The premeditated, ruthless cruelty and violence by the police against miners picketing the Orgreave coking plant on June 18 1984, during the year-long miners’ strike, the subsequent arrests of 95 miners on spurious charges, evidence of police lying under oath in court, alleged cover ups and the courageous Hillsborough campaign all contributed to the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (OTJC) being established in 2012 to press for a public inquiry into what happened at Orgreave.
What happened was not a battle but a rout. Dozens of mounted officers armed with long truncheons charged up the field, followed by snatch squad officers in riot gear with shields. Many miners were assaulted, many suffered serious injuries, many were detained. Several mounted police charges followed, forcing some miners up into the village. The police ran amok, clubbing and arresting miners indiscriminately.
The trial in 1985 collapsed but there has never been any accountability into the events of the day and afterwards. An inquiry into government participation and police operations at Orgreave is necessary to establish truth and justice to enable miners and their communities to have closure and move forward.
The Labour Party, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has now made a firm commitment to an inquiry. The unified support from the party of today has given the OTJC political authority and backing, and we are proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with their support for other justice campaigns on Page 80 of the Labour manifesto.
You may have already attended one of our OTJC rallies, meetings or stunts, such as the anniversary rallies since 2013, the “Make Some Noise” rally outside the Home Office and the Death of Justice rally. Many Labour MPs have not just made their voices heard in the House, be it in the various debates, by use of parliamentary petition and the home affairs select committee, but have also attended and spoken at these events. We are delighted to have in Diane Abbott a shadow home secretary who has stated that one of the first things she will do when Labour is in government is ensure an Orgreave inquiry.
Many Labour councils have shown solidarity with the OTJC by calling on the current Home Secretary to order an inquiry. We urge you to get your council to do the same.
The OTJC will be at party conference 2018 in Liverpool. Last year our stand was busy with delegates and MPs showing solidarity, sharing stories and memories and people wanting to find out more about the campaign. This intensified after Diane Abbott gave her speech in the conference hall reiterating Labour’s unequivocal commitment to an inquiry. The applause continued for what seemed an eternity and it showed a united understanding and commitment as a party to right this wrong, not just for the families and communities so deeply affected but because truth and justice is what we rely on in a democratic society.
Our fringe event panel of esteemed speakers demonstrated the prominence our campaign now has. We were proud to have Gareth Peirce, the solicitor who represented many miners back in 1984-85, Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of Unite, David Conn, Guardian journalist, Chris Peace and Kate Flannery from the OTJC and Diane Abbott. It was a truly inspirational event, made so by the excellent contributions of the audience.
As ever, we will be holding our anniversary rally and march. This year it will be on Saturday 16th June 2018, meeting at 1pm, Orgreave Lane, Sheffield.
We have come a long way, and we welcome the support from the Labour Party, but the truth and justice for what happened almost 34 years ago needs all of us to ensure this remains on the agenda. As long as this Tory government chooses to protect the legacy of Thatcher, rather than allowing the open wound of Orgreave to heal, we will fight on.
Chris Peace and Kate Flannery are leading members of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign.
This piece was commissioned by guest editor Diane Abbott.