Nick Jones

Trade Union Reporting

Files released by the Home Office have so far failed to reveal the operational secrets behind the Battle of Orgreave.

But they do show that officers of the South Yorkshire Police remained entirely confident that they believed their tactics were justified and effective in dealing with the largest confrontation during the 1984-85 miners’ strike.

If the operational order for the day is ever released for public inspection, it might show whether the police set a trap for the pickets, luring them into a confrontation, as the National Union of Mineworkers has always suspected.

More documents are to be delivered to the National Archives, and 65 South Yorkshire files are also in the process of being examined, as the hunt continues for answers to the many questions raised by the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign.

In view of the refusal of the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, to authorise a public inquiry into the events that day, the Orgreave campaigners are determined to discover who was responsible for a “military” style assault on the pickets by 6,000 or more police officers that resulted in countless men being “seriously injured, falsely arrested and wrongly prosecuted”.

Donald Trump’s attacks on the truthfulness of the main stream media might have shocked the political establishment in Washington, but they have been a tried and tested ploy of South American revolutionaries – and were the weapon of choice for Arthur Scargill during the 1984-85 miners’ strike.

Studies just published by the British Journalism Review and the Columbia Journalism Review explore the thinking behind the tactics of lashing out at reporters and accusing them of peddling fake news.

In his paper for the BJR, Nicholas Jones says Trump’s brazen assault on the veracity of journalists has been as calculated and carefully crafted as the abuse fired off three decades earlier by Scargill.

Words and phrases used by the NUM President in his sustained denigration of the main stream media were almost interchangeable with the tirades of the US President about the ethics of the leading American news outlets.

When Trump harangued reporters and television crews corralled in media pens to accompanying boos from his supporters, his attacks mirrored Scargill when he berated the British news media for supporting Margaret Thatcher.

 

When reflecting on the lasting impact of the 1984-85 miners’ strike, a struggle that has become so firmly embedded in the collective memory of political and industrial events of recent years, I am often tempted to hit fast-forward rather than press the play-back button. How would a year-long fight-to-the-finish that pitted the country’s strongest trade union against an all-powerful Prime Minister, play out three decades later? Given the revolution there has been in communication techniques, what would the chances be of success if there was a repeat of the grassroots revolt against the decimation of the coalfields and their communities?

Black and white photographs taken by friends, family and supporters at the 1984 Battle of Orgreave helped subsequently to demolish Police prosecutions for rioting that were levelled against 95 striking mineworkers.

But at the time, very few close-up – and potentially incriminating – pictures made it into the news coverage of the mainstream media.

Most press photographers and television camera crews were penned in behind police lines, and therefore kept largely to the perimeter of the eight-hour confrontation between pickets and mounted police.

While newspapers and television news bulletins captured the scale of the conflict – and especially the graphic images of police on horseback charging through the pickets – there was nothing like the visual record of hand-to-hand combat that would be available today as a result of the abundance of camera phone pictures and videos that invariably emerges from demonstrations and protests.

No wonder the iconic photograph taken by John Harris of Lesley Boulton, cowering as a mounted police officer approached her with a raised baton, has become an enduring image of the strike, reproduced repeatedly to illustrate the violent response of the police as the pickets assembled outside the Orgreave coke works on June 18, 1984.

Such was the divisive nature of so much of the news reporting of the 1984-85 miners’ strike – and media concentration on picket line violence – that there was often little coverage of the remarkable solidarity shown by the international trade union movement.

Pit Props, a new book examining the strength of international support during the dispute, seeks to put the record straight. Editor Granville Williams says it tells the story of the magnificent response of fellow trade unionists around the world.

Nicholas Jones, a former labour and industrial correspondent, who reported the strike for BBC Radio, compiled a diary of news reports of help and assistance from overseas during the miners’ year-long struggle.

For the first time for 30 years he re-opened his file marked “miners’ international solidarity”, and it took him straight back to the events surrounding the largely under-reported, but totally unprecedented action by other mining unions and the wider international trade union movement.

 

Nicholas Jones at Hatfield pit, near Doncaster, which ceased production in July and is currently being dismantled and its shafts sealed.“If only”…if only there had been a deal in the 1980s the coal industry might have survived, says Nicholas Jones, who was a BBC labour and industrial correspondent during the 1984-85 miners’ strike.

I returned to Yorkshire for BBC Newsnight to report on the industry’s final demise, and to visit the UK’s very last deep mine that is still producing coal, but only for another few weeks.

Deep mining of coal will cease by the end of the year when the Kellingley pit near Castleford closes in early December.

