Art shines light on our darkest time

Ian Lavery MP at the Northumberland Miners' Picnic at Woodhorn.
Picture by Jane Coltman
Ian Lavery MP at the Northumberland Miners' Picnic at Woodhorn. Picture by Jane Coltman

Last weekend I was invited to open the latest touring exhibition at the marvellous Woodhorn Colliery Museum, but if I am honest, I have to say I wish it was not there at all.

Why? Because it portrays what many believe to be one of the darkest ever days in Britain’s industrial relations history.

On June 18, 1984, picketing miners trying to prevent lorries leaving the Orgreave coking plant in South Yorkshire were violently confronted by a veritable army of police officers, 42 of them charging on horseback with truncheons drawn.

Ninety-five pickets were arrested and charged with riot or public disorder offences.

All would be cleared because of ‘unreliable’ evidence amid reports of excessive police violence, perjury and false statements.

Many believe what happened that day was a police force acting under orders to teach striking miners a lesson they would never forget.

Thirty years on we still do not know the truth of what happened, and we were denied a statutory inquiry as recently as last year by Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

What we the miners – and the whole country – need to know is, if the policemen were acting under orders, where did they come from? Perhaps the very top of the Thatcher government?

The Woodhorn exhibition about the ‘Battle of Orgreave’ by Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller opens up painful wounds, graphically re-enacting, as it does, scenes of violence and brutality on a scale never before seen on a British picket line. Nearly 1,000 people, many ex-miners and a few former policemen, took part in Deller’s filming of events.

Putting aside all what happened at Orgreave, the exhibition is a wonderful example of the ongoing quality and diversity of the Woodhorn offer, which currently also has on show an exhibition of dinosaurs made from Lego bricks.

I would urge people to go to see the exhibition.