Socialist Worker

Shrewsbury 24 appeal decision shows ‘you have to keep fighting’—Ricky Tomlinson

Ricky Tomlinson, is probably best known as Jim 'My arse' Royle in the hugely popular Royle Family television comedy. He is a socialist who was jailed on trumped-up charges for his role in a strike in 1972. This week, as the cases were sent back to the Court of Appeal, Ricky spoke to Socialist Worker

Issue No. 2695

Campaigning for their release

Campaigning for the release of the Shrewsbury 24


Eight members of the Shrewsbury 24—building workers jailed in the 1970s for picketing—have had their convictions referred for appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).

“It’s bloody outrageous that it has taken 47 years for this to happen,” Ricky Tomlinson—who was jailed for two years—told Socialist Worker.

“It’s a small victory and it might help to expose more of what actually happened.”

The Shrewsbury 24 Campaign has worked since 2006 to publicise the case and gain support from trade unions and the Labour Party. The campaign’s researcher and secretary, Eileen Turnbull, unearthed the fresh evidence necessary to persuade the CCRC to refer the case to the appeal court. 

All eight referred to the Court of Appeal were convicted in a series of trials held in 1972, 1973 and 1974.

They were convicted of offences such as unlawful assembly, conspiracy to intimidate, affray, and threatening behaviour.

The cruel sentences imposed varied from three years imprisonment to three months imprisonment suspended for two years.

“It was a politically motivated case designed to break a very high level of workers’ action at the time,” says Ricky. “This was the first, and still only, national building workers’ strike.

“On 6 September 1972 when the so-called offences took place, the police said there would be no charges. Then the people at the top got involved and it all changed.

“Months later there were suddenly hundreds of charges.

“Police and witness statements were destroyed and new ones prepared.

Pushed

“Even if we had been violent there would only have been a maximum sentence of a few months, but they added conspiracy charges and that pushed the penalties up massively.

"Jurors were told by a court official that we would only get a fine if we were convicted. They were horrified afterwards.

“The judge was a gobshite. People’s lives were torn apart.

“My mate Dezzie Warren was sentenced to three years in jail and then given drugs which led to him getting Parkinson’s disease.

“He sued the Home Office and got some money—but with a gagging clause.

“We were blacklisted. I was on the Economic League list with my name and national insurance number. Dezzie changed his name by deed poll to try to escape. Both his names were on the list.

“Lots of the 24 never worked again. They—and their families—were in terrible poverty.”

The eight whose cases have been referred are John McKinsie Jones, Michael Pierce, Terry Renshaw, Kevin Butcher, Malcolm Clee and Bernard Williams and also Des Warren and Ken O’Shea both of whom are deceased.

Terry Rensha, said, “We are absolutely delighted with the decision and look forward to our day in court to show that we were victims of a miscarriage of justice. Without the Shrewsbury 24 Campaign we would not be where we are today. We owe a great debt of thanks to them for the tireless work that they have carried out.”

The referrals do not include Ricky, but he is considering whether to join his name to the case.

Ricky adds that during the years since the trial “attempts to show what really went on have been kicked into the long grass again and again.

“We were let down by the trade union leaders and the governments, Labour and Tory, that blocked the truth.

“But we also had a lot of support, at the time and since. We were backed by workers in London and elsewhere and by people in Socialist Worker such as Jim Nichol and Paul Foot.

“You have to keep fighting.”


Speeches from the dock 20 December 1973

Ricky Tomlinson, before he was sentenced to two years in jail:

I have sat here for many weeks and seen my character systematically shredded up. It was said in the last war by Doctor Goebbels that if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes accepted as the truth.

This I have observed in this court and now know it to be true. So much so that the constant use of the words “petrified”, “terrified”, “afraid”, “frightened” and “scared to death” by witness after witness led even myself to think for a moment that I had done the things I had been accused of.

Ricky on his release

Ricky on his release (Pic: John Sturrock)

I have heard the judge say that this was not a political trial, just an ordinary criminal case.

I refute that with every fibre of my being.

How can anyone say this was just an ordinary trial when 1,000 police were on duty outside this very building because building workers were due to appear before the court?

No sentence passed on me by this court, however lenient or however severe, can hurt me more than I have been hurt already.

I have been almost totally unemployed since my arrest and this punishes my wife and two infant sons to a far greater extent than it does me.

During the length and course of this trial my family have been abused by the people whose duty it is to assist them. But that matter is now in the hands of my member of parliament.

In the course of this trial I have discovered many things about the law of the land and the legal system. I express my fear for the working class movement.

The sentence passed on me today by this court will not matter.

My innocence has been proved time and time again by the building workers of Wrexham whom I led, and, indeed, by building workers from all over the land who have sent messages of support to myself, my family and my colleagues.

I look forward to the day when the real culprits, the McAlpines, Wimpeys, Laings and Bovis and all their political puppets, are in the dock facing charges of conspiracy and intimidating workers from doing what is their lawful right—picketing.

It is hoped the trade union movement and the working class of this country will act now to ensure that another charade such as this will never take place again, and the right to picket or strike will be defended even at the cost of great personal hardship or individual freedom.

Des Warren, before he was sentenced to three years in jail:

I have spent a week in prison now. The convicts and others in there told me that a speech from the dock would get me double. But I must speak out.

It has been said in this court that this trial has nothing to do with politics. Among the ten million trade unionists in this country I doubt if you would find one who agreed with this statement.

It is a fact of life that due entirely to acts of parliament every strike is now regarded as a political act. It therefore follows that every act taken in furtherance of an industrial dispute also becomes a political act.

There are even those who describe it as a challenge to the law of the land when men decide not to work beyond the agreed number of hours in the working week and ban overtime.

The building employers, by their contempt of the laws governing safety regulations, are guilty of causing the deaths and maimings of workers. Yet they are not dealt with by the court.

The law is quite clearly an instrument of the state to be used in the interests of a tiny minority against a majority. The law is biased. It is class law and nowhere has this been demonstrated more than in the prosecution case at this trial.

Was there a conspiracy? Yes, there was. But not by the pickets. The conspiracy was one between the Home Secretary, the employers and the police.

It was conceived after pressure from Tory MPs, who demanded changes in the picketing laws. There is a very good reason why no police witness said here that he had seen any evidence of conspiracy, unlawful assembly or affray.

The question was hovering over the case from the very first day—why no arrests on 6 September?

That would have led to even more important questions. When was the decision to proceed taken? Where did it come from? What instructions were issued to the police and by whom?

I am innocent of the charges and I will appeal. But there will be a more important appeal to the entire trade union movement.

Nobody here must think they can walk away from this court and forget what has happened here. We are all part of something much bigger than what has taken place here. The trade union and working class movement cannot accept this verdict.

These speeches were printed in Socialist Worker, 5 January 1974


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