The Fife Constabulary Debrief Report has allowed us access to evidence and views from 1985, offering a policing perspective which is invaluable when considered along with the other evidence and submissions we have received from those within policing at the time. The Debrief Report offers us a useful summary of that perspective:
"The object of this exercise is to take a dispassionate look at the problems which manifested themselves and the lessons which were learned by the Police during a dispute which will go down in the annals of history as probably the most derisive, bitter and costly disputes of all time. Through no fault of their own the Police Service, both nationally and locally, were cast in the role of mediator, adjudicator, referee or call it what you like, in a situation where the two sides were absolutely diametrically opposed with the word compromise being completely erased from their vocabulary. Against, this background Chief Constables were expected to maintain at least a modicum of normality in a situation which was totally abnormal. As an added problem, introduced into the arena, there were the distinct influences of political undertones. This problem was made infinitely worse in many areas with central Government being administered by a Conservative controlled organisation, which had its own level of expectation, while local Government was the domain of a Labour controlled organisation which held totally different views and principles. Under normal circumstances this would have been a totally acceptable state of affairs and a healthy way of maintaining the fundamental democratic principles which have prevailed over the years throughout the United Kingdom. However, these were not normal times with the result that every move involving any facet of the dispute was put under microscopic scrutiny and used as political propaganda or media material. In addition it is true to say that probably never before has the Police Service as a whole been subjected to such a searching examination and been held to such a degree of accountability for its actions. While in many instances the examination and accountability, which is part of the modern thinking, is welcomed in Police circles it must be approached on all sides by an open and unbiased mind which is generally what the vast majority of the public do. However, during this dispute there were signs that groups were endeavouring to manipulate the Police Services into a position where their actions might be interpreted as being supportive to a particular cause or viewpoint. All of the points raised made the role of the Police in this dispute more difficult and demanding. Furthermore officers were being required to go into situations, and to provide instant remedies, to problems where they could not draw on their experience due to the fact that the type of problem on the scale encountered had simply never before arisen unemployment especially amongst the youth of the community. Another element which cannot be ignored is that the Region of Fife, once the very hub of the Mining Industry in Scotland, has seen this industry decimated and that further erosion would have a very serious effect especially in areas like High Valleyfield, Oakley and Ballingry. All of these ingredients provide the climate where, given the right grievance and leadership, public order can be in danger. It is therefore legitimate to observe at this juncture that the Police Services responsible for these high risk areas must approach the problem much more carefully and with a much higher degree of sensitivity than that which might be necessary in a less volatile atmosphere. It would also not be unfair to say at this point that if one accepts that this dispute degenerated into a type of war that it has to be accepted that the first casualty in any war is the truth. Furthermore, any distortion of the truth gives rise to rumour and that rumour is a fertile breeding ground for trouble and disorder. It is also contended that the distortion of the truth element in this dispute, more than any other single factor, was responsible for causing the greatest number of problems for the Police Services. It is also contended that all elements in the dispute contributed to this and were to varying degrees guilty as charged."
(Although on line 4 of the extract, the word "derisive" appears, it should presumably read "divisive")
"we were defending the public peace and upholding the law."
"I never enjoyed the police force being referred to as Maggie's boot boys – a derogatory term implying an unhealthily close relationship between government and police which was certainly not felt universally within the police service. It is unfortunate that, although police services in the UK have learned many lessons since the '84/'85 strike about how to conduct relationships with governments, the same might not be said to be true in reverse."
This Chapter reflects the views of police officers gathered at meetings and in responses to the Call for Evidence. Some matters mentioned by miners in evidence have been raised with retired officers for comment. Some mentioned these matters unprompted in responses to the Call for Evidence.
As with the miners, the police service and individual officers found themselves in a difficult position. Regardless of suspicions, or even certainty on the part of some, of political interference, it is inconceivable that the police could simply have stood back entirely during the Strike. The police had a duty to keep the peace and safeguard all members of the public, including miners, whether striking or working, as well as property –
"We'd have protected the striking miners right to protest peacefully with as much energy as we spent defending miners arriving from work or providing self-defence from the many missiles that rained down on us."
This was the view of police officers notwithstanding the conflicting interests of the different groups, whether picketing miners, miners who returned to work, the NCB or the general population.
