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.The Justice for Mineworkers Campaign

Newsletter October 2002

The Battle for Orgreave

Ogreave Coking Plant in South Yorkshire occupies a prominent part in British labour movement history because of a momentous confrontation between picketing NUM members and the British police during the 1984/85 miners' strike – the battle of Orgreave. The television footage from that day is still played on British TV as a defining image of the strike. But what is never revealed is the fact that the TV footage shown was a lie, and a lie that has since been admitted by the BBC. The images that persist are of NUM members hurling bricks, bottles and anything to hand at the 'unprovoked' British bobbies, who then retaliate with a mass charge in 'self defence'. However, the BBC, whose film of the confrontation was broadcast to the nation (and beyond), have since admitted that they reversed the order of events: the true film shows the mounted police attacking first, forcing the miners to defend themselves, and not the other way round. Here is the text of the BBC letter of apology issued on 3/7/91:

"The BBC acknowledged some years ago that it made a mistake over our sequence of events at Orgreave. We accepted without question that it was serious, but emphasized that it was a mistake made in the haste of putting the news together.
.....The end result was that the editor inadvertently reversed the occurrence of the actions of the police and the pickets." (Our italics)

Now this would be acceptable – if it were true – but Tony Benn, a Member of Parliament at the time, and who was at Orgreave that day, remembered something different when interviewed for a re-enactment of Orgreave made for Channel Four television. He recalls speaking to NUJ journalists at the time and recalled them as being furious that they were ordered to transpose the sequence of events for the news that night.

To commemorate the seventeenth anniversary of Orgreave, a reenactment of the day's events was shown on British TV on Sunday October 20th, 2002, and this has gone some way to correcting the public's perception of that fateful day. Many might find the idea of an re-enactment of a mere trade union confrontation a bit odd, usually associating such stunts with battles from key moments in British history such as the English Civil War or the Wars of the Roses. But for those who were there, on a day when the full might of the state was lined up against a contingent of the working class who'd come, at least initially, for a peaceful picket, no word other than 'battle' will be adequate to describe what happened.

We reproduce below two reviews of the reenactment, one of the actual film shown on British TV and the other of the inevitable book accompanying the film.

One strike and you're out
Gareth McLean
Monday October 21, 2002
The Guardian

The Battle of Orgreave deserves a ballad. On June 18, 1984 – three months into the miners' strike that would last another year – 4,000 miners from across the UK tried to stop coal being moved into the South Yorkshire coke works. Facing them, behind a Perspex wall of shields, short and long, were 3,000 police officers. When the two lines of ordinary working men met, punches, stones and insults were thrown, loyalties were tested and life for the miners, the policemen and Britain as a whole was changed irrevocably. They were pitched headlong into history.
..... For many, Orgreave was the defining moment of the strike. For the men and women who depended on the coal industry for their livelihoods, it almost certainly was. There were rumours of soldiers in police uniforms and agent provocateurs in the miners' ranks. Yorkshire, it was said, was no longer God's own country but instead a police state. The miners were a danger to democracy. We know how the story ends and it isn't with happy ever after.
..... Artangel: The Battle of Orgreave (Channel 4, Sunday) will do in place of a ballad. Mike Figgis's film recording the reenactment – an art project/event – tells the story, acts as a memorial and reminds you of a time when people used words such as "solidarity".
The reenactment was artist Jeremy Deller's idea. He wanted to give a voice to the people involved and to hear their stories. Tony Benn popped up, as he often does, to speak about the BBC's collusion with the government in presenting the miners as thugs, but it was to regular people that this film belonged. All spoke with passion and told poignant, powerful tales. It was raw, unsentimental and moving.
..... An ex-miner and former policeman, Mac McLoughlin, spoke of how he joined the force to do something for his community. He did something for it, he admitted mournfully. "I destroyed it."
Stephanie Gregory, who chaired a support group of miners' families, reflected: "It boils down to what you'll do when you're pushed into a corner."
"If you're watching this, Mrs Thatcher," a former miner participating in the reenactment addressed the camera. "Drop dead."
For some, there was no need to re-enact the battle. They still live with war wounds.
..... While the left can get all wistful about the good old days of trade unions and the right can raise the spectre of those good old days returning with the election to high office of lardy, menacing old-school union types, in between, people are trying to get on with their lives. Some are doing better than others. Of course Artangel: The Battle of Orgreave was about politics but, more importantly, it was about people. It might have been catharsis or simply commemoration but, either way, it made you think about how the former really affects the latter. The reenactment might not look or sound like a work of art, but if the purpose of art is to make you think, The Battle of Orgreave qualifies…..

