"During the 72-74 strike police respected pickets – there was a neutrality. Why was there a difference in 1984-85 strike?"
"They were being used against us"
(quotes from miners at one of our public meetings).
This Chapter reflects the views of miners gathered at our public meetings and in responses to the Call for Evidence, as well as some other sources which are specifically mentioned. Some matters mentioned by police officers in evidence have been raised with miners for comment. Some mentioned these matters unprompted in responses to the Call for Evidence.
Many men had lived through previous industrial action, including the Miners' Strikes in the 1970s. Many police officers had been involved in those strikes too. That seems to have informed expectations of the Strike in 1984/85 but, if so, these expectations would not be met, certainly as the Strike developed. For the miners, even standing their long institutional memory of previous strikes and industrial action, this was a Strike like no other.
Many spoke of the early days of the Strike as involving a degree of mutual respect and understanding between miners and police, something made easier by having local men on the pickets and local police officers in attendance to ensure that there were no problems. Some of what was described at this point seems more recognisable as involving a degree of community-based policing, with an understanding of, and even responsiveness to, local concerns.
The men who stood across from each other at that point, some of them brothers, friends and neighbours, appeared to understand that they would have to face each other again after the Strike, however long it lasted, albeit in those days it must have seemed unlikely that it would last as long as it did.
It is worth recalling that, in 1984-85, picketing was a lawful activity, subject to compliance with certain conditions, and the Strike by the NUM was 'legal'. Although we cannot trace a reported version of the case, it appears that there was a decision by a Judge in Scotland in 1984 (Fettes v NUM Scottish Area) which confirmed that the Strike was lawful under NUMSA (National Union of Mineworkers Scottish Area) rules. This was a decision in proceedings brought by strike breakers which, in effect, challenged the legality of the Strike.
Although, over the course of the Strike there was much picketing which occurred peacefully and without incident, and many men took part without being arrested, for obvious reasons our focus has been far more on those occasions when there was difficulty or trouble of some sort.
In focussing matters in this way, given that we are looking at long-term impacts which were generally negative, it is worth remarking on the need for an outlook and approach by the police to lawful picketing or other public protests that is distinct from that required for general public disorder, albeit recognising that the former may include the latter. Some evidence suggested a failure to fully acknowledge or recognise this at times.
A degree of low-level pushing or kicking seems to have been accepted as almost an occupational hazard on pickets. For example,:
"As for the policing of the dispute. I have no complaints about the policing of the picket line at Bilston. If you can't put up with a little shin kicking and rib punching don't put yourself on the front line. I had my shins kicked and I kicked shin." (quote from miner at one of our public meetings).
"He described it as the, "6 o'clock shove – every morning." (quote from miner at one of our public meetings).
Many of the accounts by miners expressed what happened using terms such as "civil war" – "Big mistake – we thought we were pursuing a dispute but we were engaged in a class war";
"All about class war – not industrial dispute" "Battle plans were drawn"
(quotes from miners at one of our public meetings).
These quotes are informed by a variety of factors, including "big picture" aspects but also the violence involved. As reflected above, some of the violence was, in effect, at a background level, with little significance being given to it, then or now, by miners or police officers. In addition, however, there were accounts of violence which was more serious – kicking, headlocks and other physical violence, some of which involved injury. These allegations involving the use of unnecessary and unjustified physical force are too many to be simply dismissed. They also add to the continuing sense of unfairness reported to us. The use of such force can be explained in part – but not justified – by the extraordinary nature of the dispute and the difficult circumstances which individual police officers faced.
We received numerous examples involving allegations of violence, for instance:
"I was driving a mini bus with 11 other pickets and was arrested at 7am that morning by two police officers who came up behind me with one punching me on the head, knocking me to the ground. Both officers then jumped on me and put a tie wrap round my wrists. I was then taken to a van then onto police HQ, where I spent the rest of the day in a cell."
We heard similar accounts at our public meetings:
"I was grabbed by two police officers and carried away… knocked hell out of as carried through the police cordon."
"police horses galloping over old men who had been sunbathing"
"An old guy got smashed."
According to the Brown/Rees Report (page 9),
"Official statistics on injuries to miners and other members of the public are not available as not all such injuries are necessarily reported to the police or elsewhere. The NUM, however, estimates that there were about 2,400 casualties to miners, although this estimate is not based on a complete record of all injuries. No police officers were killed during the dispute but two miners were killed whilst picketing and other deaths have been attributed to the dispute."
No breakdown of these estimates is available, so care is required as they apply to the UK as a whole.
A frequent complaint about behaviour at pickets related to those at the back, often involved in pushing or other behaviour which impacted on others on "their side". For example:
"I had noticed during the lorries passing a number of individuals who were standing well behind the picket and were taking no part in the picket line had been throwing objects which had been landing on the picket line and this had been in plain view of anyone observing the push. The Police had made no attempt to arrest any of these individuals which surprised me as they clearly did not hesitate to arrest persons in the Picket line."
