The Press’ Censorship of Violence against the Strikers during the Miner’s Strike

Mark Hollingworth in his book on the press attacks on the Labour party and trade unions in the 1980s, The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, also notes the way the press suppressed and ignored stories about violence against the strikers during the miners’ strike. He discusses in particular the press’ refusal to print a photograph of a policeman beating a women with a baton, police agents provocateurs, and how the fourth estate very rapidly lost interest in an arson attack on a miner’s car when they found out that the victim was a striking miner. Hollingworth writes

On a direct level there were dozens of examples of news stories and photographs involving intimidation of striking miners. Yet, in contrast to the almost blanket coverage of violence by pickets, the vast majority of allegations concerning police actions on the picket line were ignored. Perhaps the most notorious example was the photograph of a young woman, Lesley Boulton, being attacked by a truncheon-wielding mounted policeman at Orgreave coking plant on Monday 18 June 1983. She had been shouting at the police to ‘get an ambulance’ for a middle-aged injured miner. John Harris, a photographer with the International Freelance Library, managed to take two frames of film of the police attack and then ran off. Later that Monday afternoon his agency offered the pictures to the Daily Mirror who rejected them because they had ‘got all they wanted’. Harris’ photographs were freely available to Fleet Street later that week, but of Britain’s 17 national newspapers only the Observer published the picture of Boulton the following Sunday. Instead, it was left to some European papers like Stern magazine to print it. However, the public display of the photograph at the 1984 Labour party conference in Blackpool forced an interest from Fleet Street. Their response was to suggest that perhaps the camera angel or depth of field gave a misleading impression.

Detailed allegations of police harassment were also carefully documented. On 7 June 1984, a Nottinghamshire miner claimed he had recognised two plain-clothes policemen posing as pickets and inciting other miners to throw stones. But perhaps the most remarkable incident occurred on 15th June 1984 when two more plain clothes policemen were caught red-handed posing as miners at the Cresswell Strike Centre in Derbyshire. The police officers, P.C. Stevens and Sergeant Monk, were even identified by local reporter Carmel O’Toole, whose paper, the Worksop Guardian, carried the story on its front page. O’Toole then phoned through the story to the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror. They spiked the story. Names, addresses, telephone numbers and sworn statements concerning several alleged incidents were compiled by Tribune for any inquiring journalist or editor. Fleet Street turned a blind eye.

Discrimination by the press between violence against working and striking miners, particularly in the Midland’s coalfields, was starkly exposed by the case of Derbyshire miner Pete Neelan. In January 1985 his car was set on fire, his garage burned down and the word ‘Revenge’ spray-painted on to his house. As soon as it was announced that he was a miner at Worksop Main, Derbyshire, several Fleet Street correspondents and an ITN team flocked to his house to record the details for publication. However, when Neelan told them he was on stroke there was suddenly a loss of interest in the news story. ‘Everyone seemed terribly disappointed,’ said Neelan. The questions stopped and the journalists went home. The next day there was no sign of the story in the press. (p. 264-5).

Mike reported in Vox Political last week that there were calls after the release of the report in the Hillsborough disaster, which exonerated the Liverpool fans, that a similar inquiry should be held into the miners’ strike. Mike doubted that we’d ever get the truth about the strike from Theresa May, the Home Secretary. Considering how massively implicated nearly all of the press in the gross distortion of the news, I doubt very much that we can expect any truth about the strike, either from May nor from the press. There are too many high-ranking Conservative former editors with careers and reputations at stake. Besides, it might cause Rupert Murdoch to have palpitations.

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