Public Interest Law Centre

public law | human rights | legal action

6Apr 2021

Public law solicitor & paralegal wanted

6th April 2021|

PILC is recruiting for two roles.

We are looking for a dynamic and committed solicitor with solid public-law experience in a range of practice areas. This role is initially on a fixed-term 12-month contract but has the potential to develop into a full-time and permanent role.

We are also recruiting for a paralegal with two years’ experience and, ideally, knowledge and experience of the legal-aid and legal-help funding system.

For further information about the two vacancies please refer to the full job ad.

The recruitment pack for the solicitor role can be downloaded here.

The recruitment pack for the paralegal role can be downloaded here.

Applications for either position should be made using this form. Applicants may also complete an equality and diversity monitoring form.

Please share far & wide!

2Apr 2021

Jean Demars is new director of PILC

2nd April 2021|

Jean Demars.

We are happy to announce that Jean Demars is the new director of the Public Interest Law Centre.

Jean is one of the founders of PILC along with Helen Mowatt and Paul Heron. He has been central to our development over the last few years. In particular, he has led our transformation into a fully independent law centre. He set up our finance systems while also leading on fundraising strategy and spearheading the organisation’s move to become a registered charity.

PILC will have further challenges to meet over the coming months and years. We hope to develop our services and meet the challenge of becoming a leading organisation representing working-class and marginalised communities around issues relating to human rights and social-justice law.

31Mar 2021

‘The Shrewsbury pickets, political policing and the state’ – report released today

31st March 2021|

Following the victory of the Shrewsbury 24 at the Court of Appeal on Tuesday 23 March 2021, an investigative report examining the foundations of Ground 2 of the appeal has been released today, alongside the grounds that made up our legal challenge.

Ground 2 consisted of new legal arguments relating to the screening of The Red Under the Bed, a TV programme highly critical of trade union organising, during the 1972 trial. Arguments included an analysis, applying modern standards of fairness, of the way the airing of the documentary was handled by the trial judge.

This report, commissioned by PILC and created by Eveline Lubbers of the Undercover Research Group, looks at the secret state. It examines the roles of MI5, the IRB and the IRIS. It begins to uncover who they are, what they do, who funds them and, cruciall,y the role they played in building up a false narrative and false evidence to support the conviction of the Shrewsbury 24.  The report also contextualises these findings and examines the state’s fear of ‘the danger of communism’ after the Second World War.

Despite the Court of Appeal finding against Ground 2, there will be little doubt in the mind of readers of this report that the attack on the Shrewsbury 24, and trade-union organising as whole, dirtied the hands of the highest levels of government.

The report can be downloaded here.

Our grounds in the case can be downloaded here.

Update (6.4.21): The full appeal judgment can be downloaded here.

23Mar 2021

Convictions of Shrewsbury 24 declared unsafe and quashed

23rd March 2021|

The Court of Appeal has today made the following judgement in the case of our clients Ricky Tomlinson, Arthur Murray[1] and the Shrewsbury 24.

“It follows that under Ground 1, the convictions of all the appellants are unsafe. Their appeals are allowed and all the verdicts in relation to them are quashed.” (pt.99)

The convictions of the Shrewsbury 24 have been quashed. The men concerned walk from this court innocent men – as they have always been. We say they were victims of police corruption, of a political trial, and of a Conservative government out for revenge against the trade-union movement.

On the 3 & 4 February 2021 the Court of Appeal considered the cases of the Shrewsbury 24. The Court considered:

  • new evidence, consisting of a note dated 17 September 1973 revealing that some original statements had been destroyed. Neither this note, nor the fact that statements were destroyed, was disclosed to the defence at the time of the trial
  • new legal arguments relating to the screening of The Red Under the Bed, a TV programme highly critical of trade-union organising, during the 1972 trial. Arguments included an analysis, applying modern standards of fairness, of the way the airing of the documentary was handled by the trial judge.

Background

Ricky Tomlinson and Arthur Murray are two of the Shrewsbury 24.[2] They were a group of ordinary trade unionists who were arrested for their involvement in the national builders’ strike in 1972. In 1973 Ricky Tomlinson, along with Des Warren, was sentenced to prison for unlawful assembly, conspiracy to intimidate and affray. This historic miscarriage of justice has now been righted, nearly 50 years after the events.

The case

The Court of Appeal heard the case over two days.

Day One was taken up with the issues relating to ground one – that is, the destruction of witness evidence and the failure of the prosecution to disclose this to the defence at the time.

On behalf of Ricky Tomlinson and Arthur Murray, we submitted that the destruction of the original statements (in addition to the fact that that destruction was not disclosed) was individually and cumulatively (with the fact of the non-disclosure) enough to render the trial unfair and the convictions unsafe. The number of original statements destroyed was significant. The Court accepted this.

