The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-05152, in the name of Neil Findlay, on lessons from Orgreave. The debate will be concluded without any questions being put.
That the Parliament notes with concern the revelations regarding the actions of South Yorkshire Police and the alleged duplication of statements and fabrication of police reports and witness accounts at both Hillsborough and Orgreave; further notes that South Yorkshire Police has referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission for investigation, and wonders whether there is a need for concern in relation to arrests and convictions in Lothian and across Scotland during the 1984-85 miners’ strike and as to whether miscarriages of justice took place.
I wish that this debate did not have to take place. I wish that we still had a vibrant coal industry with skilled engineers, geologists, face workers and all the necessary ancillary staff in work supplying coal as part of a balanced energy policy—but we do not.
The reason why we do not is the deliberate policy of the Thatcher Government, which took revenge on the National Union of Mineworkers, and had as its ultimate aim the destruction of the trade union movement and organised labour.
The 1984-85 strike was without doubt one of the biggest social, economic and political events of the second half of the previous century and its impact is still being felt across Scotland and the United Kingdom. Late last year, the Hillsborough inquiry reported and exposed the alleged corruption, lies and falsification of witness statements by South Yorkshire Police. It explored how officers are alleged to have perverted the course of justice to cover up their failings in relation to that tragic event.
That inquiry was followed by a BBC Yorkshire “Inside Out” documentary on events at Orgreave in South Yorkshire, which was one of the main flashpoints during the strike. The documentary exposed how the police are again alleged to have duplicated statements, to have had statements dictated to them by senior officers, to have perverted the course of justice and to have been responsible for a host of other unacceptable practices in relation to arrests and the recording of evidence and witness statements, all amounting to misconduct in public office. Such was the seriousness of the allegations that South Yorkshire Police referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission for investigation. We await the result of that investigation with interest.
The revelations from Hillsborough and Orgreave motivated me to lodge the motion for today’s debate. Across the mining communities of the United Kingdom, people know about the politicisation of the police during the dispute, about the involvement of the security forces and about the snatch squads that were established to target individuals—usually influential trade union officials and activists—and they know that thousands of people were arrested on bogus or exaggerated charges.
One of those people was a miner who worked at Polkemmet colliery, in Whitburn, who was on a picket line and a few rows back in the crowd. He was pushed over by the police, he fell and was dragged off the road, arrested, charged and sacked. Another miner was peacefully picketing at Hunterston power station when he was dragged from the crowd and charged with police assault. He is adamant that he did nothing wrong and has never committed a crime in his life. Another man—a strike leader at Bilston Glen—was targeted and picked out from a peaceful picket by a police snatch quad, again having committed no crime before or since.
These are the words of a man who worked at Castlehill:
“I was in a village with 4 others when the bus went past carrying” strikebreakers—he did not quite use that term. He went on:
“A group of kids 50 yards down the road stoned the bus. The police returned and arrested all 5 of us—we had nothing to do with what happened. The next day a sixth man was also charged despite the fact that he was actually 3 miles away and in his bed at the time of the incident.”
Time allows me to provide only those few examples of the 1,400 cases, but there are many more like that. Of course, it was not just a criminal record that those people received: more than 200 were sacked and lost their redundancy entitlement, and found it difficult to get work afterwards—no doubt because they had been blacklisted.
Of course, they were the fortunate ones. Some men had nervous breakdowns and became ill both mentally and physically or died as a direct consequence of those life-shattering experiences, because of the crime of trying to defend their communities, their jobs and their right to work.
Given what we now know about police activity in Yorkshire, I think that we have a moral duty to look at that evidence and to reflect on what happened here in Scotland. We have to ask: was it only South Yorkshire Police officers who, it appears, lied and fabricated evidence? Was it only South Yorkshire Police officers who, it appears, perverted the course of justice? Was it only South Yorkshire Police officers who duplicated statements that led to convictions? I find that difficult to accept. We need to establish the truth about whether the arrests and convictions were legitimate or miscarriages of justice.
Since the launch of this campaign in December 2012, more than 900 people have emailed the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police demanding an inquiry. I know that the cabinet secretary was involved in the dispute and that he supported miners in Fife and elsewhere, and I congratulate him on that. He will therefore be aware of the allegations that have been made over the years since 1984. He will also have constituents in his own Edinburgh East constituency who were directly affected, having worked at Bilston Glen or Monktonhall. I therefore hope that he will reflect on the emerging evidence and use his personal knowledge. Although individuals may have to take their individual cases to the appropriate body, he could do as has been done in other cases in which police misconduct has been suspected—for example, the Shirley McKie or Chhokar cases—and set up an independent review. He has the power to do so. There is a deep feeling that the convictions are unsafe and that there must be such an inquiry.
The cabinet secretary has a choice. The fact that he is not here today is absolutely dreadful, and will be noted in the mining communities across the country. He can use the powers of his office to establish an inquiry, or he can do nothing. However, we have to be clear that if he does nothing, innocent Scots will live the rest of their lives as victims of an appalling, politically motivated miscarriage of justice. We need an inquiry.