The English Civil War Part II
The Battle of Orgreave reenactment
Conceived by Jeremy Deller
Commissioned and produced by Artangel in association with Channel 4
Published by Artangel Publishing
ISBN 1-902201-13-2

(Review by Adge Covell)

In 1984, the National Union of Mineworkers went on strike in response to the Tory government's plans to decimate the mining industry. Four months into the bitter, year-long dispute, on June 18, one of the most violent confrontations between picketing miners and police culminated in a mounted police charge through the village of Orgreave, South Yorkshire.
..... On June 17, 2001, artist Jeremy Deller staged a partial reenactment of that event, collaborating with members of historical reenactment societies from all over Britain and with local people from mining communities in South Yorkshire.
..... "The English Civil War Part II" tells the story of the reenactment, with some background on the strike and those it affected. The book is supplemented with a CD, containing interviews, poems, and protest songs.
..... Having experienced the year long strike first hand, during which time I had my collar roughly felt on a couple of occasions I may add, I was somewhat bemused as to how an event as terrible and bloody as the battle Orgreave could possibly be portrayed as an art form. The expression, "Art for art's sake", springs to mind. Then I did a little research on the man who conceived the idea, and discovered he was an incredibly talented artist of some standing.
..... Jeremy Deller was born in London in 1966. The thing that drew Jeremy Deller to reenactment was it's status as a type of folk art. 'I did a series of works about six years ago that was about proposing exhibitions and events,' says Deller, 'and I did posters for exhibitions that I would like to see or curate, but I also did events and talks that I would like to see, and one of those was the Orgreave thing.'
..... At first, the Orgreave project was something of a pipe dream for Jeremy Deller, but with Artangel's backing, the Battle of Orgreave was re-fought and filmed for Channel 4.
..... After a forward by Jeremy Deller, the book opens with an interview between the author and our very own Dave Douglass. Dave responds to questions such as, "What was Orgreave's strategic role in the context of the strike of 1984-85", and, "What was your role on the day".
..... A copy of the letter sent to all miners at the start of the strike, wherein Ian MacGregor tells of the futility of staying on strike, and how everyone should consider returning to work, is also included with the interview.
In the next section of the book, Howard Giles, who was involved in the precise orchestration of the reenactment, gives a moment by moment analysis of the battle strategy employed in the original Battle of Orgreave on the 18th of June, 1984.
He discusses tactics used by both sides, the timing of the events that took place, and comments on police footage and photographs of the battle.
For many, the strike opened doors that would possibly have remained closed to them, were it not for the need for strong personalities to rise above their everyday existence and rally the miners and their families to take strength from each other during the darkest days of the conflict.
Many miner's wives found new roles, as fund raisers and speakers, and in the next part of the book Stephanie Gregory describes the way in which she became involved in the struggle.
Already a miner's wife and a member of the Labour Party, Stephanie attended the May Day Rally of '84 and became involved with the newly formed women's movement, "Women Against Pit Closures". She tells how she traveled the length and breadth of the country, raising money and support. She describes her feelings of speaking in public for the first time, and tells of the anger, frustration and pride the women of the mining communities experienced.
Mac McLoughlin was born in Treeton, a small village situated within view of the Orgreave coking plant. In the earlier strikes of the 1970's his father was a pit deputy and a member of the N.A.C.O.D.S. union, and his brother was a miner and a member of the N.U.M.
In his piece, "A former policeman's testimony", he recounts how he started work at the pit after leaving school. He then served in the armed forces from the age of 19, before becoming a constable in the South Yorkshire Police force.
It was through his duty in the police force that he found himself at Orgreave on that fateful day in 1984. His account tells us what it was like on the other side of the riot shield, and how his emotions were confused by the role he played, a role which brought him into direct confrontation with the people he'd lived and grown up with.
..... In a graphic account of the battle, as seen through the eyes of a police officer, he describes the tactics used by those sent there to uphold the law that day. He recalls the inter-force rivalry he experienced, and of the aggression and antagonism prevalent within the "foreign forces", meaning those sections of the police ranks that came from outside of the mining communities.
The following chapter, "The importance of picketing", by Johnny Wood, describes the events of the day from the viewpoint of one involved in the strike as a striking miner. His recollections of '84-'85 tell of cat and mouse games with the police forces of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, which were a way of life for pickets in the early days of the strike. He recounts some of the tactics used by pickets to reach their objective, and the measures they took to avoid detection by the constabulary. With regards to Orgreave, he gives a lengthy and detailed description of the battle's events, describing scenes of mounted police racing their horses through the masses of pickets, and of riot squads baton charging with bloody indifference.
He says that when he returned home from the battle and watched the evening news, the report had been rearranged, showing the events of the day in a different order to that in which they had actually occurred.
..... Another point of view follows next, with Ken Wyatt, a South Yorkshire Service Ambulance man. Describing the day from his own unique perspective, as one who was there to care for the wounded, he recalls his memorable afternoon shift of 18th June, 1984.
He was born in Swinton, just three miles from Corton Wood, which was the first pit to feel the savage cut of the Tory axe. Naturally, his sympathies lay with those with whom he lived, worked and socialised. Ken goes on to tell how, after working his twilight shift, he would sit with the pickets at the gate of Kilnhurst colliery.
Besides giving moral support, Ken was also an activist involved in collecting food and money to help the miner's cause.
Jonathan Foster reported on the '84-'85 strike at the time for The Observer. His "Intimidation" section of the book starts with a depiction of a miners demonstration leaving Hyde Park in 1992. He then makes observations on different aspects of the strike; from the daily ceremony which took place between Fred, a lone picket, and the pit deputies at the gates of Frickley Colliery – to the exorbitant fines imposed on miners and their families for gleaning barely combustible coal from colliery waste heaps.
..... The strike of '84-'85 produced many fine songs, penned to rally folk to the miner's cause. The following part of the book contains the lyrics and background information to over a dozen of the most well known songs, including my own favourite, "Maggie T.", sang to the tune of "Robin Hood".

