‘You shouldn’t be asking, you should be telling them what you’re entitled to’
The leading human rights lawyer Michael Mansfield QC accused the new home secretary of being ‘duplicitous, so far’ following a recent meeting with the Orgreave campaigners. Earlier this month of delegation of former miners met with Amber Rudd calling for an inquiry into a ‘smear campaign’ to expedite politically motivated prosecutions in 1984.
The barrister, who acted for the Hillsborough families at the recent inquest, said the meeting was ‘courteous’ but ‘non-committal’, however the following day the Home Office told the press that a lawyer-led review was likely to be the outcome as opposed to a full blown judicial Inquiry.
But Mansfield added: ‘If they shut the door then we open it again.’ The QC was speaking at a fringe meeting at the Labour conference in Liverpool organised by the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers. The event was entitled ‘The state and political policing: Hillsborough, Orgreave and Shrewsbury 24’.
Michael Mansfield described the three campaigns as representing as the ‘tip of the iceberg’. ‘The power of change is in this room. In my 50 years of practice, it has been the families, the campaigners and the people who push for change.’ The QC said that the Hillsborough campaign was not over yet. There is the possibility of prosecutions and the families and lawyers have worked together to draft the ‘Hillsborough Law’ bill which would make it a legal duty for public bodies to tell the truth. Honesty would be ‘a legal obligation’ if the Hillsborough law was passed, the QC said.
‘If Orgreave had had an inquiry into it at the time it happened, Hillsborough may never have happened,’ Margaret Aspinall, mother of one of the 96 victims who died at Hillsborough and chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, told delegates. Aspinall argued that the government helped with the cover-up after Hillsborough as a ‘thank you’ for the work the South Yorkshire Police did during the miner’s strike and particularly at Orgreave.
Aspinall described meeting Margaret Thatcher only four weeks after the disaster at a memorial mass, she refused to shake her hand. The then prime minister told her there had been 700 officers on duty at the match, Aspinall asked: ‘What the hell were they doing that day?’ ‘Their job my dear,’ the PM apparently replied. Aspinall said that from that moment she knew that ‘they would have a fight on their hands’.
‘You shouldn’t be asking, you should be telling them what you’re entitled to,’ Aspinall told the audience. ‘Don’t get sick of them, make them get sick of you…. Just look what the whingeing scousers have achieved.’ She left the stage to a standing ovation and was embraced by ex-justice secretary Lord Charlie Falconer.
Chris Peace, treasurer of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, described police tactics on June 18 1984 as ‘an early form of kettling’. ‘The police pitched a military style police force against ordinary working people,’ she said. Peace argued that Hillsborough and Orgreave were part of the same story, endorsing Andy Burnham’s comments: ‘We can’t have truth about Hillsborough without truth about Orgreave.’
The actor Ricky Tomlinson took to the stage wearing a T-shirt with the slogan: ‘The state killed my mate. RIP Dezzie.’ It referred to Des Warren who was imprisoned alongside him as a trade unionist and never recovered from the experience. Warren died of pneumonia in 2004 and was jailed with Tomlinson after 24 building workers were prosecuted following the first ever national building workers strike in 1972.
Tomlinson said that the extent of the cover-up was still being uncovered and claimed that only last year it was revealed that one of the Shrewsbury 24 had been a police informant. He recounted how he was leading a group of builders striking for better pay (£30 for a 35 hour week) and better conditions. The actor said that the death rate on building sites was higher then that in mining and farming put together – site owners could be fined and, as he put it, ‘a builders’ life was worth £100’. ‘We need to get to the bottom of a system that can destroy lives on a whim,’ he told delegates.
Richard Burgon, the shadow justice secretary and Labour MP for Leeds East, opened the evening, said that witnessing the miners’ strike inspired his interest in socialism. He backed an Orgreave Inquiry, but said what is really needed is an inquiry into the policing of the entire miners’ strike which he called ‘unfinished business’. Orgreave, Hillsborough and Shrewsbury 24 Campaigns all had two common themes, Burgon said: ‘The ruling elite will treat with contempt working class people when it wants to. And when working class people unite no power on earth can stop them.’
Siobhan Taylor-Ward is a case officer for the Hillsborough Inquest Team at Jackson and Canter solicitors. She is also a Young Legal Aid Lawyers committee member and co-chair of YLAL Liverpool