The Independent London Newspaper
21st May 2019

FORUM: It’s time to look at the media cover-up of the 1984-85 miners’ strike, when police were used to break pickets

    A miners’ strike picket taking place in South Yorkshire, c1984-85. Picture:

    Published: 1 November, 2012

    IT was like a scene from an action-cum-horror film. About 100 miners were corralled at one end of the field by a long line of foot and mounted police.

    Then, at what seemed a given signal, the police started pushing the miners who resisted until squads of police tried to snatch them. Police swung their batons as miners got tangled up with the mounted police. It was an ugly battle. And miners fell to the ground, clutch­ing their wounded heads.

    This is what I witnessed 28 years ago at the height of the miners’ strike in 1984.

    Today the National Union of Mineworkers is seeking an inquiry into how the police behaved during the strike, something along the lines of the inquiry into the Hillsborough scandal.

    During the one year-long strike the police were used, often unlawfully, to control the striking miners. They would set up barriers on main roads to stop the miners from picketing at pits, and, whenever necessary, would use brute force to break up picket lines. 

    In effect there was a “civil war” in Britain. 

    Margaret Thatcher described the miners as the “enemy within”.

    Yet, quite remarkably, the media, in general, were silent about this. After the first few days of the strike, newspapers and TV channels did less and less on the strike.

    Whenever they published articles or showed TV footage they highlighted the “brutal nature” of the miners thus consolidating the image the government’s image of them as the “enemy within”. Rarely did the media show the miners’ view of the conflict.

    Regional newspapers were the exception to this kind of one-sided coverage, but national newspapers, including the broadsheets, seemed to be unaware of how, in effect, their coverage amounted to a cover-up of the scandalous behaviour of the police. At that time, incidentally, the police had just been given a 

    45 per cent wage rise by the government.

    The Camden New Journal was two years old when the strike started, and shortly afterwards the town hall union, then known, as Nalgo, “twinned” with Bentley pit in Doncaster. I think the “twinning” occurred after town hall staff met Bentley miners in London collecting cash for their  funds.

    I and a colleague visited Bentley miners several times during the strike. I saw the brutality of the police during a visit when the Bentley miners agreed to take me on one of their picketing days.

    I travelled with about 20 miners by car, taking all the side roads, and avoiding the motorways where the police were thought to have set up barriers.

    We pulled up outside a field after a few miles and then made our way, single file, through a thick wood.   It was almost as if we were caught up in a guerrilla war.

    When we came out of the woods, we saw before us our goal – a pit where some miners were thought to be working, and slowly we made our way towards a field near the pit.

    But no sooner had we approached the field than we were surrounded by a swarm of police and kettled at one end of the field. The miners protested that I should be allowed to go because I was a journalist covering their story, and the police released me. Shortly afterwards I witnessed the brutal scene in the field.

    I became friendly with the former branch secretary of the Bentley miners, John Church and his family, over the years, and when I rang him this week and reminisced about the battle in the field, he had almost forgotten the incident.

    “I was hammered and battered by the police so many times, it’s hard to remember all the details,” he said. He remembered the battle of Orgreave about which there has been so much publicity recently, and he supports the NUM call for an inquiry into the police.

    “I was chased by the police and climbed up a tree to escape them,” he said.

    He and dozens of strikers were arrested, and later police evidence against them was thrown out at court for being so unreliable.

    You could say that I had become “embedded” with the miners. I could see nothing wrong with that, someone had to do it. Because most reporters, in print or TV, allowed themselves to become “embedded” with the police and the employers.

    Today, when so many questions are being asked about the media cover-up of the Jimmy Savile scandal, and the media cover-up, for cover-up it was, of the equally scandalous behaviour of the police at Hills­borough, I believe we should look at the media cover-up of the miners’ strike.

    The media presented a one-sided picture of the miners’ strike – that of the police and employers. It wasn’t a strike for more pay. It was a strike against the closure of pits and thus the loss of jobs. But you would never have known that by just reading the media’s coverage. Police brutality was rampant, I believe. Again, the media didn’t show this.

    Now, as society is more adult, we can look back at certain events, the Hillsborough scandal for instance, and recognise how badly the police had behaved. 

    Not all, of course. The police have a job to do, and by and large, do it well. But when they do it badly, the media should be willing, and able, to expose them.

    Hillsborough was one such occasion. The miners’ strike was another. I know, because I witnessed it.

    Eric Gordon is editor of the Camden New Journal