Maggie T., Maggie T.,
Riding through the glen,
Maggie T., Maggie T.,
With her evil men,
Robs from the poor,
Gives to the rich,
Robbing bitch, Robbing bitch, Robbing bitch.

The final part of the book deals with the Orgreave reenactment Following an introduction by Michael Morris, Co-Director of Artangel, there are twenty five pages of photographs depicting the reenactment of the battle. The photographs are very emotive and stirring, showing mounted police breaking ranks to charge at retreating pickets, in some very realistic scenes.
..... Although the book is primarily an account of the Battle of Orgreave, which is extremely well achieved through the use of original documents, pamphlets, news clippings, anecdotes and photographs, it also provides the reader with a wealth of information about the strike itself, from various viewpoints.
..... As a guide to the creation of the reenactment, The English Civil War Part II is essential reading. On its own, it is a valuable piece of historical research.

Adge Covell
This article is from the Miners Advice Web Site:

Orgreave, the aftermath

The police arrested hundreds of pickets on that day, but the true nature of what happened soon came to light when these cases eventually reached the courts. Much political capital had been made by the Tories and their obedient media when these arrests were made, but when many of the charges were quietly dropped before reaching court no such clamour reached the press. And when the majority of the charges that actually managed to reach the courts collapsed, it soon became clear that the violence alleged against the pickets was simply not true.

In the many successful law suits for false arrest that followed the collapse of these trials, the police were forced to pay out hundreds of thousands of pounds of tax payers' money in compensation.

In an out-of-court settlement, South Yorkshire Police agreed to pay £425,000 compensation and more than £100,000 legal costs to 39 mineworkers. The settlement followed the collapse of prosecutions against 95 mineworkers for riot, unlawful assembly and other offences.

Their trial was stopped after 43 days in 1987 when it was revealed that the prosecution had fabricated evidence.
Raju Bhatt, the lawyer representing the 39, called for action against officers on duty during the clashes. So far, because no action had been taken, "police officers feel, quite justifiably, that they can do what they like", he said.

