12 Sep 2016

Orgreave: operational orders ‘were wrong’ – former officer

Chief Correspondent

A former police officer involved in the Orgreave clashes during the miners’ strike says he was ordered to carry out instructions he believed were wrong, but he refused to go along with them.

(Video: Mike Freeman talks to Alex Thomson)

Mike Freeman tells the same story on and off camera. He never goes further. He never embellishes. He never holds back. Every time we have discussed his story it is always the same. He is certain of what he wants to say.

After decades in the Greater Manchester Police, he rose to become a detective superintendent in the Police Standards Department, and is now retired.

As a young PC back in 1984, he was gaining experience at the sharp end. The Moss Side riots in Manchester had come and gone and he was there. He’d just passed his exams for sergeant. He was on his way up. With a degree in politics, he was a vocation-police officer – keen to make a difference.

Then, in June 1984 came the briefing. Mass picketing outside the Orgreave coking plant in South Yorkshire had been growing. The masterplan of Arthur Scargill’s National Union of Mineworkers was to shut down this plant and thus shut the blast furnaces to the east, at Scunthorpe steelworks, which were fuelled by Orgreave.

Greater Manchester Police were to be bussed in to Orgreave to confront and stop the hundreds of miners converging on the place. Indeed police forces from all over the country wee being called in to thwart the NUM’s tactics.

He says the operational briefing was something he had never heard of: a bizarre ticketing system whereby South Yorkshire Police officers would write statements even if they had not arrested the pickets themselves. That ran against the fundamentals of policing: the arresting officer makes the arrest statement concerning the prisoner, and nobody else.

Mike Freeman says he simply refused to go along with this. He had never encountered it before or since. Many of his colleagues felt the same way.

‘I knew in my own mind that was wrong’

“What sticks in my mind is the briefing we were given, passed down through our public order command chains – and that was, particularly on that day, that if you arrest a prisoner you will take that prisoner back to a prisoner reception area, you will be given a reference number, you will return to the (police) lines.

“And at the end of the operation, you will return to the prisoner reception area, where there will be a statement ready for you to sign. I knew in my own mind that was wrong, and I can clearly remember saying to colleagues that I was with that day, ‘I will not be making an arrest on that operation’, and I didn’t.”

The significance is that, if this was indeed the South Yorkshire Police plan, it would have been handed down from senior officers in the force.

When he and his mates got to Orgreave they could see the South Yorkshire officers ready for this arrangement and not in riot gear. “There were no South Yorkshire officers, from my recollection, on those (police) lines that day. When we arrived, I distinctly remember that the South Yorkshire officers were wearing flat caps with orange head bands, and they were called logistics.”

Today Greater Manchester Police declined to comment. South Yorkshire Police said: “The Hillsborough Inquests brought into sharp focus the need to understand and confront the past and give people the opportunity to explore the circumstances of such significant events.

“South Yorkshire Police would welcome an appropriate independent assessment of Orgreave, accepting that the way in which this is delivered is a matter for the Home Secretary.”

Last year the Independent Police Complaints Commission concluded there should be a full inquiry into South Yorkshire Police’s actions at Orgreave. The campaign for one is gathering pace with a meeting with Home Secretary Amber Rudd in London tomorrow.

‘The miners’ strike broke a lot of families’

Mike Freeman sympathises. “The miners’ strike broke a lot of families and I think there’s possibly a good case for a public inquiry because people need closure. I’m prepared to speak out about the briefing because I found policing that strike particularly difficult because of my own political views. I’m now a local Labour councillor.”

Senior officers in charge of Orgreave were also involved in the Hillsborough disaster a few years later in Sheffield. The force is currently under investigation after allegations of widespread tampering of evidence and police statements following that event.

After Orgreave, 95 miners faced riot charges which in those days could have carried a sentence of life imprisonment. All charges were dropped and the trials collapsed because of lack of evidence. A number of miners then successfully took action, suing South Yorkshire Police for wrongful arrest.

But there has never been any formal inquiry into Orgreave and no police officer has ever faced any sanction for what happened there on the 18th of June 1984.