It is important to note that the statements were destroyed rather than lost. We submitted that the firm implication is that they were intentionally destroyed. A decision was taken to actively dispose of them in such a way that they could not be recovered.

This destruction was significant as it caused Ricky Tomlinson, Des Warren, Arthur Murray and the rest of the pickets to suffer serious prejudice to the extent that no fair trial could be held and that, accordingly, the continuance of the prosecution would amount to a misuse of the process of the court. We say this was wholesale and deliberate destruction of evidence, undertaken to assist the prosecution.

Those initial statements that did survive show that witness evidence was radically altered to favour the original prosecution case. We say that witnesses were at best encouraged , and at worst pressurised, to change their initial statements.

Day Two the court considered the documentary The Red Under the Bed and its impact on prejudicing the case.

On 13 November 1973 Granada Television broadcast (in conjunction with Anglia Television and Yorkshire Television) a documentary produced by the journalist and former Labour MP Woodrow Wyatt. The documentary was broadcast during the first trial of the Shrewsbury pickets.

The programme was broadcast directly before the defendants were due to give evidence. The defence cases of Mr. Warren and Mr. Tomlinson were, in essence, that they took no part in (and were not aware of) intimidation and violence, and that allegations to that effect were exaggerated.

The opening minutes of the documentary featured footage of our client Ricky Tomlinson (and also Des Warren). The programme’s narrative concretely, but wrongly, linked our clients with disruption and violence. How did it achieve this?

A feature of the programme was the use of the journalist Simon Regan as an ‘eyewitness’ to violence during the building strike. News of the World journalist Regan gave the following account, which mirrored to a significant extent the allegations that the Shrewsbury defendants faced:

Reagan: I joined the flying picket squad in Yorkshire, which grew from a small one of about 200 into one of about 800 where pickets from Liverpool had come in with pickets from Leeds and we’d gone over a motorway site… and about 800 of us stormed this motorway site picking on individuals who were working there, telling them they had to get off the site or there would be trouble and other incidents, especially in Birmingham outside the cement works where things got very, very rough, where drivers were getting stoned, being pulled from the cabs. The Communist Party must have realised that there was physical violence going in because there were reports coming in from all over the place to Lou Lewis personally, every single day.

The programme presented the Regan allegations as fact supported by documentation, and overlaid them with supporting footage of “violence” and police lines.

The problem with the evidence given by Regan was that two separate police forces had already concluded that it amounted to lies. The Northamptonshire Police and Birmingham City Police investigated the allegations at the behest of the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions. They concluded that Regan was “never present” at the Corby site he referred to or, “…if present completely fabricated the incidents referred to and was either mistaken in the location of the [Birmingham] incident or suffered at the time a figment of imagination.”

The story doesn’t end there. The producers of The Red Under the Bed were assisted by a number of organisations. The Industrial Research Department (IRD), a branch of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and IRIS[3] provided the programme makers with information, including an introduction to Simon Regan. These organisations were funded by the security services and the British state.

Crucially, the Northampton and County Constabulary Report into Simon Regan’s allegations was dated 16 November 1972. By that date the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney General’s Office (another branch of Government) were aware that these allegations were “completely fabricated” and “a figment of imagination”.

Yet 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, put Simon Regan forward as a reliable enough source around which to build the programme. This is despite the fact that at least one other branch of government was in possession of solid evidence that Regan had effectively made up all of his allegations.

The State colluded in the making of The Red Under the Bed and put forward a journalist they knew to be discredited as a source around which to build the ‘documentary’.  The programme was then shown just as the prosecution case was concluding – and shortly before Ricky Tomlinson, Des Warren, Arthur Murray and the Shrewsbury pickets were due to give their evidence.

What did the court say and what did it rule?

With regard to Ground One, the Court accepted, as we had submitted, that the time frame for the destruction of the statements was considerably longer than even the CCRC had suggested; handwritten statements from eyewitnesses had been destroyed once i) the police were able to show the press photographs to the witnesses and ii) the officers knew what those responsible for these prosecutions were seeking to prove in the forthcoming trial. Consequently, an unidentified number of original witness statements had been destroyed and the fact of that destruction was not disclosed to the defence. Further, in front of the jury, “the prosecution [had] strongly implied that the appellants were in possession of all the potentially relevant materials”. The trial judge had “chastised defence counsel for pursuing the issue”.

Had the lawyers of Ricky Tomlinson, Des Warren, Arthur Murray and the Shrewsbury pickets in the 1973 trial (and subsequent trials) been informed of the fact of the destruction of evidence, they would have been able to properly challenge witness evidence: “We have no doubt that if that had happened the trial process would have ensured fairness to the accused.”