I congratulate Neil Findlay on bringing the debate to the chamber. It is vital that the matter is highlighted in this way and that the sentiments of the motion are progressed to the highest level. I know that Neil Findlay will not give up until that happens, and I assure him that his colleagues on the Labour seats will give all the support and assistance that we can give in order to make that happen.
As I was born in 1984, I cannot remember the miners’ strike of 1984-85. Some would say that I am lucky in that respect. However, that miners’ strike and the strikes of the 1970s are not lost on me and have gone a long way in helping to define my politics.
As I have lived in Lanarkshire all my life, I know how important the mining industry has been and continues to be in my part of the world—be it Shotts, Harthill, Gartsherrie, Greengairs, Allanton or my home town of Bellshill. Lanarkshire had nearly half of Scotland’s pits in 1910 and continued to thrive until the last pit closure in the 1980s. I am an MSP for Central Scotland, so I am acutely aware that not only Lanarkshire benefited from the industry; Falkirk also has a proud history in the field, and Larbert, Bo’ness and other towns are testament to that.
My grandpa was a miner and was very proud of his profession. He was determined that his grandchildren would know the sacrifices that men like him had made. That resulted in many family visits to Summerlee when I was younger—visits which I know many families in Lanarkshire and beyond continue to make. My grandpa was working in one of the two pits at Auchengeich in 1959 when disaster struck and killed 47 men, leaving many families and communities in Lanarkshire devastated, even to this day. That is the sacrifice that miners make—they give their lives.
Only by knowing of that tragedy and others like it can one truly appreciate how truly galling was the treatment of miners by South Yorkshire Police at Orgreave. Despite the fact that 95 miners were awarded compensation in 1985, no police officer—or anyone from the Government—has ever been held to account.
It is beyond belief that people were persecuted for simply exercising in their democratic right to strike. More than half the country’s mineworkers chose to strike as a result of the significant job losses that were occurring at that time. Let us remember that 20,000 jobs were under threat. Strike action is never an easy option, but such was the concern over the future of the industry and the other industries that depended on it, that it was the only option available to the men and their families. Brenda Procter, who was chair of National Women Against Pit Closures, said:
“I am proud to have been involved. It wasn’t about money or hours or pay, it was about communities and jobs and the future of our children for generations to come.”
That is why I support those who are calling for a Hillsborough type inquiry, which must look at the whole of the UK. I do not believe that the incidents at Orgreave were isolated, so it is now time for the Scottish Government to take action. The Scottish Government should not only add its voice to those who are calling for an investigation, but should carry out its own investigation for the 900 miners who have already emailed Kenny MacAskill and the many more who will follow.
Too many miners have died with a criminal conviction to their name. It is for those men and their families that we should do all that we can to clear their names and join our own loyalty parade, albeit that we are 29 years on from the original events. I hope that the Scottish Government will now do the right thing and order an investigation here.
I refer members to my entry in the register of interests and I add my congratulations to Neil Findlay on initiating and securing this members’ business debate.
It is extremely important to recognise, as the motion intends, the value of integrity of due legal process with regard to potential miscarriages of justice. Neil Findlay is right to identify what happened in South Yorkshire and the fact that South Yorkshire Police referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. There can be no doubt that after the allegations surrounding Orgreave and, in particular, Hillsborough, there are lessons for policing not just in Yorkshire but elsewhere, including Scotland.
The debate is important. It should be remembered that next year will be the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike. Scotland has an industrial heritage that was built on the work of miners and we must realise that we owe them a legacy that is open and honest. I do not want to be accused of being misty-eyed; in all industrial disputes there can be wrongdoing on both sides, but this was no ordinary industrial dispute. The allegations of widespread collusion by police officers at Orgreave do not inspire confidence, especially when miners were sacked as a result of being found guilty of breach of the peace charges while they were on picket duties.
The “Coal not dole” slogan during the strike became a reality of “dole” for many thousands of sacked miners after the dispute. Miners suffered real hardship, and not only in financial terms. Many families and relationships were lost during that time, which is a longer-lasting cost.
One of the lasting images of the miners’ strike is of Yuill & Dodds Ltd lorries, which looked more like armoured personnel vehicles, flying through picket lines at Ravenscraig. The strike and its aftermath have a particular relevance for Central Scotland; nearly 300 people who were protesting at the entrance of the site were arrested on 3 May 1984 at Ravenscraig.
Neil Findlay is rightly looking for justice now and in the future. It is a moot point whether the Scottish justice system is robust enough to take criticism, particularly when—as has been highlighted by various media outlets—a significant number of those who were arrested did not have any previous convictions to their names. I am encouraged that Scottish Government ministers have advised people that they can take grievances about alleged miscarriages of justice to the Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland or to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.
Some people might wrongly see this debate as an attack on the police. It is not. We do not know with any degree of certainty whether the alleged practices employed by South Yorkshire Police and others were active in Scotland at the time of the miners’ strike.
I will respond to that towards the end of my speech.
We need to embrace the possibility that the miners were wrongly arrested, with police officers moved throughout the UK to deal with the strike. I look forward to the ministerial response to the issues that are being raised in this debate. I hope that we can right any wrongs that were perpetrated during the miners’ strike, and clear the names of those who were wrongly convicted as a result of defending their jobs, industry and communities.
