POLICING THE NATIONAL MINERS STRIKE and MINERS STRIKE MEMORIES
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
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
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
THE MINERS STRIKE
by Philip Lawrence (father of Andy Lawrence)
During the miners strike I was a Traffic Sergeant at Hastings, East Sussex. The involvement the traffic division had was to provide drivers for the PSU units which at that time used mainly Ford Transit and Bedford CF carriers supported by Land Rovers and the odd car for the PSU Commanders. In addition to this Traffic drivers travelled up to various locations on a Friday by coach to drive the carriers back whilst the personnel were ferried back by coach. A lot of the time some of the lads would prefer to come back in the carriers instead of the coaches because by the time the coaches had deposited the personnel at various points they felt they could get home quicker by traveling in the carriers. However they were very selective. The Transits and CF vans were quite comfortable and warm but you could not say that for the Land Rovers so whoever drew the short straw and drove them back was usually by himself. I had a couple of journeys back from Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire driving a slow, noisy and cold Land Rover with nobody else to talk to.
The other rather bizarre recollection I have of the strike was at Shorncliffe barracks near Folkestone. The vehicles used there were not brought back at the weekends and had been subjected to damage whilst left there at the weekend, as a result. It was therefore decided to deploy a Traffic Sergeant, two P.Cs and two dog handlers over that period to guard the vehicles and to clean and refuel them. On the Saturday morning we started to clean the vehicles when this Sergeant Major came out and said that cleaning the vehicles was not the sort of job that we should have to do and within minutes we had a load of squaddies cleaning the vehicles for us. This, plus being fed and watered in the Sergeants Mess, all Weekend, made life very comfortable.
The only downside to the strike was that just before I was due for another weekend away, the Brighton bombing took place and we were all deployed within the County filling the gaps where personnel had been drafted into Brighton.
MY PERSONAL MEMORIES FROM THE MINERS STRIKE
by Steve Woodward
MK2 Ford Transit carrier Kent County Constabulary
In 1984, when I was a fit and enthusiastic 25 year old PC (yes I was 25 once!) I was a member of the newly formed Regional Support Group (RSG) which meant that at the first sign of trouble anywhere in the UK we were sent to help out whichever force required it. So in early March 1984, having only just got home after an early turn my phone rang and I was told to pack a bag “you're going to Nottingham”.
“Nottingham, what for?”
“Buggered if I know, but you need to be at HQ by 1830”
General Motors bus Cheshire Constabulary complete with grilles taken at Chilworth camp
So I joined 150 other officers at Winchester where we boarded three coaches and headed north up the M1 to Nottinghamshire. On route we were briefed about the developing situation in the area and to our horror heard on the news that a miner had died during protests in the county. We arrived in Nottingham and during the night got pushed from one place to the next and by about 10am the next morning arrived at Sherwood Lodge; Nottinghamshire Constabulary's HQ. The main car park was jammed solid as were the roads leading into it. There is a crossroads that separates four car parking areas and we were amazed and amused to see a Nottinghamshire Superintendent doing traffic control, trying to direct what looked like hundreds of Police carriers that had all converged on Sherwood Lodge at the same time! And it was at this moment in time that the foundation stones to the Police vehicle hobby as we know it today were laid. Something inside of me went pop as I surveyed the scene. Hundreds of Police vehicles, from cars to carriers, from bikes to horse boxes, in every conceivable colour and type were there. Sadly I didn't have my camera with me, but nonetheless I suddenly realised what a fascinating historical scene was before me. Less than two years later I formed the Police Vehicle Collectors Club that later morphed into the Police Vehicle Enthusiasts Club and of course following the split in 2005 we now have Police Car UK. So, you could say that Arthur Scargill is ultimately responsible for us all getting together. I wonder how he'd feel about that?
MK2 Ford Transit carrier sits next to Surrey Police Mercedes Benz carrier at the Kent coalfield camp
Starting work at 3am isn't easy, especially for people like me who don't do mornings. We drove out of the Spittalgate army base at Grantham and headed west towards Nottingham. It was a dark and very foggy night. We were the last Transit carrier in a convoy of about 50 and progress was slow due to the weather. I always sat in the rear row of seats on the offside. Being a sleepy head meant that within a few minutes of climbing aboard my head was slumped forward onto the seat in front and I was asleep. Some time later my sub conscious woke me up because we had stopped. I looked out the side window. It was still dark and the fog was like pea soup. As I rubbed my eyes I became aware that we were now reversing.