With regard to Ground Two, the Court was not persuaded that the programme ‘Red Under the Bed’ caused sufficient prejudice to render the trial unsafe. Further, because the Appellants were not able to conclusively establish that the government had been involved in scheduling the programme to take place in the course of the trial, “It follows that the criticisms, for instance, of the involvement of the Information Research Department and the apparent attitude of the then Prime Minister are irrelevant to this Ground of Appeal”. “The issue is the impact of the broadcast on the safety of the conviction – whether the content would have affected the jury’s fair appreciation of the evidence – rather than an assessment of the motives of those who participated in its creation”.

Yet several points still remain:

  1. The programme included footage of defendants outside the Crown Court.
  2. That footage included material that erroneously suggested that leaders of the building-strike pickets (which included the defendants) were effectively conspiring to “overthrow the state”.
  3. The programme included material that mirrored the allegations that the defendants faced, and which was “fabricated”.
  4. Three branches of government had provided that “fabricated” material to the programme-makers at a time when at least one other branch of Government knew that the material was “fabricated”.
  5. The programme was shown in the course of the trial, even though the programme makers, broadcasters and government must have known that the trial was ongoing.
  6. The Prime Minister signed off the programme in a Mmnisterial document – saying “we want more of this kind of thing.”

We find it hard to accept the Court’s view in rejecting Ground Two.

Ricky Tomlinson said: “Whilst it is only right that these convictions are overturned, this 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 building-industry bosses and the Conservative government, ably supported by the secret state. This was a political trial not just of me, and the Shrewsbury pickets – it 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.’’

Arthur Murray said: “We were innocent all along, yet it has taken us nearly 50 years to clear our names. We all came from respectable working-class families – sadly my mother and four of my siblings have passed away without knowing that we were innocent. This was a major miscarriage of justice involving the victimisation of innocent workers. It was also an attack on the working class and the trade-union movement as a whole. We have stood firm and we have been vindicated. However, serious questions need to be asked about the role of building-industry bosses in our convictions and the highest office of government who all had a hand in our trial and conviction. Make no mistake: our convictions were a political witch-hunt.”

Paul Heron, solicitor, 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. Whilst we understand that the court was unwilling to consider the wider issues regarding the involvement of the secret state, we are calling for a public inquiry into blacklisting in the industry, including the role of the building industry bosses and the secret state.”

Piers Marquis, leading counsel, said “There is no question that this was a politically motivated trial that ultimately intimidated workers and broke picket lines. We now know that the police destroyed evidence, that the prosecution knew that they had and were silent about it, and that the government helped produce fabricated propaganda that was broadcast at the most damaging possible time for these men. Des Warren and Ricky Tomlinson knew none of that when they each spoke from the dock and questioned where the conspiracy in this case really lay. Their vindication and that of their fellow pickets has been a long time coming. My respect to them for never stopping fighting for it.”

The Public Interest Law Centre would like to go on record as thanking our counsel Piers Marquis and Anabel Timan of Doughty Street Chambers. We also want to thank Rhona Friedman at Commons Law who worked tirelessly in the initial part of this case, particularly on the application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

Finally, a massive thanks to Ricky Tomlinson and Arthur Murray for their determination in the fight for justice over almost 50 years.


[1] Ricky Tomlinson and Arthur Murray were represented by Piers Marquis and Annabel Timan of Doughty Street Chambers, instructed by Paul Heron, Public Interest Law Centre.

[2] In addition to Ricky and Arthur, the following cases were heard by the Court of Appeal: Dennis Michael Warren, Alfred James, Samuel Roy Warburton, Graham Roberts and John Kenneth Seaburg. All five men are deceased and were represented by family members. The cases of John McKinsie Jones, John Malcolm Clee, William Michael Pierce, Terence Renshaw, Patrick Kevin Butcher, Bernard Williams, Francis O’Shea were also heard by the Court. They were all represented by Bindmans solicitors.

[3] The Industrial Research and Information Service (IRIS) was a private company that monitored industrial militancy in the 1970s.

19Mar 2021

The High Court rules in favour of Brigadier Fernando

19th March 2021|

In the exercise of his functions?

The High Court has today handed down an extremely disappointing decision in the case of the former Sri Lankan defence attaché Brigadier Priyanka Fernando, who appealed against his conviction of breaching section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986 for making a cut-throat gesture towards peaceful protestors outside the Sri Lankan embassy.

The central issue considered in this appeal, heard in the High Court on 2 December 2020, was whether the actions of the appellant (Brigadier Fernando) were carried out in “the exercise of his functions” as a member of the Sri Lankan mission in London, and, accordingly, whether he has residual immunity from prosecution, after departure from the United Kingdom, by virtue of article 39(2) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Sir Julian Flaux C and Mrs Justice McGowan ruled:

“We consider that the acts in question in the present case were ones which were performed by the appellant in the exercise of his functions as a member of the mission and thus qua diplomat. They did not somehow lose that quality and become acts performed in a personal capacity merely because they were criminal. They remained acts performed by the appellant in the exercise of his functions as a member of the mission despite their criminality.

