Tomorrow marks a year since the Government’s decision to deny the request of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign for an inquiry into the events of the 1984 “Battle of Orgreave”. This was a historic betrayal of the cause of justice, making clear that, in the eyes of this Government, justice is not universal, blind and timeless, but partial, political and time-limited.
The full picture of what happened at Orgreave 33 years ago and its aftermath remains unclear, hidden by the passage of time and by a concerted effort to conceal the truth. Yet the violence of the police operation remains as shocking today as it was then. The images of mounted police, batons drawn, charging into the crowd and armoured, shield-wielding police officers beating men lying prone remain seared on the collective memory of coalfield communities.
All 15 of the pickets who would eventually stand trial, charged over the events at Orgreave, alleged that they had been the victims of serious assaults by police officers. Several had serious injuries and broken bones. The trial of those men later collapsed following clear evidence of witness tampering, altered and dictated statements and an apparently organised attempt to secure convictions for riot.
Yet the collapse of the trial did not challenge the narrative already established by the police. Despite the evidence of brutality and of perjury, no officer has ever faced disciplinary action for their role and still fewer faced charges.
The Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, Peter Wright, was never held accountable for the shambolic trial – or the misconduct it exposed. The Police Complaints Authority decided no disciplinary charges should be brought against any officer. The culture of South Yorkshire Police – that would again be exposed in such deadly fashion at Hillsborough five years later – went unchallenged and unchanged. Without a full public inquiry, the truth will continue to remain obscured and justice will go unserved.
The parallels between Hillsborough and Orgreave are alarming. The same attempt to divert blame from the police. The same methods to conceal the truth. In many cases, the same officers.
The vicious smears levelled at Liverpool supporters in the aftermath of Hillsborough were finally and definitively dismissed by the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel. The smears levelled against the miners at Orgreave have received no such public rebuttal. The men and their families live with them every day.
As the Member of Parliament for Rotherham, I am all too aware of the profound lack of faith in South Yorkshire Police. The same community that witnessed the violence of Orgreave and the disaster at Hillsborough now faces the revelation of the appalling failure to tackle child sexual exploitation by that same police force. Public trust in the police in South Yorkshire is at an all-time low and the force faces a difficult and lengthy process of rebuilding.
That trust cannot be restored whilst the lingering suspicion around Orgreave remains. The people of South Yorkshire deserve to know the truth about their police force so we can draw a line under past failings and move on.
But the need for an inquiry runs deeper than that. To quote a former Home Secretary: “Historical inquiries are not archaeological excavations. They are not purely exercises in truth and reconciliation. They do not just pursue resolution; they are about ensuring justice is done.” Unfortunately, it would appear that Theresa May left such sentiments at the gates of Downing Street.
Her successor as Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, dismissed the call for an inquiry at a stroke. In a derisory short statement to the House of Commons, she reasoned that policing had changed, that few lessons could be learned and – most shockingly – that there would be no inquiry as no one had died. Is this to be the barrier we now set on justice? What became of the need to confront uncomfortable truths and to pursue justice wherever that pursuit may take us?
The rapid U-turn has done nothing to alleviate the suspicion that the Government has something to hide. At the very least it suggests that while it was convenient for Theresa May as Home Secretary to appear to be confronting injustice head-on, now as Prime Minister, her priorities are altogether different.
The cause of justice is too important to sacrifice for political expediency. It may indeed be uncomfortable for the Government to challenge what many on the right of the Conservative Party have long held to be a sacred cow. But we deserve to know, fully and authoritatively, what happened 33 years ago in my constituency. The miners, their families and coalfield communities deserve the truth.
We deserve justice.
Sarah Champion is a Labour politician and the MP for Rotherham
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