Publication - Consultation analysis

Miners' strike 1984/85 pardon consultation: analysis of responses

Published: 17 Aug 2021

Findings from the analysis of the responses received to the consultation, which ran from 12 March 2021 to 4 June 2021.

Miners' strike 1984/85 pardon consultation: analysis of responses
3. Range of offences (Q1 and Q2)

3. Range of offences (Q1 and Q2)

3.1 Question 1: Do you agree that miners convicted of Breach of the Peace related to the Strike should be pardoned? [Yes / No / Don’t know/No opinion]

3.2 Please explain your answer.

3.3 Question 2: Do you agree that miners convicted of Breach of Bail related to the Strike should be pardoned? [Yes / No / Don’t know/No opinion]

3.4 Please explain your answer.Part 1 of the consultation paper sought views on the range of offences to be covered by the proposed pardon. Miners were convicted of a range of offences related to the strike. However, the criteria proposed by the independent review panel was that miners convicted of breach of the peace or breach of bail related to the strike should be pardoned. Questions 1 and 2 asked respondents if they agreed with this proposal.

3.5 The sections below cover each of these questions in turn.

Views on a pardon for miners convicted of breach of the peace (Q1)

3.6 Question 1 asked respondents if they agreed that miners convicted of breach of the peace related to the strike should be pardoned. Table 3.1 shows that a large majority of respondents (87%) agreed with this proposal, with 12% disagreeing. There was a similar pattern of response to this question among organisations and individuals.

Table 3.1: Q1 – Do you agree that miners convicted of Breach of the Peace related to the Strike should be pardoned?
Respondent type Yes No Don’t know / No opinion Total
Individuals 252 (87%) 35 (12%) 4 (1%) 291 (100%)
Organisations 12 (92%) 1 (8%) – (0%) 13 (100%)
Total 264 (87%) 36 (12%) 4 (1%) 304 (100%)

3.7 In addition, the campaign response said ‘yes’ to Question 1.

3.8 Altogether, 224 respondents (12 organisations and 212 individuals) provided further comments at Question 1. The campaign response also included comments. The sections below present, in turn, the views of those who agreed and those who disagreed that miners convicted of breach of the peace related to the strike should be pardoned. A final section looks at additional comments from those who said they were uncertain about this issue.

3.9 It should be noted that the comments made by many respondents were brief and / or general in nature and they did not necessarily make specific reference to breach of the peace offences. Thus, it was not always clear whether respondents were commenting on the possibility of pardoning miners convicted of any type of offence or miners convicted of breach of the peace only. It should also be noted that many of the comments made at Question 1 were repeated at subsequent questions in the consultation.

Views supporting a pardon for miners convicted of breach of the peace

3.10 As shown in Table 3.1, a large majority of respondents (nearly nine of ten; 87%) said that they agreed that miners convicted of strike-related breach of the peace offences should be pardoned.

3.11 Although respondents emphasised a range of different issues in their responses there was a widespread view that the specific circumstances of the strike justified the pardoning of miners convicted of breach of the peace offences (or strike-related offences more generally). At a general level, it was common for respondents to state the following:

  • Miners had been fighting to protect their jobs, livelihood, families and communities via lawful strike action and picketing activities.
  • The strike represented a very particular time in history when miners were ‘desperate’, ‘feelings ran high’ or ‘tensions boiled over’.
  • The response to the strike by the government had been politically motivated and managed, and the policing of it had been ‘heavy handed’, ‘disproportionate’, ‘provocative’ and politically influenced, which had contributed to the conduct of those involved. One respondent said that ‘the politicising of the police’ could be considered as a central cause of so much friction and the number of arrests. However, there was also a less common view that the actions of the National Union of Miners (NUM) in pursuing the strike had also been ‘politically driven’, with miners ‘caught up in the melee [as] victims of their own Union and politicised policing’.

3.12 The fact that the convictions were, in many cases, ‘out of character’ for the individuals involved was also highlighted:

‘For many individuals, myself included, it was their one and only conviction, it's preposterous to suggest that hundreds of people who had previously been law abiding citizens would suddenly become criminals.’ (Individual respondent)

3.13 Those who commented on the question of whether those convicted of breach of the peace, specifically, should be pardoned discussed a number of common themes, as summarised in the sections below.

