Justice has finally been served for 24 trade unionists who were unjustly prosecuted – and some imprisoned – for lawful strike action in the 1970s.
The Shrewsbury 24 Campaign has worked tirelessly to clear the names of those arrested under accusations such as ‘unlawful assembly’ and ‘affray’ after taking part in the National Builders’ Strike in 1973-74.
Des Warren, the lead picket, was imprisoned for three years, John McKinsie Jones for nine months, and Michael Pierce for six months. Others were given suspended sentences and many were blacklisted by construction employers after the fact. Des Warren never worked again as a result of blacklisting and died prematurely in 2004, aged 67.
Now, after 15 years of research and legal action that uncovered evidence of corruption among the police force and political pressure to make an example out of the trade unionists, the Campaign has won in the Court of Appeal and all of the convictions have been quashed.
The Court of Appeal agreed with the Campaign that the destruction of witness statements early on in the process of prosecution – and their replacement with new statements – undermined the original trials.
“We can see no basis for concluding that the content of a destroyed witness statement would necessarily have been preserved in its replacement,” the judgment reads.
“Indeed, we would suggest that the opposite may – indeed, was likely – to have been the case, given the destroyed statements in all probability had a different focus than their later iterations, since they were taken before photographs were available and before the officers taking the statements knew what the Crown were seeking to prove.”
Terry Renshaw, one of the pickets, said: “We never thought that we would see this day, when this miscarriage of justice was overturned. The Court of Appeal has acknowledged that we did not receive a fair trial. The police and the prosecuting authorities used every trick in the book to secure guilty verdicts event if it meant trampling over our rights and manipulating the evidence,”
Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, described the ruling as “a victory for truth” and “a victory against the State interfering in legitimate trade union activity”.
She wrote in a letter to the Campaign: “Your 47-year struggle to overturn this miscarriage of justice has been immensely dignified. The Shrewsbury pickets have shown huge courage to keep fighting for so long … Sadly, some of the pickets did not live long enough to see justice served, Des Warren among them. Our movement will always remember them.”