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.

1. Background

"The miners' strike of 1984-5 is a site of contested memories."

With these words, Dr Jim Phillips[1], Senior Lecturer in Economic and Social History at the University of Glasgow and acknowledged expert on matters related to the Miners' Strike, opened his 2015 paper, "Contested Memories: the Scottish Parliament and the 1984-5 Miners' Strike"[2].

Not only are some of the memories contested, as Dr Phillips said, they are still strong and pervaded by bitterness for many of those who lived through the Miners' Strike ("the Strike"), whether as miners, police officers or in mining (and even non-mining) communities. The continuing bitterness, underpinned by a lingering sense of unfairness, represents a shadow on the consciousness of many former mining communities. Mention of the Strike in Scotland, as in England and Wales, can evoke strong views which range from the political to the deeply personal.

On the political front, strong perceptions of unfairness and 'unfinished business' have kept the issue alive, especially among Trade Unions and politicians north and south of the Border. These perceptions relate not only to the policing of the Strike but to the workings of the justice system as a whole and the arbitrary nature of the many dismissals that followed. Perceptions of unfairness can be traced back to the time of the Strike, and not simply because of how matters unfolded over time. For example, they feature in a Labour Party Report dated 9 May 1985 prepared by Gordon Brown and Merlyn Rees, a future Prime Minister and a former Home Secretary (referred to in this Report as the Brown/Rees Report). Their report highlighted a number of concerns about the Strike and recommended that there should be a Royal Commission into the whole circumstances leading up to the strike as well as the conduct of the Strike, but looking also at wider constitutional aspects of the development of policing, including accountability, with a shorter-term inquiry into various matters, including aspects of police tactics. Since then, the Strike has come up from time to time in public debate, on relevant anniversaries, on the death of key participants and on the release of official records in light of the 'thirty year rule'. The Strike is a part of modern history which seems to remain of greater continuing relevance than many other events from the same time. In part this is because it is seen as something different than the usual history of industrial relations in this country.

"The strike was no longer about a group of workers, but was about whole communities defending their way of life, their jobs, and their future against the government, and all the forces that the government could master against them. It was not just a strike where miner was against employer over wages or conditions, it was far more complex, and historically deeper than that[3]."

In part, the Strike was different because of the lack of effort on the part of government to address the economic implications of pit closures in local communities, in particular by providing alternative employment opportunities for those who lost not only jobs but careers. This has exacerbated the damage to these communities.

Dr Jim Phillips has made the point that pit closures were managed better in the 1960s when more effort was made by government to provide alternative employment in former mining areas. It also appears to have been better addressed in other Western European countries which were going through a similar process[4].

Special mention should be made in the Scottish context to Neil Findlay MSP who has been largely responsible for raising the matter in recent years in the Scottish Parliament, although there was also a Members Business Debate in the Scottish Parliament on 20 March 2014[5], in the name of Iain Gray MSP, to mark the 30th anniversary of the start of the Strike.

Those with deeply personal memories are largely the miners and police officers who were engaged directly in the Strike, as well as their families and communities.

It was the strength of feelings involved at the time, and those which lingered within communities, that helped to ingrain the Strike into parts of the national consciousness as a deviation from a traditional view of policing by consent in Scotland and of the normal conduct of industrial disputes by employees, employers and Government. The extraordinary nature of the Strike is what was emphasised by our respondents – for many, this was 'war'[6].

That the shadow had not disappeared from consciousness, even 33 years on, led to an announcement in the Scottish Parliament on 7 June 2018. The then Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson MSP, made the announcement[7]. He said:

"It is generally understood that the 1980s represented an extremely difficult time for many communities throughout Scotland, mining communities in particular."

"I know from the conversations I have had that, although more than three decades have passed since the main miners' dispute, the scars from the experience still run deep."

"In some areas of the country most heavily impacted the sense of having been hurt and wronged remains corrosive and alienating. That is true of many who were caught up in the dispute and aftermath. Those who were employed in the mining industry at the time, of course, but also wider families and communities."

"The miners' strike was also a difficult period for the police, with many individual officers finding themselves in extremely challenging situations, and police and community relationships coming under unprecedented strain."

"Whilst things have moved on considerably in the decades which have followed, the question of how best to learn from this period remains. How best can we aid understanding, reconciliation and inclusion?" 

The Cabinet Secretary's answer to this question was to establish this review. It is worth remarking on his decision which was unexpected for many and which some queried as pointless after such a long passage of time. As the Cabinet Secretary stated, the Government's interest is in aiding 'understanding, reconciliation and inclusion' and our review is one important means of trying to achieve this. Our report does not purport to be a history of the strike itself. We consider that it gives some degree of public recognition to the lingering bitterness and real impact upon individuals and their communities, in circumstances where there are conflicting perceptions as to the conduct of the Strike; secondly, it attempts some analysis of continuing impacts upon former mining communities ('understanding'); and thirdly, it explores whether there are lessons to be drawn for the future or recommendations which might serve to heal some wounds ('reconciliation and inclusion').