I support the call for an independent inquiry that will take us forward and I hope that people in the mining communities and other communities can be confident that the Scottish legal system can defend those who were wrongly accused and convicted during the miners’ strike.
I thank my colleague, Neil Findlay, for securing the debate, and I welcome the members of our mining community who are here today in Parliament to highlight the grave injustice that was perpetrated by police against our mining community. In the light of the South Yorkshire Police post-Hillsborough cover-up, there is now an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation into a similar attempted cover-up by the same police authority at the Orgreave plant clashes.
We now know that statements were altered either to remove or change negative comments about policing on the day that 96 Liverpool supporters lost their lives in April 1989. Five years earlier at Orgreave, 8,000 picketing miners and 4,500 police clashed at a British Steel plant. Compensation of £500,000 was paid to 95 miners who were arrested during these clashes, but no officer has ever been disciplined in relation to the events.
Provisional estimates by the National Union of Mineworkers suggest that 60 per cent of the charges that were brought for picket-line offences were bogus or exaggerated. Most worrying is that, as NUM leader Chris Kitchen has said, the police corruption may have been more widespread, so it is important to look beyond Hillsborough and Orgreave.
The possibility that such practices were used during the miners’ strike in Midlothian and across Scotland—I know that Neil Findlay MSP has received information that that is the case—surely means that the Scottish Government and police have a duty to look again at the cases of the 500 men who were convicted during the miners’ strike. The allegations against the police range from fabrication and duplication of witness statements to perjury and misconduct in public office. Such actions may have led to the arrest of pickets on bogus or exaggerated grounds.
The refusal of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to review the criminal records of those men is very disappointing; after 28 years, those men deserve justice. I call on the cabinet secretary, Kenny MacAskill, to launch a full, comprehensive and independent review of all the convictions that were brought against those who were involved in the disputes.
The men who received criminal records inevitably found it incredibly difficult to get work after the strike. That is the real human cost of those potential miscarriages of justice. I urge any miners and others who were arrested and who feel that the charges against them were unjust to contact my colleague Neil Findlay MSP, whom I applaud for all the good work that he has done on the issue. It appears that the true story of the miners’ strike is just beginning to be told.
With the creation of the new national police service of Scotland, it is as important now as it has ever been that we have proper scrutiny of policing operations. Although the police in Scotland have not been involved in the same scandals as the police service in England, the experience of picketers in Scotland during the miners’ strike shows us that we must never be complacent.
In closing, I say that I feel passionately about the issue because I was born and brought up in a mining community. I will await with keen interest the progress of today’s debate and developments thereafter.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this afternoon’s debate. I find myself in agreement with much of the motion in the name of Neil Findlay, but not all of it.
The October 2012 BBC “Inside Out” programme that alleged the fabrication of police reports on the Orgreave miners’ strike, alongside the findings of the Hillsborough independent panel, are concerning and should be taken very seriously. They paint a worrying picture of the actions of South Yorkshire Police some time ago. It is right that that English police force has referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission for investigation.
The findings of the Hillsborough independent panel were truly shocking. I welcomed the Home Secretary’s announcement shortly afterwards of a new inquiry, which will be led by former Durham chief constable, Jon Stoddart. Hillsborough was a tragedy, in which 96 Liverpool fans died because of overcrowding and poor crowd management, and we now know that some of the police reports were fabricated. I hope that lessons will be learned from the forthcoming inquiry and that the families of those who died get the information and the justice that they deserve.
However, part of my difficulty with the motion is that Hillsborough was very different to what happened at Orgreave and that, if I may be forgiven for stating the obvious, neither event took place in Scotland. Orgreave was an illegal strike involving crowds of picketers, some of whom attacked and caused injury to police officers. That is a very different situation to a group of peaceful football fans being injured and killed through no fault of their own. Additionally, there were no miscarriages of justice at Orgreave for the very simple reason that the cases of all those accused of rioting were dropped. Although South Yorkshire Police agreed to pay compensation to some miners, it is important to note that no officers were disciplined for misconduct and no charges against the police were ever proven in court.
Hold on a minute.
The allegations that were made at the time and those that were broadcast during the October 2012 BBC “Inside Out” programme remain allegations that have yet to be independently proven.
Those points are not made to detract from the seriousness of the claims. However, we should note the important differences between the events. Most important, there is little or no evidence that miscarriages of justice or police misconduct occurred north of the border. Is Neil Findlay saying that allegations of police misconduct in South Yorkshire automatically mean that Scottish police forces have behaved inappropriately?
If there has been injustice, I agree that we need to find that out. However, the simple fact that convictions occurred in Scotland, many for breach of the peace, does not in itself point towards miscarriages of justice; the miners’ strikes were so political in nature does not mean that those who acted unacceptably and were convicted in a court of law should have their convictions quashed.
Does Labour want inquiries to be carried out for every single strike that took place in 1984 and 1985, regardless of the lack of evidence suggesting miscarriages of justice? One of the main grievances of those who were convicted was their subsequent loss of employment. However, that is a matter for employment law and does not relate to the original criminal conviction. In many cases, those who lost their jobs subsequently received unfair dismissal awards.