So incompetent were they during the Orgreave trials that the whole prosecution system was actually changed as a result. Before Orgreave, the local police forces were responsible for bringing their own cases to trial: as a result of Orgreave, the Tories created the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to handle all prosecutions, independent of the police, though, as a branch of the Home Office, not independent of the state.

Eye Witness Account of the Battle

Sheffield University's official web site contains the following eye witness account by one of the miners who participated in Orgreave on that day:

"Why is it with Orgreave that the police let us get there? To get down the M1 it was ridiculous, but for Orgreave – no road blocks, no hassle, we never got stopped. Police said to me, 'Don't park there Sir, over there is the reserved parking.' Then they pushed you down a certain way according to their plans. They'd set up a propaganda and media exercise and they just sucked us in and surrounded us. Lads were in T-shirts, shorts and trainers – they [the police] were in armour. Now it's been proved that the television sequence was back to front – horses came first then bricks. It was set up to show who was master.

I saw things that day at Orgreave that I never thought I'd see in this country. When you get grown men who are virtually cowering under a mounted policeman who's trying to thump them with a baton and he pisses himself, then that's game, set and match for me. That's fear.

At Orgreave we decided to go round to the gate on the public footpath. The next thing there was a police wagon with grill on and the police jumped out with truncheons and they ran over to us swearing and shouting, 'Where are you going?' I said, 'Who do you think you're talking to?' He altered his attitude straight off, 'Why, who are you?' I said, 'Never mind, do you normally talk to people like you're talking to me?' He said, 'Tell me who you are Are you miners?' and I said, 'Yes' and all pretense went and he reverted back to ... for an instance he thought I was a member of the public or someone who could report him, but once they knew you were miners, you were fair game. They could do as they wanted.

This middle class woman was saying to us, 'I really agree with the strike, but I wish you wouldn't throw stones and be violent, it's awful.' And we were talking to her and the next minute there was this charge and the police were after us and we ran, and we were jumping over hedges and through thorns and they got us onto the railway line and this woman was stood there and she was going mad, 'Throw stones at the bastards, what's up with you, can't you use your arms?' She'd been converted in the space of about 10 minutes to a stone throwing hooligan from a middle-aged sort of middle class woman!

Orgreave was where the battle lines were drawn – it went on for a week. We were split between north and south sides, between the vans coming in. Looking down the field there were lines of police at the front, horses to your right, police to your left and dog handlers. And at the back of them a bottle-necked bridge about 8 foot wide for 10,000 men to fit through, and if you couldn't get through it when charge come you were either incapacitated, locked up, or both. They were ready and that were it. They were trying to show us, this is what you're up against. Not every miner at Orgreave that day were an angel but....

That bloke could have sold ice-creams at Dunkirk. Police were charging, stones were flying, people were running all around and all the way through he were serving ice-creams. He weren't bothered at all. For him to sell it and for some to actually buy, it were amazing!

They had a strategy for everything that you were doing, but you didn't have a strategy for anything. All we were doing was sending men there with instructions to go and picket Orgreave. We'd no-one tactically taking any control. On June 18th, when there were the big battle, that was the only time when there was any coordination. There was nothing written down but the Union said try and do the business that day because it was all built up – it was national mobilisation of Union. The coppers knew what was happening because everybody got there, which they could have quite easily stopped. But I think they decided, 'You can come, because we're all geared up for the job.'

We were arrested at Orgreave and they took us into a cell at Main Street, Rotherham and literally knocked shit out of us. The one I was with was beaten until he was unconscious and vomiting and he was bleeding out of nearly every orifice. They left him laid on floor and I rang bell for them to come for some assistance. And then they smashed me head in with truncheons. There were two of them. When I heard a woman's voice I banged on the door and it was the solicitor. When she came in she just said, 'Good God, what's happened here?' I had 30 odd stitches in my head, I was covered with truncheon weals and I was sent to Armley. I was frightened, they could have done anything to me in there, they could have killed me."

[This account is taken from Sheffield University's web site. Click here and then click on 'Orgreave.]

Date this page updated:
September 29, 2006