As I stood in the yard, looking across as coal poured from the pit shaft conveyor, I was almost lost for words, sensing that an historic moment was only weeks away.

“I can hardly believe it…” were my opening words as I described the imminent demise of the Big K, the Yorkshire super pit that once employed 3,000 men, and was the biggest deep mine in Europe.

Margaret Thatcher’s 1985 cabinet papers about the 1984-85 miners’ strike were a revelation for Nicholas Jones, as he explained when giving the annual lecture at the commemoration meeting to mark the death of two Yorkshire miners killed while on picket duty.

After a wreath laying ceremony, Jones told the gathering at the Barnsley headquarters of the National Union of Mineworkers that he had been misled and that an award winning programme was based on inaccurate information.

Jones, who was named the 1986 Industrial Journalist of the Year, asserted in his BBC Radio 4 programme Codename Tuscany that it was confidential advice from European banks that allowed the courts to seize the miners’ missing millions.

But Mrs Thatcher’s papers have revealed that in fact it was tip-offs from the Security Service MI5 – based on telephone taps and surveillance – that enabled the sequestrators Price Waterhouse to take control of £8.7 million deposited in banks in Luxembourg, Zurich and Dublin without the NUM’s knowledge.

Jones said his experience in being misled during the strike – as had also happened over denials of a secret hit list for pit closures – had made him all the more determined to unlock the secrets of the strike.

David Hart, a shadowy financier who secretly helped the working miners to start crippling legal action against the National Union of Mineworkers, had almost unlimited access to Margaret Thatcher during the 1984-5 pit strike. 

But in the final month of the dispute the Prime Minister was advised to sever her contacts with Hart because news of his role was leaking out and on the point of becoming an embarrassment to the government.

Behind the scenes Hart was passing on instructions to the National Coal Board’s chairman Ian MacGregor and this had angered the Secretary of State for Energy, Peter Walker, who complained to Mrs Thatcher.

Walker’s disagreements with MacGregor over his management of the way the Coal Board was dealing with the strike became increasingly acrimonious after acceleration in the return to work.

At one point the Energy Secretary wrote to Mrs Thatcher accusing MacGregor of being “dishonest” in his pursuit of a vendetta against NACODS, the union for pit safety supervisors.

But it was the Prime Minister’s encouragement for the secret activities of the working miners’ shadowy Mr Fixit that prompted Walker’s first complaint.

So many telephones were being tapped during the 1984-5 miners’ strike that the Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong became so alarmed that he took immediate steps to ensure that no mention was ever made of the extent of the eavesdropping.

Margaret Thatcher’s success in hushing up the bugging of phones by the Security Service MI5 is finally revealed in her 1985 cabinet papers released by the National Archives.

Action to prevent public disclosure of the role of intelligence officers was personally approved by the Prime Minister. 

At one stage government-appointed lawyers were on the point of being advised to be prepared to withdraw legal action over the hunt for the miners’ money if awkward questions were asked in court.

Armstrong’s intervention in February 1985 to ensure a cover-up over the role of the Security Service in the pit dispute was highly significant given the events that were about to unfold.

Later that same year, in a Channel 4 documentary, the former MI5 intelligence officer Cathy Massiter blew the whistle. She revealed there had been illegal bugging of the telephones of political and human rights campaigners during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Throughout the year-long pit strike Arthur Scargill and other leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers always believed their phone calls were being intercepted and their movements closely monitored.

Six months after the end of the 1984-5 miners’ strike Margaret Thatcher was still intervening personally to protect miners who continued to be victimised for having defied the National Union of Mineworkers and resumed work.

Hand-written instructions on her 1985 cabinet papers indicate her exasperation and later fury at the failure of the National Coal Board’s chairman Ian MacGregor to do more to ensure that the men who broke the strike were transferred to pits of their choice and did not lose money.

Lists of strike breakers who were being harassed and who were later moved to other collieries after Mrs Thatcher’s personal intervention have not been released and the names are to be kept secret for 70 to 80 years.

The cabinet records reveal extensive correspondence between the Prime Minister and leaders of the Miners’ Wives Back to Work Campaign, on whose behalf she made constant efforts to support the 30,000 miners who had returned to their pits before the end of the strike on 5 March 1985.

One note, written on 24 May 1985 and signed “MT”, said the government had to instruct the NCB to safeguard the working miners and must guarantee them certain conditions if they were being harassed by the NUM – the words “instruct” and “must” were both underlined.

She demanded two safeguards for the men:

“Have a transfer if they so wish and all reasonable expenses must be paid.” 

“No miner who worked should suffer financially because he worked; i.e. if he is moved to a surface job his pay must be made up to what it would have been.”