“…the Chief Magistrate was not right to determine that the actions the appellant performed, whilst he was a diplomat, were outside the functions of the mission and therefore not covered by residual immunity when the defendant faced trial. This appeal must be allowed.”

Mr Carter QC, acting for the Respondent, put to the court that Brigadier Fernando’s actions were performed in his personal capacity and outside the exercise of his functions.

The respondent, Majuran Sathananthan – one of the peaceful protestors from a Tamil community group who were threatened by Brigadier Fernando outside the Sri Lankan Embassy on 4 February 2018 – is now considering his legal options.

15Mar 2021

Statement on Sarah Everard, violence against women and the failure of the state

15th March 2021|

We are shaken by the news of Sarah Everard who was kidnapped and murdered last week when walking home. We tremble further in the knowledge that the person charged with Sarah’s murder is a serving officer in the Metropolitan Police.[1]  

We are shaken by the news that a protest against Sarah’s death, and the treatment of women more broadly, was stopped in its tracks. When women went anyway, refusing to ask for the right to mourn and to be heard, the police used disproportionate enforcement action—the very violence we were protesting against.

We are shaken by the many instances of violence against women which are not listened to, investigated, or challenged.

We remember Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, whose names we should all recall, who were murdered in a park last year after celebrating a friend’s birthday, and with whom police officers took selfies as they lay dead. The police failed to investigate this case until their family found their bodies.

We remember Blessing Olusegun, whose body was found on a beach last September and whose death was treated as ‘unexplained’ rather than ‘suspicious’ by the police.

Sarah, Nicola, Bibaa and Blessing’s cases are emblematic of a deep-rooted culture of violence against women, a pandemic in and of itself. Our calls for safety must acknowledge this wider picture and must elevate the voices of women of colour, migrant women and trans women, who are often at even greater risk on our streets, and whose cases the police routinely fail to investigate. As these events and those on Saturday night illustrate, the police cannot be trusted to defend the rights of women.

And neither can the government. Women in poverty are bearing the brunt of the state’s neoliberal policies. A decade of cuts has left specialist women’s services on their knees and has slashed council housing stock, hindering women’s ability to flee dangerous homes and live in safety. The UK’s immigration system exposes migrant women to destitution, exploitation and abuse.

The law has also repeatedly failed women, and this week is no exception. Our right to protest is currently under attack by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill[2] which will allow the police to intervene at protests to prevent ‘impact’ and ‘noise’ where they ‘serious[ly] disrupt […] the running of an organisation’, e.g. a protest outside the Houses of Parliament. This bill will curb women’s ability to speak up against the ongoing, systematic violence they face. This is not only a problem in the UK; it affects women internationally, and our thoughts go also to Polish activists who today labelled the Warsaw Police Headquarters “The Torture Headquarters”, highlighting the police brutality that has taken place during protests against the abortion ban in the country over the past year.[3]

The power structures which allow violence against women to continue unchallenged must be uprooted. While street lights are useful, they can only address the very tip of the iceberg. Money should instead be spent on tackling the structural causes of the danger women face on our streets.  

We must demand:

  • An end to austerity, to be replaced by long-term funding for women’s services, social housing and a robust welfare system;
  • A criminal justice system which believes rather than retraumatises women;
  • An immigration system which protects women from male and state violence
  • An end to the culture of disbelief surrounding women’s experiences; and
  • An understanding that racism, homophobia, transphobia and classism must be tackled for all women’s lives to be protected.

The burden of making these demands must not fall on the shoulders of women alone. This is everyone’s fight.

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” Assata Shakur.


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/mar/12/sarah-everard-met-police-officer-wayne-couzens-charged

[2] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/58-01/0268/200268.pdf

[3] https://oko.press/dzien-walki-z-przemoca-policji-akcja-pod-komenda-glowna-tortur/

4Mar 2021

Success in Camden shared-hostel challenge

4th March 2021|

We have issued a press release outlining the success of a recent legal action brought by our client against Camden Council. The challenge was to Camden’s practice of accommodating homeless women fleeing domestic abuse in shared hostel accommodation with men. 

This is a significant victory as we know that this practice is prevalent across UK local authorities

The challenge concerned both the failure of councils to properly consider and prioritise the needs of survivors and the significant cuts which have been made to women-only services, accommodation provision and specialist organisations.

In light of this victory, we call on local councils to address the specific needs of domestic abuse survivors and to stop carrying out the government’s austerity policies. What this means in practice is that, rather than accepting a budget dictated by central government, councils should set a ‘needs budget’ that takes into account the needs of women, particularly those from BAME and working-class backgrounds. Councils and our elected representatives need to stand up and fight back against austerity!

