Policing of the miners' strike 1984-1985 - impact on communities: independent review

This is the final report from the independent review that was commissioned to investigate and report on the impact on communities in Scotland on the policing of the miners' strike 1984 to 1985.

8. Lasting impacts

"One minute you're salt of the earth the next you're criminals."

(quote from miner at one of our public meetings)

"As far as I am aware life more or less returned to normal once the strike ended however I accept that there would have been as elsewhere continuing animosity between strikers and non‑strikers.

As far as general police & community relationships are concerned, I had occasional experience before and later working in the Kirkconnel area and would describe it as a community of, in the main decent, law abiding, community minded people, who were cooperative and friendly with and towards local police staff. It is a rather remote part of the country and in such areas local police depend on good public cooperation and community involvement. I suggest that during the miners' strike this helped overcome the short term understandable tension and difficulties which occurred.[150]"

"believe that the Strike has left a long-lasting bitter taste amongst the Mining community and their attitude towards the Police. I'm saddened that many individuals in that community couldn't see that the Police were only doing their job, to the best of their ability and in my opinion, without fear or favour.[151]"

"To conclude with this aspect I am satisfied with the way that Valleyfield and Oakley have returned to almost normality some 4 weeks after conclusion of the Strike. This could be contributed by the bridge building exercises that have taken place throughout the dispute."

"Two other features which have played a prominent part in the rehabilitation have been the fact that contact was maintained throughout the dispute with anybody who could be helpful including Councillors, Ministers and Community Helpers. The meeting held with interested parties and attended by both Mr Moodie and Mr Wilson also played a vital role in explaining the Police position and what they were endeavouring to achieve. A similar meeting in the Cowdenbeath and Benarty areas was similarly successful."

"Despite all the bitterness and violence which became part of this dispute and the pessimistic predictions about the difficulties which would be experienced especially in mining communities in getting back to normal the strong indications are that the suggested scale of the problems just have not materialised. Much of this may be attributable to the fact that those with vested interests, such as politicians for instance, have left the scene to find causes new and have left the public and the Police to pick up the pieces which they have done successfully. This is said in the full knowledge that it is early days and there may yet be stormy waters ahead but it is contended that early indications are good and it may be at the end of the day the final outcome will be pleasantly surprising[152]".

Based on evidence to this review, it appears to us that some of this last quote was unduly optimistic.

"The miners' strike destroyed communities and I feel the Police did not help things by our heavy handed tactics." (police [153])

"Even after the strike, many miners who worked were subject to abuse within their communities. This also extended to their families." (police officer)[154]

"Although miners and ex-miners in the years since have naturally viewed police officers with a degree of dislike, there is still a grudging acceptance that we did what we had to do just as they did what they felt they had to do."[155]

Many reported a lasting bitterness towards the police. Some younger family members felt the same, even if they had not lived through the Strike, for example, one young woman in Fife who attended with her grandfather who was a miner. As explained by one miner[156]:

My general feelings about the policing of the strike in Scotland are those of men being criminalized for trying to protect their jobs and families. another great regret is that it became difficult, if not impossible to teach our children to trust the police.

Some men explained that they had made an effort not to pass on their bitterness to the next generation.

As identified in Chapter 3, it is difficult to identify lasting impacts of the Strike on communities which are attributable exclusively to policing.

The impacts of the totality of the events of the Strike are perhaps more easily stated.

At meetings, we heard the phrase "Death of the pit. Death of the village", "Close the pit, kill the community", or variations on that theme. It was an expression used by miners at the time of the Strike to try to garner public support. For many of those who gave evidence, there is at least some truth in the phrase, although others bristled at the suggestion, pointing out that we were seeing them in their communities which may have been bruised or even badly damaged but had nonetheless survived.

Pit closures had a number of consequences for the local community, as did the Strike, with an overlap of impacts from each. The aim of the Strike was to stop or minimise pit closures. Although the two things – the Strike and pit closures – were obviously connected, few contend now that closure of pits could have been avoided entirely. What happened around the Strike, however, may well have lengthened and deepened the impact of closures for many.

Deindustrialisation is a common feature of mature economies, but the process was managed differently outwith the UK. Even in the UK, it was managed differently before the 1980s. In the 1960s, the coal workforce in Scotland was more than halved in size, but employment alternatives were stimulated by the government, and the NCB negotiated closures carefully with the NUM and other industry unions. In contrast, in the 1980s, deindustrialisation was managed recklessly by the UK Government, setting aside the interests of manual workers and the voice of their union representatives. This was consistent with the motif of class or civil war emphasised by police officers as well as miners.

