NUM Strike 1984-85

1984, March: NUM Strike: From 9 March 1984 until 5 March 1985 an industrial dispute between the National Union of Mine Workers and the National Coal Board resulted in mass picketing of collieries and power stations in England and Wales.

Peter May: A nationalised coal industry which needed large subsidies was at odds with the Thatcher government's vision for economic change. Knowing a confrontation with the powerful and hostile National Union of Mineworkers would eventually come, Margaret Thatcher appointed Ian McGregor as head of the Coal Board. Coal was stockpiled at power stations so any action would have to go on for months before the country's energy supply could be held to ransom.

The miners' strike was called by NUM leader, Arthur Scargill when the National Coal Board announced on 5 March, 1984, the closure of Cortonwood pit near Barnsley in South Yorkshire. (This mine was later known locally as 'the Alamo' – the place where the Yorkshire miners would make their last stand – and they did!) Days later, miners' unions were told of a wide-ranging pit closure programme. By 12 March, Scottish miners had joined the action and half of Britain's 187,000 pitmen had downed tools.

Beginning as an organised picket at Ollerton pit in Nottinghamshire on 15th March 1984, descended into scenes of chaos and violence. In the middle of it all a Yorkshire miner, twenty four year-old David Jones, a father of two, was struck by a brick and fell to the ground; he died shortly afterwards in Mansfield hospital. News of the death brought the violence that night to an end. But it was only the beginning of a dispute which would continue for another year.

In 2004 BBC TV's Working Lunch presenter, Rob Pittam recalled the miners' strike of 1984:

"In the evening Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire miners had sat in the pub, addressing one another as "brother"; by the morning they were bitter enemies. In between lay a night of terrifying rioting and the death of a picket. Ahead lay a year-long dispute that would break their union and ultimately lead to the death of the coal industry. On Friday 12 March 1984 Arthur Scargill had called for a national miners' strike in protest at planned pit closures. Crucially, he refused to hold a national ballot, relying instead on flying pickets to bring the coalfields to a halt. By the weekend the pickets were targeting the colliery in my home village of Ollerton in north Nottinghamshire. Fighting raged along the main street which led to the pit entrance. It was a terrifyingly violent confrontation between police, striking miners and colliers determined to work."

It was not long before wide-scale violence broke out and police forces throughout the country provided assistance to hard-pressed colleagues under a 'mutual aid' agreement. Surrey sent eight Police Support Units (PSUs) – the biggest contingent ever to go to the aid of other forces. Nationwide, eight hundred and fifty nine police officers, including eighty from Surrey, were injured during the dispute.

Surrey served in Yorkshire, Nottingham, and Kent. Thirty of the injured officers were hurt on 17 August 1984 at Gascoigne Wood, Yorkshire when bricks, stones and other missiles were thrown at the police lines. The injuries were mostly bruising and abrasions although PC 320 Buchanan was pinned against a barbed wire fence and given a severe beating. PC Mick Lashmar suffered a back injury during the dispute from which he never fully recovered and in 1988 left the force on a medical pension.

Chris Duckett's phot of a Police Support Unit

Chris Ducket's photo of a PSU

Jim Findlay: The miner's strike should produce a plethora of amusing stories. I was one of the idiots who thought I was doing the right thing by holding the fort back here on my Section whilst my PCs went off and faced the wrath of the miners until about the 16th/17th week when they were all fed-up with it and those who hadn't gone were coerced into filling in ... only to find it was a doddle most of the time. The main enemy was boredom and the cold.

Mike Wells: During 1984 each police division in Surrey had two Police Support Units. Each Police Support Unit consisted of one inspector two sergeants and twenty four PCs. On A division (Addlestone) we had two regular teams – the A & B team and an occasional reserve team which consisted on anyone who was left. I think it must have been before equal opportunities as all the officers were male.

We were taken to our hotels by coach. Our "hotels" consisted of basic accommodation, a disused Territorial Army camp in Nottingham. In Yorkshire we were housed in a disused mental hospital and disused air force officers houses. In Kent we had the luxury of an army barracks.

On our deployment we crammed into two Ford Transit vans and deployed to various coal mines in the area, occasionally a reserve PSU was formed of anyone who was left on Division. In my particular instance I had six weeks away, two weeks at Nottingham, two weeks in South Yorkshire where I witnessed the large fight/disturbance at the coking plant which was the turning point for the end of the strike. I would add that this was the most frightening experience I ever had within my thirty years police service. Two weeks were spent in Kent where during the day was very volatile, but most of us managed to go on an evening trip to France (non-landing) as evening entertainment.

