Hillsborough, Orgreave, Shrewsbury, blacklisting… THE STATE IS ROTTEN
by Richie Venton, SSP national workplace organiser • There is something rotten at the heart of capitalism. Not just a few bad apples, but a whole stinking barrel of cover-ups, collusion in lies, corruption and cruel, class injustice that goes to the very top of society.
But the priceless courage and tenacity of a group of mostly working class people has exposed the corrupt state, and put the Establishment perpetrators on the run.
The jury’s verdicts on the Hillsborough Disaster provide devastating confirmation of the cruel deceits, shameless lies and corruption at the top of the police, the media and successive governments.
The revelations of details and footage of 96 fans being crushed to death—at the inquests and subsequent TV documentaries—are heartbreaking.
Try to imagine what it was like for friends and relatives of the 96, as they sat in the hearings for two long years, listening to police chiefs still trying to blame the fans for this slaughter of the innocents, 27 years on, right up until the jury’s verdicts, as they dragged out proceedings in a callous attempt to cover up their own culpability.
I am far from being alone in weeping every time the issue is mentioned on TV, for the unimaginable suffering of the 96 innocent victims and their families, and survivors (some of whom I knew) whose lives were irreparably damaged after being on the brink of death—caused by negligence by police chiefs, owners of the clapped out Sheffield Wednesday stadium, the FA, and a Tory government that vilified working class football fans as sub-human hooligans, herding them into pens like cattle, surrounded by high fences that turned these prisons into a death trap at Hillsborough.
But grief merges with anger at the systematic campaign to smear and frame the dead, and all Liverpool fans. At the collusion in the Establishment’s cover-up between South Yorkshire Police chiefs and the heartless, vindictive Maggie Thatcher and her Tory government. At the disgusting, unforgivable lies of Rupert Murdoch’s gutter press.
And tears flood too in admiration for the superhuman tenacity of the Hillsborough families and their allies, as they refused to be defeated over 27 years’ pursuit of Justice for the 96, their persistence vindicated by the jury’s 14 decisions—including that the fans bore no responsibility for the worst sporting disaster in UK history, and that the 96 were “unlawfully killed”.
The detailed sequence of events—the real truth, known to most of us since that fateful day in April 1989, but now officially confirmed by the longest legal hearings in UK history—have been spelt out elsewhere (including in my 2012 blog article at richieventon.blogspot.com).
To fully grasp the explanation for police attitudes and actions at Hillsborough, and the enormity of the subsequent collusion between police chiefs, government figures, members of the judiciary and a major part of the capitalist media, we have to look back at 1984, and especially to the Battle of Orgreave on 18 June 1984.
Secret Cabinet papers, released in January 2014 under the 30-year rule, confirmed what trade unionists and socialists knew and argued 30 years earlier. They exposed how the Tories consciously planned to shut 75 pits, wipe out over 75,000 miners jobs, smash the NUM union, and impose destitution on entire communities.
They targeted Yorkshire for their opening salvo in a class-based civil war without bullets. And they prepared well, beefing up police pay, police powers and national coordination of police actions—stripping away elements of local control, effectively turning the police into a paramilitary wing of the government and Coal Board bosses. And nowhere more so than in South Yorkshire.
Three months into the 1984-5 miners’ strike to defend jobs, communities and the future, the NUM got word of the British Steel coking plant at Orgreave, near Rotherham (8 miles from Hillsborough) being on the brink of running out of supplies.
Temporary closure would have been a mighty boost to the strike, so they called a mass picket to stop lorries carrying coke supplies. Up to 10,000 pickets came from far and wide, in magnificent solidarity.
To their amazement, buses and cars full of pickets didn’t face the usual police roadblocks that had turned Britain’s coalfields into a diluted version of apartheid South Africa’s pass laws. Instead, police politely invited and ushered them onto the piece of land near the coking plant. Too late, the pickets found themselves surrounded on three sides by massed ranks of about 5,000 police, drafted in from all over the country.
As pickets in t-shirts and trainers—some of them stripped to the waist in the glorious sunshine—peacefully milled around on the hill, unable to get near the lorries, the police unleashed an unprovoked assault. Riot police, with helmets, shields and batons, smashed into the front lines of pickets.
With military precision, they periodically opened up to let through heavily-clad cavalrymen, mounted police, who charged with long truncheons flying, their horses trampling people underfoot, whacking fleeing pickets’ heads as they tried to escape.