We do not, however, doubt that police officers faced particular provocations.
Mention was made of the "hangers on" attracted to the Strike, whether local youths with time on their hands or idle curiosity, Trotskyist groups or similar. Some of the trouble was attributed to these groups. Some men felt that local union officials were hampered in their attempts to keep some control of picket-lines by such external interventions.
On the other hand, some policing tactics were reported as politically-motivated.
It was felt that union officials were targeted by "snatch squads", with men sometimes arrested from the front of the pickets but sometimes officers arresting those at the back.
Reports described artificial boundaries being imposed to restrict the striking miners, with those crossing them, for example stepping onto the road or crossing a particular line, being arrested. Given the weight of numbers and the propensity for surges, this left those at the front exposed and vulnerable, firstly to being pushed onto the road in front of heavy lorries travelling at speed and, secondly, to arrest.
Due to what was observed of discussions and meetings, miners formed an impression of collusion between NCB management and the police, for example, many men spoke of the Yuill and Dodds lorries, brought in to transport coal from Hunterston to Ravenscraig, thundering past pickets, often travelling at speeds which appeared to onlookers to exceed the legal limit and which were certainly excessive given the circumstances, with miners and police officers on or near the roads. Some lorries had a police escort for at least some of their journey. There was a sense of the police protecting the interests of management by doing this. On occasions, discussions between the police and NCB were designed to try to reduce opportunities for friction, for example, by arranging for some men to go to work at times that suited the police and avoided unnecessary additional commitment of resources. On the other hand, the Fife Constabulary Debrief Report is highly critical of certain NCB action and decisions which "cost a great deal of money" when, for example, refusing to stifle untrue rumours of movement of workers which resulted in unnecessary picketing.
Suspected collusion between police and NCB was exemplified by a curious incident in Ayrshire in the autumn of 1984, when the first strike breaker was brought to Killoch Colliery on a bus from New Cumnock. Police officers on the bus stopped it outside the colliery, and invited on board six strikers who wanted to speak to the strike breaker, this being a common practice facilitated by the police at pickets across the country. The officers then commanded the bus to move off with the strikers, into the pit yard. The strike breaker did not turn back, but three of the strikers were subsequently dismissed by the NCB in connection with the incident.
The Yuill and Dodds deliveries were a key memory for many. Miners thought that the drivers were given carte blanche by the police to drive at speed and make sure that deliveries got through, with all other considerations (including compliance with Road Traffic legislation) secondary to that objective. For miners, the drivers were in the same category as the strike breakers and the companies involved had also chosen sides against the miners, all for the sake of money. The arrival of the lorries was therefore among those moments in a day when adrenaline would rush, as fear, anger and resentment built to a climax with speeding lorries delivering supplies past large numbers of picketing miners. Fear of death under the wheels of a lorry and anger at exposure to this, seems to be a particular feature of this Strike.
"The main flash points would be when Yuill and Dodds lorries were moving coal/ore from the site to Ravenscraig. On many occasions the protests escalated with a small core of protesters throwing hardcore from the drainage ditches on either side of the entrance road towards the police and the haulage trucks. It was a dangerous environment…little wonder that there were arrests."
Increasing Tension And Intrusion
Those in mining and in policing commented on the changes in atmosphere when the ranks of "the other side" were swelled by, or replaced with, men from outwith the area. They spoke of some such men, miners and police, being careless as to any lasting impact, with provocative behaviour reported on the part of many, including violence on both sides and taunting by individual police officers.
One miner said:
"Matters changed drastically when the Fife police were removed from the area and Edinburgh Police arrived on the scene. I was instructed to step aside and not stop the car bringing the cover for the pit or I would be arrested. This was the start of what I can only describe as a monumental change in how we were to be policed."
Although this Chapter deals primarily with the evidence received from miners, this section, dealing with key events at Stepps, Hunterston and Ravenscraig, includes quotes from both miners and police officers so that these important aspects of the Strike can be seen in fuller context.
This incident should be seen in context. Reference is made to the official records mentioned in Chapter 2, particularly the CMGC Minute of the meeting of 8 May 1984.
On 10 May 1984, officers of Strathclyde Police stopped 290 miners ("eight coachloads") from West Fife, Clackmannanshire and Stirlingshire on the A80 at Stepps, many miles from Ravenscraig and Hunterston, albeit bound mainly for picket-lines at Hunterston. The miners disembarked, sat down and linked arms, blocking the road, before police intervened.
There were dozens of arrests, with miners held for several hours at different police stations in Glasgow. While there is an absence of any documentation to link the expression of the Prime Ministerial instruction on 8 May and the police action at Stepps on 10 May, the proximity in timing has struck most within mining communities as defying mere coincidence. It was mentioned at several of our public meetings, albeit also mentioned by us for comment if not raised by those present. For many of those in mining, especially when the 1984 CMGC Minute became public, this action represented further proof of political direction or interference.