Unemployment for men who had worked their entire lives. Loss of a future and prospects for some who had only ever known life as a miner, many of whom came from generations of miners. Loss of one future for their children – "With pits closed lost inter-generational contact – lost respect." (quote from miner at one of our public meetings). Continuing hardship for families adjusting to life with little or no money, or dependent on state benefits and charity. Much of this fell on the women of the community, as it had during the Strike. We were told often that the Strike could not have lasted without the hard work and sacrifice of many, but not least the women.

Some miners who lost their jobs following conviction were successful in gaining employment, whether in mining or elsewhere but many were not. Even those who might seem to have moved on from the Strike still feel its effects:

"Although in later life I gained a degree and work as a professional now, I still have a criminal record and every time I apply for work in my chosen field (community work) I have to disclose this.[157]"

Many lost pensions or received much less than they would have.

Importantly, for many the greatest loss still felt was that of their respectability. Many men who were convicted had been in no trouble before in their lives and would never again find themselves before the courts – "most people would not have had a criminal record before the strike and didn't do anything after it… but still had to mention their record at every interview"(quote from miner at one of our public meetings)

For proud, respectable, working men, the loss of their good name through having a criminal conviction was a continuing pain which they cannot remove – "it felt like a stain that has stayed with me" (quote from miner at one of our public meetings). We heard of some who, until the day they died, remained acutely conscious of what they felt was this loss of respectability.

We recognise that our evidence came from a self-selecting group of individuals – the same is generally true of consultations – but the pattern and extent of similarities in what they said reinforced the impression of "deep scars" mentioned by Mr Matheson in June 2018. Of course, there were many who were involved in the Strike from whom we did not hear. Even some who attended our 8 events said that they would rather just forget about it. On the other hand, far more who attended said that they welcomed the opportunity to have their say, to share their experiences and feel that someone was finally listening. Some said that they had not shared their experiences, sometimes even with family, before giving evidence at one of these meetings. Many spoke through tears of upset and anger as their memories threatened to overwhelm them.

One of the meetings at which a retired senior police officer spoke was particularly interesting. Some things had been said before he spoke and identified himself which were clearly difficult for him to hear, including a comment which he would have found offensive ("if the police all got burnt and died tomorrow, I wouldn't care…that's the effect this has had"). When he spoke thereafter, and suggested that things in his area were not as bad as described by some, the responses from miners present demonstrated strong disagreement with his view and the lingering anger which several struggled to conceal, albeit the officer and several miners continued in discussion after the formal end of the meeting. We were impressed by how our witnesses were able to describe difficult, even traumatic events, while displaying at times a remarkable dignity and, at time, a sense of humour which was no doubt part of how they coped at the time and since.


There is little doubt that media portrayal of the Strike has also had lasting effect. While we heard reports that the presence of a camera crew on a miners' bus had prevented a repeat of police behaviour by way of stopping it and removing all the miners, the reporting of the Strike more generally is an additional source of resentment:

"media came in making miners look bad."; "Press/media – all buying into/building up 'the enemy within'"; "Every time an incident occurred miners portrayed as cause. Always delivered that way." 

(miners at one of our public meetings).

"It is our observation that by its very nature, our media is concerned with catastrophe and that consequently during the dispute, it only concerned itself with the worst picketing and that its reporting in general was unbalanced. Nevertheless, the matter does not fall in our remit, so we do no more than report the strong feelings in the mining communities and observe that similar complaints can be made on the reporting of other events."

(Brown/Rees Report, page 68)

The Brown/Rees Report concluded with observations which are worth repeating (page 69):

"Finally; our preliminary investigation and recommendations are concerned with, and concentrated on, the law and order aspects of the miners' dispute. In conclusion, however, we turn to another aspect of this that we feel we must highlight an underlying cause of the dispute.

There was violence, in some areas emanating sometimes from pickers, sometimes from the police, sometimes from both. It was not revolutionary but part of a broader trend which can be seen more clearly since 1979 as more generally the law and order in this country has steadily deteriorated. The miners' strike was not a thing apart.

This trend must constantly be brought to the notice of the Government. Why has the law and order situation so deteriorated despite the superlative promises of the Thatcher Government in 1979? What has gone wrong? What is the underlying cause of the problem in general and the miners' strike in particular?

In our view, one major factor is the social and economic problem that faces us; the economic decline in our older industrial areas, the even wider effect of unemployment, and the divisive society it has generated. It was true of Brixton and Toxteth as Lord Scarmen pointed out: it was true of the miners' dispute.

On this basis alone, it is our strong view that the parliamentary party should put firmly to the Government the view that changes in the law are not enough. It needs to look at causes as well as symptoms: to give priority to defeat the terrible blight of unemployment, particularly amongst the young; to a revival of our inner cities and our older communities. There are the "enemies within" that need attention of us all."

A lingering perception for some is of a Strike through which the police were politicised. Many say that they do not blame individual officers because they were simply doing what they were ordered to do. They lay the blame on the senior officers they feel were too ready to obey the commands of the Government. Notwithstanding strong rebuttals of political interference from those within policing, including from Chief Constables in charge in Scotland in areas with pits, this idea has too firm a grip to be loosened, regardless of any contrary views or evidence.