The Strike started 35 years ago. For many, this is within living memory. Of course, the Scottish Government and Parliament did not exist in 1984/85. While aspects of the Strike, in particular aspects of the policing and its oversight – although, importantly, not operational matters – would have been within the competence of the Scottish Government had they occurred after 1999, it is important to appreciate the difficulties in reviewing matters from over 30 years ago which happened under the auspices of an entirely different political settlement and regime with different policing and different structures for accountability. The constitutional, legal and cultural landscape in Scotland has changed dramatically since 1985: nationalised industries have disappeared; devolution has occurred; we have a single national police service; there is far greater awareness of human rights; technological advances continue to affect daily life in ways we could not have anticipated; there are new rights (and restrictions upon rights) for employees.

That this did not deter the then Cabinet Secretary for Justice from making the announcement in June 2018 may be considered a testament to his desire to achieve a sense of understanding if not also closure for those who continue to feel they were deprived of justice and fairness. It also marks recognition of the strength and persistence of those who have long campaigned for an inquiry into what happened. There are many men and women in that group for whom the Strike is a lasting and vivid memory. Having met many of those, we are well aware that the scope of this review does not go as far as some would have liked. It is not a public inquiry. We had no powers to compel the production of documents or the appearance of witnesses. We relied on the continuing interest and commitment of individuals and organisations and their willingness to help. We are, therefore, grateful to those who produced evidence and gave other assistance to this review so that we could try to exhaust our narrower remit. No doubt those who wish a full UK-wide public inquiry will examine our report and the evidence now produced to see if there is additional support for their ongoing campaign. In the same statement by Mr Matheson, he said:

It [this Review] does not of course remove what I see as an obligation on the UK Government to fully explore the extent of any political interference by the UK Government at that time. 

"I have therefore written to the new Home Secretary to renew my call – first made in November 2016 – for the current UK Government to institute an inquiry. Although my earlier plea was rejected, I remain of the view that it would be better for all concerned if – in a spirit of transparency, justice and reconciliation – the UK Government would now follow our example."

For our part, we have tried to produce a self-contained piece of work, albeit, not least for purposes of context, we had to consider some matters slightly beyond, but intrinsically linked to, our Terms of Reference. The reasons for this are outlined in detail in chapter 3.

Terms Of Reference

The remit of the Review was to investigate and report on the impact of policing of the 1984/85 Miners' Strike on affected communities in Scotland. When it was announced, the following description was given of what would be involved:

It is envisaged that the review will:

  • provide an interim report to Ministers which sets out initial findings by January 2019
  • carry out further necessary engagement and provide a final report by June 2019, which sets out lessons learned and makes recommendations for any further action required

It is not expected that the review will deal with individual cases or specific events[8], but will:

  • consider matters that fall under the devolved remit of Scottish Ministers
  • take full account of previous investigations into the events of the time
  • review the appropriate documents that are available

In 2016 the UK Government considered the case for establishing an Inquiry or independent review into the events that occurred in June 1984 at one of the strike's main flashpoints, Orgreave Coking Plant in South Yorkshire. In October 2016, however the then Home Secretary, Amber Rudd MP, announced that there was not sufficient basis to instigate either a statutory inquiry or an independent review.

In November 2016, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson wrote to Ms Rudd to convey the Scottish Government's view that the UK Government should commission and appoint an independent UK-wide investigation into any political interference during the dispute. The UK Government decided not to commission such an investigation.

It will be noted that the Scottish Government asked the UK Government to commission an independent inquiry into the question of "any political interference during the dispute", implying, at least in part, consideration of the extent to which the then Government interfered, or attempted to interfere, in police operations. We note that there has been only a negative response from the UK Government to successive demands and requests for any inquiry related to the Strike. Associated campaigns will no doubt examine the evidence produced for this review to see if there is any additional support for their work. That is a matter for them. We appreciate that, whatever the response from the Scottish Government to our recommendation, their campaigns will continue. We recognise that the Scottish Government may also wish to pursue this matter with the UK Government.

For various obvious reasons, largely related to our Terms of Reference and the limits of the competence of the Scottish Parliament and Government, our review could not examine this question in any detail, although some consideration of related issues became inevitable, given their recurrence in evidence presented to us and our remit to consider lessons for the future. In addition, there are related matters which are within devolved competence, for example, the justice system in Scotland.

