Miners’ strike review: Justice Secretary statement - 28 October 2020

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf’s ministerial statement in response to the final report of the Independent Review into the impact on communities of the policing of the 1984-85 miners’ strike 

Presiding Officer, I am pleased to inform Parliament of the outcome of the independent review of the impact of policing on affected communities in Scotland during the miners' strike from March 1984 to March 1985.

As members know, this was a bitter and divisive dispute. It is clear from the report that very strong feelings about the strike remain to this day in our mining heartlands.

In 2018, the then Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson MSP commissioned an independent review group to investigate and report on the impact of the policing of the strike on mining communities.

The purpose of the review was to provide an opportunity to those who were affected by the strike to share their experiences as a means to aid understanding and reconciliation. Indeed reconciliation is a word that I will come back to throughout this statement.

In this way, the review demonstrates Scotland’s leadership in making sure that the experiences of those affected by the strike are properly heard and understood. As you may know, this government has pressed the UK Government to undertake a UK-wide public inquiry – which so far they have refused to do.

The report reflects the significant amount of evidence that the review group considered, including UK Government Cabinet papers and files, various academic papers, and past reports on the strike.

The report also draws heavily from the powerful testimonies heard during the review’s public engagement events in former mining communities, as well as written submissions. The evidence received through these processes has helped to bring openness, understanding and a degree of closure to all of those who contributed.

I know the review group’s report and the Scottish Government’s response have been keenly awaited, not least by individuals and communities from our mining heartlands. That is why I am pleased today to outline the Scottish Government’s response to the Report which will also be published today.

First of all, I want to thank the review group for their hard work and commitment in producing the report , ably led and chaired by John Scott QC Solicitor Advocate, with Kate Thomson former Assistant Chief Constable with Police Scotland, Jim Murdoch Professor of Public Law at Glasgow University, and former MP Dennis Canavan.

The group took engagement events to the mining communities and met with a broad range of people with many different perspectives – encouraging as many people as possible to come forward and to have their voices heard.  They paid close attention to what they read and what they heard, and reflected the evidence with honesty and compassion in their report. 

I also want to thank the National Union of Mineworkers and the Retired Police Officers Association for their contributions to the review. And of course, my thanks go to the miners, police officers and other members of the mining communities who provided such powerful and personal accounts of their experiences of the strike.

Although more than three decades have passed since the main miners’ dispute, the scars from the experiences still run deep.  The report indicates that in some areas of the country, the sense of having been hurt and wronged remains corrosive and alienating. This was true for many who were caught up directly in the dispute – and also for their families and the wider communities to this very day.

I was also struck by the degree of commonality between miners and police officers when describing their experiences of the strike. For example, many miners and police officers were young men with families – they spoke about how frightened they felt at times on the picket lines, and about their appreciation for small acts of compassion from those who were, quote-unquote “on the other side”.

The report recognises that although the constitutional, legal and cultural landscapes have changed since the strike, the strength of feeling at the time of the strike continues to be felt in mining communities to this very day.  With that, the report takes the view that it is impossible to separate out the impact of policing during the strike from other key influences, such as the National Coal Board and the criminal justice system itself.

The report makes reference to the testimony of miners across a range of issues such as state interference in policing; wrongful arrest; miscarriages of justice; and unfair dismissal – in particular, their view that the National Coal Board management in Scotland was unfair and inconsistent in its policy of dismissal, with many miners being dismissed for relatively minor offences.

It is reported that in Scotland, 200 miners were dismissed – this is 30% of the total number of UK dismissals, at a time when Scotland’s miners made up only 7% of the total number of UK miners. It is clear that a sense of unfairness remains.

In adopting a truth and reconciliation approach, the report makes a single recommendation, and that recommendation is that “subject to establishing suitable criteria, the Scottish Government should introduce legislation to pardon men convicted for matters related to the strike”.

The report states that the pardon is intended to provide redress for miners who suffered disproportionate consequences for taking part in the strike.  The report indicates that a positive step should be taken to recognise this, and that there is a moral responsibility on the state to provide something proportionate, back to the miners to aid in that reconciliation effort.

The report also suggests that the pardon could be granted on the same basis as the Armed Forces Act 2006. This pardon scheme recognised the exceptional circumstances under which World War One soldiers were convicted of offences such as cowardice. The scheme did not quash convictions, nor create rights, entitlements or liabilities. But it did offer restoration of dignity to deceased soldiers and indeed comfort to their families.

Having considered the matter very carefully, I can confirm today that the Scottish Government accepts the recommendation in principle, and that we intend on bringing forward legislation that will give a collective pardon to miners convicted for matters related to the strike.

In the spirit of reconciliation, the pardon is intended to acknowledge the disproportionate impact arising from miners being prosecuted and convicted during the strike – such as the loss of their job – and to recognise the exceptional circumstances that gave rise to the former miners suffering hardship and the loss of their good name through participation in the strike.

This is, and will be a collective pardon, which applies posthumously and to those living, and symbolises our desire as a country for truth and reconciliation following the decades of hurt and anger and misconceptions which were generated by one of the most bitter and divisive industrial disputes in living memory. The Scottish Government will right the wrong done to our miners.

In taking forward the recommendation, there are of course some matters to work through, not least the details of the pardons scheme – such as the qualifying criteria. In so doing, the Scottish Government should not be seen as casting any doubt on decisions made by the judiciary at the time, or as seeking to place blame on any individual or group of individuals.

In terms of next steps, today’s statement marks the beginning of a new phase of activity in relation to the miners’ strike.  The next steps in this process will be for me to consider carefully the criteria that might apply to the pardons scheme – so that we have a rationale which is well-thought through and informed by the views of stakeholders.

I’ve said before that this would be a collective pardon, rather than one which requires an individual to make an application. This is because we recognise the difficulties there may be for some in sourcing the records to enable an individual to make a robust case. Therefore we must take the time to explore the issues associated with the granting of a collective pardon, and take a view on what would be reasonable and ethical.

In due course, primary legislation will be required. In bringing forward the legislation, this government will be sending an unequivocal message to all those who have been disproportionately affected by the events of the strike. And what we will be asking Parliament to do is to recognise the hardship and loss of dignity suffered by affected miners. In bringing forward a Bill for a collective pardon, we hope to bring a degree of closure and a restoration of dignity for a number of miners, their families and their communities.

In addition, I can also confirm that I will continue to press the UK Government to hold a full UK-wide public inquiry into the events of the 1984-85 miners’ strike.

To bring this statement to a conclusion Presiding Officer, the strike was divisive in many ways, with miners and police officers finding themselves in extremely challenging situations – and with police and community relationships coming under what can only be described as unprecedented strain.

In welcoming the report and accepting the single recommendation in principle, I recognise that policing has moved on considerably since 1984-85.  Serving communities lies at the heart of modern policing, and the review will help to ensure that value of community policing is even more firmly embedded in current practices.

Finally, I encourage people to read the report and to consider it with an open mind what we want the real legacy of this strike to be. We have an opportunity now to bring reconciliation between police officers who were upholding the law in circumstances of a scale which they had never encountered before – and to miners who were protecting jobs, their way of life, and their communities. We can help to heal the wounds of the past and to recognise that between miners and police officers there was a thread of common humanity.

Indeed, I will leave you with a couple of quotes from those involved in different aspects of the strike, firstly this quote from a police officer from a mining community himself:

He said: “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.”

And it is only right that I give the very last word to a miner:

“We were not on strike to have a fight. We were on strike for our lives. That [1972 strike] was a strike about money. This was about jobs and communities.”

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