The use of breach of the peace and the ‘safety’ of the convictions

3.14 Respondents frequently argued that the prosecution of miners for breach of the peace offences was part of a politically driven, and targeted strategy to defeat the strike. For example, one respondent said:

‘The Miners that were arrested for breach of the peace were attempting to defend their industry and community. These arrests and charges can only be described as political interference in a legitimate dispute.’ (Individual respondent)

‘The reason that I think miners convicted of a breach of the peace should be pardoned is that I know that a lot of arrests were targeted arrests with no justification but were used politically as a weapon to attempt to intimidate miners.’ (Individual respondent)

3.15 Some organisational respondents described further how the use of breach of the peace charges could be linked to the government’s intervention, with the then Home Secretary directing Chief Constables that picketing was in breach of criminal law:

‘They were arrested on trumped up charges of breach of the peace (a) because the Government had declared picketing to be in breach of the criminal law and (b) to ensure the free movement of those who, for whatever reason, did not want to respect picket lines, and (c) to criminalise the striking miners and prevent them from continuing to participate in future picket line duties.’ (Organisational respondent – trade union related body)

3.16 Additionally, there was a widespread view that the convictions of miners for breach of the peace were ‘unsafe’ in that the charges were ‘made up’ or based on ‘fabricated’, or ‘false, untruthful’ evidence, or the action was provoked by the police.

3.17 Some respondents described particular situations which they said had resulted in breach of the peace charges:

‘Breach of the peace was the default charge for bringing miners to court. I was found guilty of breach of the peace for shouting ‘scab’ at a working miner.’ (Individual respondent)

‘Many miners were picked out at random from picket lines and charged with breach of the peace when in fact they had done nothing wrong, a tactic used by police to reduce and disperse pickets. The easiest charge to lay was BoP [breach of the peace]. (Individual respondent)

‘Many miners stood in a picket line believing that it was not illegal to do so, and many were pushed or forced through police lines by sheer pressure from behind when their colleagues pushed forward. This resulted in police lines collapsing and miners falling to the ground where they were arrested and charged with breach of the peace.’ (Individual respondent)

The nature of breach of the peace offences and the impact on those convicted

3.18 Some respondents also noted the minor or trivial nature of breach of the peace offences (in general or in relation to the strike). For example, one organisational respondent said:

‘Breach of the peace is one of the most minor of all public order offences. Convictions for breaching the peace are therefore at the very lower end of culpable criminal behaviour and as such a pardon should be granted.’ (Organisational respondent – other)

3.19 It was further argued that breach of the peace covered a wide range of offences at the time of the strike and many of the offences involved would not be treated in the same way by the justice system today. It was also noted (by the campaign response and other respondents) that the independent review of the miners’ strike had agreed with this latter point.

3.20 Given the low-level, one-off nature of the offending, some respondents noted what they saw as the disproportionate effect on those convicted – including for example, loss of job and livelihood, and the wider impact on families and communities:

‘Scottish miners were disproportionately impacted – many were arrested and then sacked for offences that today would see them diverted from criminal prosecution. They would not have carried a prosecution against [their] name for the rest of their lives.’ (Campaign response)

Endorsement of the independent review recommendations

3.21 In a few cases, respondents explained their views with reference to the recommendations of the independent review report. These respondents pointed out that the independent review had recommended pardoning those convicted of breach of the peace, and stated that they agreed with that approach. One respondent also noted that the review panel had concluded that ‘the criteria for the pardon should be based on gravity of offence, not the sentence imposed’. However, this respondent went on to argue that the offences listed in the review report were intended to be indicative rather than exhaustive and, thus, the list of offences which may be eligible for a pardon should not be closed.

Qualified agreement

3.22 Occasionally, those who answered ‘yes’ at Question 1 indicated qualified agreement in their comments, suggesting, for example, that this should depend on the nature of the offence and its relationship to the strike.

Views against a pardon for miners convicted of breach of the peace

3.23 Those respondents who disagreed that miners convicted of breach of the peace should be pardoned (around one in ten of those who answered the closed part of Question 1) offered two main views related to the legitimacy of the original convictions, and the ‘collective’ approach proposed for the pardon.

3.24 Most often respondents said that the miners had committed offences and had been lawfully convicted, and therefore there was no justification for the proposed pardon. Some said simply that ‘they were breaking the law at the time’ or that ‘they were found guilty of an offence in a court of law’.