We would like to extend our thanks to the following organisations for their solidarity and invaluable assistance in bringing this challenge: Unite the Union (Housing Workers Branch); Southall Black Sisters; Solace Women’s Aid; NIA; and LAWRS.

See below for the press release.

PRESS RELEASE

Victory in legal challenge to Camden Council’s practice of accommodating homeless women fleeing abuse in shared hostels with men

Survivors and specialist organisations have achieved a significant victory in Camden, with the council responding positively to our client’s legal challenge.

The case was brought in order to challenge the lawfulness of placing homeless women who have fled domestic violence in shared accommodation with men. Women’s Aid Federation of England, represented by Bhatt Murphy, intervened in the litigation to demonstrate that this case was not an isolated incident.

Camden Council has agreed to take account of our arguments when assessing whether any homeless applicant is a survivor of domestic abuse an when reviewing the commissioning and provision of accommodation for the homeless, its use of mixed gender accommodation in emergency cases.

Background

Our client is a vulnerable survivor of serious domestic violence.  She has a long history of experiencing sexual and physical abuse and suffers from significant mental ill health. She became homeless and approached Camden Council for support. The Council then accommodated our client in a shared hostel with men.

A challenge was brought on behalf of our client around the lawfulness of that placement, not only in our client’s individual case but also more generally in cases where survivors approach the council for homeless support.

We relied on specialist evidence from Women’s Aid, medical practitioners and frontline organisations including Solace Women’s Aid, Southall Black Sisters and Nia. That evidence very clearly demonstrated that survivors of domestic abuse, and gender-based violence more generally , have particular needs and that it will therefore very often be inappropriate and indeed damaging for such women to live in mixed-gender hostel accommodation with men.

The evidence also showed that domestic abuse survivors regularly suffer from trauma-related mental health conditions as a result of the abuse they have suffered. Mixed-gender accommodation can trigger such trauma.

Settlement

The case settled shortly before trial. As part of that settlement, Camden Council paid our client a significant sum in compensation and agreed to take account of representations from both our client and Women’s Aid when reviewing the commissioning and provision of accommodation for the homeless, including in formulating:

  1. The process by which homeless applications are conducted and in particular whether the Council should make specific provision to establish whether any homeless applicant is a survivor of domestic abuse; and
  • The use of mixed gender accommodation in meeting the interim housing duty under s 188 of the Housing Act 1996.

We, acting on behalf of our client, and Bhatt Murphy, on behalf of the intervenor, have now submitted representations to the council in support of its review. When carrying out the review we have advised that the council must, in order to act in accordance with its Equality Act obligations:

  1. Make specific provision to establish whether any homeless applicant is a survivor of domestic abuse by amending the proforma questionnaire to include a question as to whether the applicant has a history of gender-based abuse, and if they would require single-sex accommodation.
  • Upon establishing a), the Council must presume that mixed accommodation (including cluster accommodation) is not suitable for survivors of gender-based abuse. Unless the survivor is asked and consents to such a placement, any offer of accommodation in mixed accommodation will fail to meet the interim housing duty under s.188 of the Housing Act 1996.
  • In order to suitably house survivors of domestic abuse, the Council must anticipate the need for single-sex accommodation and make advance provision of interim and temporary accommodation accordingly.

We await the council’s updated policies and procedures in this area.

Stephanie Harrison QC and Nick Bano of Garden Court were instructed by the Public Interest law Centre representing the Claimant.

Shu Shin Luh of Doughty Street Chambers and Sophie Caseley of Garden Court Chambers were instructed by Bhatt Murphy representing the Intervenor.

Helen Mowatt, Solicitor at PILC:

“The council’s response to the litigation is a step in the right direction. However, we know that accommodating homeless women fleeing abuse with men is an issue across the majority of boroughs in the country. All councils must presume that mixed accommodation is unsuitable for homeless applicants that have any history of domestic abuse. We will keep a watchful eye on the publication of the council’s policy in this area and will continue to fight against all councils that place women in accommodation with men when they are at their most vulnerable.”

Olivia Anness, Solictor at Bhatt Murphy:

“For too long homeless women fleeing domestic abuse have been placed in unsuitable mixed-sex accommodation by their local authorities. This case has highlighted the devastating impact that this practice has on a survivor’s ability to recover. It’s time for all local authorities to review their practice and ensure that women fleeing abuse have access to single-sex accommodation when they need it most.”

