Actor Ricky Tomlinson and his friend Arthur Murray are two of the 'Shrewsbury 24' - a group of trade unionists who have finally recieved justice after being unjustly convicted for their involvement in the national builders’ strike in 1972.
In the 1970s, working conditions on many building sites were unsafe and unpleasant. On average, one building worker died every day in the UK due to a lack of safety equipment. The combination of these working conditions and poor pay led to nationwide construction site strikes between May and September 1972.
Months later, in 1973, several individuals, later dubbed the 'Shrewsbury 24', who were involved in the pickets, were arrested. Many of them, including Ricky Tomlinson and Des Warren, were sentenced to prison for unlawful assembly, conspiracy to intimidate and affray.
On the 3rd and 4th of February 2021, the cases of the 'Shrewsbury 24' were challenged at the Court of Appeal by our Public Interest Law Centre, on behalf of Tomlinson and Murray, on two grounds:
1. First, that at the time of the original trial, a number of original witness statements were destroyed and this destruction was not disclosed to the defence which was enough to render the trial unfair and the convictions unsafe.
2. Second, that the documentary 'The Red Under the Bed', which was highly critical of trade union organising, was broadcast directly before the Defendants were due to give evidence and wrongly linked them with disruption and violence. This prejudiced the case against them.
On Tuesday 23 March 2021, the Court of Appeal quashed the convictions of the 'Shrewsbury 24'. However, the Court was not persuaded that sufficent prejudice was caused by the programme ‘Red Under the Bed’ to render the trial unsafe, or that there was sufficient evidence to prove that the Government had been involved in the programmes' scheduling.
Paul Heron, solicitor at Public Interest Law Centre, said:
“I am pleased that the convictions of my clients Ricky Tomlinson and Arthur Murray have now been overturned. However, it is important to remember that following their convictions in 1973 they were blacklisted by the building industry. Many of the men could not find work and as a result suffered more punishment... We are calling for a public inquiry into blacklisting in the industry.”
Ricky Tomlinson said:
“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! ... 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.’’