3.25 These respondents argued that the law of the day had to be upheld; that the convictions included serious (including violent) offences; and that the circumstances of the strike were not relevant in considering the merits of pardoning offences committed by miners. For this group, the principles of upholding the law and following normal legal procedures were seen as important:

‘Those convicted were found or pled guilty of an offence or offences by courts of law and judges. They would have had defence lawyers acting for them. They would have had the opportunity at the time to plead ‘not guilty’, produce evidence, complain about their arrest and /or the actions of the police. For the convicted now to be pardoned would in my opinion undermine Justice and the Courts and would be an insult to others convicted then and since then.’ (Individual respondent)

3.26 Some respondents (including some who identified themselves as police officers) recounted personal experiences of the miners’ strike in support of their view:

‘Because I was a police officer who was assaulted and verbally abused by striking miners.’ (Individual respondent)

‘…my father worked in a mine at the time as an electrician and broke the picket line in order to do safety shifts (in order to keep the mine secure). We were subject every week to picket line minders standing outside our house shouting abuse and threats. The mini-bus hired to take him to work the days he was working was subject to attack on a regular basis…’ (Individual respondent)

3.27 Less commonly, respondents who answered ‘no’ at Question 1 expressed concern about the collective (‘catch all’ or ‘wholesale’) approach proposed for the pardon. They noted the variety of cases that might have been prosecuted as breach of the peace offences (particularly given how the charge was used at the time of the strike), arguing that ‘not all breaches of the peace are the same’. It was also suggested that breaches of the peace could include assaults that may have been ‘downgraded to reduce administrative problems’.

3.28 These respondents suggested that a pardon would only be appropriate for less serious offences or should be considered on a case-by-case basis in order to take account of the full circumstances of the offence and the ‘intent’ of the offender. It was also suggested that other avenues were available for challenging unsafe convictions, harsh sentences, or unfair dismissals.

3.29 Occasionally, respondents who answered ‘no’ at Question 1 thought that pardoning the miners set a ‘dangerous precedent’ in favouring a specific group of individuals (i.e. miners) over others who may also have been convicted of offences in demonstrating for a cause they felt strongly about.

Uncertainty about pardoning miners convicted of breach of the peace

3.30 Among the few respondents who selected ‘don’t know / no opinion’ at Question 1, there were concerns about the application of a general approach that did not take account of the nature and seriousness of the offence.

Views on a pardon for miners convicted of breach of bail (Q2)

3.31 Question 2 asked respondents if they agreed that miners convicted of breach of bail related to the strike should be pardoned. Table 3.2 shows that, as with Question 1, a large majority of respondents (86%) agreed, while 12% disagreed. Once again, there was a similar pattern of response to this question from individuals and organisations.

Table 3.2: Q2 – Do you agree that miners convicted of Breach of Bail related to the Strike should be pardoned?
Respondent type Yes No Don’t know / No opinion Total
Individuals 248 (86%) 36 (12%) 5 (2%) 289 (100%)
Organisations 11 (92%) 1 (8%) – (0%) 12 (100%)
Total 259 (86%) 37 (12%) 5 (2%) 301 (100%)

3.32 In addition, the campaign response said ‘yes’ to Question 2.

3.33 Altogether, 195 respondents (12 organisations and 183 individuals) provided further comments at Question 2. The campaign response also included comments.

3.34 Across all the responses received it was common for respondents to make (or re-state) points made in response to Question 1. These comments are not repeated in detail here, and, as far as possible, the analysis below focuses on the specific issue of whether miners convicted of breach of bail related to the strike should be pardoned. The few respondents who selected ‘don’t know / no opinion’ made similar points to other respondents and their views are not presented separately.

Agreement that miners convicted of breach of bail should be pardoned

3.35 As shown in Table 3.2, the majority of respondents (individuals and organisations) agreed that miners convicted of breach of bail related to the strike should be pardoned. Around a third of those who agreed at Question 2 and provided comments repeated points made in response to Question 1, or simply said ‘as above’ or ‘see answer to Question 1’ – arguing that all strike related offences should be eligible for a pardon, or setting out general reasons why offences related to the strike should be pardoned – without making any direct reference to the particular circumstances of breach of bail offences.

3.36 Among those who made specific reference to the pardoning of convictions related to breach of bail, there were two main inter-linked points. These related to (i) the circumstances of the original arrest and charge, and (ii) the use of bail during the strike.

The circumstances of the original charge

3.37 Respondents argued that the original arrests (or the resulting convictions) that led to bail – and the subsequent breach of bail – were unwarranted or ‘unsafe’, part of a strategy targeting union officials and activists, and / or politically motivated. As a result, they believed a pardon was justified.

3.38 Most often respondents made one or both of the following points: stating that the individuals affected ‘should never have been charged [or arrested] in the first place’, or ‘should never have been on bail in the first place’.

3.39 Other individuals made a direct link between the perceived ‘unlawful’ nature of the original arrests and the implications of this for any subsequent conviction for breach of bail. This group argued that ‘if the original conviction was unsound then the bail attached to that is null and void’, or that ‘if the charges were unjust then the breach is negated’.

