Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s last minute decision to hold neither a statutory inquiry nor an independent review into the events at Orgreave coking plant in 1984, contrary to the more conciliatory messages earlier communicated to campaigners by both Rudd and Theresa May, suggests real ruling class panic at the scale of the disclosures any such inquiry risks precipitating.
Rudd was careful to cover herself, stating that whilst the decision was made by her personally, it followed “consultation” at the highest levels. She might better have said “dictation” from the highest level – ie, the capitalist state itself.
The longest inquest in British legal history, concerning the death of 96 Liverpool football fans in 1989 at Hillsborough, concluded last April, with the jury reaching a verdict of unlawful killing against the police and exonerating the fans from any culpability for the events that led to the deaths.
During the inquest, Sir John Goldring suppressed any comments relating to the battle of Orgreave on the grounds that this might open a “Pandora’s box”, fearing that this would raise too many uncomfortable questions about the conduct of South Yorkshire police, and about the role of the capitalist state in ordering the police to attack picketing miners. (Orgreave: Campaigners demand public inquiry by Caroline Mortimer, Independent, 16 May 2016)
The subsequent damning verdict passed by the jury over Hillsborough intensified demands for the truth to come out about Orgreave too, where mounted police staged headlong cavalry charges against miners in T-shirts and trainers and 95 miners faced trumped-up charges based on so much fabricated evidence that the trial had to be abandoned.
It seemed to campaigners that the government was getting ready to bow to the inevitable, preferring to tinker around with the terms of an inquiry rather than point-blank refuse any review at all. A spokesman for the Truth and Justice for Orgreave Campaign, Kevin Horne, said: “Theresa May sounded really positive when we met her, and Amber Rudd was talking about formats for an inquiry,” concluding ruefully: “Today we’ve just been custard pied.” (Theresa May led families to believe there would be an inquiry by Jon Stone, Independent, 31 October 2016)
It seems that someone ‘at the highest level’ had a word in Rudd’s ear, informing her that the manufacture of whitewash could not keep pace with demand and instructing her to brazen it out and face down demands for an inquiry. At Westminster, she was reduced to parroting the most banal and unconvincing of arguments: it was all too long ago, the officers had retired, policing has completely changed, and so on.
Truth and Justice have revealed the names of senior police officers and a solicitor who were in the thick of it in 1984 and remained so in 1989. If they were key figures when 96 football fans were ‘unlawfully killed’ in 1989, their role in the events that unfolded five years earlier also cries out for investigation.
The Independent reported as follows: “Lawyer Peter Metcalf was involved in defending the force against unlawful arrest claims following the clash between miners and police during the strike in 1984. He also reviewed statements after the football disaster in 1989, in which 96 people were crushed to death. Deputy Chief Constable Peter Hayes and Assistant Chief Constable Walter Jackson were also involved in the aftermath of both incidents, with DCC Hayes ordering reviews into how evidence was collected.”
The acting head of police in South Yorkshire himself made the case for an inquiry, presumably before anyone had a chance to stop him inadvertently going off-message: “The Hillsborough inquests have brought into sharp focus the need to understand and confront the past and give people the opportunity to explore the circumstances of such significant events. I would therefore welcome an appropriate independent assessment of Orgreave, accepting that the way in which this is delivered is a matter for the home secretary.” (Campaigners demand public inquiry, op cit)
If April’s Hillsborough verdict was a humiliating setback for the ruling class, Rudd’s botched U-turn on the demands for an Orgreave inquiry has only made this yet more of a PR nightmare. Promising another do-nothing inquiry to smooth things over, then abruptly announcing you are not going to bother after all, only serves to whet the public appetite for the truth to be finally told about Orgreave.