Lucy Hadley, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Women’s Aid Federation of England:

Women’s Aid intervened in this case to demonstrate that this survivor’s experience is far from an isolated incident. Women escaping domestic abuse face huge barriers in accessing the safe housing and support they need – this is caused by a severe lack of refuge spaces, funding cuts and a lack of affordable long-term housing. This forces survivors to present as homeless. But we know that far too often they are placed in unsuitable and unsafe mixed-sex accommodation. Our evidence demonstrated that this is happening in local authorities up and down and the country, with devastating impacts on women escaping from trauma and abuse. We are pleased that Camden will be reviewing their practice as a result of this case, but we continue to call for government guidance to clarify that all homeless women escaping domestic abuse should be routinely offered women-only accommodation for their safety.”

15Feb 2021

The secret state, political policing and the Shrewsbury 24 appeal

15th February 2021|

On 3rd and 4th February 2021 the Court of Appeal heard the appeal of the Shrewsbury 24.

On 4th February 2021 Piers Marquis[1] (counsel instructed by the Public Interest Law Centre on behalf of our clients Ricky Tomlinson and Arthur Murray) presented the appellants’ legal arguments.

The appeal centres on two broad grounds:

  1. Original witness statements were destroyed and this fact was not disclosed to the defence at the original 1972 trial;
  2. A TV programme, entitled The Red Under the Bed, was shown on ITV during the trial. This was highly prejudicial to the case.

On day 1 of the appeal, Danny Friedman QC (Matrix chambers), instructed by Bindmans on behalf of the wider Shrewsbury 24 campaign, dealt with the destruction of the witness evidence by the Police. This related to Ground 1 of the appeal. Danny Friedman’s submissions were supported fully by our legal team.

On day 2, and on behalf of Ricky Tomlinson and Arthur Murray, we presented new legal arguments relating to Ground 2. This related to the screening of The Red Under the Bed during the 1972 trial. The TV programme was, we argued, highly critical of trade-union organising in general and the national builders’ strike in particular. We submitted that this programme could never have been produced without the involvement of the secret state and the blessing of the government.

Piers Marquis submitted to the court that declassified documents from the National Archives have established that the Information Research Department (IRD)[2], a department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, played a significant role in the production of the programme. Indeed, the involvement of government was reportedly extensive, stretching as far as the then-Prime Minister, Edward Heath.[3]

A declassified letter written by T.C. Barker of the IRD to Mr. Reddaway, a government official reporting directly to the Foreign Minister, indicates that, the IRD had a “…discrete but considerable part in the programme”. Woodrow Wyatt, who presented the documentary, approached the IRD for help in making the programme in February 1973. We submitted to Court that the IRD consulted the Department of Employment and the security services in relation to the programme, and that Mr. Wyatt was given a large dossier of IRD background material for use in the documentary with the agreement of the Department of Employment and MI5.

There is no doubt, as Piers Marquis submitted, that Mr Wyatt drew extensively on that material. A paper called “Violent Picketing” was drawn on “to good effect”

Piers Marquis submitted that ‘the secret state’ was involved in providing ‘information’ to Mr Wyatt. He also drew heavily on resources from the Industrial Research and Information Services Limited (IRIS)[4] which was closely associated with the IRD.

The IRD and IRIS brought the journalist Simon Regan to Woodrow Wyatt’s attention. Simon Regan was responsible for an original newspaper series[5] which spread reports of violence and intimidation during the National Builders Strike and which was completed with the active help of IRIS. But, as Marquis submitted, those reports, and Regan’s subsequent claims in The Red Under the Bed, were not only inaccurate, but based on lies.

As Marquis explained to the court, both Northampton and County Police and Birmingham Police had investigated Reagan’s newspaper allegations in November 1972 and found that his allegations were “completely fabricated” and “a figment of imagination”. The DPP had requested that inquiry in 1972.

Despite the fact that the DPP and the Attorney General were aware of this investigation and its 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 around which to build the TV programme.

As Marquis explained:

“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.”

Thus, as Marquis submitted, a branch of government (with the endorsement of at least two other branches of Government) provided information to Mr. Wyatt, knowing it was incorrect and in the full knowledge that that it would be used to broadcast false information about the criminality of building-strike flying pickets in the course of criminal proceedings.

Marquis stated that once the programme was shown in the middle 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.

The fact that this information was not disclosed, the case was not stopped, and the jury not discharged, means that these convictions are unsafe. As Marquis concluded, the following issues makes it impossible for Tomlinson, Murray and all the Shrewsbury pickets to have had a fair trial:

  1. The failure of the Prosecution, knowing that the programme had been shown at the time that it had, and having been informed of a contempt of court application, to disclose the findings of police reports into Simon Regan’s probity.
  2. The involvement of the Executive and secret services in the production of the programme, coupled (at least) with their lack of any objection to the proposed re-scheduling of the broadcast during the course of the first Shrewsbury trial.
  3. The involvement of the Executive in the production of the programme, including knowingly propagating false material that was prejudicial to the Shrewsbury defendants.