While some police action may well have been consistent with the wishes of the Government, at least some of that was action which would have been taken anyway in light of major disturbances and violence.
Some, at least, in government were aware of the need to avoid political interference. See, for example, the Attorney General's Report of 6 June 1984 at page 2:
"We start with the general comment that, although the Home Departments have overall responsibility for the criminal law, many aspects of the daily operation of the criminal justice system are managed at local level and are not easily susceptible to central influence, even if that were desirable. We should not lay ourselves open in any way to a charge of interfering with the administration of justice"
and page 10:
"As regards prosecutions policy and the handling of cases by the courts, overt intervention by central Government would be inappropriate. Our proper role is to ensure that the responsible authorities have all the support they need to deal effectively with the situation in their area."
Similarly to the miners, some in policing thought that the early stages of the Strike involved better relations between miners and police, largely because of recognition of the same local connections mentioned by miners in Chapter 5. Despite this, in the Fife Constabulary Debrief Report, it states:
"At the outset of this dispute it was clear to all Police Officers in Fife that the dispute could be very different from previous disputes for a variety of reasons. Most of the reasons came to pass as the dispute progressed and it is my firm opinion that no one expected the NUM to fight so hard, so dirty, or for so long. There is absolutely no question that the majority of the NUM members and other related unions have a very close affinity with their Union and very few in Fife area ever wanted to go against their Union advice to stay on Strike."
Also, like the miners, some police officers attributed some of the problems to those who came to picket lines from outwith the area concerned. For the relevant constabularies, it was sometimes felt necessary to seek help from other constabularies, something known as "mutual aid". Although many miners had a strong impression that mutual aid was used extensively, those from policing advised us that its use was minimal and often initially requested and then cancelled before reaching the picket lines. More commonly, what did happen was that officers from other areas within the local force were deployed.
It was recognised that the presence of more "strangers" ran the risk of increasing tensions, in part due to the loss of some local recognition and respect, but this was done when it was considered operationally necessary, based on intelligence or developing situations.
We were assured by a senior police officer that at no time during the strike were police officers from outside Scotland deployed within Scotland.
Uncertainty about the length of the Strike had obvious impacts on policing, with increased pressure on resources, for example through overtime payments. It appears that some officers came to expect such payments:
The Fife Constabulary Debrief Report states:
"After 8 hours were completed. (This is an aspect which required close supervision as there is no question that some officers of all ranks developed a greed for overtime and the resultant refreshment allowance."
Picket Lines – Police Tactics Including Arrest, Violence, Increasing Tensions
Police officers spoke of a wide range of experiences at picket lines, ranging from good-natured dialogue to low-level pushing and shoving, and to terrifying moments of violence, threatened and actual. The firm policy decision by Scottish police forces not to use public order uniform and equipment (more generally referred to as "riot gear") as a common part of daily duties left officers feeling vulnerable, albeit there was an understanding that this decision had been made to avoid an increase in tensions through the sight of heavily-equipped police officers, perhaps more familiar through footage from Northern Ireland. It appears that this decision was made by the Chief Constables separately, albeit there may have been discussion between them, for example at ACPOS (Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland) level. ACPOS had a monthly meeting called ACPOS Council which was all the Chief Constables and also a representative of the Deputy Chief Constables and also a rep for Assistant Chief Constables. It appears that this would be the regular meeting where any issues relative to the Strike would be discussed by the Chief Constables.
Some of the experience of officers can be gleaned from the following quotes:
"police tactics were very simple in that any aggressive miner committing a criminal offence to or at officers at the front of the police line were thrown to the ground and pulled through the 6 deep rank to be arrested by officers at the rear. They would then be placed in custody vans and removed from the scene. I personally was assaulted and spat on, only during the presence of the Durham strikers at Bilston, and prior to their arrival thought that the humour and engagement between local miners and the police was of a good nature."
"Things could get heated at times but I was never subjected to assault or unreasonable force and I made no arrests."
"Yes, there was violence, the throwing of missiles, kicking and punching, and certainly a lot of pushing but nothing totally outrageous."
