British cops pay damages to mineworkers

Wednesday, November 6, 1991

By Steve Painter

South Yorkshire police have paid more than half a million pounds (around A$1.2 million) compensation to mineworkers arrested at the Orgreave coking plant in June 1984. Orgreave was the centre of bitter clashes between police and pickets supporting the miners during their historic strike of 1984-85.

In an out-of-court settlement, the police agreed to pay £425,000 compensation and more than £100,000 legal costs to 39 mineworkers. The settlement followed the collapse of prosecutions against 95 mineworkers for riot, unlawful assembly and other offences.

Their trial was stopped after 43 days in 1987 when it was revealed that the prosecution had fabricated evidence.

Raju Bhatt, the lawyer representing the 39, called for action against officers on duty during the clashes. So far, because no action had been taken, "police officers feel, quite justifiably, that they can do what they like", he said.

Meanwhile, the last of the claims of financial mismanagement against National Union of Mineworkers leader Arthur Scargill have collapsed, and the scandal is beginning to backfire against those who originated it.

The claims were initially made last year by media outlets linked to publishing billionaire Robert Maxwell, a right-wing Labour Party sympathiser. British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock later presented "journalist of the year" awards to the Mirror journalists involved with the smear campaign.

Source inside the British government's electronic spy centre, the GCHQ, now say the allegations originated with government secret services.

These sources claim that during the 1984-85 strike, British authorities mounted a massive electronic surveillance operation against the European banking system in an attempt to track down funds held abroad by the miners' union after its funds were seized.

It appears material from this surveillance, along with forged documents, was leaked to the Cook Report, a lightweight current affairs television program on Central Television, a Yorkshire station 20% owned by Maxwell. The allegations were quickly taken up in screaming headlines by the Maxwell-owned Mirror, one of Britain's sleazier tabloids.

Most of the claims against Scargill were quickly disproved by an independent inquiry headed by Gavin Lightman QC, and the rest have now been laid to rest more than a year later following painstaking investigations by the liberal Guardian newspaper and British television Channel 4's Dispatches program, which sent reporters to the USSR to get to the bottom of charges that money donated by Soviet miners had been misused. Channel Four discovered that funds had never been donated directly to the British mineworkers because of a promise by Mikhail Gorbachev to Margaret Thatcher.

Soviet miners' solidarity funds were eventually sent to the Paris-based International Mineworkers' Organisation for the use of embattled mineworkers anywhere in the world, including Britain. Scargill had no influence on this decision, as hard currency funds could at that time be sent out of the USSR only with the direct approval of the Communist Party Central Committee.

Channel Four discovered that the IMO funds were still intact, and had never been under the control of Scargill or any other British mineworkers' leader.

The British government's attempts to nail the mineworkers' leadership after the 1984-85 strike came to an end last July when the Trade Union Certification officer said he would not appeal against a magistrates' court ruling that there was no evidence of unlawful activity by the union or its officers.

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