SCOTTISH ministers faced fresh demands for an inquiry into “malpractice” by the police during the miners’ strike as MSPs staged a debate to mark the 30th anniversary of the bitter dispute.
Labour MSP Neil Findlay called on the SNP government to hold a review of the criminal records of more than 500 Scottish miners who were convicted during the year-long strike in 1984-85.
SNP MSP Adam Ingram used the debate to attack Margaret Thatcher’s role in the strike over pit closures as he accused the late prime minister of being Britain’s “most brutal leader since Cromwell” in her treatment of the mining communities.
Mr Ingram, a former SNP minister, said he was “disgusted by the lies told about miners and their communities” as he fought back tears during an emotionally-charged debate at Holyrood.
Meanwhile, Mr Findlay claimed that miners were convicted during the dispute on the basis of “duplicated” statements and lies as he talked about how strikers were “victims of miscarriages of justice”.
The Police Complaints Commission in England is examining allegations of tampering with police and witness statements relating to events at the Orgreave coking plant in South Yorkshire in what was widely viewed as a pivotal clash between pickets and officers during the strike.
Mr Findlay’s call for a review centres around claims that the convictions may be unsafe and were politically motivated - particularly for picket line offences, for which miners were threatened with custodial sentences but offered less severe punishments if they accepted bail conditions that banned them from picketing.
He said: “At the end of the dispute 1,400 miners had been arrested in Scotland. It’s my belief that these cases were miscarriages of justice.
“We know that South Yorkshire Police lied and duplicated statements. My belief is that happened here too.
“Many men have contacted me who I believe to be victims of miscarriages of justice. These men deserve justice and it’s time that the government held a review of these convictions.
“At the time of the strike there was established malpractice by the police in South Yorkshire and the argument is that happened here in Scotland.”
Mr Findlay has made a series of calls for a review of the convictions of strikers as part of an overall inquiry he wants ministers to order into the 1984-85 dispute, including the conduct of the police.
However, Scotland’s community safety minister Roseanna Cunningham refused the calls from Labour MSPs for an inquiry as she insisted that “only the courts” could quash convictions.
She said: “Since 1999 we have had the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission that operates entirely independently. Only the courts can overturn individual convictions.
“There is a way that we deal with tackling miscarriages of justice and only the courts can overturn convictions. We do have robust procedures in place.
“There are procedures in place to investigate complaints against the police.”
However, Tory MSP Murdo Fraser, who was the only member of his party to attend the debate, claimed large numbers of coal mines had been uneconomic as he defended the Thatcher government’s role during the strike.
He said: “The UK taxpayer was subsidising the industry to the tune of £700 million a year.”
The Tory MSP went on to talk about what he said were the “myths” of the strike as he suggested the Thatcher government had not destroyed industry during its time in power.
He said: “The great irony of the miners strike is that we still have a coal industry and should look forward to the future.”