Those of us who are old enough watched it on TV just hours after it happened; footage has been shown repeatedly in the years since. This footage constitutes what used to be known as evidence. It’s pretty indisputable because it was recorded on videotape there and then. As for the bits that weren’t captured on camera, the testimonies of those who were present have been circulating for a long time; one was aired again by a serving policeman on ‘Today’ last Friday morning. As the basis for a belated inquiry, it sounds pretty good, no? However, after two years of deliberation, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has announced it will not be conducting an inquiry into the so-called ‘Battle of Orgreave’, perhaps the single most violent episode to have taken place during the 1984/5 Miners’ Strike.
Picketing miners were attempting to prevent the departure of coke from the Orgreave coking plant in Rotherham in 1984 when tensions between them and the police, whose numbers had been swelled by Met heavies imported from London – men with little or no knowledge of the local culture or community – erupted into an unforgettably gruesome clash. Relations between striking miners and police had been largely cordial until picketers from other parts of the country were brought in to bolster the numbers; when the South Yorkshire Police did likewise by calling in assistance it was bound to end in tears – and it did.
With mounted police cavalry charges, the ‘Battle’ tag attached to the day’s events seemed highly apt; at times, it was like watching a local historical society recreate Waterloo – and just as with a military conflict, both sides played their part in the ugly carnage that occurred that steamy June day 31 years ago. And that steamy June day lingered long after the end of the Strike. 95 picketers were charged with Riot, but the foundations of these charges proved to be so flimsy that those cases that reached trial three years later all collapsed, with South Yorkshire Police buying off the accused in an out-of-court settlement. No officers were ever charged for their conduct at Orgreave. It later transpired that several officers present that day had been advised to doctor their statements by senior detectives, something that eventually prompted an investigation into a possible inquiry by the IPCC. Its conclusions were made public last week.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of events at Orgreave in June 1984, and their contribution towards blackening the name of the South Yorkshire Police five whole years before Hillsborough, one of the reasons given for not having an official inquiry into them was ‘The passage of time means that allegations of assault and of misconduct could not now be pursued’. Of the three reasons given, this was the one that caught my ear above all others. That’s right, the acknowledgement that three decades have been and gone since the Battle of Orgreave is deemed to be a legitimate excuse for taking no further action.
On one hand, a plausible reason. After all, it was a long time ago. You’d have to be at least 35 to have any memory of the event, and even then, you’d have been four in 1984 – hardly of an age to formulate an accurate opinion reflecting one’s memory of that day. We all know how fuzzy our early childhood recollections can be. But what if one had been a fully grown adult that day? Old soldiers can often recall events on the battlefield with a clarity that even the advancing years cannot dim. Surely accounts from those over-eighteen who were present can be relied upon? Perhaps – though even then, each account will be taken from a unique perspective, whether miner or policeman, regardless of whether the latter’s recollection had been dictated by a senior officer in the hours following it; and recollections of distant events do alter as the distance grows greater. Maybe the gap between then and now is so wide that the passage of time is a sufficient reason for not extending this saga any further.
But one thing strikes me as odd about this decision. If not conducting an official inquiry into an event that is extremely well-documented in terms of visual footage and in the fact that it can boast hundreds of witnesses is a decision based on the passage of time, and this is viewed as a sensible judgement, then how is it feasible to ignore the passage of time when pursuing accusations of sexual molestation made against an individual, one that has no documentary evidence, one that allegedly took place a decade or more before Orgreave, and one that is utterly reliant on the word of the accuser?
I wouldn’t even attempt to try and chronicle the number of accusations of this nature that have taken place in the wake of Savile-gate; but even observing them from a distance without taking notes, I cannot think of any that were rejected by the police on the grounds of ‘the passage of time’. In comparison to the evidence that could handsomely support an inquiry into Orgreave, the majority of the historical abuse allegations to have made headlines since 2012 have no evidence whatsoever, and even the so-called evidence provided by the accuser has been one person’s word against another, a contradictory mishmash of murky, dreamlike childhood snapshots ‘re-imagined’ by therapists, law firms, victims lobbyists and the police, along with the #Ibelieveher brigade and other pressure groups with an agenda that refuses to acknowledge the possibility of false memory syndrome, mental disturbance or simple avaricious lies.
If ever anyone doubted the existence of an abuse ‘industry’ that requires constant recruits to remain in business, the refusal to question or even examine the plethora of accusations made over the past three years with the kind of forensic thoroughness that those whose job description allegedly incorporates such techniques is something that makes a mockery of the reasons given for not holding an inquiry into Orgreave. 31 years is not thought of as too great a passage of time to investigate an accusation made by a 38-year-old that Mr X and his associates Mr Y and Mr Z routinely raped her when she was seven, despite her parents, family, friends, teachers and GP being utterly unaware of this regular occurrence until the accuser emerged fresh from therapy 31 years later wearing her imaginary abuse like a Jim’ll Fix It badge.
You can’t have one rule for one crime and one rule for another. If a bewildered senior citizen can be subjected to a platoon of porky policemen kicking his door down at the crack of dawn, turning his home inside out and then escorting him from the premises in handcuffs with his PC wrapped in cellophane, exposing him to the kind of interrogation usually reserved for terror suspects before placing him on bail (and in effective social limbo) for twelve months whilst the police then trawl his friends and acquaintances of three decades ago in order to substantiate the accusations of the Victim in the absence of evidence – and all solely due to one person’s unquestioned word – then why can there be no inquiry into something that has a wealth of solid evidence to warrant further action?
I’m not even sure an inquiry into Orgreave would truly achieve anything. It could go on forever, just like Hillsborough or Bloody Sunday, and would it really make those who were witness to the events of that day in 1984 feel any better about what happened? Would it heal all wounds? Possibly not. But if the police can act upon the dazed and confused testimony of a heavily coached Born Again Survivor, surely there are enough grounds to act upon the demands of the hundreds who were at Orgreave? I’d like to think so, but I doubt it. Were a recent graduate of psychoanalysis to claim she’d been gang-raped by half-a-dozen miners whilst the police were otherwise distracted, however, perhaps the decision of the IPCC might well have been different.