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Orgreave: Inquiry

Volume 774: debated on Wednesday 13 July 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have yet decided whether there will be an inquiry into police actions during the Orgreave miners clash.

My Lords, the Home Secretary has been considering a submission from campaigners on the need for an inquiry into the events at Orgreave. The IPCC is working with the CPS to assess whether material related to the policing of Orgreave is relevant to the Hillsborough criminal investigations, and decisions have yet to be made on whether any criminal proceedings will be brought as a result. The Government’s position will be announced to Parliament after this.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. These incidents go back to 1984, and we have had answers from the Government which have not taken us very far forward on a number of occasions. On 5 February, in another place, it was said that the government position would be announced “in due course”; on 12 May, it was “in the near future”; and on 6 June we were back to “in due course”. On 13 June, the Home Secretary was,

“looking at it at the moment”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/6/16; col. 1429.]

We are dealing here with a police force which has, shall we say, not come out too well from the Hillsborough disaster. Clearly there are questions that need to be looked at. Could the Minister urge whoever is the new Home Secretary—this is one job we know will change—to look at this urgently with a view to giving some relief to the many families involved?

There is, of course, a desire to respond to this as soon as possible, but perhaps I could put it into context. Following the conclusion of the inquests on 26 April, the IPCC commissioned a barrister to go through some 10,000 documents that had been provided by South Yorkshire Police in the context of the Orgreave investigation. The IPCC told Home Office officials that if it announced any action to set up an inquiry or other investigation relating to Orgreave, it would have an impact on the Hillsborough investigation. It is for that reason that the decision will be taken only once that part has been concluded.

My Lords, could the Minister just confirm that media reports have revealed the previously redacted sections of the Independent Police Complaints Commission report from June of last year, which exposed striking similarities between the personnel and alleged practices of South Yorkshire Police at Orgreave and at Hillsborough? Could he also confirm that in May the interim chief constable of South Yorkshire Police said:

“The Hillsborough Inquests have brought into sharp focus the need to confront the past. I would therefore welcome an independent assessment of Orgreave, accepting that the way in which this is delivered is a matter for the Home Secretary”?

Could the Minister also confirm that in a letter to the Home Secretary last month, several MPs called for a public inquiry and said that,

“trust will never truly be restored until we find out the entire truth about Orgreave … and the wider policing of the miners’ strike”,

including the allegations of police mistreatment of striking miners? We support the call for an inquiry, the case for which is now overwhelming. Why, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, asked, is it taking so long for the Government to come to the same conclusion?

It is not a case of the Government delaying coming to a conclusion. As I indicated in an earlier answer, the IPCC has specifically pointed out that a decision on an inquiry at this stage could cross over into further investigations into potential criminal prosecutions. With regard to the disclosure of the unredacted report by a newspaper on 4 May 2016, the entire unredacted report was not disclosed. However, that which was disclosed did show a number of senior officers acting in common in regard to Orgreave and Hillsborough; that is correct. As regards the observations that have been made by the temporary chief constable and the MPs, I agree that those observations were made.

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that an investigation similar to that conducted by the Hillsborough Independent Panel might be the way forward?

My Lords, may I reinforce the caution shown by my noble and learned friend? While it may be the case that individual police officers were guilty of misconduct or overreaction, the primary responsibility for what happened rests on the leaders of the mining community, who brought very large numbers of people to the site and were prepared to use force and threats of force in order to implement policies that were as much political as industrial. Had they succeeded, that would have subverted the principles of democratic government.

I think the factual circumstances of the incident at Orgreave are well known, and I would not seek to elaborate upon them.

Thank you, my Lords. I am very grateful, from the Back Benches, to be allowed to speak—a rare privilege. Is it not the case that the police have far too often escaped inquiry into their handling of the labour movement? This goes back a long time—back to the time when the Public Order Act was used against unemployed workers but not against fascists. Has this not been made much worse by the operation of the so-called Freedom of Information Act? I say “so-called” because it has been used in a very obstructive way. I would be grateful for a comment.

My Lords, it is with regret that I heard the comment from the other side of the House blaming the miners’ leaders. I represented a mining community in the other House and I was very proud to do so. I was very active during the strike in 1984, and I must say that I saw police violence as well. I feel that there ought to be a general inquiry about the policing of the miners’ strike—because it is one of the reasons for the disenchantment with politics that we saw three weeks ago in the Brexit vote.

I am not going to anticipate a decision that will be made by the future Home Secretary, but I would observe that, following the incident at Orgreave, 51 pickets and 72 policemen were injured.