A complicating factor in trying to untangle matters over thirty years on is trying to distinguish the position in Scotland which did not always, immediately or necessarily simply follow the pattern in England and Wales, albeit aspects of policing were, or at least seemed, similar across the whole of Britain. As the Strike was happening north and south of the Border, it was inevitable that there would be discussion and even planning across Great Britain. However, there are distinctions to be made: between distinct issues in Scotland with Scottish policing solutions; similar issues north and south of the Border with similar policing solutions, whether through discussion or simply because they were the obvious and proper policing solutions; political direction or interference in policing or attempts at such, or impressions of the same. We have sought to bear these distinctions in mind throughout our work.

Review Group

The Review Group consisted of John Scott QC Solicitor Advocate (Chair), Jim Murdoch CBE (Professor of Public Law at Glasgow University), Kate Thomson QPM (former Assistant Chief Constable) and Dennis Canavan (former MP and MSP). 

The secretariat consisted of officials from the Scottish Government.

Interim Report

We produced an interim report which was published on 25 February 2019[9]. In it, we explained the work undertaken to find evidence to assist us to produce our final report, with conclusions and recommendations based on this evidence.

We described the two key ways in which we gathered evidence – meetings (public and private) and a formal Call for Evidence. The success of these methods, and the greater than expected volume of evidence they produced, was the reason for seeking an extension of time from the current Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf MSP, to allow us to fully reflect what we had seen and heard, including powerful individual testimony. With that extension, the final report was to be submitted to the Cabinet Secretary by 23 August 2019. Given our discussions around the challenging issue of 'reconciliation', a key matter firmly within our Terms of Reference, we sought and were granted a further extension to allow us time to reflect on possible recommendations. Obviously, we appreciate that the Cabinet Secretary will require some time to consider our report and the underlying evidence before issuing a response on behalf of the Scottish Government. That response, as with the review itself, will no doubt be informed by the limits of the powers and competence of the Scottish Government.


For us, the most important aspect of our approach to the review was to be as pro-active as possible, relying not merely on an online consultation and an established presence in Edinburgh. Having discussed matters among ourselves and with Nicky Wilson, President of the NUM in Scotland and Neil Findlay MSP, we knew that it was crucial to take the review to mining communities. Initially, we thought that we might hold four or five consultation events in these communities. As we planned the events, in conjunction with Nicky Wilson, it became clear that there was an enthusiasm for this type of engagement with the review. Eventually, we held eight such events in mining communities across Scotland over the last few months of 2018 at the following venues: Alloa Town Hall, Cumnock Town Hall, the Lochgelly Centre, the National Mining Museum of Scotland (Newtongrange), Fauldhouse Miners' Welfare Society, Oakley Community Association and Social Club, Fallin Miners' Welfare Society and Social Club and Auchengeich Miners' Club.

The meetings were open to the public and attended not only by miners and their families, but local councillors (some of whom were also former miners), academics, journalists, members of the public and two retired police officers. Some people came to more than one meeting. In total, 167 men and women attended our meetings, with numbers in attendance between 9 and 40. The different numbers at the meetings lent themselves to different approaches in gathering evidence from those who had attended. In the larger gatherings, we had microphones and tried to ensure that we heard from everyone who put up their hand. In the smaller ones, we pulled the chairs round in a circle and, within 5 minutes, we knew everyone's name and managed to get a much greater depth of story from all those present, simply because each person had the opportunity to speak for a much longer time, in a more personal setting.

The meetings confirmed the benefits of our approach of trying to establish the impact on communities by going into the communities. Communities consist, of course, of individuals and understanding the impact of policing on communities requires an understanding of the impact on the individuals who make up the communities.

We have little doubt that, by going into the communities, we obtained evidence which would not have come to us if relying only on more traditional methods of consultation. The significance of some of the evidence obtained at these meetings was not only the content but the power of delivery from individuals, some of whom still struggled with the emotions evoked by their memories of the Strike.

In some ways, it is a pity that there are no video or at least audio recordings of the meetings, although, if there was such recording, there may have been issues of trust and some individuals may have been deterred from contributing. In any event, we have our own notes and our secretariat assisted in ensuring that we had a record of each. We recognised that some individuals may still find it difficult for whatever reason – including a lingering but real sense that their perspectives on the Strike at the time were not shared by others – to talk openly about the issues.

Equally important to us was obtaining evidence from retired police officers. "Communities" is a word conveying real breadth and, for us, included police officers and their families. As stated in one of the nine Peelian Principles[10] that underpin the idea of policing by consent:

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.

This wider approach to "communities" does not necessarily fit with some previous thinking about the Strike, but it was part of the thinking of Government in setting up this review and gave us scope for greater balance in seeking to assess a complex set of circumstances, involving many actors, State and local, and many communities across the country which included people on all sides of the dispute.

Getting evidence from retired police officers was rather more complicated than obtaining evidence from former miners. It seems that many retired officers were concerned at the implications of a review in terms of any potential for criminal proceedings.

