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May 05 2010

Shame on those who defamed the NUM's Peter Heathfield | Peter Lazenby

The death of former miners' leader Peter Heathfield reminds us of a disgraceful episode in the media's history

With the death of the former miners' leader Peter Heathfield the labour and trade union movement has lost one of its most courageous leaders.

For those who knew him, the loss will be a source of both sadness and anger.

The anger will be directed at sections of the media who conducted a reckless, irresponsible, politically motivated, groundless and downright venomous campaign against Heathfield, and against Arthur Scargill, as leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers. They were wrongly accused of misappropriating union funds for their personal use.

The campaign's effects remained with Heathfield for the rest of his life.

He was elected national secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers in 1984, just weeks before the start of the miners' strike against pit closures. He joined Scargill and Mick McGahey, president and vice-president of the NUM, to make up the triumvirate at the head of the union during that bitter dispute.

In 1990 the Daily Mirror launched a campaign of denigration against Scargill and Heathfield. The accusations of dishonesty were ludicrous, yet they were taken up almost unquestioningly by wide sections of the media. The Cook Report sailed into battle with its own "revelations".

The allegations were eventually and inevitably disproved. Years later the editor of the Mirror at that time, Roy Greenslade, apologised, through the columns of the Guardian.

In Heathfield's case the damage was already done. Anyone who knew him could see the hurt he felt, the mental stress. He aged visibly, before his time.

The last time I saw Peter was in March last year at the annual lecture delivered in memory of David Jones and Joe Green, two Yorkshire miners who were killed on the picket line during the 1984-85 strike. David's father was one of the speakers.

Peter was greeted by friends and comrades he had worked with for decades, and though he smiled and shook hands, he seemed to have little memory of them. I felt he was going through the motions. He was frail, feeble, dependent on loved ones to support him.

Peter Heathfield had been a formidable speaker, a disciplined activist, yet someone who always had time for a laugh, a joke and a pint.

I doubt if those behind the campaign against him knew or cared about the effect their actions were having on a man who put enormous value on integrity.

Shame on them. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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