Friday, 19 January 2018

Who guards the guards?

Who guards the guards?

There is famous photograph taken at the height of the Miners’ strike in 1984. It shows Lesley Boulton, then a young woman who was part of the ‘Women against pit closures’ group, about to be struck by a baton wielded by a mounted Policeman. The picture is now well known but at the time only one of seventeen daily newspapers in the UK printed it. The demonization of the Miners in the gutter press was such that they celebrated the Police decision to go in and ‘hit them hard.’  For the population of villages like Orgreave near Sheffield, it was a brutal experience of British Police Officers behaving in a manner which was far removed from the image of the genial bobby on the beat. Lesley Boulton said recently…

‘The police were completely carried away. Some of them were laughing and obviously enjoying this exercise of their power. That part was very, very disturbing. Because the police were actually having a very good time, they were enjoying this huge exercise of brutal authority, so I found that very disturbing.’

A year after the events at Orgreave, there was reminder somewhat closer to home of what can happen when the Police forget they are there to protect and serve the public. 

Season 1984-85 was a mixed one for Celtic. They fought hard with Aberdeen for the title and despite winning two and drawing one of their four SPL matches with Fergie’s Dons, vital points were dropped to teams like Hibs, Motherwell and Dundee and this ultimately cost them the title. 

They did fight their way to the  100th Cup Final but had a few league matches to play before they headed for Hampden and the  Scottish Cup Final. One of these matches was against Rangers and the teams fought out a nasty and ill-tempered match which saw two Rangers players sent off and several others booked. Celtic’s Roy Aitken missed a penalty and gifted Rangers an undeserved equaliser late in the game by handling the ball in the box. The match ended in a 1-1 draw but despite the tempestuous nature of the game, the real drama was to unfold as the Celtic fans exited the stadium via Janefield Street.

In those days Janefield Street still had houses on both sides of the road and was a fairly narrow thoroughfare for fans to use. As thousands of supporters made their way out of the stadium they would have noticed a line of mounted Policemen watching them leave. What happened next is not in dispute even if the claimed reasons for it are. The mounted Police charged up a street crowded with men women and children. It’s difficult to imaging the shock of huge Police horses being ridden into a densely packed crowd. People screamed in terror and tried desperately to get out of the path of the charging horses. The crowd was packed so tightly that a retaining brick wall topped with a metal railing collapsed along its whole length. People were strewn on the ground and one man in a wheel chair was toppled onto the street. Only the quick intervention of fans who dragged him clear stopped him being trampled. People were injured and there was a huge surge of disbelief that the Police could act so recklessly and so dangerously. That disbelief turned to anger as the horses reached the end of Janefield street and turned to charge again. This time some of the supporters decided to defend themselves and their fellow fans, utilising rubble from the collapsed wall they met the second charge with a hail of missiles. I will never condone violence, but many clearly thought there actions on that particular night were in self-defence. Police vans screeched into the street at that point and officers leapt from them and behaved no better than their mounted colleagues. One supporter wrote to the Chief Constable and told him…

Without warning six mounted policemen at the gallop approached us from behind with no consideration at all for the safety of those men, women and children already tightly packed together and moving steadily if slowly. The crowd was obliged to move as quickly as possible to right or left as appropriate in order to avoid trampling. That no pedestrian was apparently seriously injured in the charge is surprising. The six mounted men stopped some 70 or 80 yards beyond me, turned and repeated the charge in the opposite direction, again scattering us right and left. On this run I saw some small objects and coins thrown at the policemen who ducked to protect their faces. On both charges I was within two feet of the animals. I managed then to move right into Holywell Street and thence to the Gallowgate which was fairly heavily congested with traffic. By this time the astonishment of the crowd had developed into anger and I heard but did not see objects that had been thrown strike police vehicles which were arriving in substantial numbers. From these vehicles constables emerged and arrested young men indiscriminately.’