Each of the three areas visited required a different style of policing as each was unique. Most of us purchased miner's lamps as a souvenir. In Nottingham there was an enterprising miner who did caricatures of the scenes and sold them in sets for £5. A lot of people wanted these, orders were taken and paid for by a lot of Addlestone PSU but we never got them. The guy who did them had a mental breakdown. (He was also overwhelmed with the amount of orders and just couldn't cope.)

The A & B teams received training. The reserve team wasn't given any training. We usually had the inspector who had been trained in PSU tactics. Our safety equipment consisted of a re-enforced helmet, a cricket box, padded gloves and shin pads. We did have a support vehicle which carried riot shields, flame retardant boiler suits and riot helmets. I only recall once being allowed to put on the boiler suit and riot helmet and that was at Wombwell near Barnsley when the rioting got out of hand and petrol bombs were found just up the road.

Our PSU transits did have a metal grill over the windscreen which had to be in place. Even then our Inspector Clive Barham was criticised for allowing us to put the grill on. It was considered to be provocative and too military like.

Mark Clark: During the '84-85 miner's dispute I was a Traffic PC at Burpham and one of the traffic drivers driving our lads in Transits to and from Surrey and to and from their billets to the collieries. I spent most of my time either at a colliery near Coventry or at South Wales where we were billeted in the old Butlin's camp at Minehead. I still have the brass and aluminium identity discs the working miners at the Coventry colliery gave me with my collar no (1335) stamped on.

As Traffic drivers we did a week about for the first couple of months. Our jobs included getting the bin bag of packed lunches, running errands for the inspectors and driving the lads from place to place. Once the dispute really got going we were used less because the home forces provided large coaches to ship people about and the shifts changed to twelve hour stints for the guys on PSU duty.

I remember our Chief Constable wanting us back on Traffic to act as divisional support, rather like the old area cars. That said I did a couple of runs each month collecting sick or injured or people required for court.

Chris Farmer: My very first involvement was when the balloon first went up, although I now have no recollection of the precise date. I was on late turn as the D rota patrol inspector at Guildford, and the shout suddenly came through that Surrey were sending PSUs up to Nottinghamshire that same night to assist our beleaguered colleagues.

Within very short order a full PSU (at that time comprising an inspector, three sergeants and thirty PCs) was mustered from the then Guildford Division (Guildford, Dorking and Leatherhead sub- divisions), and off we set at about 21.00 courtesy of Safeguard Coaches, with Chief Inspector Ian Swaddling as the boss. Sergeants were Alan Bridgman (definite), 1194 Roy Vass (I think), but can't remember the third. Some of the PCs were 351 Mark Hampshire, 1153 Neil Whitehorn, 1053 Simon Nelson, 1351 Len West, 544 Mick Finch, 617 Graham Ingate and big Graeme Dickson – always a good man to have on your side when things got a bit dicey! The officers from Dorking and Leatherhead I recognised, but largely unknown to me.

We travelled direct to Ollerton Colliery, where we arrived about 0200, and were deployed along the approach road where nothing happened at all until the picketing miners of the NUM started to arrive at about 0530 to greet the early turn Nottinghamshire UDM miners seeking to get into the colliery to work. Then things livened up a bit! Lots of hurled abuse and threats, pushing and shoving, etc, but I am aware of only two punches being thrown, those responsible being swiftly taken out by Hampshire officers.

After the miners' day shift was safely in, the bulk of us were stood down, leaving a token presence at the gate. The rest of us were taken to the cafe in the miners' institute, where we all refuelled with massive cooked breakfasts. Such hospitality was to become a feature of the deployments for many weeks to come, and I suspect that many officers put on a good deal of weight: whenever food was offered, we accepted it, not knowing how long it would be until the next meal came around!

The following morning at about 1000, the Guildford unit climbed wearily back aboard the Safeguard coach, which had remained throughout, and returned to Surrey, but many other deployments were to follow.

