Retro: Police in violent clashes with miners on 1984 S Yorks picket lines

Miners Strike 1984 at Rossington Pit
Miners Strike 1984 at Rossington Pit
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Thirty years ago violent clashes took place between picketing South Yorkshire miners and police during the year-long miners’ strike.

The strike was seen by nearly every miner as a justifiable reaction to the Tory Government’s proposed pit closure programme.

Miners Strike 1984'Rossington Colliery 1984

Miners Strike 1984'Rossington Colliery 1984

Strenuously denied at the time by leading Conservatives, Cabinet papers released early this year indicate that NCB chief Ian McGregor did indeed wish to close 75 pits over a three-year period.

Apart from the horrendous Battle of Orgreave between approximately 5,000 miners and 5,000 police officers, other particularly nasty South Yorkshire picket line incidents were seen at Rossington and Maltby collieries during July and September 1984 respectively.

On July 9, 1984 angry pickets turned up at Rossington colliery to thwart management safety teams from other areas carrying out underground inspections. Trouble flared on the arrival of 13 members of the British Association of Colliery Managers.

The NUM was also angry that NCB area manager Albert Tuke had sent a letter to strikers the previous week urging them to return to work. Pickets chopped down two large trees from the nearby wood, using one to block vehicles carrying the 13 men. Later, 200 police stormed the barricade, gaining entry in an NCB van for the men.

Miners Strike 1984'Rossington colliery July 9th 1984

Miners Strike 1984'Rossington colliery July 9th 1984

Once the police had gone at 10am the barricades, including fencing, metal bicycle racks and barbed wire, were erected again by pickets.

Throughout the day, members of management staff were unable to leave the colliery control room.

By late afternoon, more than 1,000 people, poured into West End Lane, approaching the pit. The NCB van which had taken the 13 men into the pit was pushed towards the barricades, tipped over and burned.

At 7.30pm, Mr Tuke asked the police to get the 13 men out. They drafted in 500 officers and drove two police riot vans towards the pit entrance, picking up the managers. They left in a hail of missiles.

Miners Strike 1984'Rossington picket barricade 9-7-1984

Miners Strike 1984'Rossington picket barricade 9-7-1984

Terry Watson, in charge of the police operation at Rossington on July 9, said the BACM men were terrified as pickets tried to break into the colliery control room. There were no arrests during the siege and only one minor injury to a police officer.

He praised the work of the local NUM officials in trying to calm the pickets. Afterwards, Mr Tuke told the press the NCB would abandon Rossington until the NUM agreed to change tactics.

Jack Taylor, NUM, responded: “This anger and ill-feeling was caused because the Coal Board sent letters over the union’s head and I hope they will reflect on that.”

Only days later Rossington miner Walter Sharp claimed he had been punished for his beliefs. He was beaten up and pushed over a wall at the pit gates because, he said, he would like to see the miners back at work.

Miners Strike 1984'Maltby Police at pit gate 21-9-1984

Miners Strike 1984'Maltby Police at pit gate 21-9-1984

NUM officials said they had pleaded with Mr Sharp to keep away from the pit area during the violence because of his views.

At dawn on September 20, 1984 seven men went to work at Maltby colliery – the first to break the strike since it had ground to a halt six months earlier.

A massive police presence had guarded the pit entrance before dawn as the seven contract workers, employed by the Cementation company, defied around 400 pickets as they clocked on at 5am.

The Doncaster-based Cementation was undertaking a £130m project at Maltby to build a new shaft and tap new reserves of coal in the Parkgate seam.

Ron Buck, Maltby branch secretary, said that the men were employed by private contractors. But they were NUM members.

Police claimed later the pickets’ action had ‘been carefully orchestrated’ in what they claimed was the biggest picket in the county since the Battle of Orgreave.

Road signs and walls near the Maltby pit entrance were torn down to be used as missiles and build barricades. Glass centres from cats’ eyes in the road were also used as catapult ammunition.

One of the missiles had smashed a mounted officer’s shatter-proof visor at a distance of some 80 yards, said the officer in charge of the operation, Supt Eric Vallance.

Four days later 24 people were injured as more police clashed with hundreds of pickets in fresh scenes of violence at the trouble-torn colliery.

Afterwards accusations flew over police behaviour, likened by one onlooker to that of animals. A member of Sheffield Police Watch said they had attacked people without provocation and gone looking for blood not arrests.

But police replied that they were subjected to an almost continuous barrage of missiles and said airguns were fired at police dog handlers and ball bearings shot from catapults.

They estimated there was a maximum of 5,000 pickets though the NUM put the number at 1,200. Police said a Range Rover ambulance was attacked and damaged near the colliery.

Rother Valley MP Kevin Barron, who began his working life as an underground electrician at Maltby Colliery, was on the picket lines. He said he was truncheoned four times by two policemen who attacked him as he walked to his car.

“It was a totally unprovoked assault. I had just spent two hours trying to persuade people not to throw stones at the police. I admit I was not 100% successful.

“The police were bludgeoning people to the ground. I have never seen anything so brutal in my life,” said the MP following the incident which left him suffering injuries to his left arm and needing hospital treatment.

Afterwards Chief Constable Peter Wright said he had received an official complaint from Kevin Barron and that it would be investigated.

The MP said the squad of police officers unit wearing boiler-suits did not have identification numbers. This might make it difficult for him to identify the ones who assaulted him.

The Chief Constable admitted that the police unit were wearing boiler-suits for protection reasons and that they did not have identification numbers. He added that was an oversight and arrangements were in hand to have numbers put on them.

Rossington colliery was sunk between 1912 and 1915 and closed in 2007. Maltby colliery was sunk by the Sheepbridge Iron & Steel Co

during the years 1907-1911. On July 28, 1923 27 miners were killed in an explosion which shook the pit.

Maltby was closed in April last year.