• Robert Spicer

Shrewsbury pickets convictions quashed

The Shrewsbury Pickets

In the case of Warren and others v R [2021] EWCA Crim 413, Court of Appeal, the facts, in summary, were that all 14 appellants were convicted at three trials at Shrewsbury Crown Court in 1973 and 1974. The offences concerned trade union-related public order allegations. Six of the appellants have died. In 2020 the Criminal Cases Review Commission referred the convictions to the Court of Appeal.

The first national building workers strike took place in 1972. In September 1972 six coachloads of pickets travelled to Shrewsbury. There were no arrests and no concerns over public order. In February 1973, 24 pickets were charged with offences arising from the picketing. More than three hundred union members were involved in flying pickets which visited building sites. Only 31 of these were later arrested and charged. Only three were sent to prison.

At the first trial Warren, Tomlinson and Jones were convicted of conspiracy to intimidate, unlawful assembly and affray. They were sentenced to three years, two years and nine months imprisonment respectively. Their appeals were dismissed in 1974. The conspiracy count alleged a plan to unlawfully intimidate workers who were not on strike. Warren’s sentence for conspiracy was twelve times more than the maximum which could have been awarded for the substantive offence of intimidation. On appeal, it was argued on behalf of the three that the conspiracy charge should have been excluded because the indictment also contained thirty-nine substantive counts including intimidation, assault and criminal damage. This was rejected. The court stated that where the substantive charges do not adequately represent the overall criminality, it may be appropriate to add a conspiracy charge.

At the second trial, nine defendants were convicted of unlawful assembly and affray. At the third trial, nine defendants were convicted of unlawful assembly.

Handwritten witness statements made by some of the civilian eyewitnesses were destroyed during the early stages of the proceedings and substitute statements were provided. This was not revealed to the accused who thought that they had access to all the statements.

On the day that the prosecution closed its case in the first trial, a programme called “Reds under the Bed” was broadcast on national television which it was suggested was highly prejudicial to the appellants.

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeals and quashed the convictions. The convictions were unsafe. The Court made the following points:

* If the destruction of the handwritten statements had been revealed 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.

* If that had happened, the trial process would have ensured fairness to the accused. That is not what occurred. By the standards of today, what occurred was unfair to the extent that the verdicts cannot be upheld.

* In relation to the television programme, given the political climate in the early 1970s and the clear issues in the case, any juror who saw the programme would not have been prejudiced against the appellants.

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