I congratulate Neil Findlay on securing the debate. I welcome the many miners to the gallery. Their action, dignity and struggle will never be forgotten.
“most police officers behave blamelessly in their duties ... But we do them and society no favours if we flinch from honestly assessing controversial events.”
That is why trust needs to be restored and justice delivered.
I am afraid that events at Orgreave and Hillsborough tell a dismal tale. At Orgreave, the negative propaganda machine worked to portray a scene of chaos so that those who were arrested could be accused of engaging in a riot. The BBC documentary “Inside Out” detailed how, when the trial of the miners from Orgreave collapsed due to unreliable police evidence, it was found that many key phrases in officers’ statements were given verbatim by a number of different individuals, suggesting a far-reaching cover up of the real circumstances of the picket. When—five years later—the Hillsborough disaster took place, we witnessed similar conduct, which is now being addressed by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
In the light of what we have seen happening in Yorkshire, it is necessary to ensure that the Scottish strikers have their cases re-examined in a full and comprehensive review.
Brian Docherty, who is chair of the Scottish Police Federation, has “accused the politicians” who are involved in the campaign
“of jumping on a ‘bandwagon’, saying that re-opening historic investigations would impact on present-day policing.”
I must say that it is entirely unclear to me how that would be the case. What is the case is that 1,424 miners and others were arrested in Scotland during the 1984-85 strike. As Neil Findlay highlighted, 202 of them were subsequently sacked and paid no redundancy.
Those who were picketing legitimately and understandably in Scotland—people who had never committed an act of violence or aggression—passed through the prison system and emerged with convictions based, in all probability, on adulterated evidence. Those convictions have stayed with them. They are not a temporary affliction, because criminal convictions affect every part of life and have a palpable impact on families and communities when individuals struggle to gain access to employment.
I also emphasise that the debate is about respect; it is about respect for the rights of individuals in a democracy to be given a fair trial regardless of how many years may have passed in the interim. It is not about “jumping on a ‘bandwagon’”, but about ensuring that justice is done for our constituents and citizens. It is also about respect and trust for our police force because, if justice is not seen to be done, the vast majority who serve our communities with diligence and integrity may be tarnished by indiscretions that are seen to go unpunished.
I understand some of the concerns that have been expressed about the cost of a review in Scotland, but to suggest that the call for one is simply a case of backing a bandwagon does an immense disservice to the people who have had to suffer with a black spot against their names throughout most of their working lives. I also do not think that the expense would be a significant factor. It is certainly outweighed by the injustice that has been done to so many.
I stand with Neil Findlay and the miners who are present with us in asking for renewed efforts from the Scottish Government to initiate a review so that those who acted within the law in rightful protest may have the opportunity to clear their names.
I will finish with the statement of Alex Bennett, a former miner who was convicted of breach of the peace during the strike. He said:
“The judge found me guilty, the next thing I got through the door was my P45 and I was blacklisted for three years. I was left with a criminal conviction when I had done nothing wrong.
You don’t forget that. What they did to us was an outrage.”
The miners will not forget it and neither should we. I support the motion.
Deep mining was more than a job in the communities of Upper Nithsdale: it was the core of the community and the reason why some of its villages, such as Kelloholm, existed at all. When, on 9 March 1984, thousands of local miners came out on strike, they did so to protect the jobs on which their communities depended, their way of life and the cohesion of their communities.
Those miners were aware of the Conservative Government’s determination to destroy the power of the trade unions, and of the National Coal Board’s plans to close 20 pits with the loss of 20,000 jobs. The NCB planned to develop a number of superpits using new technology with less manpower—a move that signalled the end of mining in Scotland, Wales and many parts of England.
I and my colleagues John Syme and Jim Dempster, both of whom are Upper Nithsdale councillors and former Upper Nithsdale miners, were happy to sign up to Neil Findlay’s campaign for an investigation into cases against striking miners who were prosecuted by the police in Scotland. We were advised by our local chief constable of the procedure for individual complaints. John and Jim have been asking local ex-miners about their experiences. So far, no one has come forward, although I believe that there is a story of someone who ended up in a police cell wearing his pyjamas because he just happened to go for a pint of milk at a time when a lot of miners were picked up.
I well remember the miners’ strike, but I did not live in Scotland at the time. I had been living and working in southern England since 1976, and my role during the miners’ strike was to go round the doorsteps in Slough, where I lived, collecting money for the striking miners and their families on a Sunday morning. Although Slough was not a mining area and was an extremely diverse community, I am sure that the miners would have been encouraged and touched—as I was—by the generosity towards them, and the solidarity with them, that was displayed by members of the community, who did not have much money themselves but were glad to make donations in support of the miners.
I do not want to imply that there is widespread corruption in the English or Scottish police forces, but I have personal experience, going back to 1979, that individual police officers believed that they were above the law.
