Shrewsbury 24: Actor Ricky Tomlinson among trade unionists cleared at the Court of Appeal

Members of the so-called Shrewsbury 24, trade unionists who challenged their convictions for picketing nearly 50 years ago, have been cleared at the Court of Appeal. They included the actor Ricky Tomlinson, before he became famous.

Who were the Shrewsbury 24?

24 trade unionists picketed building sites in Shrewsbury during the 1972 national builders' strike. They were charged with offences including unlawful assembly, conspiracy to intimidate and affray. 22 of them were convicted.

A campaign has been underway to overturn the convictions.

These images show the pickets at the heart of the case.

The pickets at the heart of the Shrewsbury 24's case Credit: Shropshire Star
The pickets at the heart of the Shrewsbury 24's case Credit: Shropshire Star

What did the case argue?

Lawyers representing 14 of the Shrewsbury 24, including The Royle Family star Ricky Tomlinson, argued that the destruction of original witness statements meant their convictions were unsafe.

They also said a TV documentary, aired during the original trial, could have influenced the jury.

Terry Renshaw was cleared today at the Court of Appeal. He went on to become the Mayor of Flint, but told ITV News Central he'd been denied travel to the US, due to the conviction.

Ricky Tomlinson delivered a petition to Downing Street calling for the convictions to be overturned

What was said today?

In its written ruling, the Court of Appeal allowed the 14 appellants' appeals on the ground that original witness statements had been destroyed.

Lord Justice Fulford said,

"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."

  • A report from the ITV Central archives shows protests outside the court house in the 1970s.

How did it all unfold in the 70s?

In 1972 the fire and fury of 70s industrial conflict arrived in Shrewsbury, during a long-running construction workers dispute.

A group of union members from North Wales were put onto buses and taken to the town to picket construction sites.  The practice was known as “flying pickets”.  It was banned in the 1980’s, but in 1972 it was legal.

The activists - including the actor Ricky Tomlinson, before he found fame - insist that there was no intimidation.  They even claim that they received the good wishes of the Chief Constable as they got on the coaches which took them back home.

But five months later the police came calling.  24 men were charged and eventually convicted of crimes such as conspiracy and affray.

The trials were held in Shrewsbury in the face of huge anger and protests outside the court.

The scenes featured heavily in a documentary which was transmitted during the trial.  An hour long film, followed by a studio discussion in which it was claimed some unions were dominated by Communists, and that the construction workers strike was all about revolution.

This month, nearly 50 years later, the pickets’ lawyers revealed documents to the court of appeal which they say prove the Government of the day was heavily involved in making that programme.

The court heard that it could have scared and influenced the jury at the time, and that the convictions of the Shrewsbury 24 were unsafe.

However, the court ruled today that although in 2021, a programme like 'Red under the Bed' would have not been aired until after the trial, the judge said that in this instance, it did not affect the outcome.

"The question for this court is whether the risk that the programme may have been seen by one or more jurors renders the verdicts in the three trials unsafe. We have no doubt this is not the case."

Ricky Tomlinson was sentenced to two years in jail for conspiracy to intimidate and affray.

  • In this archive court report, Ricky Tomlinson's sentence is read out.

He said today,

"Whilst it is only right that these convictions are overturned, it is a sorry day for British justice. The reality is we should never have been standing in the dock...This was a political trial not just of me and the Shrewsbury pickets, but was a trial of the trade union movement."

Ricky Tomlinson at a protest outside the Houses of Parliament, Westminster, in 2009 Credit: PA

The case was heard in the Court of Appeal at the start of February and ruled today.