The Battle for
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:
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
Monday October 21, 2002
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".
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
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."
you're watching this, Mrs Thatcher," a former miner participating
in the reenactment addressed the camera. "Drop dead."
some, there was no need to re-enact the battle. They still live with
..... 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
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
(Review by Adge
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
..... 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.
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.
discusses tactics used by both sides, the timing of the events that
took place, and comments on police footage and photographs of the battle.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
giving moral support, Ken was also an activist involved in collecting
food and money to help the miner's cause.
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
..... 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".
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.
This article is from the Miners Advice Web Site:
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.
Account of the Battle
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
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.]