The cavalry charged through the village. An eyewitness recalled seeing a Derbyshire lad sitting on a bridge eating an ice cream, only to have a police truncheon smash through the cone and into his face.
Others saw two coppers pin down a Nottinghamshire picket while a third battered him senseless, until an inspector said ‘That’s enough, you’re going to kill him’, whereupon they dragged him off and wiped away the blood before photographing the half-dead picket.
This was unprovoked carnage, a pre-planned display of naked state violence by overpaid thugs in uniform, hired by a frightened ruling class who were out to teach the miners and wider working class a lesson in who rules whom.
The physical violence was rapidly followed by shameless violence against the truth. The BBC was as brazen in pumping out lies as the Sun and most of the press. Footage of the police carnage against defenceless pickets was literally reversed, to make millions watching TV bulletins think South Yorkshire Police were acting in self defence from picket violence. Many of the victims of police attacks were arrested and 95 charged with riotous assembly, which at the time potentially carried a sentence of life imprisonment.
Here’s the link with the police action at Hillsborough, five years later: the charges were dropped when documents showed police statements were fabricated, often identical, dictated to junior officers by detectives who weren’t even at Orgreave.
Quietly, in 1991, when pickets sued them for assault, unlawful arrest and false imprisonment, South Yorkshire Police settled out of court, awarding 39 pickets £500,000, which also gagged the miners from exposing the truth.
Documents from the Hillsborough case have now exposed not only that the same fabrication of police evidence occurred at Orgreave as at Hillsborough, but that several of the same senior police officers and the same SYP solicitor (identified as ‘Mr H’) were involved at both!
Junior police officers testified that at Orgreave they were told not to write up their reports in their notebooks [which are like sacred documents and are used as gospel by the Courts]—just as happened at Hillsborough. Their statements were often written up months afterwards.
One of the police top brass active at both events was John Nesbitt, former Chief Superintendent of SYP. He was the stuff of legend during the miners’ strike, having ordered coppers in a Range Rover to ram a snowman built by pickets as a petty show of power, only to discover the miners had built the snowman round a concrete bollard, which wrecked the police vehicle, and earned Nesbitt the nickname ‘Snowman’! He was the one who arrested miners’ leader Arthur Scargill at Orgreave, and then tried to claim his head injuries were the result of Arthur falling over before the events that day!
But in January this year, at the Hillsborough inquest, a policemen (David Frost) who was there when the 96 died, testified how Snowman Nesbitt—a Chief Superintendent of SYP by then—had met a group of junior officers and told them to alter their initial statements, stating: “We have all got to get our stories straight or a lot of senior officers’ heads will roll.”
The top brass in SYP orchestrated the state thuggery on behalf of Thatcher’s thuggish Tory government at Orgreave, to cow miners—dubbed ‘the enemy within’ by Thatcher—and the wider working class. They unleashed state terrorism that day, and were then encouraged and aided by the Thatcher regime in covering up the truth, slandering and trying to jail their victims.
No police officer was ever charged or even reprimanded for assault, let alone perjury and perversion of the course of justice. Orgreave taught them to think they could act with impunity, an outlook that seeped down the police ranks. And that outlook towards working class people, and arrogant assurance they could get away with lies and fabrications, was sustained by the very same SYP and some of the very same top brass and solicitor five years later.
If the state—up to and including Thatcher’s Cabinet—hadn’t got away with these monstrously corrupt practices at Orgreave, some or all of the 96 might never have died at Hillsborough.
Top civil servants briefed Tory Home Office Ministers admitting ‘mistakes or worse’ in the Orgreave policing, but arguing against a public Inquiry for political reasons, and Tory Home Secretary Kenneth Baker publicly declared he was “glad to express my sincere admiration for the work of the police”.
Successive governments—Tory AND Labour!—denied demands for an inquiry into the role of the police and government at Orgreave, to cover up who gave the orders for this display of unbridled state terrorism against its own working class.
It was only after a BBC documentary in October 2012 that South Yorkshire Police referred themselves to the (ludicrously misnamed) Independent Police Complaints Commission.
At one stage, in 2014, the IPCC had to threaten legal action to force SYP to hand over five boxes of documents, which SYP had refused to relinquish for five months, subsequently claiming they were in the hands of their insurers!