I was active in the Anti-Nazi League when the National Front was active in the run-up to the general election in 1979. Some members may remember the death of Blair Peach, whom 14 witnesses saw being struck by police officers. That case was never taken to court. The day before that, I was at a demonstration in Leicester, where I observed an agent provocateur encouraging demonstrators to throw stones and then being ferried off—quite happily—in a police van. I also observed fleeing protesters being pursued by police dogs and mounted police officers. On one occasion when I was on a picket line, I was assaulted by a police officer who, on seeing a small and—in those days—thin and slight lady, believed that he could drag me in. If I had been dragged in, I dare say that I, too, would have ended up with a criminal conviction.
That happened in 1979. A Conservative Government was then elected, which, in 1984, described trade unionists and socialists as “the enemy within”. Like the miners, we were the enemy within. I believe that there were miscarriages of justice. Miners lost their employment, got criminal records, were blacklisted and lost their pensions. They were persecuted for political reasons. That might have happened many years ago, but they still deserve justice, and they deserve an inquiry in Scotland, just as they deserve an inquiry elsewhere in the UK.
I beg the Presiding Officer’s permission to sit, as it is not a very good day for me.
I do not want to congratulate Neil Findlay; I want to thank him and give him a great big hug for getting the issue on the agenda and for getting so many people to give up their lunch time, which, after all, is not that much to give up. During the miners’ strike, I was a reporter and I saw a lot of families give up a great deal that they did not want, but were forced, to give up. I was supposed to be neutral because I was broadcasting but, as one Bob Young will testify, I helped to conduct the forum for the miners that gave out news about what was happening where and when.
At that time, I saw a great deal of humanity in the mining community. I also saw a difference—Malcolm Chisholm will know what I mean—between the leadership of the miners on the two sides of the border, which perhaps gave rise to the difference in attitude that existed. As far as I could work out, south of the border there was a 50:50 social split, more or less. In Scotland, you had to move much further to the right before you came to the split. I think that that had a great deal to do with the leadership of the miners in Scotland. Mick McGahey knew what he was doing; frankly, I do not think that Arthur Scargill did—he took the miners into a strike that they could not win at a time of year when the stocks were high and summer was blazing.
However, that is in the past now. Why has it remained in the past for so long? That is because we do not find out about Cabinet secrets and do not get to know about secrets such as what happened in such an important social and industrial event as the miners’ strike until about 20 years afterwards, when memories have faded just a bit and events can be tackled more objectively. That is why we are right to say that we should have an inquiry now. It is possible to get justice now without hurting people unintentionally.
I will give an example of how people were hurt unintentionally. It might sound daft, but this happened; I hope that Jackie Aitchison does not mind me taking his name in vain. The police wanted to have a line to keep the miners back, so someone got a bit of chalk and drew a line on the road. Jackie Aitchison—for devilment, I think—stepped over it and back again, and he was lifted. That was stupid—it was futile to try to have a line that would be respected by the miners. There was a wee bit of a breakdown between the miners and the police in Scotland, but it was nothing like what took place in Yorkshire. We must be grateful for that and acknowledge that it was the case.
However, that is not to say that there are not genuine grievances that should come out in an inquiry and should be explained to people. I am very pleased to support Neil Findlay’s motion.
I join other members in congratulating Neil Findlay on securing the debate.
Although it is not a good idea to revisit historical events to do nothing other than pick at old sores, there are some events that are important enough to re-examine in order to learn lessons and, if possible, rectify wrongs. That is clearly the case with the issue that we are discussing, and Neil Findlay is absolutely right to ask the Scottish Government to consider looking into the manner in which the miners were policed in Scotland and to clear the names of those who were criminalised for doing no more than engaging in industrial action in defence of their industry, their livelihoods and, indeed, their heritage.
In 1984, I was the GMB union’s representative on the Scottish Trades Union Congress youth committee. Being part of that body helped me to gain a wide knowledge and understanding of many domestic and international issues. However, nothing taught me more than what I experienced and learned in supporting the miners at that time.
Hard as many of the lessons were to take, nothing angered me more than the fact that some police officers conducted themselves so badly across the country. That was even more the case in how the dispute was dealt with in my community in Lanarkshire, which was divided between supporting the miners and protecting its steelworks at one and the same time.
To this day, I recall with horror the sight of sneering police officers waving £10 and £20 notes in the faces of miners who picketed the Ravenscraig steelworks to stop the scabbing Yuill & Dodds lorries entering the complex and breaking the tripartite agreement between the miners, rail unions and steelworkers. Well do I remember Tommy Brennan scuttling out of the community centre in Newmains to avoid the miners from Polkemmet pit lobbying him to plead with him to stop undermining their struggle by taking the scab coal that was being driven into the Craig each day.
Seeing trade union colleagues so at odds with one another was not a pleasant experience, but what lives with me most is the litany of harassment and victimisation that was visited on a friend of mine—a fellow trade unionist who worked at the Polkemmet pit and whose life was made a misery by the local police in his home town of Shotts.
He was constantly stopped in his car as he drove about and he was regularly obstructed in the street as he went about his community to drum up support for the dispute. He was a young man who had never been in trouble with the police in his life up to that point, but he found himself with road traffic offences against his name and a string of trumped-up breach of the peace arrests, which had been carried out for no purpose other than to break his spirit and undermine his efforts to act as a committed trade union activist.
