The violent clash that occurred between police offers and pickets at Orgreave Coking Plant on the 18th of June 1984 was a key political moment of the strike and continues to resonate over thirty years later. While the authorities and mainstream media were quick to depict the event as unruly picketers reigned in by a desperate police force, subsequent evidence and accounts from those involved implicated the officers themselves in choreographing and instigating the violence. What was initially painted as mob violence is increasingly seen as a miscarriage of justice and the news, in 2016, that there would be no independent review into the ‘Battle of Orgreave’ was greeted with anger and disbelief.
The Welsh Campaign for Civil and Political Liberties (WCCPL) collated information relating to the strike, particularly with regards to striking miners and their communities in South Wales. These formed the basis of the book Striking Back (available at the Library) and the interviews/transcripts have been deposited here at the SWML. While they mostly focus on the situation at home, several interviews discuss Orgreave – with both first and second hand accounts. This includes what they experienced, what they’ve heard and their opinions on the structure and intentions of the day.
A number of interviewees describe the apparent ease with which they found their way to Orgreave that day and the uncharacteristic assistance received from police officers. Accustomed to hostility, one comments:
You could have driven a double decker bus there.
Another describes the sense of entrapment:
There was no problem getting to Orgreave. On the way up all we saw was convoys of police. A general feeling among the boys was that it was like the Belgrano. We were there to be sunk.
This perspective is reflected in a discussion with Oakdale Women’s Support Committee. The interviewer notes:
Women took the view that the confrontation here was a ‘set-up’: the police passive and unusually helpful to those going to the picket, showing them parking spaces and waving them on with few stoppages.
Interviewees often express the opinion that items pelted towards the police from the back of the picket line were not thrown by miners. While possible suspects are suggested, the repeated claim across different lodges is worth noting.
Stones were thrown from behind us. They were hitting us. I am a miner and I am strong. If I threw a stone I would be able to hit a copper
The pickets started the push. Somebody behind threw bricks. I am convinced they were thrown by people put there by the police.
Once the clash begun, reports of violence and brutality remain consistent. The testimony below describes the experience of a Maesteg miner and his friend:
[They] initially saw a police officer on horseback hitting a picket twice on the back of the head with a ‘billy club’, knocking him out. While he lay on the ground, a woman came to him and lifted his head. She then went on to the road from the pavement and tried to indicate to the riders of the charging police horses (by raising her arm) to slow down to avoid the unconscious picket. [He] then saw her clubbed once by a police rider across the side of the head and she fell to the ground. [They] then had to run to avoid the charging horses. [He] has indicated that he is prepared to act as a witness in the action that it is believed the woman intends to take.
Another witness describes his experience directly:
I was buying an ice cream in the village square. It was very hot. About 30 horses came into the square and I ran away. I saw a picket lying on the ground with blood pumping out of his head. He was semi-conscious. I called to 2 riot police to get an ambulance. They said ‘you’ll need an ambulance’. They hit me across the shoulders 3 times with big truncheons. They told me to ‘run’.
The records of the WCCPL offer a fascinating insight into a political event very much of its time. Without technology to capture the incident more objectively, a police-favoured narrative prevailed which, over several decades, has been weakened by contradictory reports, protests and campaigns. It is unlikely an event like Orgreave could unfold in the same manner now, making the injustice of the event even greater. If you would like to know more about the WCCPL, or to view the transcripts, then please do get in touch.