Published On: 18th June 2024Categories: General, Public inquiries

PILC Legal Director, Paul Heron, shares his experience of the miners’ strike 1984-85 and the violence directed against the miners. He shares why PILC supports a public inquiry into the events at Orgreave.

Photo: Socialist Party

The miners’ strike of 1984-85 politicised a generation. It was the first time I became active in politics, and as a result of the miners’ strike I became politically active in the Labour Party Young Socialists. As a nervous and self-conscious teenager I visited Bold Colliery in St. Helens to deliver financial support to the miners that we’d collected. The miners I met were so welcoming and appreciated our solidarity – despite how meagre our offerings were. 

The miners’ strike lasted for a year. It was sparked in 1984, when the National Coal Board announced plans to close 20 mines that would result in the loss of 25,000 jobs. The closure of the Cortonwood Colliery sparked a strike among Yorkshire miners, which then quickly spread throughout the coalfields of Britain. 

It soon became clear that the government had meticulously planned their approach to handling the strike by stockpiling coal reserves. Indeed, by May 1985, the home office had disbursed £193.2m to police authorities in England and Wales through police grants and special payments authorised by the home secretary1

At a time of recession, this increased funding and legal measures were used to weaponise the police against the miners.

The police were granted unprecedented legal powers, allowing them to stop vehicles, including cars and buses, and reroute them hundreds of miles from their intended destinations. They pressured bus companies to refuse contracts with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and solidarity groups and issued warnings of potential arrests, such as to workers from Kent who travelled beyond their home county. Some of the police tactics used on the miners have been extended into recent public order laws and regulations. 

The establishment of the Police National Reporting Centre (NRC) aimed to coordinate national police action, enabling chief police officers to request assistance from officers from different regions. This allowed officers to be rapidly deployed to manage mass picketing at various mines. Additionally, intelligence was shared not only among police forces but also with the home secretary who reported to a special committee of senior ministers, who in turn reported to the prime minister’s office.

This shift in industrial relations represented a form of political and weaponised policing.

The events at Orgreave demonstrated the full extent of the police’s newly granted operational, legal and political powers. On June 18 1984 8,000 police officers trained in the use of both long and short shields and supported by police on horseback violently assaulted miners who were dressed in nothing more than jeans and t-shirts.

The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign was established over a decade ago to demand a public inquiry for justice for the miners who were ambushed and attacked by police. Their supposed crime was that they were on strike to ensure that their industry, communities and jobs were not decimated. Above all, the inquiry would ensure that an accurate and proper account is provided of the events at Orgreave, and that of the 1984-85 miners’ strike itself.

The unprecedented level of brutality and extreme violence that took place at Orgreave was unlike anything seen at the time. We must be vigilant when the government try to increase police legal powers to try to stop people protesting and taking strike action.

That’s why we support the campaign for a statutory public inquiry into the events at Orgreave.

This past few years record numbers of people have been on strike to protect their rights, their jobs and their pay. Understanding exactly what happened at Orgreave is a vital step to get to the truth, and examine those who orchestrated state violence against miners and mining communities in 1984-85 so that it can never happen again. 

Public inquiries are a key area of PILC’s work. State accountability is a vital component of a truly democratic society, and we will continue to fight for it. You can find out more about our public inquiry work here.

  1. Jane Percy Smith and Paddy Hillyard ‘Miners in the Arms of the Law: a statistical analysis’ – Journal of Law and Society Vol.12 no.3 Winter 1985. ↩︎