'Landmark day in trade union history'

Shrewsbury 24: joyous and just day after nearly 50 years of battle

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Today’s (March 23) decision by the Court of Appeal to overturn the convictions of the Shrewsbury pickets after a nearly 50-year campaign has been hailed by Unite as a ‘joyous and just day’’ for the 24 workers and their families.

The Court of Appeal today (March 23) overturned the convictions of the surviving 14 men of the Shrewsbury 24 involved in the pickets of a national builders’ strike in 1972, including most famously actor Ricky Tomlinson, who was jailed for two years.  

The 24 Shrewsbury pickets were arrested and charged with over 200 offences including unlawful assembly, affray, intimidation and conspiracy to intimidate, five months after the ending of the 1972 building strike. Following a series of trials beginning in October 1973, six of the pickets were sent to prison, with the remainder receiving non-custodial sentences.

The pickets have been fighting to secure justice ever since. Unite and its predecessor unions have been major supporters of the campaign. The pickets were all members of predecessor unions of Unite, including T&G and Ucatt.

In their most recent appeal case to clear their names, the Shrewsbury 24’s lawyers argued that witness statements’ destruction made their convictions ‘unsafe’.

Lord Justice Fulford wrote in his ruling, “If the destruction of the handwritten statements had been revealed to the appellants at the time of the trial, this issue could have been comprehensively investigated with the witnesses when they gave evidence, and the judge would have been able to give appropriate directions.

“We have no doubt that if that had happened, the trial process would have ensured fairness to the accused. Self-evidently, that is not what occurred.

“By the standards of today, what occurred was unfair to the extent that the verdicts cannot be upheld.”

 One of the Shrewsbury 24, retired Unite activist Terry Renshaw, who is now in his mid-70s, was convicted of unlawful assembly at the third and final trial of the Shrewsbury 24 and sentenced to four months’ imprisonment suspended for two years.

He told the PA, “We never thought that we would see this day, when this miscarriage of justice was overturned.”

“The Court of Appeal has acknowledged that we did not receive a fair trial,” he added. “The police and the prosecuting authorities used every trick in the book to secure guilty verdicts even if it meant trampling over our rights and manipulating the evidence.

“On behalf of all the pickets, I would like to pay tribute to the Shrewsbury 24 Campaign, without whom we would never have achieved this victory,” Renshaw went on to say.

“In particular, we owe a great debt to our researcher, Eileen Turnbull, for working tirelessly to obtain the crucial evidence that got our case to the Court of Appeal and brought about our victory.”

Commenting, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said, “Today is a joyous and just day for the 24, and for working people everywhere, but these innocent workers should never have been put in this miserable position by the forces of the British state.

“We salute the heroic men and their families and their enormous courage in taking on the apparatus of the state in order to clear their names. History will rightly record their heroism,” he added.

“I send my very best wishes to my good friend Ricky Tomlinson, who can take enormous pride from today’s ruling, and my thoughts today are with Dessie Warren, who sadly did not live to see justice delivered, and his family who fought on in his name.

“It is also a landmark day in trade union history,” McCluskey continued. “For nearly 50 years this group of workers have been defending themselves against deep, criminal injustices perpetrated by the state. Finally, the truth has been heard and justice has been done.

“On behalf of Unite I want to pay tribute to their determination and to the Shrewsbury 24 Campaign, without whose work and commitment this victory for them and the working class would not have been possible.

“However, this day must also be marked with sadness, sadness for those who have not lived to see justice secured,” McCluskey went on to say.

“Not only should the pickets never have been convicted, but the failure to overturn such clearly wrongful convictions for so long, casts a dark stain on society.

“It is vital that this miscarriage of justice is never forgotten. The pickets were victims of the state whose agencies, including the police, the judiciary and the intelligence services, conspired to make an example of ordinary trade unionists simply campaigning for better pay and safer working conditions for all building workers.

“The full details of who was involved in these trumped up charges remain shrouded in mystery and it is critical that the government papers from the time are finally published.

“It is essential that such state sponsored injustice is never allowed to happen again and that is particularly critical in the context of the present government which is intent on limiting the right to protest.

“In the light of Norman Tebbit’s recent admissions, this verdict has ramifications for every person interested in freedom and human rights.”

By UniteLive team

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