The Battle of Orgreave was a profoundly significant event, not just in terms of how the 1984-5 miners’ strike was framed at the time and recorded in historical account, but because it made visible a series of cultures and practices that went on to shape future public events. The misconduct and cover-ups that have come to define Orgreave and Hillsborough– from the doctoring of police statements, to the falsifying of evidence and the shifting of blame– have become all too-familiar features in subsequent crises involving South Yorkshire Police.
Thirty years on, the IPCC scoping exercise and its recommendations about an inquiry into Orgreave are of pressing significance because the legacies of this period are as much about the future of the United Kingdom as they are about its past. With a total population of around five million, of which 3.75 million are in England, former coalfield sites constitute both a significant portion of the UK and a continuing source of tension for its government. From cultures of worklessness and social damage, to the role of regional development agencies and community initiatives, the 1984-5 UK miners’ strike was instrumental in establishing a range of discourses that came to define the subsequent decades. Orgreave had enduring implications for police tactics and community relations. The legacy for those arrested during the strike has been a lifetime of unemployment and stigmatisation. The NUM is still campaigning for the erasing of criminal records for 7000 miners and their supporters involved in the strike. Perhaps unsurprisingly, experiences of the aftermath of conflict have produced a loss of faith in police/community relations in many coalfield areas.
The first years of the new millennium have been defined by a series of inquiries seeking to re-frame our understanding of the recent past. From Saville to Chilcott, Leveson to Ellison, these reviews speak of a contemporary need for justice and closure. Why Orgreave should be immune from this wider process of review is not clear. While the decision to engage in an inquiry into Orgreave has been rejected by the IPCC today, thirty years on we cannot move forward, begin to tackle the legacies of the strike and rebuild public trust without all the facts before us.
In twenty-first century Britain, justice apparently comes with a timeframe. The IPCC’s decision is as unsurprising to campaigners, as it is offensive to the public memory. The message the IPCC statement sends out today is one of continued and pervasive political machinations and manoeuvring within UK law enforcement. The damage this will do to public trust in our police forces is immeasurable. Only a full public inquiry can bring all existing evidence to light, and enable British society to enter into a transparent and truly dialogic debate about events, consequences and the lessons to be learnt for the future.
The IPCC is a government arm closely aligned to the police force, and as a result many continue to challenge the independence and disinterest of its position. In today’s assertion that a full investigation lies beyond their remit and resources, the IPCC has not only proved that it is unfit for purpose, but that its very existence should be reviewed by government as a matter of urgency.
As the media spotlights fall once again on Orgreave and South Yorkshire Police, the legacies of 84-5 act as a permanent and urgent reminder that, in the words of the Justice for Coalfield Bill, ‘without justice, there can be no reconciliation’.
The fight continues. Please support OTJC.
Dr Katy Shaw is Principal Lecturer in Contemporary Literature, School of Cultural Studies and Humanities, Leeds Beckett University