"We were equipped with a van full of riot gear, short and long shields, helmets, shin guards etc. but at no time during the 6 months I was involved did a situation arise where the use of such a kit was required. Neither did we employ mounted police or dog handlers. I also cannot recall any ambulances being summoned for injured police or pickets."
"While some nights were relatively quiet they attended on a particularly nasty one and had to beat a hasty retreat as the bottles and stones were flying and a number of arrests made."
"The pickets were always bolder under the cover of darkness and in many cases were fortified with a few pints at the local miners' club."
"…there was a minor though useful change. Arrested miners inevitably pled not guilty to breach of the peace and/or assault and were released on bail. A new bail condition was added that forbade that individual from attending a picket line until his case was heard. That kept several of the hotheads away."
"I was knocked off my motorcycle and had to be rescued by uniformed police officers to prevent me being assaulted by the striking miners who at that time were extremely violent towards police."
"Relatives, acquaintances and neighbours faced each other on opposite sides of picket lines and, with some exceptions, the daily routine consisted of half-hearted pushing, shoving and good‑natured banter.
The whole tone of the strike changed when some miners returned to work to one of vitriolic hatred directed at those perceived to be breaking the strike.
The violence that was meted out to working miners, their families and property was nothing short of deplorable and left a shameful stain on the mining community.
my involvement in protecting them remains one of the most tension-ridden experiences of my entire Police service.
This culture of intimidation also extended to Police Officers' wives and families (although not mine) being threatened and abused in mining communities, together with repeated damage being caused to their homes and property. Many striking miners were unable to comprehend that both these groups, working miners and Police families, were as much part of the community as they were.
As the Police were perceived to be assisting and facilitating the working miners' return to work by escorting them, they were seen as being implicit in trying to break the strike and they too became the focus of the miners' wrath.
Acts of disorder were perpetuated by miners' pickets both on the picket line – abusive language, kicking, spitting and throwing missiles, and on the approaches to the collieries – throwing missiles or attempting to blockade roads. In some instances, individual officers felt so threatened that they were forced to draw their batons to protect themselves. "
(d) "Turning primary/secondary school children who were determined to join the picket line."
"At this time several notable people attended at locus and without question this added to the stress factors of senior officers. However, the Police Command 'bus was invaluable for "nearby on the spot meetings" where the Chief Constable, and if he was not present the Deputy Chief Constable, could meet with Gordon Brown MP and other interested parties and really "deflect the flock" and allow other operational officers to carry out their duties with that much less pressure."
"Nothing induced pressure or stress more readily than the presence of women/children at Cartmore, then Lochore during Cartmore. I often ask myself, what would have happened if a lorry driver had knocked down a woman or child? Also the attitude of the women pickets every morning with the ritualistic appearance at Longannet to shout filthy phrases at the women going to work at offices at that location. Also the women and children in Oakley and Valleyfield. The children, aged 2-3 years, shouting "fucking scabs" and "fucking scab polis" does not augur well for the future. According to the Brown/Rees Report (page 8), the total number of police officers in Scotland who were injured while carrying out duties was 110 – "No detailed breakdown by type or seriousness of injury is available but only two of those injured in Scotland were hospitalised."
Even within policing responses, there was an acknowledgement of excessive use of force, for example, "The Police tactics at times were heavy handed although I realise that the law had to be upheld but sometimes it seemed over the top with the Police looking at laws from the 19th century to arrest active union members."(police officer)
"The miners were no angels and many of the most prominent agitators were men who hardly ever attended the pits this was confirmed to me by friends and relatives who worked in the mines."
"Detain those in question until the picket line cleared, then deliver them to their communities.
Throughout my dealings with local miners I felt that there was mutual respect and an understanding of each side. Situation was very different when our pits were visited by flying pickets from south of the border. No respect for either police or locals.
Visiting pickets caused significant damage to the mining equipment and private property."
"Numerous accounts of damage are contained in the Fife Constabulary Debrief Report, including damage to police buildings and cars, as well as assaults and other crimes."
"We had been warned about the possibility of "flying pickets". 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 was frightened at the time, though I tried not to show it."
"The violence was usually worse when "flying pickets" appeared from England. At times they set tyres on fire, then threw stones at us through the smoke. We were not permitted to use any protective equipment, as it wouldn't present a good public image. We did have a good relationship with many of the strikers, it was just some who seemed to have a propensity for violence."