Police at Proteus Camp, Nottinghamshire

It rapidly became apparent that such daily excursions weren't sustainable, and thus we found ourselves travelling week and week about to the former army hutted base at Proteus Camp. There we were fed like kings by army caterers, worked twelve to fifteen hour days at pits all over the Nottinghamshire coalfield, and whatever little down-time there was spent sleeping, and, yes, eating!

One of the pits the Guildford PSU visited perhaps more than most was Rufford, which had a very long approach road. When we were stood-to for a shift change, the entire four hundred yard road was lined every twenty yards or so by a police officer, and a casual visitor could have been forgiven for thinking that we were street-lining for a royal visit.

On one occasion we shared the duty with a couple of units from Sussex, whose chief inspector was rather more conscientious than some, perhaps, and instead of lounging for hours in the miners' institute when we were on stand-by, we were instructed to patrol the local village to reduce the opportunity for pickets to intimidate the miners' families.

It was during that same week that a Hampshire Transit drove up the approach road, and stopped alongside me, the inspector engaging me in friendly discussion of the finer points of street lining. While I was so engaged, four of his thugs escaped from the back of the transit, and took me prisoner, bundling me into the back of the van, which then drove off towards the main road, accompanied by much cheering and laughter from all.

It remains a point of great disappointment to me to this day, that not a single Surrey officer lifted a finger to help me! I was conveyed to the pit that the Hampshire lads were covering, where I was given a cup of coffee and a sticky bun, and then returned to my own troops at Rufford.

Even when deployed for long periods along the long approach road at Rufford, the troops found ways to amuse themselves: one Hampshire officer produced a bag of oranges and taught several of his colleagues how to juggle! One of the foremost memories of the dispute is the interminable hours spent on standby at the various pits. Many, many idle hours were spent reading, eating, sleeping, playing cards, eating, chatting to the (Nottinghamshire) miners, wandering around the pithead, eating – get the message?

In many cases, the otherwise idle hours were filled with absolutely fascinating conducted tours down the mines to visit the coal face, an experience which most of us will remember as the absolute highlight of the whole campaign. (On the subject of campaigns, the Avon and Somerset contingent subsequently produced a campaign tie, in the way of a major investigation squad tie. The tie featured a crossed pick and shovel surmounted by a miner's helmet, accompanied by the initials A.S.P.O.M. If any official enquired as to the meaning of the abbreviation, the reply was "Avon & Somerset Police Operation Miner". What it actually stood for was "Arthur Scargill Pays Our Mortgages"!)

Those on duty provided a token presence at the approach roads and at the pit entrances to keep an eye on the pickets who remained after the miners' shifts had changed, and who managed to maintain a barrage of verbal abuse to anyone who showed the faintest interest in entering the establishment.

Perhaps one of the single biggest events during the whole dispute was the confrontation at the Orgreave coking workings, just over the border into South Yorkshire. On the morning in question the radios were soon buzzing with messages about a major gathering at this important location, and units were being redirected from all over Nottinghamshire, and indeed, neighbouring counties.

I remember the trip up there very well. We were in our 1600cc engine Ford Transit mini-buses (my driver at the time was, I think Mark Clark from Burpham, who's trademark was a Japanese kamikaze style white headband, complete with rising sun motif), on a blue light run tearing up the M1, with everything going. However, we had a full load of bodies and equipment (including, of course, packed meals!) and our sad little Transit only able to muster about 40 mph up a hill when we were passed by an elderly lady in a Morris Minor!

When we reached the appointed rendezvous (RV) on a round-about above a motorway junction, we were placed on standby with many other units, and never actually got to Orgreave itself. The motorway junction was an impressive sight – I counted sixty three police mini-buses parked up around the roundabout, so there must have been over six hundred police officers there.

I think it's fair to say that although many officers found the deployments tedious and boring, most found it a very interesting illustration of the problems incurred with transporting, feeding, and accommodating large numbers of troops, often at very short notice. Some enjoyed the experience, others didn't, but we all earned a substantial amount of overtime.

Our colleagues from the large force on Surrey's northern border caused a bit of a furore by driving through the picket lines with £10 notes stuck all over the inside of their mini-bus windows, and also made themselves unpopular – with other forces, as well as with the local residents – by sticking their "Mets are Magic" publicity stickers all over everything – road signs, telephone kiosks, house and shop windows, miners' equipment, vehicle headlights.

