Shrewsbury 24 lawyers claim secret service was complicit in miscarriage of justice

Lawyers for two of the Shrewsbury 24 today told the Court of Appeal a fair trial in 1972 was impossible following the screening of an anti-trade union documentary.

Piers Marquis, counsel for Ricky Tomlinson and Arthur Murray, presented new legal arguments relating to the screening
of The Red Under the Bed during the 1972 trial, a TV programme highly critical of trade union organising in general, and the national builders strike in particular.

He said the programme could never have been produced without the involvement of the secret state and the blessing of the government, and submitted to the court declassified documents from the National Archives that showed the Information Research Department (IRD) – a department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – played a significant part in the production of the programme to the point it was reported extensively within government, including to the then Prime Minister,
Edward Heath.

Ricky Tomlinson said: “After hearing the evidence today, it should alarm every trade unionist, every socialist, and every
campaigner. Indeed, every person in the UK must question how the secret state has used subterfuge, a secret strategy and dirty tactics to criminalise the Shrewsbury 24 – who were only guilty of striking for better pay and for better health and safety at work.

“In the case of myself, that lead to being sentenced to two years in prison, and for Des Warren three years in prison. There really
does need to be a public inquiry into what has happened.”

Journalist and former Labour MP Woodrow Wyatt approached the IRD for help in making the programme in February 1973. Piers Marquis submitted to Court that the IRD consulted the Department of Employment and the Security Service in relation to the programme and that Mr Wyatt was given a large dossier of IRD background material with the agreement of the Department
of Employment and the Security Service.

Thus, Marquis argued that a branch of government, with the endorsement of at least two other branches of government, provided this material (on “violent picketing”) to Mr. Wyatt. They did so in full knowledge that it was false and that it would be broadcast during the course of criminal proceedings (be they preliminary or trial proceedings) relating to Building Strike flying pickets, so as to affirm the criminality of said pickets.

There is no doubt, Marquis submitted, that Mr Wyatt drew extensively on that material, with a  paper “Violent Picketing” drawn on “to good effect”. Marquis submitted that in addition to the involvement of ‘the secret state’ in providing ‘information’ to Mr Wyatt, Wyatt also drew heavily on resources from the Industrial Research and Information Services Limited (IRIS) who were
also closely associated with the IRD.

Furthermore, the IRD and IRIS brought the journalist Simon Regan to Woodrow Wyatt’s attention. Regan had reported in an original newspaper series which illustrated (with the active help of the IRS) the National Builders Strike as one of violence and intimidation. As Marquis submitted, those reports and Regan’s subsequent allegations in his appearance in The Red Under
the Bed, were presented as fact, but were based on lies.

As Marquis explained to the court, both the Northampton and County Police and the Birmingham Police had investigated Reagan’s allegations printed in the newspaper series in November 1972 at the request of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) – the enquiry found Regan’s allegations were “completely fabricated” and “a figment of imagination”.

Despite the DPP and the Attorney General being aware of the investigations conclusion at some stage after February 1973 (the month in which Woodrow Wyatt approached the IRD for help in producing the programme) the IRD (with the authority of the Department of Employment and the Security Service) recommended Simon Regan as a reliable source to build the TV programme around.

Piers Marquis said: “It is inconceivable, in any circumstances, that these departments of government were unaware of the results of an enquiry generated by the Attorney General’s Office into Regan’s probity, in the context of a national building strike.”

He said once the programme was shown in the course of the Shrewsbury trial, and particularly after objection was taken to it, the findings of the Northamptonshire and Birmingham police should have been disclosed to the defence.

He argued the fact the case was not stopped, nor the jury discharged, meant the convictions were unsafe.

Paul Heron, solicitor for Ricky Tomlinson and Arthur Murray said: “The arguments presented in this court paint a damning picture of the secret state and it’s manoeuvres against the National Builders Strike and more particularly the Shrewsbury 24

“It has been demonstrated today that the state was active in criminalising those picketing for better pay, health and safety. Such disturbing findings must be echoed and condemned throughout our country so that similar state efforts may not be deployed again in these times of austerity and hardship when struggles emerge. What occurred in the 1970s must not be allowed to occur today.

“The convictions lead to blacklisting throughout the construction industry. There needs to be a statutory public inquiry into the events of Shrewsbury and the role of state agencies specifically, but such an inquiry must look at the issue of blacklisting in the industry in general.”

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