"an exhausting and punishing time, but that was what was expected of us as Police Officers… most of the striking miners and the Police had no problem with each other on either picket lines nor on the streets, we could be on picket lines talking to miners about everyday things, like if we had brought pieces to eat and what was on them, until strangers turned up on the picket lines, there for only one reason, to cause trouble, these were usually shipped in on buses, with none of the pickets recognising them and were obviously shipped in thugs, there to cause trouble and animosity. I felt sorry for honest miners who were caught up in this and obviously did not really want to be. Many knew their jobs were on the line, as many pits could deteriorate beyond operable levels during the strike, if not run and maintained as normal every day, I felt sorry for them."
"I was brought up beside miners all my life and had nothing but respect for them for doing a very dirty, dangerous, hard job, that view has not changed of the honest hard working men I met and knew."
As outlined in the last chapter, a significant majority of miners were on strike, however, there were also miners who chose to work and their number increased as the Strike wore on. It is worth highlighting something that will be apparent from looking at the evidence we have gathered, namely that this group, the miners who returned to work, did not respond to the Call for Evidence or at meetings despite having the opportunity to do so in the same way as all those who made submissions. This is understandable, as strong feelings still follow them. In the eyes of the law, these men had a right to work, even if exercising it was seen as insulting and inflammatory by the striking miners.
Those who chose to work were subjected by miners to verbal abuse, threats and physical attack at picket lines as well as threats and attacks away from the picket lines, on their persons, families and homes.
The Fife Constabulary Debrief Report contains detail of incidents involving violence, disorder and damage to property, including smashing the windows of the houses of miners who had returned to work and the fire-raising in Lochgelly of a car and garage belonging to a miner who was working through the Strike. There is also some detail in that report of a disturbing incident described as follows:
"Now the examination turns to the Oakley area where there was little trouble until late in the dispute when two members of the community decided to go back to work and break the solidarity of the village in its support for the Strike. This resulted in serious outbreaks of disorder, the worst being setting fire to an upturned van on Sligo Street and trying to form a barricade by a group of men dressed in army style jackets and balaclava hoods with eye slits. This resulted in Police having to be drafted into the area with increased regular foot patrols and static watches."
"Static watches" by the police were also required at the houses of these men. This involved officers being stationed there, sometimes for 24 hour stints, to try to deter individuals from causing damage to property or threat to those who were still working. This became a great drain on police resources.
Miners who had returned to work had to have police escorts to get their coaches through the picket line, which often contained hundreds of strikers. Often the buses or "scab vans" were attacked with stones or bricks and windows smashed.
"it was mainly to ensure the working miners were allowed in and out of the pit to get to work. This mainly consisted of the Police creating a physical path for cars and lorries to enter the pit area, followed by a bit of pushing and shoving with the striking miners which, on occasion, resulted in a flashpoint and a few arrests, mainly for minor breach of the peace or assault. When picketing miners from Durham arrived at Bilston. I have no recollection what changed in the strike to make the Durham men appear, but things took a very definite turn to the sinister when they did. I had the bare minimum of protective equipment (shin guards – nothing else) you can understand why I was so frightened."
The relatively limited extent of strike-breaking underlines the effort being made by the police to safeguard the rights of a small minority. Consequently, this became an increasingly resource-intensive aspect of policing as the Strike developed and more men returned to work.
In passing, Jim Phillips has pointed out a possible explanation for at least some of the involvement of Durham miners. In March 1984, Easington Colliery became the first of the Durham pits to be involved in the Strike. In August 1984, there was a major crisis there which involved, in effect, a two week siege in the village. A major police-NCB operation was undertaken to bus a single strike-breaker into the pit. The strikers engaged in a remarkable act of insurrection, invading the pithead and causing significant damage to NCB property. This was front-page news in the UK national press, e.g. The Guardian, 23 August 1984.
"The same with those men branded "scabs" by extremists, miners who either did not believe in the whole thing and had the courage to say so and continue to work, I say courage, as many miners I also spoke to on the picket lines and elsewhere actually wanted to do the same, but were intimidated by threats against themselves and their families and many, both strikers and scabs were in severe poverty with the strike, their jobs having given them a standard of life which could not be kept up during a strike, particularly a lengthy one, again I felt very sorry for these men and their families, who were subject to attacks and constant intimidation by the extremists."
