UK

Release Shrewsbury 24 Documents Or Labour Won't Support Spying Powers Bill, Andy Burnham Warns

09/12/2015 09:23 GMT | Updated 09/12/2015 09:59 GMT

Labour is threatening to oppose new government spying powers unless documents related to the "political motivated show-trial" of the so-called Shrewsbury 24, which included actor Ricky Tomlinson, are released.

Andy Burnham is set to warn that such a failure could jeopardise any Labour support for the Government's Draft Investigatory Powers Bill as ministers need to "build trust”.

The shadow home secretary will present a new dossier of evidence on the jailing of the pickets more than 40 years ago to Parliament, the Press Association reported.

ricky tomlinson

Ricky Tomlinson was among those involved in the Shrewsbury 24 case

He claims the new files show the "highest levels" of political involvement in the decision to bring charges against the builders the manipulation of witnesses, and attempts to influence the judge and trial jury.

In a Westminster Hall debate on the issue on Wednesday, Burnham will say: "The Government is asking for Labour's support to give the police and security services more expansive investigatory powers.

"I have said that I am prepared to consider the case for that.

"But, if the Government wants our support, it needs to do something in return to build trust. It should hold up a mirror to the past and be honest about times when powers have been misused.

"By doing that, we will have honesty and transparency and be able to build in safeguards going forward, learning from this country's past mistakes."

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Burnham will accuse Ted Heath's government and the security services of underhand involvement in the industrial dispute.

In October, Cabinet Minister Oliver Letwin retained the Shrewsbury 24 papers for reasons of national security and said the decision would not be reviewed until 2021.

The Shrewsbury 24 were arrested five months after the 1972 building workers' strike and charged under the 1875 Conspiracy Act, with six sent to prison.

Royle Family actor Ricky Tomlinson, whose real name is Eric Tomlinson, served 16 months in prison but always maintained his innocence.

He has continued to campaign on the issue, calling it a "miscarriage of justice".

Burnham will says that the Shrewsbury 24 were used as scapegoats in a state "propaganda war" against trade unions and compare the case to the cover-up of the Hillsborough disaster.

ricky tomlinson

Tomlinson always insisted on his innocence

He will say: “The Shrewsbury 24 were the convenient scapegoats of a Government campaign to undermine the unions; the victims of a politically-motivated show trial orchestrated from Downing Street, the Home and Foreign Offices and the security services.

"What possible justification can there be, 43 years on, for information about it to be withheld on national security grounds? The failure to disclose has less to do with national security and much more to do with the potential for political embarrassment."

Referencing 12 separate documents, Burnham will claim his files show that former prime minister Heath was assured by the then-home secretary that he was taking a "close personal interest" in the Shrewsbury 24 case - with the pickets arrested and charged days later.

This overturned the view of the attorney general, director of public prosecutions and Treasury lawyers that the case did not warrant prosecution as there was no evidence of violence, he will say.

andy burnham

Burnham said that the 24 were 'convenient scapegoats'

The papers also show the police notifying prosecution lawyers that original handwritten witness statements were destroyed and rewritten once officers "knew what we were trying to prove".

Burnham will claim a television documentary called 'Red Under the Bed' was aired during the trial with the "discreet" yet "considerable" assistance of a major state department and the security services, conflating footage of the accused with claims of communist infiltration of the strike.

The documentary was watched by the trial judge, aired the day after the prosecution finished its case and Heath wrote in a private note: "We want as much of this as possible", he will tell MPs.

Finally, the building employers' federation compiled a document for the home secretary on intimidation with views to tightening up strike laws, and accused the pickets of violence and "mobster" tactics.