VETERANS of Britain's most bitter industrial dispute celebrated Margaret Thatcher's death last night.
Marilyn Johnson, who fed hungry families during the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike, has had a bottle of champagne ready to toast the former Prime Minister’s passing since the day the Strike ended. Today, she finally popped the cork.
Heather Wood, who marshalled emergency kitchens across the Durham coalfields, was in church when her son texted her the news.
“God forgive me but I wanted to jump up and shout: ‘Hallelujah!’,” she said.
Dave Hopper, secretary of the Durham Miners’ Association (DMA), said Mrs Thatcher had done more damage to the North-East than Adolf Hitler.
Baroness Thatcher became a hate figure in North-East coal mining communities during the 1980s, as thousands of families faced hunger and poverty.
Mrs Johnson’s husband Jimmy, who worked at Easington colliery, helped to run soup kitchens – what she called “the free caf”.
“We were feeding 250 people a day,” she says, “Up to 500 in the school holidays.”
The first bottle of champagne bought to mark Mrs Thatcher’s death, she admits, is long drunk.
But it was quickly replaced and, when today’s news broke, Jimmy was tasked with finding it – hidden in the bottom of a cupboard, it turned out.
“The first thing I thought was: ‘Get the bottle of champagne’,” the 66-year-old grandmother says.
“It was a relief. I was beginning to think she would outlive us.
“It sounds awful. I never speak ill of the dead. But I really hated that woman with a passion.
“She was evil – vile. Even when she was old she looked evil. I feel like I’ve won the Lottery.”
Marilyn mourns over Easington’s current plight – and blames the former Tory PM for it all.
“She destroyed communities,” she says.
“We had a lovely community. Now we’ve moved because where we were it’s all drugs and police with battering rams.”
Jimmy, now 68, never worked after the pits closed and now survives on his miner’s pension.
“It was hard,” he says, “And she’s why the country’s in the state it’s in now.”
Mrs Wood, now 61, agrees.
“What she started, Cameron is finishing. He’s a child of Thatcher – and so was Tony Blair,” she says.
Back in 1984, as a Labour Party member, she became chair of the Save Easington Area Mines relief fund – feeding hundreds.
“It was sad, bad, happy, fun, life-changing – especially for women, exciting and stressful,” she says.
“I wouldn’t wish anybody dead. But she was a horrible woman – a witch.
“But she never broke our spirit. I’m so excited. I feel like I’ve won the Pools.”
Dave Hopper, secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers’ (NUM) Durham branch during the Strike, said there would be so sympathies for Lady Thatcher and her victims would not be sorry about her demise.
Mr Hopper, who celebrates his 70th birthday today, said: “It’s a great day. With the despair and destitution she has brought to bear on mining villages in the North-East, we’ve got no sympathies. We’re out now to celebrate.
“She did more damage to us than Hitler did. Hundreds and thousands of lives probably lives have been destroyed – and futures have been destroyed.
“There will be a tremendous amount of celebration. It’s a great day for us.”
Fred Robinson, a Durham University professor, said the 1980s was a tough and unpleasant time and people felt Mrs Thatcher didn’t care about the North-East.
“The country is much more divided now,” he said.
“Before, we had a sense of mutual respect. The community was very important. It’s what we cherished.
“The whole Thatcher period and much that’s happened since has undermined that.”