Supporting the company
The Metropolitan Police set up roadblocks, placing the whole Wapping area in a virtual state of siege using powers under the 1829 Metropolitan Police Act. Significantly, adding to evidence that the police strategy was planned from the start, the powers under Section 52 of the Act were invoked three days before the strike even began and before the overnight transfer to Wapping was revealed. The day before the strike was declared the police moved cars away from the Times Newspapers complex in Grays Inn Road, encircling the buildings with barriers.
Following complaints from local Wapping residents, the National Council for Civil Liberties (re-named Liberty) investigated policing strategy. The report, No Way in Wapping published in April 1986, showed that freedom of movement within the district had been severely curtailed by the police regularly using road blocks across a wide area up to a mile from the News International plant. Residents in motor vehicles and on foot often were stopped at these barriers, required to give their name and proof of identity, and to state their destination and purpose. Some residents were arrested when they refused to give their identities or answer questions.
The 30mph speed limit applied in these local streets but everyone interviewed said that lorries regularly exceeded the limit. Traffic lights along The Highway were switched off to allow TNT trucks to roar through at speed. A young local resident was run over and killed by one of these lorries in January 1987.
By November 1986 police overtime alone amounted to £4.6m – almost £1000 per sacked worker. By mid-January 1987 the total policing bill for Wapping was £14m.
The Northamptonshire police report into complaints of police brutality during January 24 1987 demonstration, included the comment: “the operation of the News International plant was unaffected by the events outside and newspapers were produced and taken from the premises for distribution. From this point of view the policing strategy was successful, as it had been throughout the year” – a clear statement that the object was not keeping the peace but defeating the strike.
In 2011 the Morning Star revealed that Special Branch, the political police, had been spying on strikers throughout the dispute. Papers obtained under the Freedom of Information Act disclosed daily briefings for police chiefs and government on all aspects of the strike, including negotiations, union meetings and demonstrations.