''The GMB union has supported us from day one. The North West & Irish region had confidence in us and would go out of their way to encourage and help us in any way they could.''
Shrewsbury 24 Campaign Secretary and Researcher, Eileen Turnbull, talks to Giovanna Holt, GMB union senior organiser; about this Campaign for Justice and 10 years research for fresh evidence.
On 23 March 2021 the Court of Appeal, in a landmark case, quashed the convictions of 24 building workers who stood trial on picketing offences in 1973-74. These were trade unionists who were taking part in an official national strike. They were simply demanding an improvement in Health and Safety and better pay. They have always maintained their innocence. Six of them were given prison sentences. The most experienced trade unionist amongst them, Des Warren, was jailed for three years.
In 2006 a group of trade unionists in the North West came together to form a campaign. Their aim was to overturn this miscarriage of justice. Our very own Eileen Turnbull, the GMB union Regional Legal Officer for 20 years, joined the campaign committee in 2008. It was her research experience from Industrial Tribunals and equal pay claims that assisted her in her quest to obtain the fresh evidence which is required to put a case before the appeal court. It took her over ten years to find the key documents which have finally brought about justice for the pickets.
Doc 1: Original witness statements destroyed by police
The original handwritten witness statements taken by the police were destroyed and new statements taken, when the police had the use of photographs and knew what they had to prove. This information was not made available to the defence at all three trials
Doc 2: File and recording of the programme, Red Under the Bed
Half way through the first trial this prejudicial programme was broadcast on ITV, depicting striking building worker pickets as hooligans who destroyed building sites. It smeared the pickets. This was false information provided by the Information Research Department which was a covert government agency.
It was a long, hard fifteen years of campaigning which has brought about this great victory for trade unionists. After the Court of Appeal judgement, Eileen Turnbull paid tribute to the pickets who stood firm: “I am particularly happy for the eight pickets who stood with the Campaign through all the tough times: John McKinsie Jones, Malcom Clee, Michael Pierce, Terry Renshaw, Kevin Butcher, Bernard Williams and the families of the late Des Warren and Ken O’Shea. Their tenacity and commitment was an inspiration. It has taken these pickets 47 years to find justice.” They never gave up.
Eight pickets have now passed away. The youngest, Terry Renshaw, is now 73 and the oldest, Kevin Butcher, is 87. Many of them are infirm. But their spirit is as strong as ever.
Although the Shrewsbury 24 Campaign knew that the evidence they had was strong and was confident that they would win, they also knew that if they failed it would have been very difficult to carry on. The pickets were innocent of all charges but given the age of the pickets and campaign members they agreed that they if they had failed at the Court of Appeal, they would have had to pass the justice baton on to the next generation.
Eileen and the campaign have always emphasised that they could never have mounted their challenge to the appeal court without the support of the trade unions. “The GMB union has supported us from day one. The North West region had confidence in us and would go out of their way to encourage and help us in any way they could. The annual Justice conference in the region would bring us into contact with other justice campaigns which was tremendous.”
Join a union
Eileen says in closing, “For those who are interested in becoming involved in a campaign, join a union. If you are in a trade union you are in the best place to support or start a campaign. Union support and advice will help you get the best possible result’’.
As a result of their tremendous success the campaign will wind down over the next twelve months. It is a case of, job done.
The GMB union North West & Irish region
The GMB trade union holds an annual Campaigns for Justice conference, giving campaign organisers a voice and access to further support. Without the trade unions and working people’s support many of these campaigns would be brushed aside and forgotten by the establishment.