Chris Kitchen calls for IPCC to widen investigation into alleged cover-up over framing of 95 picketing miners in 1984 strikes.
The police complaints watchdog is under pressure to widen its investigation into alleged fabrication of evidence by South Yorkshire officers in the 1980s as new allegations emerge of attempts to frame miners at the Orgreave coking plant clashes.
Chris Kitchen, general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, said the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, should include in their examination of South Yorkshire police’s post-Hillsborough “cover-up” the force’s alleged framing of 95 miners for serious criminal offences after Orgreave.
“Many miners were subjected to malpractice during the strike by South Yorkshire police – and other forces,” Kitchen told the Guardian. “I will be asking the NUM’s national executive committee to consider complaining to the IPCC and DPP for the police operations at Orgreave and elsewhere during the strike to be investigated, now the details of what South Yorkshire police did at Hillsborough have been revealed.”
At Orgreave in 1984, police officers on horseback and on foot were filmed beating picketing miners with truncheons, but South Yorkshire police claimed the miners had attacked them first, and prosecuted 95 men for riot and unlawful assembly, which carried potential life sentences. All 95 were acquitted after the prosecution case collapsed following revelations in court that police officers’ statements had been dictated to them in order to establish evidence of a riot, and one officer’s signature on a statement had been forged.
On Monday night, a BBC1 Inside Out documentary, to be broadcast in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, features a retired police inspector who was on duty at Orgreave, Norman Taylor, recalling that he and other officers had parts of their statements dictated to them. “I recall this policeman in plain clothes mentioning that he had a good idea of what had happened. And that there was a preamble to set the scene,” Taylor told the programme. “He was reading from some paper, a paragraph or so. And he asked the people who were there to use that as their starting paragraph.”
Taylor said the paragraph was “basically the time and date, the name of the place”.
However, a barrister specialising in criminal trials, Mark George QC, analysed 40 police officers’ Orgreave statements, and found that many contained identical descriptions of alleged disorder by the miners. To prove the offence of riot, the prosecution has to establish a scene of general disorder within which a defendant committed a particular act, for example throwing a stone, which would otherwise carry a much lesser charge.
George found that 34 officers’ statements, supposed to have been compiled separately, used the identical phrase: “Periodically there was missile throwing from the back of the pickets.”
One paragraph, of four full sentences, was identical word for word in 22 separate statements. It described an alleged charge by miners, including the phrase: “There was however a continual barrage of missiles.”
Michael Mansfield QC, who defended three of the acquitted miners, described South Yorkshire police’s evidence then as “the biggest frame-up ever”. He is now acting for the Hillsborough Family Support Group, which has campaigned since the 1989 disaster for the South Yorkshire police officers responsible on the day – and those responsible for the scheme afterwards to blame the disaster on the fans, which Mansfield labels a cover-up – to be held accountable. “South Yorkshire police operated a culture of fabricating evidence with impunity, which was not reformed after Orgreave, and allowed to continue to Hillsborough five years later,” Mansfield said. “The current investigations by the IPCC and DPP into the force’s malpractice related to Hillsborough should include other malpractice by the same force at the time.”
South Yorkshire police paid £425,000 in 1991 to settle civil actions brought by 39 miners for what happened at and after Orgreave, including for assault, wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution, but no police officer was ever disciplined for any misconduct. The operation and prosecutions were given unqualified backing, even after they collapsed, by the chief constable, Peter Wright. Last month, the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report revealed that Wright personally oversaw the South Yorkshire police operation to blame supporters for the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, including by briefing false stories to the media, and the wholesale changing of junior officers’ statements.
The IPCC announced on 12 October that South Yorkshire police had referred its conduct at and after Hillsborough to the IPCC for possible misconduct and criminal offences, including perverting the course of justice and perjury. Starmer announced that he would examine all the evidence brought to him to consider whether criminal charges should be brought.
On the collapsed prosecutions after Orgreave, South Yorkshire police told the Guardian in a statement: “We note the NUM’s intention and will await any decision from the IPCC. As always, SYP will co-operate fully with the IPCC in whatever it does. The force is not aware of any adverse comment about the [police] statements from the trial judge in the [Orgreave] case. If concerns existed then normal practice would have been for the judge to raise them at the time.”