‘I’m not a hypocrite. I spoke ill of her when she was alive and I’ll speak ill of her now she’s dead’
“I’ll tell you what really annoyed us miners,” said Pete Mansell, sipping a pint of John Smith’s on Monday. “She said we were the enemy within. We weren’t. We were just looking after our lives, our families, our kids and our properties, everything that we ever had. We were fighting for that big style.”
Along with most of the other men drinking in the Black Bull pub in Aughton, Rotherham, the 55-year-old former pit worker had borne witness to the fiercest confrontation in the miners strike at the nearby Orgreave coking plant on 18 June 1984.
Almost 30 years have gone by since Margaret Thatcher characterised those who took part in the “battle of Orgreave” as thugs. But in a village that one drinker said had been “decimated by Thatcher”, the words still cut deep. It is perhaps no surprise that those gathered in the pub were having what they described as a party after hearing about her death.
“I’m not a hypocrite,” said Mansell, who is from the nearby pit village of Swallownest and worked underground for 22 years. “I spoke ill of her when she was alive and I’ll speak ill of her now she’s dead. She doesn’t mean two iotas to me.”
Chris Whitley, 56, who sold tobacco on the picket line, said he was in the pub to “celebrate – course we are. She killed these villages.” He said families had been torn apart by the strike – brothers still refusing to speak to each other, unable to forgive the sibling who crossed the picket line while the other struggled by on strike wages for a year or more.
“Scabby bastards,” said one drinker, declining to give his name for fear of reopening old family wounds.
Whitley said he was thinking of getting t-shirts printed saying “Thatcher’s in hell – she’s only been there a few hours and she’s already closed down the furnaces”. Propping up the bar, the men compared text messages they’d received throughout the day. A typical example: “I enjoy a good swim. But if someone asked me what my favourite stroke was I’d say Maggie Thatcher’s.” Another proudly brandished a text message he’d received just after 1pm saying simply: “Parteeeeee time.”
All were convinced that the truth about the brutal Orgreave Operation has yet to emerge. Much bitterness remains about the demonisation of those present on the day. The subsequent legal proceedings received barely a fraction of the attention devoted to the events on the day, which were widely characterised as an attack on South Yorkshire police by the miners.
There were 95 miners arrested at Orgreave and prosecuted for riot, a charge that carried the potential for a long prison sentence up to a maximum of life. But a year later, on 17 July 1985, all 95 were acquitted.
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