I know that the police do a good job on the whole, and I value and support the efforts that they make to secure our communities, but there remains the ability for the power that they wield to be a destructive force when it is allowed—or even directed—to be unleashed against groups in society who are deemed to be a threat to the designs of the Government of the day. We need therefore to look back at what happened during the miners’ strike and learn the lessons of history, so that we do not allow them to be repeated today.
There is no justification for individuals and groups—other than those who might genuinely pose a direct threat to our country’s security—to be subjected to surveillance. No one in Scotland today should face trumped-up charges and organised police harassment for having nothing more than political views that do not suit the Government of the day.
To show that those lessons have been learned, we must say to those who were wronged during the miners’ strike that we know that to be the case and that the stains that were placed on them by the past mistakes are to be removed. We need the inquiry that Neil Findlay has called for—nothing less will do, minister.
I, too, congratulate Neil Findlay on bringing the matter to Parliament. It is important for everyone who is elected to represent the public to articulate the concerns in their communities. Genuine and heartfelt concerns are properly being addressed today.
The motion asks whether lessons can be learned, and it is clear that they can be. I will not go over a lot of them; I will approach the issue from a slightly different and—given that Graeme Pearson is not here—perhaps unique position. I am a former police officer and former full-time official of the Scottish Police Federation, where my role was to defend people who were accused of misconduct and disciplinary offences.
What have been alleged are serious offences, which would be outwith the remit that I described and which the courts would—rightly—deal with. I certainly do not condone any wrongdoing, not just on a personal basis but because to do so would undermine the fabric of the criminal justice system.
There were 1,424 arrests, which is a significant number. Were they all superbly executed? That is highly unlikely. Neil Findlay asked in his questionnaire about fabricated, bogus or exaggerated charges, which are possible when emotions are high.
I found targeting of strike leaders to be perhaps the most concerning aspect. When we hear of the pernicious influence of the UK security services—the people who decide who the goodies and the baddies are—and subsequent events such as blacklisting, there is every likelihood that targeting took place.
I am keen to defend workers’ right to strike. I favour the reversal of some of the anti-union laws on matters such as secondary action and picket numbers and locations. We must try to look ahead.
The situation in Scotland was different from that in South Yorkshire, but the situation in North Yorkshire was different from that in South Yorkshire. The Metropolitan Police’s negative influence was often a factor. However, there was United Kingdom co-ordination. People will say that that was about mutual aid and communications, but there was clearly politicisation of the police role, and that causes understandable concern to many people, including me.
I have a number of queries about having a review of all cases. I certainly favour—and I have briefly discussed this with Neil—due process being exhausted. That has been outlined. The questionnaire that was issued covers appeals, but does not say how many complained to the police and what the response was. Having said that, I well understand that miners would have good cause to believe that there would be little value in complaining, with the state having been involved in the miners’ dispute to the extent that it was.
What form would a review take? Would competent witnesses be compellable? The right to not self-incriminate would apply to not only police officers, but miners. The relationship with the criminal justice system cannot be bypassed. If someone has done wrong, we have courts, not reviews, to deal with that. There is also the right to defend accusations that have been levied against someone who is dead. That applies to officers and mineworkers.
I am not reticent about challenging the authorities; indeed, I have been pursuing the issue of how one make an individual complaint against the Lord Advocate acting as an individual. Do I accept that there are issues to be addressed? Yes—if the process is exhausted. Do I think that a review of the whole event would help? Given what we have heard, it clearly would. Do I support an independent inquiry? Well, it depends on what that would mean.
My personal preference is for clarification of events rather than recrimination. Events elsewhere, whether in the north of Ireland or South Africa, show the benefit of truth and reconciliation, but that approach might be very challenging in this instance, because it is clear that the concerns that have been voiced are not going away. For that reason, I have reviewed my position and support an independent inquiry.
I, too, support the call for an independent inquiry, and congratulate Neil Findlay on his work in that regard. I pledge to him my support in anything that I can do to help the Fife collieries.
We have to remember that there was a particular culture at the time, when the police were given the nickname “Maggie’s army” across the United Kingdom because of the politicisation that John Finnie has just spoken about. I congratulate him on his contribution. The only thing that he said that I disagree with was his conclusion that there should not be an independent inquiry, as we are talking about criminal records that should be cleared.
Thank you for that clarification.
Last Saturday, I heard from miners who were lifted from the Comrie pit and other pits in Fife on bogus charges. The situation that Margo MacDonald described in the area in which she worked was exactly the same as the situation in some Fife collieries. As we have heard, there was a culture of state manipulation of the police. The Fife miners recalled how the police provoked many of those on the picket line by pulling out wedges of £10 notes and saying to the striking miners, “I’m getting my new kitchen on the back of your strike.” That did nothing to help the morale of the miners.
One miner had his door battered down in the middle of the night. Why could he not have been lifted during the day or at a civilised time? Why were his family and children frightened and intimidated? Those issues were brought to my attention on Saturday morning when I spoke to those people. The police bragged about having holidays and many other luxuries while miners’ families were poverty stricken and starving.