“Where are we?” I enquired.
“On the M1” came the reply.
“But we're reversing” said I “and that means we are now the front carrier and even worse than that I'm right at the front”.
We were actually reversing in lane 3 of the northbound M1 having been instructed (by whom I do not know) to cross the M1 at the previous ECP (emergency crossover point) which we had missed, hence us reversing, to form a solid road block, using the carriers across the southbound M1 to prevent flying pickets, travelling in their hundreds from Yorkshire from entering Nottingham. What? A solid road block? Remember Reading on the M4 a few years earlier? Are they mad? As near panic set in within our carrier I was stunned to see a Traffic motorcyclist travelling south on the northbound carriageway to lead the way! We found the ECP some 200 yards further south and reversed at 90 degrees across the southbound where we thankfully stopped on the hard shoulder. There was much to-ing and fro-ing amongst senior officers and a decision was taken not to use us as a road block. Well hallelujah for that.
Nottinghamshire Police Convoy
We were in a big convoy of personnel carriers heading north towards Orgreave in Yorkshire. Having spent several months in the Nottinghamshire area we were used to dealing with local people who were generally supportive of the Police being there and protecting their men folk. We crossed the 'border' into South Yorkshire and it was like entering a different country. We arrived in a small village with a crossroads controlled by traffic lights. Half the convoy got through the lights and the rest of us got held at red. To our left was a very old fashioned green grocers shop and standing outside were two very old but very large ladies, dressed in grey overcoats and wearing hats. I kid you not but they were two characters taken straight from the pages of a Giles cartoon! They started shouting abuse at the carrier in front of us and then started pelting it with tomatoes and other veg they lifted from the display counter outside the shop. It was hilarious to watch and as we drove off they just turned to each other and carried on their conversation as if nothing had happened!
Ford Sierra staff car City of London Police taken at Chilworth camp
We had a Traffic officer as our driver one week and he was a scouser. Very senior in service and a wily old fox. Now I liked Reg, in particular his great sense of humour. However there were a couple of guys on my section who decided that Reg was to become the butt of all their jokes and jibes for the entire week. And Reg didn't bite once. He just took it all in his stride. Until Friday morning as we returned to our pit after breakfast somewhere. As we drove through the pit gate we usually turned left to park up. Not today. Reg turned right and drove to an area right at the back of the pit, miles from the gate. He then drove our Transit into a lake of thick black coal slurry about 12 inches deep. This stuff was slightly thicker than water, stuck to everything it touched and really didn't smell too good. The lake was about 200 yards across. Reg stopped in the middle, rolled his trousers up to reveal wellington boots, took the keys out of the ignition, smiled and said “I'm having the last laugh this week boys and its down to you lot to decide which one of you piss takers has to wade through this lot to come and get the keys” and with that he walked off towards the pit canteen.
The winter of 84/85 was quite harsh and during one particular week we had a lot of snow, which us southern softies aren't used to. I was my sections driver during this week which meant that I had to get up half an hour earlier than the others in order to go and get the essential supplies of maxpax drinks, hot water and doggy bags to load the carrier with. After grabbing our supplies I trudged through about a foot of fresh snow towards the car park. Upon my arrival I was amused to see that the snow had been so heavy overnight that a large snow drift about six feet high was piled up against the drivers side of the carriers. I found mine and punched a hole through the snow towards the door lock. I inserted the key, unlocked the door and then pulled it as hard as I could. The door opened with a sort of cracking, ripping noise. It was then that I saw that the snow had sort of welded itself to the bodywork and that the noise I heard was in fact a 3 inch wide by 3 foot long length of paint that had been ripped clean off the body, leaving a nice shiny bare metal surface underneath!
MK2 Ford Transit carrier West Midlands Police
And that snow was also responsible for what was arguably the funniest moment of the dispute for me. One evening at the Proteous camp a small but friendly snow ball fight between a few friends erupted into a full scale riot involving 200+ officers armed with riot shields and using barricades which went on for a couple of hours.