Home Secretary Theresa May was today facing growing calls to launch a new inquiry into the events of the 1984 Battle of Orgreave amid fierce criticism of a police watchdog for refusing to investigate an alleged cover-up by senior officers.
Campaigners have vowed to continue their calls for a full inquiry into the clashes between police and striking miners on June 18 and say they will now use more “imaginative” methods to draw attention to their cause.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) revealed yesterday that it would “not be in the public interest” to launch a full investigation into claims police used excessive force against miners, had their statements manipulated and gave false evidence in court to justify spurious criminal charges.
The watchdog’s review found evidence that senior officers became aware of perjury by their colleagues but did not want it to be revealed, something it said raised “doubts about the ethical standards of officers in the highest ranks at South Yorkshire Police at that time.”
But it said the “passage of time” meant allegations of assault of misconduct by police could not now be pursued, and that some were subject to complaints and civil proceedings at the time.
During a press conference held at the headquarters of the National Union of Mineworkers in Barnsley, Granville Williams, one of the founders of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (OTJC), said the two-and-a-half years the IPCC had spent on its scoping exercise had been a “cul-de-sac” for his group.
He called for an inquiry to be set up similar to the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which was formed in 2009 by then-Home Secretary Alan Johnson and exposed the scale of wrongdoing by police during Britain’s worst ever sporting disaster.
Describing the IPCC as a “flawed organisation”, he added: “We need a full public inquiry, this is what Hillsborough got. We need to remind ourselves that back in October 2012 it was the Hillsborough Independent Panel that showed the behaviour of South Yorkshire Police during the Hillsborough disaster.
“It is quite clear that while this seems like a set back for us it is end of a log-jam. It is getting something out of the way so we can say ‘we want a full public inquiry’.
“I think from today we have a clear road, we have been on a detour and we are back on the road.”
When asked whether a public inquiry was still worth pursuing more than three decades on he said: “I have been asked before, why bother? It is because of the burning injustice. You only have to talk to people about their lives’ work, about the closure of the pits.
“If you live out the mining community you don’t understand the harrowing destruction that took place. it is not going away and that is why it is important.”
OTJC chairman Joe Rollin said after the press conference: “We are not the first campaign organisation to say the IPCC is not not fit for purpose. Our reaction is that it is disappointing but not surprising. We never wanted the involvement of the IPCC in the first place.
“We have been very nice and a bit of a fluffy campaign so far, we have co-operated fully with the authorities. That is going to start to change. We are going to use some more imaginative measures and direct action to get ourselves in the press.
“We might have to start taking lessons from some of the more imaginative protest groups like Occupy and UK Uncut. We are not going to go away, we are going to make more noise if anything.
“The Hillsborough families never gave up. Working people have never been given justice on a plate, we have had to fight for it. I am looking forward to getting stuck in for the next few years.”
Kevin Horne, 66, from Mexborough, one of the miners arrested in the clashes with police, said the publicity generated by the IPCC’s refusal to investigate “could actually work in our favour”.
He said: “It is a public inquiry we wanted in the first place. It was the police that referred themselves to the IPCC, we think they only did it as a buffer to slow us down.
“It should have taken two-and-a-half weeks to say they can’t do anything and there are too many people to interview, not two-and-a-half years. It is a poor excuse. The IPCC are not fit for purpose.
“It took Hillsborough families more than 20 years so I think we can still achieve what we want to, which is a public inquiry.”
In the Battle of Orgreave 95 miners were arrested at the Orgreave coking plant, near Rotherham, on June 18, 1984, after clashes with police which left 50 people injured.
When the cases came to court, all were abandoned after it became clear that evidence provided by police was unreliable. South Yorkshire Police paid £425,000 in compensation to 39 pickets in out-of-court settlements.
South Yorkshire Police referred itself to the IPCC in 2012 after a BBC documentary claimed officers may have colluded in writing court statements which saw miners wrongly charged.
The Home Office said today that Theresa May would “carefully consider the findings of the IPCC’s review and will respond in due course”. A spokeswoman added that she would “consider any requests that she receives to set up a public inquiry into Orgreave”.
Unlike a formal, independent inquiry set up by the Government and led by a judge, any inquiry similar to the Hillsborough Independent Panel would not have the power to call witnesses but would be able to gather all available documentation.
Among those calling for the Government to launch an inquiry was Labour MP Andy Burnham, who as Culture Secretary lobbied for the Hillsborough panel to be set up in 2009, and Barnsley MP Michael Dugher.
Vera Baird, police commissioner for Northumbria, who worked on the Battle of Orgreave trial as a lawyer, said: “It has taken the IPCC two and a half years to find that this job is too big for them.
“The government should not now delay further but set up a Hillsborough-style panel to inquire fully into the wrongdoing which was evident to all those in the trial and is now essentially confirmed by the IPCC.”
South Yorkshire Police said the decision to revisit the claims would be made only if new evidence came to light, while the South Yorkshire Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said it was time to “move on”.