The Shrewsbury 24 were not guilty of conspiracy. They were the victims of one
It will be instructive to see how the Westminster Parliament and the Tory-Lib Dem government respond to the Shrewsbury 24 petition delivered to Downing Street on Monday.
More than the requisite 100,000 signatures have been secured for a parliamentary debate on the petition’s central demand for the disclosure of all state documents relating to the arrest, trials and convictions of 24 north Wales building workers in 1973.
Six men were jailed for a range of offences from affray to conspiracy to intimidate, including the late Des Warren (three years) and Ricky Tomlinson (two years).
Now a much-loved actor, the latter should be congratulated on his tireless campaigning for a pardon for his fellow felons.
That they were the victims of a state conspiracy is not only indicated by the circumstances of their arrest, the nature of the charges, the patently fabricated evidence and the conduct of the legal cases.
There is now the letter from the then director of public prosecutions Sir Peter Rawlinson to home secretary Robert Carr shortly before the initial arrests.
Dated January 25 1973, it informed him that although there had been instances of intimidation by flying pickets in Telford the previous September, these consisted entirely of threatening words and “there was no evidence against any particular person of violence or damage to property.”
The propaganda campaign led by the Tory-funding construction companies, employers and the Tory-supporting press before and during the trials screamed about fearsome violence and destruction on the picketed sites.
It has to be accepted, of course, that some building workers may have used impolite language when inviting their fellows workers to join them in their first-ever national strike.
They were seeking decent pay, conditions and safety standards in a dangerous industry notorious for low-paid and casual labour, greedy and criminally reckless employers and the blacklisting of trade union activists.
But the only “conspiracy” was the legitimate planning of lawful strike action by legal trade unions, followed by the deployment of legal means — and no doubt some “industrial language” — to make the action effective.
The imprisonment of north Wales strike leaders was not only unjustifiable. It was also intended, alongside the 1972 Industrial Relations Act, to serve as a warning to workers and their unions not to challenge the power of the employers and the capitalist state.
Indeed, so severe were the conditions imposed upon Des Warren, a communist who constantly defied the prison regime, that he never recovered from his incarceration.
A pardon might now help those of the Shrewsbury 24 who still survive.
Full disclosure of all records relating to the case would undoubtedly convict the government, the police, the courts, the mass media and leading construction industry employers of conspiracy to smash a heroic strike.