The IPCC proceeded to delay and prevaricate over whether a scoping exercise on the evidence merited a public investigation—only to declare 2.5 years later, in June 2015, that “due to the length of time that has elapsed” an Inquiry into Orgreave wasn’t appropriate! You couldn’t make it up—but they did.
It was also the cataclysmic revelations of the Hillsborough Independent Panel in 2012 that encouraged the birth of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, which was further boosted in its demands for a full-blown public inquiry by the recent victory of the Hillsborough Justice campaigners.
Now the barriers erected for over 40 years by a venal ruling class—their police chiefs, judiciary, press and governments included—have begun to crumble and collapse in the face of relentless campaigns by ordinary working class people with extraordinary dedication, based on burning anger at injustice. A public Inquiry into Orgreave is about to be granted.
The new Chief Constable of SYP, Dave Jones, last week tried to distance himself from the stinking corruption of his predecessors by declaring his support for an Orgreave Inquiry. In a very telling declaration from an incredible source—former Manchester Police chief Sir Peter Fahey—the wider guilt of the entire system was hinted at. Describing Orgreave accurately as “a police army of occupation”, Fahey went on to call for an Inquiry…
“Into policing of the miners’ strike, not just Orgreave, and the role of the police, but also the role of politicians. We need to look at the wider context of the way the police were used and the agenda set for them by government. Clearly it was about national control of the police in pursuit of a political agenda.”
The truth confirmed about Hillsborough should now lead to prosecution of those who caused the cruel carnage at a football match, at a day’s entertainment, but also those up to their necks in decades of systematic lies and fabrications designed to shift the blame from the perpetrators to the victims, in an exercise dripping with class hatred.
And not just David Duckenfield, but other SYP bosses; the West Midlands Police chiefs who staged a bogus inquiry in full knowledge of the cover-up; the football bosses who ignored safety for short-term profit; the media who smeared and demonised the dead and the city of Liverpool; and indeed the government figures who colluded in the decades of corrupt cover-ups.
And whilst Labour’s Andy Burnham is currently basking in the praise heaped on him for ordering, in 2009, the Hillsborough Independent Panel, whose revelations in 2012 blew this tower of lies asunder, there are some stubborn facts we shouldn’t forget.
In common with the rest of his Labour Cabinet of the time, he’d done nothing to challenge the lie machine until he met a torrent of angry chants from the terraces of “Justice for the 96”, when he spoke at Anfield at the 20th anniversary event in April 2009.
Worse still, his predecessor Jack Straw cynically deceived the Hillsborough families when Labour won office in 1997, promising them a full-blown Inquiry, then setting up a one-man legal ‘investigation’ that was stage-managed to conclude there was no justification in holding any Public Inquiry [see my 2012 blog for detailed documentary evidence of this episode].
The Orgreave and Hillsborough scandals are interwoven by a thousand threads, but they are also part of a bigger fabric of state corruption and class injustice.
Back in 1972 the Shrewsbury pickets were framed for daring to strike in defence of pay and jobs, with six of them jailed under obscure laws like the 1875 Conspiracy Act, and then drugged and tortured in jail.
Nor did these practices stop at Orgreave or Hillsborough. Decades of blacklisting in the construction and other industries has ruined thousands of families’ livelihoods and lives.
Undercover secret service infiltration of protest groups—stooping to sexual relationships and having children with protestors as a cover for spying—are not just the stuff of the excellent recent TV drama, Undercover, but frightenly common in real-life Britain. Recent Tory legislation makes such methods and state snooping on people’s communications all the easier—and legal!
Capitalism is a system of rule and exploitation of the 99 per cent by the 1 per cent. It wouldn’t succeed in holding onto power for the ultra-privileged few without a complex web of propaganda, deceit, lies, anti-working class laws, an upper-class judiciary steeped in the same class ideology and interests as the owners of economic wealth—and ultimately the naked brute force of state forces like the police, deployed in times of conflict between working people and those exploiting them.
So we need to press on with demands for full exposure of the methods of all these forces—including their hired politicians—demanding justice for Hillsborough, Orgreave, the miners as a whole, the Shrewsbury pickets, blacklisted workers…
But to prevent constant repetition of these crimes against the majority working class population by those with power, we need to strive for a socialist democracy, a society where the wealth producers own and control the wealth, and where forces like the police are democratically controlled citizens’ forces, not weapons in the hands of a tiny minority class of exploiters and their corrupt politicians.
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