The use of bail during the strike

3.40 Respondents also often commented on the use of bail during the strike and the nature and intention of the conditions attached. In particular, they described the bail conditions imposed by the courts as ‘unfair’, ‘ridiculous’, ‘stringent’, or ‘draconian’. Furthermore, the conditions were regarded as being politically motivated, and intended to hinder the strike by preventing union organisation and picketing, as illustrated in the quotes below:

‘[T]hose miners arrested in the course of picket line duties were NUM officials and activists. Their arrests, their convictions, and the bail conditions imposed on them by the criminal law had the intended effect of depriving them of their right as trade unionists to participate in collective action in their lawful industrial dispute and neutered their efforts to succeed in their aim of protecting their jobs, their industry and their community.’ (Organisational respondents – one (1) legal and one (1) trade union related body)

‘The bail conditions were a way of controlling the miners that had been arrested, although not found guilty. This meant they could not go within a certain distance of a picket line. Picketing was not against the law so why were they banned from taking part in a peaceful picket line.’ (Individual respondent)

3.41 Some respondents pointed out that the use of bail conditions as a way of preventing participation in strike activities had been recognised by the independent review. One individual also argued that the bail conditions applied during the strike ‘infringed on a person’s civil and human rights’.

3.42 Some said that, given the circumstances, breaching bail should not be regarded as a criminal act.

3.43 One organisation highlighted two specific situations which they thought should fall within the criteria for the pardon: breach of bail offences pursued and convicted prior to the proceedings for the substantive offence being concluded; and breach of bail offences proceeded against as ‘stand-alone’ offences after the original substantive offence had been ‘dropped’.

Qualified agreement

3.44 Some respondents who answered ‘yes’ at Question 2 expressed caveats to their general agreement suggesting, for example, that:

  • The pardon should be limited to one offence only, should depend on the bail conditions imposed, or should only be applied if the individual had been falsely arrested in the first place
  • The inclusion of beach of bail within the criteria should be in line with the definition proposed by the independent review.

Other comments in support of pardoning breach of bail

3.45 Other points, raised on a more occasional basis, by those in favour of pardoning miners convicted of breach of bail including the following:

  • The circumstances of the strike could be regarded as mitigating factors in the breaching of bail conditions. Respondents suggested two scenarios whereby individuals, despite being bailed, may have wished to continue participating in something in which they believed strongly or, alternatively, may have felt under pressure to resume their strike-related action.
  • Not all miners who had breached bail conditions were charged for this.
  • Individuals may have been unable to attend court and may have breached bail conditions because of hardship resulting from the strike.

Disagreement that miners convicted of breach of bail should be pardoned

3.46 Those that answered ‘no’ at Question 2 also referred back to their answer at Question 1, generally stating that the law had been broken, and individuals should be held accountable for that.

3.47 However, the comments from those who made specific reference to the question of whether breach of bail should be eligible for the proposed pardon suggested that they saw this as a serious offence that involved direct and wilful contravention of a court order, and demonstrated a lack of respect for the law.

3.48 As with Question 1, some also expressed concern about the precedent this might set in treating miners differently from other groups, or for those who might breach bail conditions in the future:

‘The law must be equal for all. Removing any sanction for breach of bail is a dangerous precedent to set. Should everyone involved in a political protest be entitled to a pardon? If yes, then far-right demonstrators should also be pardoned. If not, then the Government is open to accusations of bias in favour of left-wing causes.’ (Individual respondent)

3.49 Among those who answered ‘no’ (or ‘don’t know / no opinion’) at Question 2, there were a small number who had replied ‘yes’ at Question 1, thus indicating support for a pardon for breach of the peace but not for breach of bail. These respondents made similar points to others who answered ‘no’ at Question 2, indicating that they viewed breach of bail in a different light to breach of the peace offences, describing it, for example, as a ‘flagrant abuse of authority’, or ‘wilful’ breaking of the law.

Other views

3.50 One legal organisation which did not provide a response at the closed part of Question 2 raised two concerns about the inclusion of breach of bail offences in the criteria for the miners’ pardon, as follows:

  • They highlighted the difficulty of ascertaining if a breach of bail was linked to a strike-related offence or some other extraneous matter unrelated to the strike.
  • They drew attention to the fact that a breach of bail could relate to non-attendance at court which they described as a lack of regard for the justice system.

3.51 This respondent suggested that the option of pardoning breach of bail offences ‘requires some consideration and care’.


Contact

Email: minersstrikepardon@gov.scot