Commenting on proceedings, Ricky Tomlinson said:

“The evidence today 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, 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. [The original trial] led to me being sentenced to 2 years in prison and for Des Warren [being sentenced to] 3 years in prison. There really does need to be a public inquiry into what has happened in the Shrewsbury case specifically and the issue of blacklisting in the building industry generally.”

Alongside the Blacklist Support Group, John McDonnell and our clients, we believe there is an urgent need for an independent statutory inquiry into the events at Shrewsbury as part of a wider investigation into blacklisting in the building industry. What role did the state and public bodies play in this? What contribution did the big construction firms make in the blacklisting of building workers?

The Court of Appeal judges reserved their decision. We do not expect it to be handed down before the end of March – but watch this space.


[1] Piers Marquis and Annabel Timan, counsel at Doughty Street chambers, are instructed by Paul Heron, solicitor from the Public Interest Law Centre.

[2] The IRD was a covert anti-communist propaganda unit within the F.C.O. Part of its remit was to provide anti-communist material to journalists for broadcast and dissemination.

[3] Edward Heath, the Prime Minister at the time, wrote on a disclosed note that “[we] want as much as possible of this sort of thing”. Heath hoped “…that the new unit is now in being and actively producing”.

[4] The IRIS were an anti-communist propaganda platform focussing on union activism. It was financed primarily by corporate donations but later apparently funded out of the intelligence services budget.

[5] The newspaper series (now accepted to be based on lies) was featured in the now-defunct News of the World newspaper.

25Jan 2021

Court of Appeal to hear Shrewsbury 24 case

25th January 2021|

On February 3rd and 4th 2021 the Court of Appeal is due to hear the cases of members of the Shrewsbury 24.

PILC is representing Ricky Tomlinson and Arthur Murray. We have instructed Piers Marquis and Annabel Timan of Doughty St. Chambers as counsel.

Ricky and Arthur were two members of the Shrewsbury 24, ordinary trade unionists arrested for their involvement in the national builders’ strike in 1972. In 1973 Ricky, along with Des Warren, was sentenced to prison for unlawful assembly, conspiracy to intimidate and affray.

On 26th May 2020 the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) referred Ricky and Arthur’s cases to the Court for reconsideration. To our knowledge a total of 14 of the Shrewsbury 24 have had their cases referred.

The Court is being asked to consider:

  1. New evidence consisting of a note dated 17 September 1973 revealing that some original statements had been destroyed. Neither this note, nor the fact that statements were destroyed, was disclosed to the defence at the time of the trial;
  2. New legal arguments relating to the screening of the TV programme The Red Under the Bed during the 1972 trial, and an analysis, applying modern standards of fairness, of the way the airing of the documentary was handled by the trial judge. The programme was highly critical of trade union organising.

We will provide a full report after the hearing.

For media enquiries, please call 07747857172

18Jan 2021

Victory in Southwark overcrowding campaign!

18th January 2021|

Overcrowded families in Southwark have achieved a significant victory, with the council responding positively to a community-led campaign and legal challenge around the issue.

The term ‘deliberate act’ has been removed from a new draft of the local authority’s housing allocations scheme. The council has also promised to take a number of concrete steps that will benefit families in overcrowded housing. The council has invited Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) to a meeting to discuss potential improvements to their allocations scheme.

This is a welcome change of approach from Southwark. For far too long families have had their priority on the waiting list significantly reduced simply because – as a result of high rents, benefit cuts and a shortage of council homes – they were unable to afford suitable accommodation. Most of the families affected are from migrant and BAME households, and have therefore faced additional structural barriers in terms of access to housing.

In September, PILC, HASL and 30+ local community groups wrote an open letter to Southwark about the culture of blame and refusal faced by families in overcrowded housing. The letter highlighted how the council’s actions were negatively impacting low-income families from BAME and migrant backgrounds.

Southwark’s initial response continued to blame families for their overcrowding. The council argued that living in overcrowded housing was a ‘choice’, suggested other areas of the country where families might live and accused families of trying to ‘exploit’ the housing register.

In response, we launched an email campaign. Over 250 protest emails were sent to the leader of Southwark council demanding a change to the council’s policies and practices on overcrowding. The emails highlighted the hardship that families were facing as a result of the council’s policy, which described severely overcrowded families as having ‘deliberately’ caused their overcrowding and penalised them by reducing their priority on the waiting list. In other cases, housing officers were not interpreting the housing allocations scheme properly. In some cases it was decided, wrongly and without evidence, that families had ‘deliberately worsened their circumstances’: i.e. that they were effectively living in overcrowded accommodation ‘on purpose’ so as to exploit the housing register.

