Express & Star

Miners' strike 40 years on: Death of taxi driver shocked the nation

On November 30, 1984, Arthur Scargill and Labour leader Neil Kinnock appeared side by side at a party rally in Staffordshire. This uneasy show of unity did not last long.

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Demonstrators stage a protest outside Cardiff Prison, where Dean Hancock and Russell Shankland, both 21, were being held after receiving life sentences for the murder of taxi driver David Wilkie.

To the fury of many in the crowd, Kinnock began his address with the words: "We meet here tonight in the shadow of an outrage..."

His audience reacted with fury, and he was immediately shouted down. When he was able to make his voice heard above the crowd, the Labour leader retaliated – he accused his hecklers of 'living like parasites off the struggle of the miners'.

Welsh cab driver David Wilkie, with his daughter, who was killed after a breeze block was thrown at his vehicle from an overhead bridge near Rhymney Bridge on the A465. Mr Wilkie was taking a working miner to Merthyr Vale Colliery.

The outrage he referred to was the death of David Wilkie earlier that day.

The taxi driver from Glamorgan had been driving a strike-breaking miner to work when a concrete block was dropped onto his car from a footbridge. While the Battle of Orgreave had done little to win the hearts and minds of the general public, it was Wilkie's death that truly horrified the nation. Even Scargill, who had repeatedly refused to condemn violence on the picket lines, spoke out against this.

Continuing his speech, Kinnock denounced the lack of the ballot, violence against strike-breakers and Scargill's tactical approach. Hecklers asked him what he had done for the strikers. Kinnock shouted back: "Well, I was not telling them lies. That's what I was not doing during that period." Scargill grimaced at what he knew was a thinly veiled dig at him.

Labour leader Neil Kinnock with NUM president Arthur Scargill at a miners' gala in July, 1984. Behind the smiles lay a bitter dislike.

By this time, Scargill surely knew he was losing the fight. Orgreave had been his make-or-break moment, his big hope of forcing the Government's hand as he had done 12 years earlier at Saltley Gate. But his only attempt at a mass-picketing operation of the dispute had failed in its objectives: the lorries continued to get through the picket lines, and by concentrating all his resources at one location, Scargill had made it easier for working miners across the rest of the country.

While the conduct of police officers has since been called into question, there is little doubt that at the time the Battle of Orgreave was also a public-relations disaster for Scargill and the NUM. The following day, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gave a speech denouncing the conduct of the pickets, and praised the lorry drivers, miners and steelworkers who had defied the picket lines.

She said: "You saw the scenes that went on in television last night. I must tell you that what we have got is an attempt to substitute the rule of the mob for the rule of law, and it must not succeed. It must not succeed."

Margaret Thatcher described Scargill as 'the enemy within'