Given the Terms of Reference and the Cabinet Secretary's specific reference in his June 2018 statement to a 'truth and reconciliation approach' as suggested by the Scottish Police Federation[11], this review was never in any way intended to lead to prosecutions, although we understand some of the reluctance. Despite this reluctance, Jim McBrierty, President of the Retired Police Officers Association Scotland made considerable efforts to ensure that we had access to enough evidence from police officers to get a balanced picture. Former Deputy Chief Constables Tom Wood of Lothian and Borders and Graham Bennet of Fife also provided considerable assistance to us to ensure that we had evidence from within policing. With the exception of the two retired officers who attended our public meetings in mining communities (one of whom was the son of a miner), our meetings with retired police officers were private. We obtained important evidence at these meetings and they allowed us the opportunity to discuss and test some of the evidence we had heard from miners. Our meetings with miners allowed us to do the same with evidence we received from retired police officers.

We also met with Dr Ian Oliver QPM and Sir William Sutherland CBE QPM, respectively Chief Constables of Central and Lothian and Borders Constabularies at the relevant time. This allowed us to canvas their thoughts on impressions of political influence and direction, an integral part of the narrative which exists in the assessment within mining communities of the impact of the Strike, not least in a loss of trust in the police in particular and the State more generally.

We had access to publicly available records held at the National Archive in London and the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh. Although only an incomplete record of matters of interest to our review, we have considered these and they have informed our approach to some of the other evidence, assisting with context and background. It is worth noting that the records to which we had access are those which have already been made public. While that means that there is nothing truly new in this aspect of the evidence we considered, we were looking at these records in light of our Terms of Reference, and therefore through a different lens than some who have been over them before us. We also benefitted from documents giving not only national but also local insights including, for example, the Fife Constabulary Debrief Report dated 11 April 1985. ("the Fife Constabulary Debrief Report"), a document which we believe not previously to have been put into the public domain, which contains detailed accounts by senior officers in Fife Constabulary shortly after the Strike had ended. This report contains often blunt and critical comments about the policing of the Strike, as well as other aspects of the industrial action and criminal activities which the police had to deal with which were associated with the Strike. As the report describes in one of the conclusions, it was intended as a full and honest debrief of a very difficult period in policing. In the report, the purpose was described as follows:

"At the outset it was stated that it was necessary to take a dispassionate look at all the problems which existed and it is hoped that the aim has been achieved. In addition every effort has been made to highlight the lessons to be learned in a truthful, accurate and completely objective manner. Criticism has been offered but it is hoped that it will be accepted not on a personal basis, by any person at any level in Fife Constabulary, but as a reasoned attempt at constructive observation borne out of the experience of deep involvement in this dispute throughout its duration."

Along with our report, the 108 responses to our Call for Evidence and notes of the eight public meetings will be published. The 108 responses include evidence from miners and retired police officers. Access to published contemporary reports and recollections (newspaper articles, video footage, autobiographical recollections, etc.) and academic studies into the Strike also helped us understand aspects of the Strike's contexts, conduct and consequences.

In addition, the Scottish Government commissioned external consultants to produce analysis of the responses to the Call for Evidence, as well as looking at some of the evidence gathered at the consultation events in mining communities. This will be published too. Together with our report, this material will allow others to weigh the evidence and analysis so as to form their own views.

This is important. In the absence of definitive public or other records, much of the full truth of what happened in and around the policing of the Strike becomes impossible to establish. That, along with issues raised in Chapter 3 of this report, complicates the task of assessing the impact of policing on communities. It also complicates an approach based on 'truth and reconciliation'.

We have sought to reach such conclusions as might reasonably be made, but work within our Terms of Reference could not result in a single set of certain or agreed facts about the Strike. There are some areas of agreement, and some conclusions which can be drawn from official records but, for important aspects of our report, there is much evidence from those within mining and those from policing which occupies the "site of contested memories". Even when it comes to records, there has been some contestation. During the Strike, the National Coal Board issued releases detailing the number of men it said had returned to work. Some of these numbers were disputed by the NUM who started issuing similar releases to correct what they saw as the lies and propaganda in the NCB releases, something considered necessary in view of the importance of solidarity and its impact on morale.

We have drawn such conclusions and made such recommendations as we felt able to make. Our aim, in part, has been to ensure that, regardless of whether memories are contested or not, and whether there is wider consensus on our conclusions, those who have contributed evidence to the review will recognise their experience in this report. We have also considered in depth the idea of the Review as reflective of a 'truth and reconciliation' process, with perhaps greater emphasis on reconciliation, given the complications we have experienced in relation to establishing a single set of truths or even just consensus on certain important matters.


Email: minersstrikereview@gov.scot

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