UK & World News

  • 3 January 2014, 0:48

Thatcher Plan To Stop Miners' Rouble Smuggling

Margaret Thatcher's government hoped to catch miners' union couriers smuggling "suitcases full of banknotes" from the Soviet Union through Customs, official files show.

Government officials said the plans were the only way they might catch the National Union of Mineworkers trying to bring the money in to the country to fund the miners' strike.

According to 1984 documents released to the public by the National Archives, in Kew, ministers were alerted by MI5 to the Soviet funding for the miners in November.

Mrs Thatcher was so determined to stop the flow of cash that she raised it with Mikhail Gorbachev, then an increasingly influential politician at the Kremlin, during his visit to the UK.

According to the Soviet news agency, TASS, 500,000 had been raised by Russian miners to support the strike. This money could only have been moved abroad with the approval of the Soviet state.

Although the NUM's assets had been seized by the courts after its president Arthur Scargill refused to pay 200,000 for contempt, the Government realised there was little else they could do to stop money coming in to the union.

In a memorandum written by the Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong on November 5, 1984, he admitted: "There are no powers which could be used to prevent the transfer of funds from abroad to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) or to somebody nominated to receive them on behalf of the NUM in this country.

"If a representative of the NUM could be detected entering this country with a suitcase full of bank notes, it might be possible to arrange for him to be stopped and searched by Customs.

"They would have no power to impound the notes, but they would inform the Inland Revenue and the police of any suspiciously large volume of banknotes which they detected.

"I am afraid this is not certain to yield results, but I am satisfied that it is the best we can do. I have made arrangements to give very quick consideration of possible courses of action, if those who are exercising vigilance get a break we can exploit."

Henry Steel in the Attorney General's office wrote to the Foreign Office, saying: "If the FCO now have or acquire in the future any concrete information about the way in which the money in question is being transferred, it would therefore be very desirable that that information - not necessarily, of course, in its 'raw' form - should be passed onto the sequestrators."

Mrs Thatcher eventually unsuccessfully raised the matter with Mr Gorbachev when he made his first visit to Britain in the December.

According to the official minute: "Mr Gorbachev asked whether the Prime Minister really believed that Soviet Communists were so strong as to be able to keep the British miners out on strike for over 10 months. The problem was purely a British one."

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