Shrewsbury 24: court of appeal overturns 1970s picketing convictions

Members of the so-called Shrewsbury 24, who were convicted for picketing nearly 50 几年前, have won a bid to clear their names at the court of appeal.

Two dozen trade unionists who picketed during the 1972 national builders’ strike were charged with offences including unlawful assembly, conspiracy to intimidate and affray for picketing, 和 22 of them convicted.

Lawyers representing 14 of the Shrewsbury 24, including The Royle Family star Ricky Tomlinson, argued the destruction of original witness statements meant their convictions were unsafe.

They also claimed the broadcast of a documentary, Red Under the Bed, during the first of three trials in 1973 和 1974, was “deeply prejudicial” as it would have “provoked panic” in the minds of the jury.

On Tuesday morning, the court of appeal allowed the appellants’ challenge to their convictions.

Announcing the decision at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Lord Justice Fulford said: “These 14 appeals against conviction are allowed across the three trials and on every extant count which the 14 appellants faced.”

The judge added: “It would not be in the public interest to order a retrial.”

In its written ruling, the court of appeal allowed the 14 appellants’ appeals on the grounds that original witness statements had been destroyed.

Fulford said: “If the destruction of the handwritten statements had been revealed to the appellants at the time of the trial, this issue could have been comprehensively investigated with the witnesses when they gave evidence, and the judge would have been able to give appropriate directions.

“We have no doubt that if that had happened, the trial process would have ensured fairness to the accused. Self-evidently, that is not what occurred.”

The judge added: “By the standards of today, what occurred was unfair to the extent that the verdicts cannot be upheld.”

The court of appeal dismissed the appeals on a second ground, which was that the broadcast of Red Under the Bed during the first of the trials of the Shrewsbury 24 may have prejudiced the jury.

In the ruling, Fulford said: “There is no doubt, in our judgment, that in 2021 the court and the parties would take steps to seek a postponement of the broadcast of a programme such as Red Under the Bed until after the trial, given it involved consideration, in an uncompromising format, of some of the political issues underpinning the national building workers’ strike that was clearly relevant to the ongoing trial.”

The judge added: “然而, the question for this court is whether the risk that the programme may have been seen by one or more jurors renders the verdicts in the three trials unsafe. We have no doubt this is not the case.”

In a statement after the ruling, Tomlinson, who was sentenced to two years in jail for conspiracy to intimidate and affray, 说: “Whilst it is only right that these convictions are overturned, it is a sorry day for British justice. The reality is we should never have been standing in the dock.

“We were brought to trial at the apparent behest of the building industry bosses, the Conservative government and ably supported by the secret state.

“This was a political trial not just of me, and the Shrewsbury pickets – but was a trial of the trade union movement. My thoughts today are with my friend and comrade Des Warren. Like me, he was victimised by the court for defending the interests of the working class. I’m just sorry he is not here today so we can celebrate, but I’m sure he’s with us in spirit.”