There have been allegations of collusion in South Yorkshire over witnesses’ statements relating to the battle of Orgreave during the miners’ strike. As we have heard, the force has been accused of falsifying officers’ accounts about what happened on the day and when fighting broke out between the miners and the police.
The police culture of divisiveness at the time is all important. To see that, we need only read the book that Elaine Murray mentioned, “The Enemy Within”, in which Seumas Milne revealed for the first time the astonishing lengths to which the Government and its intelligence machine were prepared to go to destroy the power of Britain’s miners’ union. There definitely was an enemy within. The British state’s secret services operated inside the NUM and used phoney bank deposits, staged cash drops, forged documents, agent provocateurs and unrelenting surveillance by MI5 and police special branch to discredit the miners and their leaders.
I support Neil Findlay. The issue is an important one that we should not lose sight of in the months to come.
It is one step in a journey. We will need to reflect on that once we know the verdict.
On the first day of the strike, I started work in the High Valleyfield social work office in my capacity as the newly appointed manager of West Fife Enterprise. There was no better place to hear, almost instantaneously and blow by blow, about the moments when miners on picket lines were lifted. Former miners who were lifted in those days still tell of their experiences. I also had inside comment from my father-in-law, who had been a minister in Tony Benn’s team. Alex Eadie had been a minister for coal in the Labour Government prior to Thatcher’s Government, so I heard about many of the machinations that were taking place.
Numerous books have been written about the experience of the miners and their families. One such book, “Chicago Tumbles: Cowdenbeath and the Miners Strike”, was written by the late Councillor Alex Maxwell of Fife Council, a communist who subsequently became a member of the democratic left.
I commend the book to those who want to find out chapter and verse on what happened to various miners in Fife.
If I have one worry about the state police force it is that, as Anne McTaggart said, we must never allow it to be politicised in the way that happened during Maggie Thatcher’s time. We have a duty to expose what happened during that time. I congratulate Neil Findlay once again.
Thank you for your forbearance, Presiding Officer. I had not intended to speak in the debate, as I knew that Neil Findlay and others would do the subject justice but, having sat through it, I felt that I could not leave without adding my name into the Official Report of the meeting.
Like Siobhan McMahon, I do not remember the 1984 and 1985 strike well although, being a bit older than her, I was around then. I was born into a prosperous town in the West Lothian coalfield. Perhaps “prosperous” is overstating the situation in Whitburn, but we had the Polkemmet colliery and Levi’s, and British Leyland was along the road. I was a toddler at the time of the 1984-85 strike, and I often think about the changes that were going on in the world then and what a trial it was for parents bringing up children in those communities. They knew that the world that they had enjoyed was slowly disappearing and that the life chances of my generation and those who came after me were about to change so much. Those communities are still changed.
Many members of my family were miners, although I will not list them all. As I am speaking without notes, I hope that I can do justice to their experience in the pits and their contribution. As I grew up in that community, it became a very different place from the one that I had been born into. I remember many uncles, family friends and others whom I knew around the town who never worked again.
One of my proudest moments in the Parliament was taking part in a debate on the upper Clyde shipbuilders. That was one of the first debates that I took part in and I was glad that my grandfather, who was a miner, was able to see me elected to the Parliament and to speak to me about that debate. In the debate, we celebrated the success of men and women taking part in industrial disputes to save their industry and transform their communities and their families’ life chances. That is what happened on the Clyde. We are proud that, as a result of the stance that they took, we are still building ships on the Clyde. O that the miners had been able to achieve the same thing. However, the dignity of the miners’ fight is no less for its having been unsuccessful.
I see that the minister has been taking notes throughout the debate and I know that she is perfectly capable of throwing away the cabinet secretary’s previous speeches and remarks on the subject. Given that we are creating a new police force, police Scotland, she might take the opportunity to acknowledge that this is absolutely the time to examine whether there is a case to answer, particularly in relation to Lothian and Borders Police, and to ensure that the new police force genuinely polices communities by consent, in the knowledge that the charges of the past have been answered.
The miners’ strike of 1984-85 was a UK dispute—uncles of mine in south Wales were involved, and the issues there will be similar. Given the collusion that went on in relation to the strategies of police forces around the UK, I have no doubt that there was an element of co-ordination from the centre. I do not believe that there could not have been such co-ordination.
The issue is probably the biggest remaining sore in industrial relations in Scotland. It is unique in that sense, but we need to ensure that what happened can never happen again. That is why it is right that we have an inquiry at the outset of police Scotland’s operation.
We need to reflect on which side of history we are on. The right thing to do is to ensure that the dispute is thoroughly examined and that people are held to account. I hope that the Scottish Government can do that for us, and I hope that my party will commit to doing that in government if the Scottish Government does not step up to the plate in the current parliamentary session. An inquiry and its results should come while there are still mineworkers and their widows who should know the truth and receive compensation.
I congratulate Neil Findlay on securing the debate.
