Published On: 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.