Dan Johnson uncovers new evidence about the conduct of South Yorkshire police, following the acquittal of 95 miners charged with rioting at Orgreave during the miners' strike.
At Orgreave in 1984, police officers on horseback and on foot were filmed beating picketing miners with truncheons, but South Yorkshire police claimed the miners had attacked them first, and prosecuted 95 men for riot and unlawful assembly, which carried potential life sentences. All 95 were acquitted after the prosecution case collapsed following revelations in court that police officers' statements had been dictated to them in order to establish evidence of a riot, and one officer's signature on a statement had been forged.
On Monday night, a BBC1 Inside Out documentary, to be broadcast in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, features a retired police inspector who was on duty at Orgreave, Norman Taylor, recalling that he and other officers had parts of their statements dictated to them. "I recall this policeman in plain clothes mentioning that he had a good idea of what had happened. And that there was a preamble to set the scene," Taylor told the programme. "He was reading from some paper, a paragraph or so. And he asked the people who were there to use that as their starting paragraph."
Taylor said the paragraph was "basically the time and date, the name of the place".
However, a barrister specialising in criminal trials, Mark George QC, analysed 40 police officers' Orgreave statements, and found that many contained identical descriptions of alleged disorder by the miners. To prove the offence of riot, the prosecution has to establish a scene of general disorder within which a defendant committed a particular act, for example throwing a stone, which would otherwise carry a much lesser charge.
George found that 34 officers' statements, supposed to have been compiled separately, used the identical phrase: "Periodically there was missile throwing from the back of the pickets."
One paragraph, of four full sentences, was identical word for word in 22 separate statements. It described an alleged charge by miners, including the phrase: "There was however a continual barrage of missiles."
Michael Mansfield QC, who defended three of the acquitted miners, described South Yorkshire police's evidence then as "the biggest frame-up ever". He is now acting for the Hillsborough Family Support Group, which has campaigned since the 1989 disaster for the South Yorkshire police officers responsible on the day – and those responsible for the scheme afterwards to blame the disaster on the fans, which Mansfield labels a cover-up – to be held accountable. "South Yorkshire police operated a culture of fabricating evidence with impunity, which was not reformed after Orgreave, and allowed to continue to Hillsborough five years later," Mansfield said. "The current investigations by the IPCC and DPP into the force's malpractice related to Hillsborough should include other malpractice by the same force at the time."