‘A policeman took a full swipe at my head’: Lesley Boulton at the Battle of Orgreave, 1984

I don’t take this image personally. It’s not about me; it’s about something much bigger: an expression of arbitrary power

I joined Sheffield Women Against Pit Closures early in the miners’ strike, in 1984. It was made up of miners’ wives or, in my case, politically aware women. I was in the anti-nuclear movement, and had been at Greenham Common. We knew a huge fight was coming, and it couldn’t be ignored.

Initially, the miners were wary of women’s involvement in the strike, but we found we could do things they had never expected: address meetings, set up soup kitchens and fundraise. Women became the backbone of the strike.

I wasn’t from a mining background. I grew up in Hampstead and Golders Green in north London, and went to boarding school. But when I went to art college in Birmingham, in 1963, it was ethnically diverse and for the first time I met people with different world views. I learned a lot. I moved to Sheffield in 1970, when my partner got a place there as a mature art student, and by 1984 I was working at the Crucible theatre as a propmaker, and as a shoemaker. I still live there.

On 18 June, miners came from all over the country to picket the coking plant outside Orgreave village, near Rotherham. I arrived at about 9.15am, with my camera – I was documenting life on the picket line. It was a glorious day: miners were sitting in the sun, or playing football, when suddenly police horses charged out in small groups. They did this twice, then there was a massive charge and they started attacking people. I didn’t see any trigger for this.

People tried to escape across the railway line, which led to a lot of injuries. And there were policemen on foot with short shields, laying about people with truncheons. I was numb with shock. This was violence far in excess of anything I’d ever witnessed: they were whacking people about the head and body with impunity. Some men tried to defend themselves. We couldn’t believe it when the BBC reversed footage on the Six O’Clock News to suggest the miners had attacked the police, and that the police had simply retaliated. [Despite an Independent Police Complaints Commission report in 2015 confirming the reversal, the BBC has never officially accepted this.]

It was chaos. I ran back to the village and hid in a car repair yard. After a few minutes, I came out and photographed one man pinned to a car bonnet, being beaten terribly. At the bus stop, a man was lying on the ground with a chest injury. I was calling to a policeman standing in the road, asking him to get an ambulance, when these two mounted police bore down on me. A man pulled me out of the way just as one of them took a full swipe at my head with his truncheon, and missed.

When I look at this photograph, I wonder what was going through his mind. The police claimed the image was doctored; when I tried to press charges for assault, the director of public prosecutions’ office told me there wasn’t enough evidence. How much did they need?

I don’t take this image personally, because it’s not about me; it’s about something much bigger: an expression of arbitrary power, and what can happen when our masters decide to put us in our place. Besides, I didn’t suffer the way the miners and their families did.

Orgreave has been in the news again, with the home secretary ruling out a public inquiry. But the campaign won’t go away: we’re a feisty lot.

• Are you in a notable photograph? Email thatsme@theguardian.com


Adrian Tempany

The GuardianTramp

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