As more miners returned to work, so grew the demands on the police to keep an eye on what was happening not only at picket lines but also in communities, at the homes of strike breakers and on their journey to work.
"the mob did remain in the street whilst we safely escorted the miner from the coach into his home. During this time, the mob continued to shout expletives at him, including "Scab Bastard", "Fucking traitor" and "You'll be asking the Polis to wipe your arse next."
"Problems only arose when the working miners were leaving home in Kirkconnel, in the early morning, in darkness, on the bus. Persons, from houses and in the darkness, would shout abuse at the bus and its passengers. There were occasional reports of stones being thrown at the buses but I saw no evidence of that during my spell of duty. As far as I recollect no persons were detained or arrested during the time I was on duty at Kirkconnel."
"involved over a prolonged period in the protection of 'scabs' at their homes as a number of families had suffered physical assaults and vandalism's to their properties."
In relation to Yuill and Dodds deliveries, there was an appreciation on the part of police officers that their arrival involved heightened tensions.
"Manning a traffic point at the main set of traffic lights…entailed switching traffic lights off and affording coal lorries right of way as they headed backwards and forwards to the Ravenscraig Steel Works with coal supplies…it was safer for the lorries to travel at night so the drivers were also working nightshift. 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."
Stepps Stop – 10 May 1984
We were unable to identify any intervening documented links between the CMGC meeting of 8 May 1984 and the employment of this new tactic by police on 10 May 1984.
It is worth noting that, in the Fife Constabulary Debrief Report, their force decision not to turn buses round was commented on with approval as part of the debrief:
With regards to Fife Police, I am satisfied that the Chief Constable/Deputy Chief Constable were correct in their decision that 'buses would not be stopped or turned. To pursue this avenue, where would we have stopped them as they arrived via Forth Road Bridge/Kincardine Bridge/Gartarry Roundabout/Powmill Dollar Road and also from within Fife Region. In addition we had 5 mines/collieries in West Fife alone to Police so where would we have obtained sufficient manpower to undertake this task.
The large number of men present on pickets at these sites clearly represented a major challenge to the police in Scotland. Officers had to be present in sufficient numbers to try to avoid violence and disorder, or at least to try to contain it.
Taunting By Police
Even within policing, there was an acknowledgement of some inappropriate behaviour by way of taunting. See, for example, "Police officers were flaunting their wage slips at the miners." (police officer)
Violence In The Community
"My son was assaulted at the school in Tranent because his father was Police Officer."
Persistent Memories – Contested And Uncontested
Testing some of these contested memories was an aspect of our work and discussions with retired officers and two Chief Constables allowed us to confront them with some of the beliefs which have taken such firm hold.
Political Interference – Chief Constables
Allegations that central government 'directed' police tactics in Scotland are difficult to fully substantiate.
Both retired Chief Constables with whom we spoke strongly defended the independence and integrity of the police, rejecting the suggestion that there was any political interference. They rejected explicitly the suggestion of taking orders from the Government. Both explained in a firm and detailed manner that they would not have entertained any such attempts, regarding any such behaviour on the part of Government or others as improper and a challenge to the independence of the police.
The content of CMGC minutes of 8 May 1984 and the subsequent mass arrests at Stepps two days later, however, are a troubling example of evidence gathered which has been interpreted by many within mining communities as clear interference by central government. The fact that less than 48 hours separates the police action from the Prime Minister's instruction leaves little room for any other conclusion. It is a matter of serious concern that the UK Government was willing to contemplate such political interference. In relation to the Stepps action by Strathclyde Police on 10 May 1984, it is also a concern if some within Strathclyde Police were prepared to intervene as requested by Government.
Unfortunately, we were unable to speak to other Chief Constables. Most have since died and one was too frail to meet with us. This leaves a gap in evidence on the police side, especially in relation to Strathclyde Police, on the matter of political influence or interference. For the sake of completeness, it should be noted that, in one of the available press cuttings, there is a relevant quote from Sir Patrick Hamill, Chief Constable of Strathclyde police at the time of the Strike, relating to replies from him to questions from Strathclyde Regional Council's Police and Fire Committee:
Sir Patrick denied he had been acting on Government instructions, and said:
"I should like to advise you that any suggestion that I was acting on the instructions of central government is without any foundation in truth."
