John Harris orgreave

The Battle of Orgreave is the name given to a confrontation between police and picketing miners at a British Steel coking plant in Orgreave, South Yorkshire, during the 1984 UK miners’ strike.

During the events outside Orgreave, 5000 riot police corralled 5000 picketers and protesters into a field where they were charged by cavalry and attacked and beaten. Over 50 strikers were injured and 93 arrested, of whom 39 successfully sued for assaults, unlawful arrests and malicious prosecutions. No officers were ever punished over the attacks.

‘In 1980 coal dug by a miner in Ayrshire, Fife or Midlothian could fuel the furnaces of Ravenscraig, which in turn could supply the steel to build the cars of Linwood and the ships of Clydeside. A dozen years later, the fires of Ravenscraig had burned for the last time and the final car had long since rolled off the production line at Linwood. Ships would continue to slowly slip in to the Clyde, but the glory days of shipbuilding were a faded memory. During the 1980s, as Thatcherism rode roughshod over anything where the profit margins were not high enough, heavy industry in Scotland would see its iron heart ripped out, and it was the coal industry that was hit the hardest.’
Week 72

‘Ray Riley was a young miner during the epic strike against pit closures of 1984-5. He and his wife had a four-year-old son, and their daughter was born during the strike. Ray worked at Frickley colliery in the pit community of South Elmsall, located between Wakefield, Barnsley and Doncaster in the Yorkshire coalfield. As the strike drew on, the “return-to-work” campaign promoted by the National Coal Board (NCB), the government and their lapdogs in the media became relentless. Attempts to drive the men back by starving their families failed, but the propaganda onslaught by the NCB and the media began to tell.

“In June 1984 we got a message saying one man was going to scab at Frickley,” said Ray. “You didn’t scab at Frickley.”

As the word spread, around 200 striking miners headed for the pit to find themselves confronted by the massed ranks of police. “There were hundreds of police. There were about 200 of us,” Ray said. “I heard glass smashing, maybe an office window. Next thing I knew there was pandemonium and chaos. Hurtling towards us were police on horseback and riot police.” The miners fled. “There were running battles up and down South Elmsall that night,” said Ray. “There were some bungalows, and my idea was to go into the back garden of one and duck down behind a coal shed, give it ten minutes, then regroup. There were some police in the next garden. I heard them shout: ‘There’s one!’ Not ‘he’s the one!’ I turned around and ran into two riot police. They pinned me against the wall, then others came. The police started hitting me, grabbing my genitals and hair and pulling my head back. It felt like I had hit a concrete wall. All I can remember is being on the floor.”

He said two officers then dragged him through the ranks of the police. “They were kicking me and spitting on me,” he said. “They dragged me up to a first-aid desk. They put a gauze patch on my head and took me into another office. I heard a shout. ‘Lie down!’ Someone said, ‘Ray, do as they tell you!’ Then they hit me on the knee with a truncheon, then on my arm. I went down on my knees, then laid down, my arms in front of me. There was a police sergeant. He came round, whacked me on the arm again, stuck the truncheon into my back. Next thing I was being taken to hospital. When the hospital had patched me up, I thought ‘I’m going to go home, bloody and battered.’ But when I got off the bed the police arrested me for public order offences. This was at 10 am. They wouldn’t let the Miners’ Union solicitor see me until 11 pm that night. I was in custody for 36 hours. Next day at 2 pm I was in court. My solicitor was arguing with the magistrates, saying ‘Look at what they’ve done to him.’ They put me on bail conditions saying I couldn’t go near Coal Board property until May 1985. I was charged with a public order offence. But more to the point, I was a young miner and had a young family. If they found me guilty, I would be sacked. It would be a bleak future.”

Ray feared he would be appearing before a stipendiary magistrate – professional minor judges who had been brought in by the government because local lay magistrates were usually members of the community, and less likely to treat miners brought before them harshly. In the event Ray appeared before local magistrates. “If it was going to be a stipendiary I was going to pretend to be too ill to go to court. Two police statements read from two different officers were word-for-word,” said Ray. “What the police didn’t know was that two elderly ladies who lived opposite where it happened saw me get the beating, and I was acquitted. I sued West Yorkshire Police and was awarded damages for assault and false arrest. But I wanted to speak up for someone who did not get justice – my friend who was also arrested. What they did to him was a blight on society and on the police. He was beaten mercilessly, then fitted up, coerced into signing a confession. He was in Strangeways Prison for months. He died last year – one of many who didn’t get justice.”

Ray has appealed for widespread support for the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign – a demand for a public inquiry into just one of the many co-ordinated acts of violence by police against miners during the strike. In Barnsley miners, ex-miners and their friends gather at the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) headquarters for an annual lecture commemorating the deaths on the picket line of two Yorkshire miners, Davy Jones and Joe Green, during the strike. No-one has ever been charged or prosecuted over their deaths, or for any of the thousands of acts of violence carried out by the police against NUM members like Ray Riley. Frickley colliery was closed in 1989. Ray Riley now works in the voluntary sector.’

The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign was launched in November 2012 and are commemorating the anniversary of the battle, reclaiming the site and experiences of Orgreave. The campaign continues to push for a full public inquiry. If the Hillsborough campaigners can uncover the truth about the collusion and perjuries of the State and South Yorkshire Police, then why not Orgreave?
Thatcher’s secret plan. Papers released to the National Archives reveal that in 1984 the Prime Minister made preparations to use troops to move coal to power stations.

BBC Sheffield and South Yorkshire, Grace Shaw article. Lesley Boulton is the subject of the famous photograph (above © John Harris). John spent a year on the picket lines photographing key moments of the Miners Strike


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