Also included in my PSU in the early days were PCs 45 Shepherd (who could always be found either in a card school or playing the gaming machines), and 217 Tim Brake, another very solid citizen whom it was good to have on your side when things became sticky. I also mentioned big Graham Dickson, and now recall that his number was 573.

On that first night we did not go direct to Ollerton Colliery as I thought, but went first to Force HQ at Sherwood Lodge for a briefing. Only a small point, but in the interests of historical accuracy MaxPaxs the ubiquitous hot drink of the NUM although most were certainly pretty grim, my recollection is that the hot chocolate was very popular with the troops.

men at Tilverton Colliery in 1985 during the miner's strike

At Tilverton Colliery in 1985
during the miner's strike

One of the ways we used to amuse ourselves was by playing clock-face roulette as we moved around the county. There were seldom more than twelve in a Transit, and before we moved off, we would all stake ten pence on the position on an imaginary clock-face on the front nearside wheel that the tyre valve would finish up in when we reached our destination. Whoever had backed the winning "time" won the pot!

We were also based for a couple of weeks at RAF Grantham. The inspectors were accommodated in the Officers' Mess, which was very nice, but we had little time to enjoy the amenities with a 02.30 reveille for a huge breakfast before hitting the road in the Transits. The other troops had a less comfortable time in the barracks blocks. Even less comfortable were those PSUs who were put up in the Drill Hall of the TA Centre in Chesterfield.

Fortunately, I was not deployed those weeks, but conditions were dreadful - I understand there were camp beds only, and about ten washbasins, four urinals and two toilets for about one hundred and twenty police officers. You may recall that the conditions were so lacking in basic comforts that the Federation succeeded in getting twenty four hour payment for those involved. The JBB Secretary at the time was John Ewens.

Finally, no record of these events would be complete without paying tribute to the very considerable increase in workload, and long hours, which necessarily were the lot of those left behind to look after the needs of our own county. In particular, many of the young women police officers really blossomed with the additional responsibility, and most reasonable male officers had to concede that most of their female colleagues were just as capable as they were!

John Crabb: Whilst on the miners strike Woking and Addlestone officers were billeted at the same place and were enjoying a game of football. I was with the Woking contingent and Cliff Cox was with Addlestone. I seem to remember that Cliff was a fairly useful footballer in his day. However I was not! I have always favoured the oval ball and as such found it very frustrating when I could not get near the so called footballer 'whippets' inhabiting the field that day!

I was, at the time 6'4" and about eighteen stone and sadly for Cliff I did manage to get to him on one occasion and, using the knowledge gained through years of fighting on the rugby field employed foul tactics to clatter him the ground in what I seem to remember was classed as an "off the ball incident." The result of our encounter was 1 - 0 to large rugby player over small light footballer and Cliff sustained a severely damaged shoulder which required hospital treatment.

I believe I may have broken his collar bone and dislocated his shoulder all at once! Cliff was, as you would imagine a little miffed at this but his main gripe was not that I had put him in hospital but that he was to miss out on a lot of overtime that we were earning as a result of our miners strike duties, which at the time was considerable!

Bill Dent: Whilst at HTB I drove a mini bus for the Farnham contingent and finished up at the very coal mine where I used to work! Quite useful really because I knew all the little country lanes in that area of the Kent coalfield when the miners used to go from pit to pit to build up their picket lines. I remember standing nose to nose with the union rep. at Tilmanstone pit telling him what an ugly B****D he was ... a gentleman I had received lectures on about union procedures. No he did not recognize me!

Peter May: At this time I was running Camberley sub-division as chief inspector whilst Superintendent Mick Wicks was away at Bramshill Police College getting a bit more of 'the knowledge'. One evening during the week following the miner's death at Ollerton the phone rang in my office just as I was leaving for the day. I wondered, should I or shouldn't I, and I did the fatal thing – I picked up the phone.

Northern Division Chief Superintendent Peter Stevens was on the other end - I had to raise a Police Support Unit from Camberley to leave on the Sunday afternoon for the coal mines of Nottingham. The Camberley sergeants did a superb job in raising the necessary number of troops and we all left for Nottinghamshire on Sunday not realising that what was thought and hoped to be a quick trip up north to sort out a few dissident miners was to last thee weeks at the first stint!

We were billeted at a disused military camp and our first stretch of duty was at the modern and profitable coal mine at Thoresby which was just a stone's throw from the Robin Hood village of Edwinstowe. The village also housed the headquarters of what later became the breakaway Union of Democratic Mineworkers.