This incident was the subject of specific evidence received by the review, from miners and police officers.
Summary of miners' accounts
- Police stopped buses with "nearly 300 men" on A8 at Stepps
- Miners were on road to Ravenscraig (or Hunterson) – but denied this to police
- In protest at not being allowed to continue, miners got off the buses and sat on the road
- Police reinforcements physically lifted miners off the road and arrested them
- 292-300 were arrested and taken to police stations across Glasgow
- No note of anyone subsequently appearing in court
Summary of police officers accounts
- Buses stopped "as a result of an otherwise unconnected road traffic incident"
- Some officers noted stopping buses was an intentional tactic
- Pickets sat on road and "had to be dealt with by the officers attending"
Key quotes – miners
"After the bus was stopped and prevented from going any further by police, our bus emptied on the road and we were pulled and kicked before being put back on the bus."
"took our names, and charged a total of 292 of us under Sections 17 and 41 of the Police Act for failing to comply with a request to go home."
"charged with Breach of the Peace, finger printed and photographed."
"Incidents like the stopping of the buses on the A8 was a shameful act by senior Police officers in Scotland, intervening in an industrial dispute at the behest of the Conservative Government."
Key quotes – police
"Pickets arrived by coach (sometimes with TV crews on board) and our perception was that some were seeking to raise the temperature by confrontation"
"The tactic of Police stopping and preventing busloads of miners from reaching picket lines was controversial and created unnecessary volatility."
Hunterston, Ravenscraig, England
During the Strike there were particular flashpoints, in Scotland and elsewhere, which have informed the views of miners and police officers.
In Scotland, key flashpoints occurred at Ravenscraig and Hunterston, respectively a steel mill and ore terminal. These facilities were managed and owned by the state through the public corporation, the British Steel Corporation. Each represented an unusual pressure point for the striking miners to target, given the absence of impact of the strike on electricity generation. This pressure from the Strike strengthened the UK government's clear determination to break the 'siege' at Ravenscraig, to maintain steel production and its flow to industrial customers.
The sheer numbers present at Hunterston and Ravenscraig, police and miners, was considerable. For example, there was a combined force of 3,000 pickets at Hunterston and Ravenscraig on 7 May 1984. On 3 May 1984, nearly 300 men were arrested at Ravenscraig in another of the key events of the Strike. Descriptions of pickets and police action at these locations are among the most vivid of the Strike, with equally large numbers of police officers required, for example to be able to arrest 300 men. Some of the descriptions are reminiscent of a mediaeval battle, especially with the use of horses.
Summary of miners' accounts
- Huge police presence including mounted officers
- Large numbers of pickets
- When lorries arrived there was shoving on both sides
- Miners report number of injuries and believe mounted officers a significant factor
- Miners report mounted police arrested them – including those knocked to ground
- In court, Sheriff (same as in the Kilmarnock appeal case) "not interested" in why arrested – "all found guilty"
- One miner noted that his verdict was overturned due to Sheriff Smith's remarks at a private function
Summary of police officers accounts
- "Hundreds" to "thousands" of pickets on hills on either side of the road
- Police provided barrier to prevent pickets stopping vehicles
- Protests escalated when lorries arrived – "a dangerous environment"
- Pickets would run down the hill towards police/road when lorries arrived
- Police subject to physical and verbal abuse
- Police did not use protective equipment
- Police officers believe mounted officers saved lives
- Focus on maintaining law and order – only make arrests if necessary
Key quotes – miners
"Hunterston…turned out to be a miniature Orgreave… On Tuesday May 8th about 1,500 pickets there faced 1,000-plus police. The miners lined up and the police horses simply went right into them. I was surprised no-one was actually killed."
"At Hunterston, I had a smack to the side of my head by a police horse. This was caused by the mounted officer pulling his reins to the left and right making his horse weave its head in amongst the pickets."
"On arriving at the picket we were met with a mass of Pickets and Police (the Largest I had seen in Scotland) I was organising the Pickets on the embankment when one of the Officers leaned over and said Davie Move your men up the hill or there's going to be trouble, following the warning a number of things happened the horses started running up and down the inside line between pickets and the police line. Indeed, one the horses collapsed on a picket. I was arrested by the snatch squad who came through the lines, horses opened up and several officers grabbed me and pulled me through, which I have on video, proving I was wrongly arrested and in spite of this I was convicted of breach of the peace." [Strike leader in Lothians who was arrested on several occasions including at Hunterston where they sent "busloads" of Lothian miners to prevent transportation of coal.]
Key quotes – police
"I was…shocked to see hundreds (perhaps thousands) of pickets on two hills, either side of the main road entrance into the terminal building."
"…the pickets had chanted and made noises that were like warriors preparing for battle, while police stood quietly awaiting the charge."
"Police were pelted with missiles… and an organised downhill charge was effected, at the cordon line in an effort to disrupt entry by well over 100 ore trucks."
