COME AND WET THIS TRUNCHEON –
Following the result of the Hillsborough enquiry in 2016, there's little wonder why Home Secretary Amber Rudd refused to hold an enquiry into the great miner's strike of 1984 and the battle of Orgreave. Quite simply, there wouldn't have been anything to gain from it – for her, her Party and her government. Though it was over 30 years ago now, the impact from the defeat of the strike still resonates to this day with privatisation, job insecurity, zero hours contracts, and the devastation of working class communities being among the many outcomes. These things, however, are now a given, it would seem, and the real elephant in the room is the conduct of the police during the strike and to what extent were they used as the paramilitary wing of the Thatcher government?
If only a fraction of what Dave Douglas describes in Come And Wet This Truncheon is true then it's disturbing but if all of it is true then it's fucking despicable. But then why should anything of what Douglas describes be disbelieved? Like Amber Rudd holding an inquiry into Orgreave, if he was to be making it all up what would there to be gained for him?
“Come and wet this truncheon” was one of the taunts thrown at the striking miners from officers of the Met, brought up from London to police the picket lines. It was, however, just one of many, others being “We've come 200 miles to sort you bastards out. Who's first?”, “You've come here for bother, now you're going to get some”, and “My kids getting one of these, what's your dad getting you?” whilst waving toys at miner's children at Christmas time.
All just robust banter between grown men (and children), you might say? And you might be right? But what about the violence meted out not only to the striking men but to their wives, children and grandparents? What about the wholesale, full-scale attack upon villages and communities by police armed with batons, shields and axes? What about the wanton destruction of miner's homes by rampaging police described as going berserk? What about the mass arrests of strikers and non-strikers alike? What about the mounted police charging full-pelt into lines of unarmed pickets? The gangs of police charging down garden paths and smashing their way through back doors into kitchens? The fingers of arresting officers being jabbed into the eyes of arrested miners so as to incapacitate them? The burning down of picket huts? The setting of police dogs onto miners? The leaving of calling cards and stickers saying 'You have just met the Met'? The waving of money by police at miners, boasting of the overtime they were being paid? The tapping of telephones and the opening of mail? The use of crude, plastic tie-bands in place of handcuffs? The use of soldiers to bolster police lines? Police breaking bones and smashing teeth and then charging the victims with assault? The 'take no prisoners' tactic of police laying into miners and seriously injuring them with no attempt to then arrest them? Cars stopped at road blocks and having their windshields shattered by police, the doors axed off and the boot smashed open? The total disregard for civil liberties and civil rights? The deliberate removal or non-wearing of police identity numbers? And then there was the blatant political agenda on display and the sudden availability of massive police resources, all blatantly pre-planned by a government intent on taking on and breaking the miners? And so on and so forth, ad infinitum. All ably described and conveyed by Dave Douglas, who at the time was himself an NUM Branch Delegate based in Hatfield, Doncaster.
Just a few months after the defeat of the strike, in a field in Wiltshire, the police brought to a halt a convoy of festival-goers on their way to the Stonehenge Free Festival and with absolute and extreme prejudice smashed the living daylights out of them. Without fear or favour they inflicted unforgiving violence upon men, women, pregnant women, women holding babies, teenagers and children alike. They destroyed the vehicles they were travelling in – effectively their homes – took away the children and handed them over to social services who then shaved their heads, and impounded the pet dogs and had them put down by the RSPCA. With total impunity.
The tactics used against the festival-goers were the same as those used against the miners - if not worse – and it made sense. These were tactics that had been tested and proven to be effective, so why wouldn't they be used again? Having labelled the miners as 'the enemy within', the police had essentially been given political backing to break them by whatever means necessary. And so they did. At Orgreave, at the coal pits and in the mining villages, the police had been let off their leash and revelling in their newly-given freedom, acted as unlawfully as they wished without fear of any consequences. At Stonehenge, they pushed their freedom further and acted even more so like rampaging Nazi stormtroopers; the footage of the event still to this day remaining distressing to watch.
According to Amber Rudd, policing has changed sufficiently since the miners strike to mean an enquiry isn't merited and it would only be used as a stick to beat the Thatcher government with. It's a nice, comforting idea that policing has indeed changed and one that probably a lot of people are only too happy to believe but of course, it's simply not true. Who's she trying to kid?
Since the miners strike, among many other events we've had the Poll Tax riot in London where mounted police charged full-square at crowds of people before repeating the trick but with police vans. We've had the May Day demonstrations where police battered and battoned people mercilessly. We've had the G20 Climate Camp protests in London where police again smashed peaceful protesters mercilessly. We've had the Occupy protests where police happily battoned defenceless people. We've had the student protests against increases in student fees where police with great and violent enthusiasm attacked teenagers. All putting paid to the idea that if you remain within the law and protest peacefully then no-one will get hurt.
Internationally, we've seen people absolutely traumatised by the violence meted out by police in Genoa during the anti-G8 summit demonstrations there. Likewise in Gothenburg, Prague, Davos, and Barcelona. More recently, we've seen people in Catalonia - men and women, young and old, even firemen - violently attacked by swarms of Spanish special police with not a word of condemnation from the British government. And why might that be? Why the silence from Amber Rudd and her ilk?
Having experienced similar violence from police unleashed by the British government during the miners strike, Dave Douglas can tell us why. Dave Douglas can tell us all about State violence, as he does in Come And Wet This Truncheon. He's not concerned, however, with trying to convince anyone of anything because at heart he knows there are many who would never believe the British police could act in the way he describes. At heart, he also knows there are even more who are fully aware of police violence, many through having witnessed or experienced it themselves though they refuse to acknowledge it, talk about it or even to think about it. Perhaps from fear? From resignation? Hopelessness? Despair? Whatever, it's the elephant in the room.
Dave Douglas wrote Come And Wet This Truncheon not only to record the things he witnessed but also as a warning that police violence isn't going to go away – and it hasn't. It's still there, waiting in the wings to be once again unleashed when required and even when not required.
“If they come for you in the night, then they will come for me in the morning,” he quotes black activist Angela Davies as saying. There is, unfortunately, very little to be done about it. We can't just ask the police to be nice. We can't just wish State violence away.
So what can be said? That we can refuse to be intimidated? That we can at least know the police for what they are? And what can be done? What can be advocated? That we fight back? That we box clever? That we not play them at their game? Have trust in the police? Have trust in the government?
Dave Douglas certainly doesn't offer any answers and that's no slight on him because I'm not sure if there really are any? Except perhaps, even if it is a cliché, the old adage that goes: 'They've got the guns – but we've got the numbers...'
We know the identity of the woman in the photograph and we know the identity of the person who took the photo. It's there on the Internet if you google it. But why hasn't the fucker on the horse ever been identified? It says it all, really.