The police role at this time were principally to ensure that those mineworkers who wanted to get to work could do so and were able to do so and it quickly became apparent that the flying pickets from the NUM, mainly from Yorkshire, would do their best to prevent this. In the case of Thorseby, many mineworkers lived in Edwinstowe and they had a one mile walk from the village to the mine. That meant the police job was stretched over quite a long distance but the grief always came at the mine entrance.

Aside from the operational activity on the ground over long days, the mine managements generally, believed that with the government at their back and the police at the front, the strike would be over fairly quickly. So, in discussions about tactics and day-to-day operations the mine management was extremely friendly and helpful to the police commanders.

They were sitting in a very successful coalmine at Thorseby with the latest equipment and a coal mine which paid its way in the whole scope of things. Consequently there was a very open culture of helpfulness to the police. Many gifts were made in the form of pit deputies' sticks (the wooden yard-stick traditionally used for measuring coal seams) converted into walking sticks by the addition of solid brass hammer-head tops.

At Thorseby I was also able to arrange for a group from Northern Division to have a below-ground experience with a trip down one of Europe's most up to date coal mines. It was an unbelievable experience and one never to be forgotten. Apart from the lifts, the sheer depth of the mine, the constant wind of anti-explosion damping dust in the face ("if you're in an incident down here, just keep the wind in your face and you'll end up at the way out!") and the man-riding belts, what we saw at the coal face was amazing.

The coal face stretched between the ends of two mine 'roads'. Forget picks and shovels – the coal was mined by a rotor cutter operating across about one hundred yards of coal face between the two mine road ends – all automatically. The whole one hundred yard structure comprised the rotor cutter mechanism with coal belt which operated across and back in front of dozens of connected hydraulic roof support cradle units.

The only way from the end of one road to the other, via the coal-face machinery, was to pick your way through this maze of closely spaced steel hydraulic struts, literally climbing through in places, until you got to the other end; and all this about half a mile underground! After all that, we were informed that as the whole mechanism went forward through the coal face the roof was allowed to fall in behind it!

Camberley PSU after their visit down Thoresby Mine

Fortunately, the Northern contingent came out the other end unscathed and we had before and after photographs (with a sample of Nottinghamshire coal) to prove it. Regarding names in the picture, I regret that at this stage of life some twenty five years later I can't recall all the names but I am third from the left in the front row. Second left is PC Russ Elliott who happens to be my nephew and I guess I can see Dave Hannah there also, in the front row 2nd right.


Tilverton Colliery in 1985 during the miner's strike

Chesterfield Drill Hall 1984

Chesterfield Drill Hall

Richard Bond: The photograph is of the inside of the drill hall at Chesterfield, where officers were accommodated. I only went there for one week but the conditions were not good. After the first night I slept in the Transit every night and had somebody reliable wake me up.

I remember that we were playing football on some waste land while waiting for deployment. PC 'Dinger' Bell from Guildford fell over and as he had some Swan Vesta non safety matches in his back trouser pocket he set himself alight, he had a quite bad burn on his buttock and an order came out the following week warning about carrying potentially dangerous items on the person.

Roger Deacon: I was part of the Guildford contingent in 1984 on the miner's strike. This nearly killed me; literally! Following several months of going all over the country I came home one weekend and my left lung collapsed; I had lower lobe pneumonia, and was off sick for seven months. They reckon it was the pneumonia that older men get and die from but only because I was young and fairly fit that I was OK.

1984: NUM dispute: Force had eight support units or one hundred and eighty four men with a reserve of a further eight units. Surrey went on mutual aid to:

  • Nottingham 34 times
  • North Wales 1
  • Warwickshire 1
  • South Yorkshire 6
  • Kent 13
  • Derbyshire 1
  • North Yorkshire 2
  • Humberside 1

On average eight support units were deployed each week but on several occasions there was a demand for a further four units. Therefore between 11% and 17% of the force strength was deployed outside the county. Surrey officers were deployed at collieries where some of the fiercest confrontations took place and a total of eighty officers were injured. During December Surrey dogs and handlers were deployed to South Yorkshire to patrol collieries.163

The strike led to a loss of 40,000 man days to the force.164

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163 Annual Report 1984.

164 Annual Report 1989.


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