John’s Speech in Miners’ Strike (Police Conduct) Debate 14/03/2013

Below is John’s speech in the Members’ Debate secured by Neil Findlay MSP on Miners’ Strike (Police Conduct) held in the Scottish Parliament on March 14th 2013.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): I, too, congratulate Neil Findlay on bringing the matter to Parliament. It is important for everyone who is elected to represent the public to articulate the concerns in their communities. Genuine and heartfelt concerns are properly being addressed today.

The motion asks whether lessons can be learned, and it is clear that they can be. I will not go over a lot of them; I will approach the issue from a slightly different and—given that Graeme Pearson is not here—perhaps unique position. I am a former police officer and former full-time official of the Scottish Police Federation, where my role was to defend people who were accused of misconduct and disciplinary offences.

What have been alleged are serious offences, which would be outwith the remit that I described and which the courts would—rightly—deal with. I certainly do not condone any wrongdoing, not just on a personal basis but because to do so would undermine the fabric of the criminal justice system.

There were 1,424 arrests, which is a significant number. Were they all superbly executed? That is highly unlikely. Neil Findlay asked in his questionnaire about fabricated, bogus or exaggerated charges, which are possible when emotions are high.

I found targeting of strike leaders to be perhaps the most concerning aspect. When we hear of the pernicious influence of the UK security services—the people who decide who the goodies and the baddies are—and subsequent events such as blacklisting, there is every likelihood that targeting took place.

I am keen to defend workers’ right to strike. I favour the reversal of some of the anti-union laws on matters such as secondary action and picket numbers and locations. We must try to look ahead.

The situation in Scotland was different from that in South Yorkshire, but the situation in North Yorkshire was different from that in South Yorkshire. The Metropolitan Police’s negative influence was often a factor. However, there was United Kingdom co-ordination. People will say that that was about mutual aid and communications, but there was clearly politicisation of the police role, and that causes understandable concern to many people, including me.

I have a number of queries about having a review of all cases. I certainly favour—and I have briefly discussed this with Neil—due process being exhausted. That has been outlined. The questionnaire that was issued covers appeals, but does not say how many complained to the police and what the response was. Having said that, I well understand that miners would have good cause to believe that there would be little value in complaining, with the state having been involved in the miners’ dispute to the extent that it was.

What form would a review take? Would competent witnesses be compellable? The right to not self-incriminate would apply to not only police officers, but miners. The relationship with the criminal justice system cannot be bypassed. If someone has done wrong, we have courts, not reviews, to deal with that. There is also the right to defend accusations that have been levied against someone who is dead. That applies to officers and mineworkers.

I am not reticent about challenging the authorities; indeed, I have been pursuing the issue of how one make an individual complaint against the Lord Advocate acting as an individual. Do I accept that there are issues to be addressed? Yes—if the process is exhausted. Do I think that a review of the whole event would help? Given what we have heard, it clearly would. Do I support an independent inquiry? Well, it depends on what that would mean.

My personal preference is for clarification of events rather than recrimination. Events elsewhere, whether in the north of Ireland or South Africa, show the benefit of truth and reconciliation, but that approach might be very challenging in this instance, because it is clear that the concerns that have been voiced are not going away. For that reason, I have reviewed my position and support an independent inquiry.