"The picket charged the police lines and there was a very real danger of police and perhaps pickets being swept in front of the lorries. There were about 6 of our mounted branch in attendance. They obviously anticipated what was going to happen and charged the advancing pickets before they reached the police lines. In my view the day was saved."
"A number of the pickets were arrested who were kicking, punching, spitting, pushing and verbally abusing officers…there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that those mounted officers saved lives that day."
"The superintendent stated that our actions were being recorded by the press and he expected us to act in a professional and disciplined manner. Arrests were to be made only if necessary as this would weaken our line and cause more problems."
"holding the line was more important than apprehending."
Summary of miners' accounts
- Around 200 police present
- Miners/police would push each other when lorries arrived
- Lorries waved through at high speed by police
- Police arrested large numbers of pickets
- Miners concerned that they had "never seen" arresting officers who appeared in court
- Some found not guilty/case dismissed as police unable to give corroborating evidence
Summary of police officers accounts
- On occasion, up to 1000 pickets – made escorting lorries difficult and dangerous
- Pickets used objects to try and stop lorries and to throw at police
- Police subjected to physical assault by pickets
- No protective equipment was used by police
- Police state that they did not use excessive force – briefings focused on "common sense" policing using an "appropriate response"
Key quotes – miners
"Police would wave the lorries of Yuill and Dodds through at dangerous speeds."
"Perjuring themselves seemed to be normal procedure"
Key quotes – police
"Having seen these lorries, it suddenly hit home as to the enormity of the situation and that there was a considerable potential for confrontation. I was young, had been given orders and instruction, but was nonetheless filled with an element of fear as to what I may have to face."
"Our supervisors told us to lock arms with each other to prevent the movement of these strikers but as they started to lash out with their fists and hands we had to break up to defend ourselves. I can remember a few arrests being made, but at no time did I witness excessive force or the use of batons."
"Senior officers did not envisage the numbers or anger of the striking miners, which made my job and others like it, including the front line officers trying to hold back the striking miners at the steel plant, extremely difficult and dangerous."
"We were further advised that we should remember those on the picket lines were ordinary members of the public and should be treated as such."
England and Wales
Even events in England and Wales affected the atmosphere at pickets in Scotland, for example, the widely condemned November 1984 killing of taxi driver David Wilkie. Mr Wilkie was fatally injured when two striking miners dropped a concrete block from a footbridge onto his taxi whilst he was driving a strike-breaking miner to work.
Orgreave, in South Yorkshire, remains one of the key flashpoints in the Strike anywhere in Britain, with the date, 18 June 1984, indelibly marked into the collective memory of the mining community throughout the country. Although occurring in England, the "Battle of Orgreave" stands as a significant example which symbolises for the mining communities, aspects of the dynamics of the Strike as a whole. It is also important to observe that countless Scottish miners were at Orgreave that day. Those who were, who gave evidence to us and commented on it, said that Orgreave was entirely different to any other experience they had during the Strike – "Police stopping us all over the country. But we were given free access/waved on to Orgreave. For one reason "to kick f**k out of us." (quote from miner at one of our public meetings).
Those who were there have this additional traumatic experience to add to what they witnessed on the part of the police in Scotland. Some of this is captured in the book, Polmaise: The Fight for a Pit by John McCormack (former Polmaise NUM delegate):
"On June 19th [sic] 1984, the second "battle of Orgreave" took place, this time with contingents from Scotland, Wales and elsewhere in attendance. Straight away when they arrived, our men were rattled by the police attitude. They soon realised that the police were all organised to deal with the miners. At the height of the battle, police horses chased them through General Stores, through housing schemes and across people's gardens, everywhere. Some miners came back to Fallin, men who had been working in the pit more than 40 years, and said they had never experienced anything like it in their lives. These were men who had been in many a strike, but Orgreave was the worst of the lot."
Historian Tristram Hunt (a former Labour MP) wrote of Orgreave:
"Some 20 years on, the chronologies and responsibilities of that blistering June day are still disputed. What is not in dispute is that the battle for the Orgreave coking plant was one of the great set-piece confrontations of the miners' struggle. Almost medieval in its choreography, it was at various stages a siege, a battle, a chase, a rout and, finally, a brutal example of legalised state violence…To many, Orgreave remains a symbol of resistance to Thatcherism's attempt to crush not only the miners' strike, but with it a culture and a community diametrically opposed to 1980s Conservatism. (The coking plant itself was later shut down and demolished.) As one reader puts it, the strike was a "struggle for a livelihood, for jobs, and even for the identity of communities devastated by political decisions to close pits without thought for the lives affected. The poverty, deprivation and oppression were terrible. Yet the bravery of the men, women and children in those communities is almost forgotten, the struggle has all but been erased from memory."