In response to the email campaign:

  • The leader of the council, Kieron Williams, agreed to meet with HASL to discuss improvements to the council’s housing allocations scheme;
  • The council’s housing manager agreed to revise guidance to staff administering the housing allocations scheme, specifically in relation to the ‘deliberately worsening of circumstances’;
  • The council has undertaken to review all cases in which a decision has been issued stating that there has been a ‘deliberately worsening of circumstances’;
  • All officers within the housing department will be issued with updated guidance; and
  • The council will consult on a new allocations scheme. (We have been requested to participate in ‘help[ing to] shape the future of allocations in Southwark.’

We welcome the council’s response to our campaign. We will now fight to ensure that:

  1. The updated guidance to staff is clear so that decisions are made fairly and lawfully;
  2. The council’s allocations scheme is re-drafted clearly and fairly so that it operates in a way that supports rather than penalises families facing hardship. The scheme must make clear that no family should ever be penalised or blamed for living in overcrowded conditions.

15Dec 2020

PILC briefing on school attendance in Covid-19

15th December 2020|

PILC has been acting on behalf of clinically vulnerable families to challenge the government’s policy on school attendance during Covid-19.

We have today published a briefing note outlining the government’s official position as set out in response to a pre-action letter from PILC, and explaining how this official position deviates from published guidance.

We will continue to push the government both to amend its published guidance to reflect its official position on local discretion and to change its guidance around school attendance and vulnerable family members.

In the meantime we wanted to bring the government’s official position to the attention of parents, school and local authorities so that they are clear that they are able to exercise discretion when authorising a child’s absence. This discretion can include taking into account the vulnerabilities of family members as well as other factors such as mental health or special educational needs.

We hope parents will be able to make use of this briefing note when liaising with schools and local authorities

The briefing note can be downloaded here.

29Nov 2020

Brigadier Fernando case goes to High Court

29th November 2020|

On Wednesday 3rd December 2020 the case of the former Sri Lankan defence attaché Brigadier Priyanka Fernando will be heard in the High Court.

On 4th February 2018 Brigadier Fernando was filmed threatening peaceful protestors outside the Sri Lankan Embassy by drawing his fingers across his neck in a cut-throat action. The gesture was directed against Tamil community groups protesting peacefully outside the embassy.

On 6th February 2018, a private prosecutor, whom we represent, laid information against the Brigadier before Westminster Magistrates’ Court. On 22nd March 2018, a summons was issued.

The defendant left his diplomatic post shortly afterwards and returned to Sri Lanka.

At a re-trial on 6th December 2019 Brigadier Fernando was convicted of public order offences in relation to the cut-throat gesture.

The Senior District Judge found that the defendant’s actions did not form part the exercise of his functions as a diplomatic agent and so fell outside the residual immunity provided by Article 39(2) of the Vienna Convention. The judge also found on the evidence of the witnesses that our client was alarmed by the gesture and that the Brigadier Fernando had intended to cause alarm.

The Brigadier’s legal representatives applied to have the matter ‘case stated’. This is a procedure by which a court can ask another court for its opinion on a point of law. The Senior District Judge in the Magistrates Court agreed to this on 10th March 2020. The Senior District Judge has phrased the question as such: was she right to find that the Brigadier enjoyed residual diplomatic immunity at the time of the trial?

The High Court will decide a number of issues relating to diplomatic immunity, the job of the Brigadier and the jurisdiction of the Magistrates’ Court.

During the hearings that took place at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, the Brigadier’s legal team attempted to invoke immunity. They were not successful. In our view, immunity cannot be invoked in order to defend a diplomat from all unlawful acts indefinitely. It is our view that Brigadier Fernando did not and does not have the protection of diplomatic immunity.

Article 39(2) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961 states that:

“When the functions of a person enjoying privileges and immunities have come to an end, such privileges and immunities shall normally cease at the moment when he leaves the country, or on expiry of a reasonable period in which to do so, but shall subsist until that time, even in case of armed conflict. However, with respect to acts performed by such a person in the exercise of his functions as a member of the mission, immunity shall continue to subsist.”

This is incorporated into UK law by the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964, which provides that immunity ends a reasonable time after the diplomat leaves their post.

Immunity will only be maintained thereafter for activities carried out in the course of official duties.

Immediately after the threats made by Brigadier Fernando, the Sri Lankan Government not only stripped him of his position (and therefore, we argue, of his immunity) but also sent him back to Sri Lanka. Brigadier Fernando is no longer listed on the 2019 or 2020 London Diplomat List and therefore is no longer a diplomat in the UK. He no longer comes under the protection of Article 31 of the Vienna Convention in respect of proceedings in England and Wales.

We therefore hope that the High Court upholds the original decision of Westminster Magistrates’ Court and finds the Brigadier guilty of breaching section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986. This would be a small but significant victory for our client.