Plea for Kenny McAskill to wipe slate clean for striking miners

Members of the NUM miners' union picket line clash with police outside Bilston Glen colliery during the miners strike in June 1984.
Members of the NUM miners' union picket line clash with police outside Bilston Glen colliery during the miners strike in June 1984.
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JUSTICE minister Kenny MacAskill is facing demands to erase the criminal records of all miners convicted during the bitter 1980s strike.

Labour’s David Hamilton MP and Neil Findlay MSP have written to MacAskill and police, demanding a “full, independent and comprehensive review” of the convictions of nearly 500 Scottish strikers.

Senior Nationalist MSP John Wilson is to back a motion being lodged at Holyrood tomorrow by Findlay calling on SNP ministers to order a re-examination of the cases.

However, Brian Docherty, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, accused the politicians of jumping on a “bandwagon”, saying that reopening historic investigations would impact on present-day policing.

The call comes as the Independent Police Complaints Commission carries 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.

Hamilton – a former miner who spent two months in jail on remand during the 1984/85 strike before being cleared – said there is now a “moral imperative” to re-examine criminal records in Scotland.

The campaigners also point to the 1989 Hillsborough disaster and the recent publication of evidence detailing allegations of a police cover-up and manipulation of evidence linked to the policing of the tragedy at the football stadium in Sheffield which claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans.

They say the miners’ convictions may be “unsafe” and politically motivated – particularly for picket line offences, for which miners claim they were threatened with custodial sentences but offered less severe punishments if they accepted bail conditions that banned them from picketing.

The letter to MacAskill claims the Hillsborough and Orgreave inquiries show the need to re-examine the convictions of striking miners.

“Given what we now know happened in Yorkshire, there is a need to carry out a full, independent and comprehensive review of each and every one of the convictions brought against those involved in the dispute in Scotland,” it says.

Hamilton and Findlay have also written to Lothian and Borders Police Chief Constable David Strang, asking the force to carry out its own review of the arrests made during the miners’ strike.

They write that the convictions “issue has Scotland-wide relevance as other forces were involved. The police in Scotland have to learn from what has happened elsewhere in the UK and cannot ignore the Orgreave situation”.

Midlothian MP Hamilton, a former aide to Ed Miliband and now chief Scottish Labour whip at Westminster, said miners and their families have been left with a “real blackspot” against them since their convictions almost 30 years ago.

He said: “People passed away with a blemish on their records. These were people who had never been convicted of anything before and had never been in trouble.”

He insists that as responsibilities over policing are now fully devolved to Scotland, that MacAskill would have the full power to order an independent investigation. “The Scottish Government now has the devolved power to open up an inquiry and review all the cases in Scotland,” he said.

In England, leading QC Michael Mansfield is reviewing evidence of alleged police assaults against miners and wants prosecutors to carry out their own review of the convictions of the estimated 7,000 miners arrested and charged during the year-long strike.

Findlay, who represents a former mining constituency at Holyrood, said he was regularly approached by former miners and their families about the convictions issue.

He said: “From the evidence we have seen over Orgreave and Hillsborough, there is a duty on the Scottish Government and police to look again at the cases.

“I’ve had people coming to me raising concerns about the legitimacy of convictions against them or their relatives.”

Wilson said: “Given the evidence of prosecutions during the miners’ strike, the Scottish Government should take every step to review the cases in light of the actions of the police and prosecution services during that period.

“The prosecutions should be reviewed and then quashed. We’re coming up to the 30th anniversary of the strike and it’s now clear that the state was involved in trying to undermine the legitimate actions of the striking miners.”

However, Docherty said: “We could look at every decision that’s been made in history, where’s it all going to end? We’ve got enough to be going on with just now.

“This sort of mindset is hardly helpful at a time when we’re all being told to be financially prudent. Bringing in these sort of inquiries has a cost to the public purse that ultimately means having a ­potential impact on what we’re doing now.

“I wonder just why we are getting involved in these types of things. It’s just a bandwagon – let’s all do what everyone else is doing. I do agree that wrongs need to be righted, but it needs to be balanced against the cost to the public purse and the impact that has on current policing.”

The Scottish Government spokesman said ministers would “consider any correspondence and respond in due course” to Hamilton and Findlay’s request for a review of the convictions.

A spokeswoman for Lothian and Borders Police said: “We have yet to receive any correspondence in relation to this matter.”

Twitter: @AndrewWhitaker3