We have heard from members who represent communities and individuals who are scarred by the traumatic experience of the miners’ strike. Unlike younger members, I remember the strike only too well. I remember its extended nature and its huge impact on mining communities and on the wider community. As I recall, despair was felt far beyond the mining communities and very many people were emotionally caught up in the dispute, quite rightly. It is scarcely believable that it is nearly 30 years since the strike took place. The aftermath continues to linger.
The motion refers to issues to do with the actions of South Yorkshire Police during and after the Hillsborough tragedy and to the procedures in England for referral of complaints about the police. It also refers to possible miscarriages of justice in Scotland during the miners’ strike.
On police conduct, it is important to emphasise that there are specific and distinctive arrangements in Scotland for considering and investigating complaints against the police. Complaints that predate the establishment of the police service of Scotland on 1 April can still be raised with the new chief constable for investigation. Following an investigation, if people remain unhappy about how their complaint has been handled, they will be able to ask the independent police investigations and review commissioner to undertake a review. In the event that there are allegations of criminality on the part of members of the police operating in Scotland, whether from a Scottish or other UK force, such allegations can be referred to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.
The Scottish ministers, rightly, have no role or right to intervene in those processes for considering complaints against members of the police. It genuinely is not clear to me from the speeches in the debate whether specific complaints have been made. It would have been helpful to know that. In any case, even a successful complaint against the police would not in and of itself result in a conviction being overturned; one thing does not automatically follow the other.
If the desired end is the actual overturning of convictions, I need to remind members that there is a proper path for that, which is not via the police complaints process, although I accept and understand that individuals might wish to utilise both paths.
Convictions are dealt with differently. There is in existence a Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. The crucial role of an independent criminal case review commission was recognised by the then UK Labour Government back in the late 1990s, with the commission being established in 1999. It provides precisely the route and potential outcome that I presume that Neil Findlay is seeking: the capacity to overturn criminal convictions and the possibility of doing so.
What Neil Findlay is asking for is rather more difficult to establish for some of the reasons that John Finnie outlined. Such an inquiry—I will come back to the couple of specific examples that Neil Findlay used—does not necessarily deliver the result that the member is looking for. It is the commission that has the responsibility in our system to investigate potential miscarriages of justice. It operates entirely independently of our courts, the police, prosecutors and Scottish ministers, which is as it should be.
Does the minister recall that previously in this Parliament we heard similar arguments from the previous Administration in relation to calls for an inquiry into abuse in care homes? The Government at the time gave all the reasons that the minister is giving and said how difficult it was to have an inquiry and that no outcome would be forthcoming. Eventually, the Government relented and an inquiry was held. There are precedents in this Parliament for that to happen; it could be done again on the same basis.
There has been no indication of any specific complaints made to the police. I come back to the possibility of going to the commission: as I understand it, there has not even been any specific attempt to use the current processes that are available.
That is not what I said—Neil Findlay ought to listen carefully. It is about using the existing processes that are available to people to pursue either complaints against the police and/or claims of miscarriage of justice and attempts to overturn convictions. Ministers cannot overturn convictions. If overturning convictions is the required end, I have to say that that is not something that a Government minister is capable of doing.
It is right that members raise awareness of important concerns that are being raised within their communities.
Can I just make some progress? We have heard Neil Findlay and a range of other members all talk eloquently about the history of all this, and—understandably—about the impact on communities and individuals, and the lingering anger and resentment about what happened. However, it is also important to be clear that we do not want to go back to the time before we had the commission, when Government ministers had a direct role in deciding whether to quash criminal convictions. Ministers simply do not now have the power to quash convictions. That was not a healthy or appropriate state of affairs, and it is far better to have an independent review commission, which has completely depoliticised that critical part of our justice system.
I want to get on. I have taken seven and a half minutes and quite a few interventions already.
The commission has a special power to refer back to court for an appeal cases that otherwise have exhausted the normal legal process. It will refer cases when it considers that a miscarriage of justice might have occurred and that it is in the interests of justice to refer the case for an appeal.
Ultimately, only a court can now determine whether a miscarriage of justice has arisen and quash the original verdict. The established procedures are there to be used when necessary, and I am aware that recent press reports have indicated that at least one well-known legal firm—this might be what Neil Findlay was referring to—is seeking to bring together information from a number of people who were arrested and convicted during the strike, with a view to a possible application to the commission. Obviously, those are—rightly—matters for the individuals involved, their legal representatives and the commission. However, I strongly recommend that approach to individuals who allege a miscarriage of justice, to their legal representatives and to members of this Parliament. That is the right way to proceed; that is how convictions can be overturned, which I understood to be the actual outcome that is desired.
Neil Findlay referred to other inquiries. I point out to him that the McKie inquiry took place after all other due process had been completed. That is, in a sense, what we are saying should happen now. I commend to members that way of proceeding.
To sum up, in Scotland, we have robust procedures in place to investigate complaints against the police and to review historical criminal convictions and possible miscarriages of justice. We should rely on those tried and tested impartial processes to be used as needed.
That concludes the debate. Before I suspend business, I apologise to the minister and members for the delay in starting the debate. I have asked for an explanation of what happened with clearing the public gallery and bringing in those who had tickets for the debate.
13:47 Meeting suspended.
14:30 On resuming—