The National Reporting Centre ("NRC") in England, first used there in the Miners' Strike in the 1974, caused some concerns, within and outwith policing, as a step towards a single or at least centralised police force. Concerns about the constitutional position of the police and accountability feature in the Brown/Rees Report, with specific reference to the implications of mutual aid and co-ordination, perhaps even control by, the NRC. The NRC was not accountable to local authorities in the way that local constabularies were and some saw such centralisation as increasing the risk of political interference in policing.

This centralisation was an idea which was far from universally popular, even within policing circles.

It involved discussions with which we have become familiar in Scotland in relation to Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority.

The Brown/Rees Report quoted (page 37) with approval what was said by the then Home Secretary, William Whitelaw, on 25 November 1981, when he addressed the House of Commons on publication of Lord Scarman's Report on the Brixton Disturbances of April 1981[158]:

"Lord Scarman's detailed recommendations on policing policy and policing arrangements add up to a statement of philosophy and direction for the future which rests on the need for the police to carry out their duty with the consent and support of the community. The report rightly leads discussion away from simple concepts of "hard" and "soft" policing, and focuses on issues which reflect the real variety of policing, and the duty of the police to apply the law firmly and sensitively without differing standards. Lord Scarman emphasises that the consent and support of the community depend on good two-way communications between the police and the public. The operational judgment of the police will be informed, and not undermined, by consultation with the community that it serves. At the same time, the community has a duty to maintain discussion with the police, and to respond to their initiatives. Without such consultation there will not be accountability, and the necessary balance between preserving the peace and enforcing the law will be distorted.

I accept and endorse this statement of philosophy. It will be my responsibility, and that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland in his area of responsibility, in consultation with all concerned, to see that it is carried into practice.

In particular, I accept the need to develop formal arrangements in every police force area for consultation between police and community at different levels, and for the involvement of chief officers of police in local social and economic decisions affecting policing."

The Brown/Rees Report recommended a number of inquiries, primarily a Royal Commission into fundamental aspects of policing, including accountability. Secondly, it recommended an inquiry into tactics of the policing of the Miners' Strike, similar to the Scarman Report. The Brown/Rees Report also alluded to the Peelian Principles[159], a foundation for the notion of policing by consent.

It is worth quoting these in full, given their relevance to the Miners' Strike:

1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.

2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.

3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co‑operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.

4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.

5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion; but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.

6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.

7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.

9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

Whether as a result of, or possibly enhanced by, the Strike, what impressed us, especially at the 8 meetings in mining communities, was the continuing strength of a sense of community. We were invited into places where most of us had never been, welcomed as guests, and allowed to share in deeply personal and scarring experiences and stories. People trusted us to take their evidence and use it for some greater good. The same applies to the police officers who spoke to us.

Trust has to be earned and can be easily lost. Loss of trust in the State is a lasting impact of the Strike for some. Respectable men expected a degree of respect from the State and found that, in their view, it gave them none. No respect for unblemished lives of hard work which contributed to the good of the country. The general sense of legitimacy which the State enjoys with most people was lost. For some, the police represented the State in its most immediate and local form, certainly at a time of heightened tension like the Strike, and therefore stood as a proxy for the State. Actions judged illegitimate can have lasting consequences – a lingering sense of unfairness from which it can be difficult to recover. That is especially so given that police offices in some of these areas have been closed – the human face of the local officer is an important means of reminding us of what is said in the Peelian Principle, that the police are the public and that the public are the police.

When recalling the Strike, men on all sides also described the lasting trauma experienced. We heard moving testimony from miners and police officers, struggling with the thought of a time in their lives which they had to endure. We heard of the scars recognised by Mr Matheson in June 2018, and witnessed some, literal and metaphorical. One police officer who came to a meeting in Glenrothes Police Office, said that he had suffered nightmares in the days before the meeting as he thought back to that time.

One miner, in his response[160] to the Call for Evidence, said:

"Today I still do not trust the police and because of my age I doubt I ever will. The knock-on effect of the closure of our industry is still being felt today 30 years later. We as miners financially supported football clubs, pipe bands, brass bands, galas, outings and the list goes on. Our money kept the communities alive the local shops the clubs etc. nearly all gone."

Another[161] said:

"Our community was left fractured irreparably by the strike, never to be healed in my opinion, respect and trust for the Police was gone in my opinion and personally for me has never returned, however I do believe on both sides there were good and bad people, I think the Police were driven by government and not a fair implementation of law was given during the dispute, you were guilty without proof, trial or evidence if you were unlucky to be arrested on a picket line, this is a fact."


Email: minersstrikereview@gov.scot

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