THE COURT OF APPEAL has today overturned the convictions of the Shrewsbury 24 Pickets after a nearly 50-year campaign.
In 1972 the Royle family actor was a 33 year old plaster who joined the first ever national construction strike as a flying picket. The strike was against pay, unjust employment practices and dangerous conditions on sites.
Flying pickets, in which trade unionists travel to demonstrate from one site to another, went from town to town urging construction workers to down tools. In September six coach-loads of strikers demonstrated in Shrewsbury and Telford.
However, the 24 Shrewsbury pickets, including Ricky, were arrested and charged five months after the ending of the 12-week building strike.
They faced over 200 offences including unlawful assembly, affray, intimidation and conspiracy to intimidate.
Following a series of trials beginning in October 1973, six of the pickets were made an example of and sent to prison, with the remainder receiving non-custodial sentences.
It subsequently emerged that ministers in Ted Heath’s government had orchestrated the arrests and instructed the police to find evidence for them.
A Joyous and Just Day for Shrewsbury 24
Now the Court of Appeal’s judgement clearing the picketers has been hailed as a ‘joyous and just day” for the 24 workers and their families by Unite, the union.
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.
“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. 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.
Miscarriage of Justice
“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.”
Unite and its predecessor unions were major supporters of the campaign to overturn the picketers’ convictions. The pickets were all members of predecessor unions of Unite (T&G and Ucatt).