BBC News - 4 Mar 04

Prof. Robert B. Laughlin
Department of Physics
Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305
(Copied 24 May 09)

Policing the Pickets

BBC News, Thursday, 4 March, 2004, 10:07 GMT

Bill King was a Chief Inspector at Bedfordshire Police at the time of the year-long miners' strike. Here he recalls leading one of the units drafted in from around the country to police the sometimes violent picket lines in Yorkshire.

"In a 30-year police career I did most things: investigated murders, policed motorways, retrieved dead bodies, and did all the other routine duties involved in police work.

"But the miners' strike stands at the forefront of my memories, and particularly the second week of November 1984 at Hatfield Colliery.

"I was in the coalfields most weeks that year, in command of a number of police units.

We usually left our families on a Sunday, getting on a coach with all the other officers, returning the following Friday - there was a lot of couples who separated in police families that year.

"We were usually living in such places as drill halls, sometimes sleeping on the floor, living out of a kitbag. Breakfast was usually taken at about 1 am, so that we could be at the pits before dawn.

"Days were long and tiring, usually returning to our accommodation in the afternoons, to a hot meal and then bed, only to get up again at about midnight.

"We were all young and fit, but this routine tired us all out so that at the end of the week we got off the coaches like old men.

"Duty during the day usually consisted of long periods of waiting, or travelling, or talking to the pickets, interspersed with short periods of violence or pushing and shoving with the pickets.

'Sky Black With Missiles'

"The exception was that week at Hatfield, when there was a great deal more action and violence than normal.

"I remember it very well: being dog tired; long, long working days; very early starts in the morning; the bitterness and understandable abuse from the crowds.

The strike saw policing on an unprecedented level.

"I remember the sheer torrent of stones raining down - the sky just fell on us with stones, sticks, bits of railings, bricks, ball bearings.

"At one point I looked up and the sky was black with missiles.

"I felt the weight of command and concern for my officers and personal fear at the level of violence from the crowd, mixed with the excitement of the situation.

"I lost a stone in weight that week and I found holes in the soles of both my shoes by the end of it.

"I also had mixed personal feelings - of the pride in a police service that could organise an operation like that, to such high standards.

"But, at the same time, all of us police officers came from working class families where there was very little money.

"We knew that the miners had no money to feed their families, or for anything else. So I was very proud of my officers, but desperately sorry for the miners and their families. We were all well aware of that suffering and never forgot it.

"However, whilst I think that most of us regretted that the police action was necessary, we also felt that what we were doing was right and was lawful.

"Throughout it all, most of the time I was just too concerned about the safety of my officers, and about the job in hand, to spend too much time pondering, but we all knew that we were taking part in history in the making."