DOCUMENTS kept secret by the Cabinet Office that implicate former prime minister Edward Heath in a concerted attempt to influence the jury in the prosecutions of trade unionists involved in the 1972 national construction workers strike are set to be revealed to parliament this week.
The Shrewsbury 24 Campaign says the government, having announced a review, have decided not to release any of the documents relating to the Shrewsbury trials. The next review is 2021. In a parliamentary Westminster Hall debate this Wednesday, shadow home secretary Andy Burnham is expected to unveil the documents and suggest that the government’s clear purpose was to influence the jurors.
Twenty-four men were arrested and charged with offences ranging from conspiracy to intimidate to affray following the 1972 strike. The strike lasted for 12 weeks and won workers a pay rise. Six men, including Des Warren and Ricky Tomlinson, were jailed.
Tomlinson served 16 months of a two-year sentence, while Des Warren was jailed for two years and eight months. His death in 2004 from Parkinson’s disease has been linked to his time in prison, in particular to the use of a ‘liquid cosh’, a cocktail of tranquillisers that was administered to inmates at the time.
A dossier of newly unearthed papers reportedly suggests that some of the most senior members of Heath’s 1972 Tory cabinet and members of the security services commissioned and promoted an ITV documentary entitled Red Under the Bed that was screened on the day the jury went out to consider the case against the ‘Shrewsbury 24’.
In the programme, narrated by former Tory MP Woodrow Wyatt, two of the defendants are shown taking part in protest marches. The images are interspersed with footage of violence and damage on building sites alleged to have been caused by the pickets.
The defence applied to the judge for the TV company to be held in contempt, but when the judge viewed the film he dismissed the application. The hour-long film was followed by a 30-minute studio discussion not broadcast in every ITV region, but it was transmitted by ATV, the region that covered Shrewsbury.
A file on the programme, held by the National Archives, has not been made public, but it was ‘retained’ by the Cabinet Office in the interests of national security under Section 3(4) of the Public Records Act 1958. During a House of Commons debate in 2014, MPs were unanimous in supporting the release of all documents relating to the jailing of the trade unionists.
However, in October this year the minister responsible for the Cabinet Office, Oliver Letwin, announced that the documents would not be released and that the decision would not be reviewed until 2021. Burnham said: ‘I am going to present a new dossier of evidence to parliament which suggests that a conspiracy against these trade unionists went right to the top of the Heath government. It suggests, as many have long believed, that the convictions are unsafe.
‘The modern-day relevance is that we have a bill going through parliament at the moment that requires the police to monitor trade union members’ activity on social media.’ The Criminal Cases Review Commission, an independent body, is examining the case.