARTHUR SCARGILL: In life, there are always people you meet who make an impact an you, but very few ever make the kind of impact Michael Mansfield made on me. In 1984, he was based in Yorkshire whilst he was defending members of the NUM. I felt an instinctive liking for him and I think he felt the same about me. It was an empathy which went much further than simply recognising the fact that he was a barrister of quite outstanding ability. His defence of the miners was brilliant. It revealed a man who was quite genuinely 100 per cent committed to helping people least able to help themselves.

I suppose in some ways I could see things in Michael that I see in myself. My wife, Anne, shares a birthday with Michael - 12 October. They're exactly the same age, which I think is more than just a happy coincidence. Over the years, Michael and his wife, Yvette, have become close friends. There's never enough time to see as much of them as we'd like, but they stay with us at our home in

Worsbrough, and the four of us meet in London when we can. Sometimes I sense that Michael needs to unwind and get away from what's on his mind for a couple of hours. He can do that when he's with us.

Michael Mansfield is someone

people either like or hate. There are no half measures. He drives the Establishment to apoplexy because he refuses to play the ritual game in court. He isn't interested in putting on a wig and gown and becoming part of the performing circus. He believes in fighting his corner to the end - ask the Birmingham Six about that. In 1984, when miners were being accused of riot - an offence which can carry a life sentence - it was crucial that hey had access to the finest, most tenacious, defence barrister. Michael is the best.

His ability to cross-examine is a revelation. He gets straight to the point. A marvellous example was when he was defending me in Manchester. The background to the case was that I had been arrested for speeding at 2am one morning when I drove back from London after being interviewed by Carol Thatcher. For some reason it was felt necessary

for eight officers and four squad cars to detain me outside my own home for a very long time. My speeding conviction was squashed, but I took out an action against the police for wrongful arrest. The authorities wouldn't allow my case to be heard in Sheffield as they believed the jury would be 'sympathetic', so we went to Manchester. The prosecuting counsel was George Carmen. It was interesting to compare their cross-examination skills. Michael was by far the better of the two. He asked one of the policemen who detained me how he knew that I'd been arrested. He replied that he'd heard it on his car radio and driven to the scene of the 'incident' because he wanted to have a look at Arthur Scargill's house. Michael asked him: 'Are there no crimes in Barnsley, officer?'

In 1990, when the Daily Mirror and Central TV's Cook Report launched the allegations about my involvement with NUM funds, Michael and Yvette were among the first to ring up and offer their support. At the time it was difficult to find real friends. Michael and Yvette just said: 'We're here if you need us.' It was a terrible period in our lives, full of anguish and pain for the family which, even now, is difficult to wipe away. It meant a great deal that Michael and Yvette stood by us.

One of the happiest times we've spent together was when they brought their little boy, Freddie, for the weekend. Michael and I took him to visit Worsbrough Country Park, a local authority park which is a natural habitat for pigs, sheep, horses, chicken and geese. We spent hours looking at and learning about the animals. I'm sure we both had a much better time than Freddie.

I've got quite a reputation as a mimic and I can do a very good impersonation of Michael. Politics and the law - to some extent we're all performers. Since 1984, Michael has spoken with me at rallies and we've shared many platforms. If I was asked to compare Michael Mansfield to anyone, I would say he reminds me of Clarence Darrow, the American lawyer who fought for civil liberties when no one else would touch the cases. Michael's tenacity, sense of justice and attention to detail is extraordinary. My wife always says: 'I'm glad he's on our side and not theirs.'

MICHAEL MANSFIELD: In 1984, with some colleagues, I started this set of chambers specifically to represent the most vulnerable sections of society - people who normally don't get a voice. The miners' strike brought literally hundreds of cases, which was exactly the sort of work we wanted. I decided it was better to rent somewhere in Yorkshire rather than keep travelling up and down from London and forking out for hotels. During the year I was there, I developed a close and lasting friendship with Arthur and his wife, Anne, with whom I share a birthday. It was during the miner's strike that I met my wife, Yvette, who interviewed Arthur when she was

making a film about Orgreave.

I first met Arthur when I had to talk to him about various legal aspects of the strike. I knew instinctively that I would get on with him. After all, he was doing what I wished I could do. Compared to Arthur Scargill's responsibility, my role was rather limited. All I could do was try and prevent people from falling over the legal cliff.

About the time of the arrest of the Orgreave pickets, Arthur was arrested for obstruction. We went into the magistrates' court in Rotherham and there was a sea of people who just wanted to touch him. It felt like following Jesus to the cross. Since then, I've come to know another side of Arthur Scargill: the witty, relaxed, anecdotal Arthur who loves walking in his beloved Yorkshire.

He's a brilliant mimic. Michael Mansfield, John Major, Margaret Thatcher - he does them all extremely well and his audience loves it. He's also very good at telling stories - especially when they're about the strike. A good one is the Snowman Story: There was a very authoritarian senior officer, lording about the picket lines in his Range Rover. One day, when it was snowing, some of the pickets built a snowman and placed a police cap on its head. The officer was furious. 'I'm not having that - I want that snowman removed now.' No one moved. He was so outraged, he got into his Range Rover and drove it into the snowman - unaware that they had built it around a concrete post.

Before I met Arthur and became so involved with the miners, my only experience of coal-mining was going down a show mine as an undergraduate. Now I was in the midst of a community who offered a sincerity and warmth that I'd never even glimpsed in years of living in north London. These were people sensitive to global problems - intelligent people, willing to risk their jobs to save the heritage of a nation. They were striking for all of us.

In 1990, with the allegations about his misuse of union funds, our first reaction was that people like Arthur and Anne must have loads of friends. Then we thought that they probably had loads of acquaintances but few real friends. We phoned to ask if there was anything we could do, and to tell them that we were there if they needed us. Our second instinct was correct. Some of their friends disappeared into the woodwork.

Arthur finds it difficult to switch off. I remember walking with him along the railway track near his home, when I said: 'Why don't you just stop talking for a while? Don't feel you have to fill the space.' If I'm with someone, I want to talk - so I know how he was feeling. I'm not sure how Arthur switches off. I have my children to bring me down to earth.

Arthur Scargill is impossible to pigeon-hole. He's not in the least insular. He travels a great deal and is equally concerned about exploitation of miners in Colombia as about the miners in his own community. I'm not in the least surprised to hear that the comedian Mike Harding is a close friend. Nothing about Arthur would surprise me. As a historical figure, I think of him as I think of Zola: a man who, despite all the risks, stood up for something important at the time. Arthur's great gift is to capture a mood, hold it, reflect on it and offer hope. -

(Photograph omitted)

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