A FORMER senior Scottish police officer has broken ranks to talk about how he was “so appalled” by the behaviour of colleagues during the miners’ strike that he refused to be part of the policing operation during the year-long dispute.
The officer, whose 30 years of service included time in Lothian and Borders and Glasgow, said that fellow officers used to boast to him about throwing coins at miners and taunting them during the bitter conflict in 1984-5 to provoke a response that would lead to arrests.
He claimed officers from the Metropolitan Police who were asked to work in mining areas in Scotland and northern England had a “gang mentality” and admitted to him they enjoyed a “good battle” on picket lines. Some thrived on being known as “Maggie’s boot boys” in a reference to the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who presided over the defeat of the National Union of Mineworkers in the strike over pit closures.
The former officer, who wants to remain anonymous, has decided to speak out to back the campaign by Labour MP David Hamilton, a former miner, and Labour MSP Neil Findlay to quash the convictions of 500 miners in Scotland. The NUM estimates that six out of ten of the 11,000 miners arrested across the UK, many for breaches of the peace, were apprehended on “bogus” grounds.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission is already carrying out an investigation into allegations of tampering with statements made by witnesses and officers relating to clashes at the Orgreave coking plant in South Yorkshire in 1984, one of the key flashpoints of the industrial dispute and which set the tone for policing of picket lines in the rest of the country.
The former inspector said the tactics deployed during the strike were a “horrendous piece of British history and an abuse of the style of policing”. He said: “I was so appalled at some of the things that were going on I made it perfectly clear that I was totally against what was happening.
“I heard so many accounts from so many other officers in the Met about what was going on and the things they were doing, like throwing coins – 50p coins – at miners. I said there was no chance that I’d get involved.”
The campaign also follows the review of the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989, which has also raised huge question marks over policing methods in the 1980s and the extent to which manipulating evidence was accepted practice. The campaigners say that many miners’ convictions were “politically motivated” and “unsafe” – particularly picket line offences. The former officer said he had been told how strikers were arrested for simply standing on picket lines.
In Scotland, the strike affected all of Scotland’s 12 pits and 15,000 miners and there were major clashes at Bilston Glen between police and pickets.
The officer said: “There were miners stood legitimately on picket lines and when they got pushed they’d end up getting arrested for breach of the peace. It was a gang mentality and they just used to throw miners in a van without any proper evidence. Miners were then just all lumped in together and accused of a breach of the peace.
“There’s got to be a lot of evidence that’s doubtful about the convictions of miners and I’d like to see a review of the policing tactics used.”
Officers enjoyed the extra money they were generating for their wage packets, he added. “Money was a big motivator for some of them.
“There was so much money made by police officers during the strike. They were making thousands of pounds on the back of the strike and going out and buying new cars. But they also felt that the government had asked them to do this.
“Police officers in the Met used to talk to me about how confrontation was part of the fun. They used to talk about getting some action and being in battles a lot. Some of them thought it was funny to throw coins at miners to taunt them about having no money.”
The retired officer also claimed that miners who continued to work during the strike were the ones responsible for a breach of the peace, with large policing operations used to get them past the picket lines. He said: “My opinion was that the ones causing the breach of the peace were the ones still going into work and not the strikers.
“These were situations where you had three miners going into a pit and a huge policing operation to make this happen. In my view, that was more of a breach of the peace and the police should have just asked them to stay at home.”
Findlay said more than 500 Scots had so far backed his online campaign to pressure SNP ministers to order a re- examination of the cases.
He said: “I’m delighted by the response of the general public and clearly there’s a strong interest in getting the Scottish Government to look at these cases again.
“I just hope that the minister takes heed of the strong public opinion and instructs an investigation.”
The Scottish Government said it was “still reviewing” the request from Findlay and Hamilton to review the convictions.