Media reports at the time depicted it as "an act of self-defence by police who had come under attack", and there still exists a body of opinion, albeit significantly reduced, that the police at Orgreave "were upholding the law in the face of intimidation from thousands of strikers". Notoriously, the BBC played an important role in this depiction of events, with the following written apology issued only in 1991, years after it broadcast footage which appeared to show the police responding to violent provocation as opposed to the miners responding to an unprovoked mounted charge by police officers on horses:
"The BBC acknowledged some years ago that it made a mistake over the sequence of events at Orgreave. We accepted without question that it was serious, but emphasised 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."
This significant incident falls outwith our Terms of Reference but, along with other events, it plays its part in the continuing memories and impacts of the Strike, especially as regards the attitude of miners towards the police, the media and the Government.
Summary – Stepps, Hunterston and Ravenscraig
- 28 consultation responses mentioned Hunterston, Ravenscraig or Stepps
- 16 were from miners – 10 gave details of Hunterston/9 Ravenscraig/5 Stepps
- 7 from police officers – 4 gave details of Hunterston/3 Ravenscraig/2 Stepps
- 5 from others – academics; local community; MSP. In these Hunterston mentioned 4 times, Ravenscraig 2 and Stepps 1.
In general, police officers gave a more detailed account of their experiences. The relative imbalance in detail makes it difficult to accurately assess the situation overall. However, there are consistencies in the reporting of events at Stepps, Hunterston and Ravenscraig:
- Miners and police responses reflect that Hunterston and Ravenscraig were major flashpoints during the strike
- Vast numbers (hundreds – thousands) of miners and police at each location
- Miners tried to prevent lorries arriving – police role was to protect them
- Tensions escalated whenever lorries arrived
- Injuries and element of fear on both sides
- Mounted police were deployed at Hunterston
- There is little mention of the Stepps incident in police accounts though they do confirm the overall situation as reported by miners.
Where there are discrepancies is in how the situations were policed; who was responsible for the escalation of the situations; the levels of intimidation/aggression on both sides; the outcome of arrests. Miners refer to events following arrest but this is rarely noted by police.
"In the early stages of the strike there was a feeling the "community stood together."
(quote from miner at one of our public meetings)
As one miner put it, explaining how encounters at pickets developed and worsened over the course of the Strike due to miners returning to work:
"December 1984 the Coal Board had an initiative whereby men would be given a cash sum (£250, I think). This precipitated a surge in strikebreaking and deepened the divisions in the communities making the strike an even more bitter experience than it had been.
As the miners' strike continued beyond the summer and there were more people crossing picket lines, the relationship between ourselves and the police was completely hostile and there was no trust left."
Reference here to a 'surge' in strikebreaking is perhaps misleading. There was no significant back to work movement before February 1985 other than at Bilston Glen in Midlothian (from August 1984) and at the Ayrshire pair, Barony and Killoch (from November 1984). At the other pits, even the perhaps exaggerated NCB data shows just 10% of employees at work at the start of December 1984, 12.7% in January 1985 and 20% in February 1985.
The strongest feelings of all seem to be reserved for those miners who returned to work. They were, and remain, despised. While we heard from men who will not trust the police as a result of the Strike, the strike breakers occupy a special place in the minds of miners because of what is seen as betrayal, men succumbing to the huge pressures felt by all striking miners. The word "scab", used at all of our public meetings, retains a power for the mining communities, all the more difficult in some areas where the numbers who returned to work were greater –
"there are scabs now.. I still won't speak to them"
(quote from miner at one of our public meetings).
In a separate but related category, we heard from miners who were involved in safety cover in pits. In general, because of the essential nature of their role, they were allowed to cross picket lines, although some of them reported being abused and threatened, with police officers saying that their safety could not be guaranteed.
Other Police Conduct
Police officers waving bunches of 10 or 20 pound notes, or in other ways emphasising the benefits to officers by way of overtime was a painful memory recalled by many miners, especially given the increasing hardships they endured as the Strike continued.
On the other hand, it was acknowledged that police officers and their families sought in some ways to mitigate the effects of the Strike, for example, through often unsung financial contributions, or helping in soup kitchens.
Some miners complained that, while they were kept overnight or even longer in overcrowded police cells, police officers would stand near the cell doors eating fish suppers while leaving their prisoners without food. Again, the evidence was not entirely one way. A young man at the Alloa meeting recalled a young police woman who stepped in and gave him a dry blanket the night he was in the cells at Stirling. This miner was keen to point out that not all officers were unkind towards them.
Evidence included reports of police activity in communities, away from the pits and picket lines –
"Every night in winter months, police shone lights in living room. At 2-3am would get a phone call. No one there. Then the lights came back on. That's the kind of harassment we had."
(quote from miner at one of our public meetings).
Some of this seemed targeted at union officials and on occasion involved arrests for seemingly minor incidents. It includes reports of attempts at intimidation by having police vehicles park in the street where union officials or other activists lived. For example (from the submission by Dr Jim Phillips, received in response to the Call for Evidence),:
"Police officers followed and attempted to intimidate striking miners in their streets and community, at distance physically from collieries and other sites of picketing. Such policing was reflective of the government's broader political and social re-engineering. Some academics have labelled this as 'class war from above', with the state pursuing a deliberate strategy of isolating organised workers to minimise or even eliminate altogether their influence on public policy."
