THE 1984/5 NATIONAL MINERS STRIKE
The 1984/5 National Miners Strike affected a large number of people for a variety of reasons, not least of course those who lost their lives or their livelihoods during that bitter year long struggle. For those that weren’t around during this time the brief history is as follows;
The National Union of Miners (NUM) led by Arthur Scargill had been in dispute with the National Coal Board for several months leading up to March 1984 over proposed pit closures. By the 12th March negotiations had broken down and the NUM called on its members to strike. However, no secret ballot was called and many of the more moderate miners in the Nottinghamshire coal fields refused to join the unofficial dispute and continued working. It wasn’t long before flying pickets from other areas descended on Nottingham and clashed with their colleagues. The Police were called in to keep the peace between the two factions and within 48 hours Nottinghamshire Police had to call in mutual aid reinforcements from Police forces across the UK. Some miners in two other areas in Kent and North Wales also continued to work and this provoked a furious reaction from some of their colleagues and thus Police units were also dispatched to these areas. There were also flash points at coking plants and power stations, the most famous of which was at Orgreave where dozens of protesters and Police officers were injured during pitch battles that went on for over a week. The dispute divided communities and set father against son, brother against brother. To this day many of them are still divided. After exactly a year the dispute came to an end due mainly because most miners were forced back to work in order to support their families. In the end the NUM were proved right as large numbers of mines were closed down forever and the communities that surrounded them faced virtual collapse.
Some of the Nottinghamshire pit names will be remembered by those that were there forever; Ollerton, Worksop, Bentinck, Bevercotes, Pye Hill, Ilkeston, Hucknall, Calverton, Cotgrave, Huthwaite, Sutton, Clipstone, Bilsthorpe, Calverton, Epperstone, Blidworth and Shirebrook.
Police were billeted in disused army camps that hadn’t seen any human habitation for years. The first camp was at Spittalgate just outside Grantham in Lincolnshire. What a horribly depressing place that was. Within a few weeks a second camp was needed and this was at Proteous, just outside Ollerton village. The accommodation was in nissan huts and the camp looked so much like a prisoner of war camp that towards the end of the dispute a TV company used it for just that purpose to portray a POW camp from WW2! There was a third camp called Chilworth on the outskirts of Mansfield.
Police officers were drafted in by the thousands and included officers from Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, North Wales, West Yorkshire, West Midlands, West Mercia, City of London and of course the Met. It has to be said that the Met weren’t exactly popular with the miners as some of their tactics were thought to be somewhat over the top.
From a policing point of view the strike was the biggest operation ever mounted in the UK and new concepts were invented that have stood the test of time. One of the most notable aspects of the strike was the Police personnel carriers that were deployed. Up until 1984 most Police forces had not really had any reason to protect not just the vehicle but its occupants from violence aimed directly at it. Although football violence was a weekly occurrence during the 1980s, that violence was usually two tribal groups warring against each other with the Police trying to keep them apart. A lot of the violence during the miners strike was aimed directly at the Police and the vehicles they used. Protective windscreen grilles made from steel mesh and hung on roof mounted runners became the order of the day. Then headlamps were protected with Perspex covers, radiator grilles were covered by wire mesh screens and bull-bars. Side glass windows were removed and shatter proof Perspex windows put in. The internal side panels got fitted with polycarbonate panels to protect the occupants, underside fire extinguisher systems were installed in case petrol bombs exploded under a carrier and riot shield racks were fitted inside for the first time.
MK2 Ford Transit carrier Norfolk Constabulary
MK2 Ford Transit carrier City of London Police taken at Chilworth camp
The types of vehicle used were many and varied. The main personnel carrier was the long wheel based MK2 Ford Transit but it didn’t hold the monopoly completely. The Bedford CF and the Leyland Sherpa 200 series were also reasonably popular whilst the likes of Sussex transported many of their personnel in Landrovers! Their officers always looked completely knackered upon arrival in Nottingham and we always felt sorry for them. Such was the huge scale of the policing required, together with other disputes at Greenham Common and every day events like policing football matches that there was actually a national shortage on Transit carriers and you couldn’t hire one anywhere. In Hampshire we managed to hire a dozen or so green and white VW Transporter 2 minibuses that looked like they had been borrowed from the German Polizei. The Met didn’t use carriers like the rest of us and transported its personnel in those hideous green Bedford coaches.
General Motors bus Metropolitan Police personnel carriers
But the strike wasn’t all about carriers. The Police needed many other forms of transportation, some of which also needed modification. Most forces brought their own staff cars and most of those were either Rover SD1’s, MK2 Ford Granada’s, BMW 528i’s, Range Rovers and Jaguar XJ6’s. I recall seeing a Kent Police Range Rover whilst I was deployed to the Kent dispute for a week that sported full windscreen grilles and bull bars. It looked like it had seen plenty of action and bore all the scars to prove it but unfortunately I didn’t manage to get any photos of it. Much of the time the foreign forces needed escorting by Notts Police Traffic bikes and they used a mixture of BMW R80’s and the Norton Interpol 2 with its rotary engine that sparked and farted on the over-run so loudly that it invariably made us all jump. Horses played a major role throughout the dispute and mounted units were deployed from several forces including Nottinghamshire and the Met. Mobile detention units were another bonus and were often deployed to the bigger gatherings where trouble seemed inevitable. Oh, I nearly forgot one mode of transport that made national headlines at the time. Several weeks into the dispute Hampshire Police took the decision to fly its officers from Southampton to East Midlands airport on Boeing 727s. It worked out much cheaper overall and the total journey time from pit head to home took less than an hour instead of 6 or 7, saving a fortune in overtime.
MK5 Ford Cortina Nottinghamshire Constabulary
Norton Interpol 2 Nottinghamshire Constabulary taken at Chilworth camp
Leyland Sherpa 200s Cheshire Constabulary taken at Chilworth camp
Nottinghamshire Police convoy