The aftermath of the so called ‘Battle of Janefield Street’ saw a furious Celtic back their fans for once. They asked witnesses to write to the Celtic View with their version of events and expressed their concern to Police and politicians about what had occurred. One female supporter recalled the events of that night on a Celtic forum a few years ago, stating …

‘I was 5 months pregnant and when the wall collapsed my mate threw me out the way of the metal fence about to fall on me - he took the full force of it and broke his leg (Larsson style). We sat on what was left of the wall till the police told us to move, even after seeing the state of his leg they told him to hop. Stewards came from inside CP and took us in to the ground till an ambulance arrived. I've never been so terrified in my life! There had been no fighting between fans before the mounted police charged!’

Fans spoke of aggressive behaviour from the Police all the way from Celtic Park to the city centre. In the wake of the trouble Celtic released a statement which read…

"Celtic Football Club have always cooperated with the police in every way and it is recognised that sometimes the constabulary have a difficult job to perform to keep law and order. Regrettably however it would appear that some policemen put many innocent people at risk as the crowds streamed out of Celtic Park last Wednesday night. An overwhelming consensus of opinion among people who witnessed the scene clearly indicates that the action of the mounted police in Janefield Street after the game must be called into question. When scattering, panic-ridden fans caused the collapse of 100 yards of an iron fence topped wall without as much as a broken window in any of the closely adjacent houses it can only be assumed that the debris was caused by a stampede."

As was the way of things in the 1980’s, the Police told a compliant press their version of events and these were printed as factual. The violence was blamed on ‘casuals’ and we even had an added lurid detail which told us that fans had thrown golf balls studded with nails at officers. It is hard to believe someone would take such objects to the match then save them until the game was over just to throw at the Police. The Police line was that there was fighting going on between fans which officers on foot could not control and thus the mounted police moved in. All of this is at odds with the views of hundreds of supporters who sent their accounts to the Celtic View. One 70-year-old local resident witnessed what occurred from her house in Janefield street and said…

‘The fans were walking peacefully home. There was no trouble I could see. It was so quiet I even let the dog out. Then all hell broke loose. The horses came charging down scattering everyone. I think it was the Police charge which caused the damage. I saw the Police charge down Janefield Street then up then down again and then finally up again.’

The actions of the Police on that night in 1985 could have caused severe injury or even death. Whatever caused them to charge into a narrow street packed with men, woman and children, it was an act of gross stupidity. In those days though there was a general feeling that whatever happened between the Police and football supporters, society at large would always side with the Police. Being a regular at Celtic games in those days I can testify to the shabby way fans were treated up and down the country. It took the awful events at Hillsborough, the exposure of Police incompetence and the despicable cover up in the aftermath to open they eyes of some about the behaviour of a minority in our Police service. Those of us brought up in the housing schemes of cities like Glasgow have always known that a minority of Officers blemish the reputation of the force. In these days of mobile phones with cameras it is much more difficult to get away with it and in fairness the Police force of today is much more professional than those I saw go into action in Janefield Street in 1985.

Despite calls for an inquiry and hundreds of witness statements being sent to the Celtic View, nothing was ever done to bring to book those who had acted so recklessly and endangered the very public they are paid to protect.

Almost 2000 years ago the Roman writer Juvenal wrote his famous adage; ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?It translates as ‘Who guards the guards?’ and is as pertinent todays as when it was written. The public need to trust the Police force they pay for and the members of that force need to be accountable for their actions. Some were out of control in 1985 during the so called ‘battle of Janefield Street.’

It is good that they remember they are public servants and not public masters.

1 comment:

  1. What u say is true, I was in jungle aged 17 and my m8 donne was with me, we were both terrified it happened for no reason other than police brutality. All reports u give are spot on. Anger took over in next 2 days when press started reporting that fighting in graveyard was to blame, this was a blatant lie as the police had segregated fans at corner of jane field streets and blocked any access at both ends of graveyard. To this day I shiver when I think of it especially as year season before I was involved in frightening crush at the City ground Nottingham. I luv my Celts but this is a memory I don't want but through fear and rage I'll never forget.