At the public meeting in Fallin, we were told that there was never any need of a picket-line at the local colliery (Polmaise) because support for the strike was 100%. Despite that, there was a larger than ever police presence in residential streets in the village and people felt that they were being "spied upon" and some striking miners complained about being "tailed" by police vehicles.
We also heard of miners arrested at home in front of their families, causing much upset to young children.
Persistent Memories – Contested And Uncontested
In oral evidence at our 8 meetings, and in some of the written responses to the Call for Evidence, we heard from individuals who were wholly convinced that certain extraordinary measures were employed by the police in the policing of the Strike. The persistence of such accounts was a matter of note, with mention being made by unconnected individuals at different meetings. In this Chapter, we simply report on these accounts but, as will be seen in the next Chapter, these are very much in the category of "contested memories".
"Police were used as a political tool against the miners";
"Police force can't be used a puppet for the government";
"The strike was political – everyone knows that. It's what the Government did/used as end to their means";
"volume of policing orchestrated by central government in England."
(quotes from miners at one of our public meetings).
The main conclusion drawn by all who spoke at our meetings and in most of the written responses is that the police were used as a political tool or weapon by a Government which was determined, among other things, to remove the power of the unions. This is the strongest and most persistent belief around the Strike as a whole. Much of it is personalised to those who espoused strong anti-trade union views or acted against the unions. The names of Margaret Thatcher and Albert Wheeler came up most frequently during the course of the review, for example, "Margaret Thatcher hated the Scottish people" (quote from miner at one of our public meetings). A great deal of literature has grown up around this view, with even some official records making it seem a reasonable, indeed even inevitable, conclusion that political influence was brought to bear, or at least attempted, on policing decisions. The situation with policing of the Strike in England, which obviously falls outwith our Terms of Reference, also informs views on political interference. At least some of what we have seen hints at greater involvement and co‑ordination between Government and police there, with a blurring of some lines of responsibility and accountability. An example, from the early days of the Strike involved interviewing officers in one force in England asking miners "Are you a member of any political organisation?", a question subsequently acknowledged by the relevant Chief Constable as "unfortunate".
The evidence is thought to start with the hardening in the 1970s of the Conservative Party's approach, for example, in the Appendix to the Ridley Plan for the nationalised industries (a plan for when they were in government but prepared when they were in opposition, including a Confidential Annex entitled "Countering the political threat" which included strategies for defeating a strike in a major nationalised industry, identified at the time as likely to be coal), leaked to the Economist in 1978. The author of the report, Nicholas Ridley MP. later became a Cabinet Minister, the Secretary of State for Transport, and, during the 1984-85 Miners' Strike, attended meetings of the Cabinet Ministerial Group on Coal.
The fifth paragraph in the Appendix is of particular interest for our purposes, anticipating a central role for the police in future industrial action and suggesting the need for greater co-ordination of police responses:
"Third, we must be prepared for these stratagems to fail, however; and we must take every precaution possible to strengthen our defences against all out attack in a highly vulnerable industry. If the attack comes in Electricity (or gas) there are really very few defences – we should be especially careful to avoid provoking the workforce in these industries. Luckily there is no great need to create redundancies in these industries."
"The most likely area is coal. Here we should seek to operate with the maximum quantity of stocks possible, particularly at the power stations. We should perhaps make such contingent plans as we can to import coal at short notice. We might be able to arrange for certain haulage companies to recruit in advance a core of non-union lorry drivers to help us move coal where necessary. We should also install, dual coal/oil firing in all power stations, where practicable as quickly as possible."
"The chosen battle ground could be the Docks. Here again the best policy is keep stocks as high as possible, and to try and keep some ports open (e.g. Felixstowe and Shoreham?) for essential supplies and exports. A dock strike is not as crippling as an electricity stoppage."
"Road Transport is another industry which is vulnerable, but the diversity of firms and ownership and the weak nature of the Unions, makes it less likely that action could succeed here."
"Fourth. by far the greatest deterrent to any strike, whether in the public or the private sector, is clearly to cut off the supply of money to the strikers, and make the Union finance them. This is a policy question going beyond the nationalised Industries, although as employer in these Industries the Government could be said to have some right to treat strikers differently in relation to supplementary benefit and tax refunds. This seems too partial, however, and is not recommended. It is clearly vital in order to defeat the attack which assuredly will come in one public industry or another that our policy on state funds for strikers be put into effect quickly and that it be sufficiently tough to act as a major deterrent."
"Fifth, we must prepare to deal with the problem of violent picketing. This again is a matter going beyond policy for nationalised industries. But it is also vital to our policy that on a future occasion we defeat violence in breach of the law on picketing. The only way to do this is to have a large, mobile squad of police who are equipped and prepared to uphold the law against the likes of the Saltley Coke-works mob."
