One step forward for Shrewsbury pickets

Submitted by sglenister on Fri, 14/12/2018 - 10:32

14 December 2018

By Eileen Turnball and Carolyn Jones

In 1972, building workers across the UK took part in the first ever national strike. At that time, construction workers faced powerful, hostile employers. Lump labour (bogus self-employment) was common and health and safety measures were non-existent. At the end of the twelve-week dispute, in September 1972, they succeeded in winning the highest ever pay rise in the history of the industry.

Five months after the strike ended 24 pickets were charged with over 200 offences, including unlawful assembly, intimidation and affray. Six of the pickets were also charged with conspiracy to intimidate. None of the pickets had been cautioned or arrested during the strike and there were no police complaints laid against the pickets at the time.

At the first Shrewsbury trial, beginning in October 1973, three of the pickets were found guilty of conspiracy to intimidate, unlawful assembly and affray. They were sent to prison: Des Warren for three years, Ricky Tomlinson for two years and John McKinsie Jones for nine months.

Jailing these building workers remains one of the most notorious anti-trade union acts of the state in recent times. All the might of the police and criminal justice system were used against the pickets to deter trade unionists from organising effectively. The convicted Shrewsbury pickets were blacklisted from the industry and most were never able to work in their trade again.

Carolyn Jones recalls: "I was 13 when the strike took place and I remember my dad travelling up and down the country organising meetings and flying pickets. He was also involved in the campaign to get the prisoners released and to raise money for their families. The money was raised but the prisoners remained in jail, where my Dad used to go and visit them – taking them copies of the Morning Star! We've since discovered that every member of our family was on the Economic League's Blacklist".

In 2006 The Shrewsbury 24 Campaign was established with the aim of overturning the convictions of those building workers victimised and criminalised just for picketing during the 1972 strike. Since then, the Campaign has researched the background to the trials, digging out fresh evidence to support the case for overturning the convictions.

It’s not been an easy task. The Government consistently refuses to release documents relating to the Shrewsbury trials, denying public scrutiny and hiding behind section 23 of the Freedom of Information Act (the ‘national security’ exemption). Eileen Turnbull, the Campaign’s persistent Researcher says that crucial documents ‘missing’ from the National Archives at Kew, likely show the extent of political interference in the case in the 1970s. The next review of the documents will be in 2021. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, longstanding supporters of the Campaign, pledged in the 2015 and 2017 manifestos that if they were elected they would, "Release all papers concerning the Shrewsbury 24 Trials".

Things are looking up. On Friday 9th November 2018 the Shrewsbury pickets won an important victory in their long struggle. In the Administrative Court in Birmingham, Mr Justice Jay gave permission for the pickets’ application for judicial review to proceed to a full hearing, something the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) had consistently refused to grant.

The judge, after listening to the submissions of the pickets’ counsel, Danny Friedman QC, granted permission and the full merits hearing of the judicial review application will be heard in late spring 2019 before two judges.

The two grounds of the application that the judges will consider are:

  • that the destruction of original witness statements by the police, which was concealed from the defence and court by the prosecution, amounted to an abuse of process;
  • the broadcasting of the Red under the Bed documentary by ITV halfway through the trial was highly prejudicial to the pickets and should have led to the halting of the trial.

It is the first time that the case of the Shrewsbury pickets has been before a court since 1974 and the first time that they have achieved a success.

Campaign Secretary and Researcher, Eileen Turnbull said, “Our case should have been referred back to the Court of Appeal at least three years ago. The CCRC has dragged its feet for over five years and then failed to apply the relevant law to the fresh evidence that we provided. We look forward to the full hearing in the spring as we are confident that we will succeed."

Terry Renshaw, speaking on behalf of the pickets, welcomed the decision, "It is a momentous victory for the Campaign. When we left the court we were delighted with the decision and felt a great sense of achievement after campaigning for the past twelve years to overturn this miscarriage of justice. We are nearly there."

Campaign Chairperson Harry Chadwick appealed for continuing support, "I want to thank our trade union and Labour Party supporters for the unwavering backing that they have given to us as we would not have got this far without it. The fight is not over yet. We need your continued support to raise funds for the forthcoming hearing. We ask branches, trades councils and CLPs to affiliate to us for 2019 and donate to our legal fund."

Originally published in the Morning Star, 13 December 2018

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