It is important to note the different policing landscape at the time – eight separate constabularies, each with its own Chief Constable, senior officers and command structure. Indeed, there were different models of policing adopted in police forces across Scotland and these in themselves resulted in different approaches and cultures. For example, in some areas there was a greater emphasis on, and consequent visibility of, a "command and control" approach to policing.
Political influence or interference would by no means be a simple matter, even if Ministers sought to act in such a manner.
In the case of Dr Ian Oliver QPM, at the time of the Strike the Chief Constable of Central Scotland Police, he has made a study of the subject of the necessary independence of our police service, including detailed recognition of the pressures on that independence. This was so to the extent that he was able to point us to a book he had written on the subject – "Police, Government and Accountability" (the First Edition even having a section on the Miners' Strike of 1984/85.) This book highlights the importance of the operational independence of the police, something that every Government should be aware of, respect and safeguard.
We asked the police officers to whom we spoke about the suggestion of the use of soldiers in police uniforms. Apart from one quote received as part of a response to the Call for Evidence (see below – BHLF-EQ6D-TUX2-3), all rejected the possibility, stating that it would have been unnecessary and could not have occurred without them being aware of it, quite apart from the necessary authorisation being something which would have required an audit trail of authorisation at the highest levels.
We have also seen a quote from Sir Patrick Hamill in response to questions from Strathclyde Regional Council's Police and Fire Committee:
"The Chief Constable of Strathclyde yesterday defended his policing of the miners' dispute and denied that servicemen have been involved."
"As for the Police, we just did the best we could to preserve law and order and protect honest hard working men, under very difficult circumstances, with even lies having been spread among the miners that we were not Police at all on the picket lines, but troops dressed up to cause trouble, which is what more than one miner told me, which was ridiculous, yes we were a trained body of men and women, but the same trained body, whom miners and all turn to in times of trouble when they need help or assistance."
Apart from impressions from the picket lines, the only evidence of the presence of soldiers came from of a police officer –
"On one particular picket line a striking miner went up to one of the "police men" and said "what are you doing here son? You're no' a polis man, you're a soldier." The answer was "I don't have a choice dad we've been ordered to do this." I think that the father was talking to his own son proved this to be true."
It should be noted that this evidence stands alone on this subject and is contradicted by all other evidence from within policing.
The Brown/Rees Report spoke of hearing stories of the use of military personnel in police uniforms but of there being "no evidence at all" (page 30) in support of such allegations.
We are not persuaded that there is convincing evidence that the military were employed in any covert operation as alleged and it is specifically contradicted by the vast majority of those within policing who addressed the issue.
In respect of evidence from police officers, these 2 headings can be dealt with together.
Police officers who spoke to us stated that they were unaware of phone-tapping or surveillance. Some went further, stating that these things had not happened.
At the time, the controls on telephone tapping and surveillance were far less rigorous than now, although there was a system of authorisation in place. Authorisation for telephone tapping was given by the Secretary for State for Scotland who, in 1984 and 1985, signed 71 and 59 warrants respectively. We have seen no evidence to indicate the authorisation of telephone tapping or surveillance related to the Strike.
It was pointed out to us that the police had other sources of intelligence which could have given the impression of such activities, including "indiscreet pickets" and listening into CB radio communications.
"Most bus companies were very helpful and content to inform if and when buses had been booked."
We were even told that intelligence about flying pickets was gleaned from a local baker based on the number of pies required for each striking miner.
The Strike was without doubt a testing time for policing. In the Fife Constabulary Debrief Report, one senior officer summarised it as follows:
Overall I would conclude this report by adding to the last paragraph that the men and women over this troublesome year carried out their duties and tasks in an exemplary way, often in tiring and difficult conditions and it is with great credit to them and to their wives and families who had to put up with the disruption of family life, that they coped so well. We did many things wrong, but we did many things right. We pleased some and did not please others, but overall I consider that Fife Constabulary came out of the strike with a degree of pride and proved that to be impartial is not to be weak, but that the police are there to protect society from itself.