"It also seems a wise precaution to try and get some haulage companies to recruit some good non-union drivers who will be prepared to cross picket lines, with police protection. They could always be used in the crunch situations which usually determines the result of any such contest."
"Conclusion. These five policies seem all that is available and if integrated and used wisely they provide a pretty strong defence – particularly when there is no Incomes Policy against which to strike. They should enable us to hold the fort until the long term strategy of fragmentation can begin to work."
Perhaps the strongest example in the Scottish context which is suggestive of political influence, if not interference, is the Minute of the CMGC meeting of 8 May 1984 which was followed by the mass stop at Stepps only 2 days later, in what seemed to be a shift in approach by the police in Scotland, one which brought them more in line with how the movement of picketing miners was being handled by police south of the Border.
A newspaper story in the Scotsman on 11 May 1984 states that Assistant Chief Constable Roderick Nicolson took the decision to stop the buses at Stepps as preventative action to avoid further violence. The then Lord Advocate, Lord MacKay of Clashfern is quoted in another newspaper story as justifying the lawfulness of such police action, claiming that it had a similar legal basis as the action taken south of the border as explained by the Attorney General.
The Stepps stop is mentioned in Jim Phillip's book, 'Collieries, communities and the miners' strike in Scotland, 1984 – 85' (page 95/96):
"With the strikers close to an important victory [cutting off supplies to Ravenscraig], Bob Haslam, BSC [British Steel Corporation] chairman, made a crucial intervention. On 8 May he advised Department of Energy officials that Ravenscraig was not attracting sufficient police protection, likening its impending closure to the mass blockade of the Saltley coke depot during the 1972 miners' strike [it was specifically referenced in the Ridley report] … This was a telling reference to a central episode in the Thatcherite narrative of unacceptable union 'violence' and power. .…until this point there had been no reported systematic halting of pickets at a distance from either of the BSC sites. Haslam was perhaps aware of this, his careful approach geared to altering the position without attracting any potential charge of directly intervening in police operational matters. Department of Energy officials communicated his thinking to the Scottish Office. It cannot be verified that it was also conveyed to Strathclyde Police, but it was surely no coincidence that Haslam's intervention was followed within 48 hours by a change of policy… This removed 'large numbers of trouble-making pickets' from Ravenscraig and Hunterston, in the words of the Scottish Office daily situation report, and immediately improved supply to the plant. Roderick Nicholson, Strathclyde's Assistant Chief Constable, claimed that he alone was responsible for initiating this action, to prevent 'large numbers bent on disorder' for mustering at the BSC sites. Haslam, maintaining a discreet distance, nevertheless wrote within a fortnight to Sir Patrick Hamill, Chief Constable of Strathclyde, offering thanks for the forces' successful efforts in dispersing pickets and relieving the pressure on Ravenscraig."
Dr Phillips' book was published before the CMGC Minute was available. The fuller picture is no less concerning. Despite the absence of evidence of direct communications ahead of the Stepps stop, the timing suggests that there was at least some co-ordination on these matters at the relevant time between BSC, the UK Government and Strathclyde Police.
In terms of the official records, it is possible to see a build-up to this change.
Developments towards this point are described from the perspective of miners in an NUM Report which was published in May 2014. It is worth quoting from this report in a little more detail to see how belief of political interference in policing became a hardened conclusion:
"Possibly the most alarming aspect of the way in which the strike was policed was the way in which the police were being presented as acting on their own discretion, whilst pressures were being put on them to arrest more pickets. It was said by ministers on a number of occasions that discretion as to whether individuals should be arrested as a result of their participation in mass picketing was a matter for the police and the police alone and that their constitutional independence should be upheld and respected. Despite this, there were private concerns from the highest ranks of both the NCB and the government that the police were not fully carrying out their duties and as a result, special efforts were made to step up action against the miners. Macgregor raised concerns at a secret meeting held at Downing Street with the Prime Minister and Walker on 14th march 198424, in which he reported that he had won a High Court injunction against the NUM preventing it from using flying pickets:-
"While he had taken action under the civil law he was concerned that the criminal law was not being upheld. It appeared that no arrest had been made and that militants were not only preventing miners who wanted to work from doing so, but were preventing ballots from taking place…
The Secretary of State for Energy said that Police were interpreting their role as ensuring that anyone who expressed a wish to go to work would be enable to do so. In practice, however, this was insufficient to ensure that pits were kept working as many miners were, understandably, reluctant to expose themselves to the hostility of picket lines…
He was concerned that failure to uphold the law would rebound on the Government and call into question its commitment to the rule of law and its employment legislation…
The Prime Minister said she was deeply disturbed by these reports. The events at Saltley cokeworks were being repeated. It was vital that criminal law on picketing be upheld. Helping those who volunteered to go to work was not sufficient; intimidation had to be ended and people had to be free to go about their business without fear. It was essential to stiffen the resolve of Chief Constables to ensure that they fulfilled their duty to uphold the law. The Police were now well paid and well equipped and individual forces had good arrangements for mutual support."
