THE Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Pete Wilcox, will continue to push for a review of the so-called Battle of Orgreave, despite rejection by the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, of his offer to set up an independent investigation into the confrontation at the height of the miners’ strike, 35 years ago.
Dr Wilcox said that he was “disappointed” by the decision, but hoped for its reversal. “Orgreave remains unfinished business,” he said. “There are unresolved questions about what happened at Orgreave, and why.”
Hundreds of picketing miners and police, drawn from all over Britain, clashed outside the Orgreave coking plant in South Yorkshire on 18 June 1984, in some of the most violent confrontations of the year-long strike. Several on both sides were injured; 95 pickets were arrested; and 55 were charged with riot and violent disorder. Within a year, however, the charges had been dropped amid claims of unreliable police evidence. The South Yorkshire force later paid £425,000 to 39 miners in out-of-court settlements.
Campaigners have since pressed for an inquiry into the police tactics, claiming that pickets were assaulted and falsely arrested. In June 2015, the Independent Police Complaints Commission ruled that the passage of time meant that an investigation into the force’s handling of events, and allegations against police, “could not now be pursued”.
It did find evidence, however, “to support the allegation that offences of assault may have been committed” against miners, and that “offences of perjury may have been committed by individual officers”. But, in October 2016, the then Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, announced that there would be no public inquiry as there had been no deaths or wrongful convictions.
PAProtesters outside the Home Office, in London, in 2017, call for an inquiry into the so-called Battle of Orgreave
The Home Office said that the decision had been made after “careful consideration” and in light of changes to policing over the past 30 years.
Dr Wilcox said a statement: “It has been evident to me ever since I took up my role [as bishop] in September 2017 that there would be considerable support in this diocese, and real public benefit, if some means could be found to enable an independent review of the archives, held nationally, relating to events at Orgreave in 1984 and their aftermath. My conversations have convinced me of the pastoral need to address this part of our history, to enable people and institutions to move on.
“The argument for a statutory public enquiry in relation to Orgreave is strong, and, although the Home Office has ruled out this option, many local stakeholders remain committed to it. In this context, I am convinced that an independent panel would serve the public interest by securing maximum possible disclosure of relevant documentation, and explaining what the documents reveal. Such a process would have considerable support in this region.
“I recently outlined to the Home Office the case for such an independent panel for Orgreave. So far, that case has not been accepted. However, I remain convinced of the need for a formal process, and will continue discussions to that end in this diocese. I remain hopeful that progress can yet be made, and I remain ready to assist in whatever way I can, whenever the time is right.”
The South Yorkshire Police (SYP) and Crime Commissioner, Canon Alan Billings, said: “The Bishop’s intervention was a high-risk strategy, in that it forced the issue. In the event, the Home Secretary has decisively refused the request. I think this now means that there will not be any independent review granted by any Conservative Home Secretary. The door is firmly closed.
“I will continue with the Chief Constable to do what we can. We have brought the South Yorkshire Police Orgreave archives into one place: the Sheffield City Council archives. I have funded an archivist so that the archive can be professionally catalogued and digitised.
“I will continue to have conversations with the Home Office and Home Secretary, but privately, to find ways of moving the situation on. The ex-miners deserve better. Many of them are now getting on in years, and need some resolution.
“There are other archives, because SYP were not the only or even the principal police force present at Orgreave on the day.”