- The Unanswerable Case for Scottish Public Inquiry into the Miners Strike
I was proud to be invited to attend yesterday’s meeting at the National Coal Museum where campaigners gathered to make their case and demand a Public Inquiry into the handling of the miners’ strike in Scotland.
The miners’ strike, or rather the response of the Thatcher government to it, devastated individual lives; wrecked families; and destroyed communities and regions throughout the country. The miners and their families were the victims of injustice piled upon gross injustice.
At the heart of those injustices was the, then, Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher; and the brutal and militarised policing of the pickets and picket lines.
The public meeting was very well attended. Contributor after contributor from the floor, each and every one of them former miners, provided compelling and credible accounts of misconduct and mistreatment. There was a palpable and entirely understandable mistrust of the entire establishment. We know from the limited cabinet records released to the National Archive that Margaret Thatcher overstepped boundaries and the personal influence she had over policing and police tactics. There were stories of phone tapping and heavy handedness on the part of certain Sheriffs; most infamously Sheriff Smith.
And yet, Amber Rudd announced last week that there will be no Public Inquiry in England and Wales. The establishment has once again refused the miners and their families’ justice. Amber Rudd gave two reasons for refusing a Public Inquiry; each as feeble and legally irrelevant as they were transparent to her true motives – protecting her party, the police and the entire establishment from the light of truth that a Public Inquiry would shine upon them.
She said that there are no lessons to be learned from Orgreave because policing is very different today. She also made the ludicrous suggestion that the fact that there were no deaths somehow meant that a Public Inquiry was not justified.
Leaving aside, for one moment, the fact that in terms of the Inquiries Act 2005 these considerations are entirely legally irrelevant; they either show the worst political judgement since David Cameron decided a referendum on the EU would finally shut up the Brexiteers or she was callously and deliberately missing the point.
The point is that the miners’ strike has left those campaigning for a Public Inquiry with no faith whatsoever in the establishment. To be therefore told by a Tory Cabinet Secretary that the police have learned all the lessons that there are to learn from the miners’ strike and that there is therefore no need for a Public Inquiry is a frankly absurd proposition. It is like saying to the family of the victim of a fatal workplace accident that there is no need to hold a fatal accident inquiry because the employer has promised that he will do better next time.
There is no justice unless justice is seen to be done. Ultimately, the accusation at the heart of the campaign for a Public Inquiry is that Margaret Thatcher and a small war cabinet of her most senior politicians and advisers directed the operation of the police response to the miners’ strike; that Chief Constables up and down the country were told what to do; and the police were used as Margaret Thatcher’s private and political army to quash the shock troops of the Trade Union movement in a class war aimed at destroying the mining industry in the UK and the entire Trade Union movement.
In relation to such allegations it is of course entirely logical and self-evident that the only way in which justice can be seen to be done is if the government are forced to hand over all of the papers that they want to continue to suppress for decades to come; and there is a clear and forensic cross examination of all of the evidence and all of the senior political figures who are still living in an open and public hearing.
The victims and campaigners seek no less than truth and reconciliation. In many ways that starts and ends with getting to the truth. That is the point Amber Rudd either misunderstood or deliberately avoided. It is completely irrelevant that no one was killed by the police. And even if there are no lessons to be learned (although I seriously doubt that) getting to the truth is enough for the campaigners and is certainly reason enough in law for holding a Public Inquiry.
That takes me back to the Inquiries Act 2005. That Act of Parliament sets out the circumstances when a government minister may set up a Public Inquiry. It says nothing about deaths and it says nothing about lessons to be learned. It says only that it appears to the Minister that “particular events have caused or are capable of causing public concern”.
There is clearly no point in exposing the lie or double talk in Amber Rudd’s comments to Government at Westminster. Their mind is made. We can however go our own way in Scotland. The Scottish Government have shown the willingness and compassion to set up Public Inquiries in the past. Five Public Inquiries have been set up during the tenure of the SNP as the Scottish Government. Would anyone suggest that the victims of the miners’ strike injustices are any less entitled to have the truth exposed?
And as for “public concern”, can there be any greater public concern than the ability of a government to micromanage the police and to use the police force as her private and political army?
The case for a Public Inquiry is unanswerable.
The question that must be answered is whether the SNP government have the political will to find the money and to supply the answers to the campaigners in the face of a Tory government in Westminster out to protect only themselves? Will Scotland, yet again, find a better and a fairer way that will provide answers that will benefit the whole of the UK.
Blog by Patrick McGuire, Partner