"The meeting then ended and was immediately followed by a discussion held by a wider group of ministers. Present was the Prime Minister, Home Secretary, Secretaries of State for Energy, Environment, Social Services, Employment, the Attorney General, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Peter Gregson25."
"At this meeting, the Prime Minister again said that she was deeply disturbed by the reports she had been presented with by MacGregor and Walker minutes earlier. She said that "It appeared that the Police were not carrying out their duties fully as large pickets were bing permitted and few arrests were being made "At the time, secondary picketing, and of course large pickets, were not an offence under criminal law – but nonetheless, ministers were concerned with the apparent leniency with which Chief Constables were treating striking miners."
"The Home Secretary said that his department had alerted Police Chiefs earlier in the week on the extent of their powers but he was not satisfied with the response." He had also outlined these powers, which included intercepting vehicles, stopping pickets from assembling and disperse excessive numbers of pickets. The minutes add that "He had gone to the limit of what the Home Secretary could do while respecting the constitutional independence of Police Forces".
"This however, was not good enough, and there was further considerable pressure put on the Home Secretary to pass pressure down the chain of command."
"Summing up, the Prime Minister said, "It was essential that criminal law on picketing be upheld and that intimidation should not be allowed to succeed. The meeting endorsed the action of the Home Secretary to ensure that Chief Constables carried out their duties fully. The matter should be discussed again at Cabinet when it would be clearer whether the police were adopting the more vigorous interpretations of their duties which was being sought. Ministers could then consider that further action might be needed."
"It was said at the first official ministerial group on coal after the outbreak of strike action, held at Downing Street on 16th March (only two days after initial concerns over the Chief Constables' efforts were raised) by the Prime Minister that the objective should be continuation "of the efforts already been made by the Chief Constables to cope with heavy picketing". There is no mention in the discussion with the wider group of ministers that the Home Secretary was "not satisfied with their response" as it was previously recorded from a smaller meeting of ministers."
"The difficulty arises again in finding out the nature of communications between the Home Secretary and senior police officers, given that the Freedom of Information request submitted to the Home Office Department was not met. Whatever those papers may or may not have revealed, the result was an increase in tensions between the mining communities and police, and a breakdown of relations that is, to some extent, present in some former mining communities today. Some senior police officers were quick to respond to claims that they were being used as a political weapon of the government, claiming that this was false. One senior police officer however, described his force as the "jam in the sandwich" in the dispute. Concerns were raised over the official policy of the police in Scotland, who appeared not to be enforcing the policy of turning away pickets. At the MISC 101 meeting on Tuesday 8th May, summing up discussions, the Prime Minister said the Secretary of State for Scotland should, "establish in particular whether the Scottish Chief Constables were willing as a matter of policy to take action similar to that taken in England to prevent pickets going to the scene of possible disturbances". This strongly supports the assertion that ministers were interfering in the policing operation of the strike."
The same report addresses perceived attempts to influence the courts and judiciary.
Other examples of extraordinary actions alleged to have been taken by the State include the use of the military, phone-taps and surveillance of union officials.
Stories of soldiers in police uniforms were told by miners at all of our public meetings, albeit questions about this tended to expose the extent to which it was a matter of hearsay. Men described individuals in ill-fitting police uniforms, sometimes too small and sometimes too big; individuals who were not tall enough to be police officers; marching and formations suggestive of military drills; an absence of officers' numbers visible on their uniforms. We heard second-hand of men seeing family members in police uniform who they knew to be soldiers.
Phone-tapping of trade union officials and others connected to the Strike was suspected at the time, resulting in efforts to test the suspicion by way of discussions of false plans to see if police activity would be directed to the site of discussed but fictitious gatherings. Successful misdirection of the police is part of the accounts we heard which is seen to support this belief.
In meetings, mention was made of Special Branch and even MI5 being involved in surveillance on union officials, Stella Rimington, who later became Director General of MI5, even said by some to have been seen monitoring pickets.
Loss Of Legitimacy For The State
A combination of factors described in this Chapter led to a breakdown in trust in the State in general and the police in particular. This lack of trust led in turn to a sense that the State had lost its legitimacy, apparently prepared to use extraordinary measures to ensure victory in a battle with the miners it had been anticipating even before taking power in 1979.
The legitimacy lost in the Strike has, for many, never been restored. Indeed, the publication of some additional official records in 2015 under the 30 year rule is viewed as confirming suspicions of political interference.
Loss Of Dignity And Respectability For The Individual
In addition to the wider loss of trust and sense of legitimacy of the State, there have been powerful personal impacts of the Strike. Some men reported being crushed by the combined loss of work, employability, income, family, self‑respect and dignity. Some men suffered nervous breakdowns and some even committed suicide, such illness and death attributed by men and their family members to the events of 1984/85 and the lasting consequences of the Strike.
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