Miners Strike 1984-85: UK-wide Inquiry

Part of NDAs: Universities – in Westminster Hall at 4:43 pm on 29th June 2022.

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Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 4:43 pm, 29th June 2022

It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Ms McVey. I thank Owen Thompson—the vice chair of the all-party parliamentary group on coalfield communities, which I proudly chair—for securing this important debate, which is close to all our hearts, as he mentioned.

My hon. Friend Mike Amesbury mentioned that the 1984-85 strike shaped our politics. It made me: I am who I am because of that strike. My dad was a miner who was on strike in 1984-85, and I have spoken about how I am very proudly my father’s daughter. He instilled in me all the beliefs that I hold dear today and that have put me in this place, as has my community, for which I am very thankful. It is because of that that I stand here today, and I will focus my comments on the shocking events of 18 June 1984, which are crystallised in the minds of all our communities.

Scenes of mounted police officers charging towards miners with their truncheons raised are images that many people have found impossible to forget. Today, Orgreave is widely recognised as one of the most aggressive acts of state-sanctioned violence in recent British memory. Indeed, the Orgreave Trust and Justice Campaign called it

“one of the most serious miscarriages of justice in this country’s history”,

which is why we fundamentally need a UK-wide inquiry, because accounts of the events on that day are still contested. An inquiry would finally establish the facts and set the record straight once and for all.

We all know that, as part of the wider effort to discredit unions, the Thatcher Government, aided and abetted by South Yorkshire police, sought to amplify the narrative that it was the miners and not the police who initiated the violence. Well, my dad was there. He was present at Orgreave and saw what happened with his own eyes. He, alongside thousands of others, will attest that that narrative was untrue. Alongside others, he fled from horrific scenes of assault and brutalisation at the hands of South Yorkshire police with genuine fear for his own safety. It is a huge act of generational injustice for that to have never been investigated by a public inquiry.

The prosecutions against the 95 arrested protesters all collapsed precisely because their trials exposed the flimsy testimonies and unreliable evidence from police officers, some of which was later found to be perjurious. Serious allegations have emerged about the extent to which South Yorkshire police acted to cover up their wrongdoing, from the submission of misleading evidence to junior officers having their testimonies dictated to them by their superiors. What happened at Orgreave and in the years that followed was a serious failure of policing. Only a full public inquiry can right that fundamental wrong.

Much of the groundwork for an inquiry, as we have heard, has already been done. Colleagues will be aware that in June 2015 the then Home Secretary, Mrs May, commendably opened the door to a public inquiry by inviting submissions for why an inquiry was needed, but the following year her successor stood up in the Chamber and ruled out an inquiry of any kind. That was in 2016, six years ago, and much has changed since then.

The 2019 election saw a wave of new Members elected to this place, myself included, many of whom were new Conservative Members who now represent large ex-mining communities. If those colleagues were here today and bothered to represent their constituencies, I would tell them to call on their friends in government to hold an inquiry. Many of their constituents will have been at Orgreave and will know at first hand that the popular narrative in the media about Orgreave was utterly false.

In October 2020, the Scottish Parliament, as we have heard, accepted the findings of the Scottish review into policing during the strike, and Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament supported it and its outcome. The precedent, the groundwork and the cross-party support for an inquiry is all there. We just need the Tory Government here in Westminster to listen. If they are serious about retaining the red wall seats, which I hope does not happen—it will not—they would be wise to pay attention. But this is bigger than politics. Fundamentally, an inquiry is one of the many steps that we urgently need to take to restore public trust in policing.

Public trust in policing is vital. I know from my own constituency in Pontypridd and Taff Ely that when police play a positive, integrated role in our communities, everyone benefits. My brother is now a police officer, so that shows it goes full circle, but the events of Orgreave served to seriously undermine public trust in the police. In the case of South Yorkshire police, trust was undermined even further by the Hillsborough disaster just a few years later, and we now know that police negligence was instrumental.

Failures at Hillsborough and Orgreave have been widely connected and understood to be part of the systemic culture that was at the heart of South Yorkshire police. Just as the Hillsborough inquests brought vindication and comfort to the families of the 97 victims found to have been unlawfully killed, an inquiry into Orgreave would bring clarity, accountability and finally justice.

Trust in the police, particularly the Metropolitan police, has eroded further in recent years in the wake of revelations about systemic racism and misogyny in the force. I will never forget the image of Metropolitan police officers pinning women to the ground at a peaceful protest—actually it was not a protest; it was a vigil—to commemorate the horrific murder of Sarah Everard at the hands of a serving Metropolitan police officer. Just as those women were brutalised for daring to hold a commemorative vigil, protesters at Orgreave were assaulted and brutalised for daring to come together to fight for their rights.

As colleagues will be aware, only yesterday the Met police was placed under special measures by the police watchdog for “serious or critical shortcomings”. If action is to be taken to address failures at the Met, it is only right that action is taken to address the historic failures that led to the battle of Orgreave. Ultimately, we must not allow the rot of eroded public trust to fester any longer. If the Government are committed to rebuilding public trust, as they say they are, they know what they can do: hold an inquiry now, without any further delay, and provide justice to the families who greatly deserve it.