Shrewsbury Trials 1,2 & 3

John Platt-Mills, the QC who represented Des Warren at Shrewsbury Crown Court, wrote in his autobiography Muck, Silk and Socialism:

The trial of the Shrewsbury Pickets is the only case I know of where the government has ordered a prosecution in defiance of the advice of senior police and prosecution authorities.

Shortly before the first Shrewsbury trial began anyone facing trial in the Crown Court had the right to challenge up to seven potential jurors (the right of peremptory challenge). No reason had to be given by the defence for the challenge to any particular juror but it allowed a defendant to object to jurors who may not treat them fairly. This was used to good effect by the defendants at the Mold trial in June/July 1973, who objected to any juror whose occupation was given as a building contractor or someone who might be connected with the building employers.

The Conservative Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, abolished the right of peremptory challenge on the basis of occupation just weeks before the Shrewsbury trial.

The defence requested that the trials should remain in Mold or moved to a more neutral area of the country as the charges against the pickets arose from picketing in the Shrewsbury area. Judge Mais turned down this request.

The 24 pickets were split up into three groups and tried in separate trials. This in itself was unusual given that the charges against them all arose out of the same set of circumstances, on the same day, on the same building sites in Shrewsbury. Importantly, the conspiracy charges against the pickets were centred on a joint union meeting on 31st August 1972 in Chester where many of the 24 arrested pickets had been in attendance.

Arrested, charged and put on trial in Shrewsbury Crown Court on 3rd October 1973

Arrested, charged and put on trial in Shrewsbury Crown Court on 3rd October 1973. © Ricky Tomlinson 2011.

The first of the trials held at Shrewsbury Crown Court took place on on 3rd October 1973. The six pickets were charged with conspiracy to intimidate, unlawful assembly and affray. The trial lasted for thirteen weeks. Three men were convicted of all three charges: Des Warren, Eric Tomlinson and John McKinsie Jones. They were sentenced to three years, two years and nine months of imprisonment respectively on each count, to run concurrently. The remaining three men, John Carpenter, John Elfyn Llywarch and Kenneth O’Shea were found guilty of unlawful assembly and each received suspended sentences of nine months imprisonment.

The second trial held at Shrewsbury Crown Court took place on 15th January 1974. Nine pickets were charged with the general offences of unlawful assembly and affray. Again, the prosecution did not proceed with the specific charges against many of these nine pickets, of assault or criminal damage, because the Crown would have had to produce evidence that the individuals did assault a particular person or damage a particular piece of property.

Brian Williams, Arthur Murray and Mike Pierce were found guilty of both charges and were sentenced to six months imprisonment for affray and four months for unlawful assembly. The remaining six pickets were given six and four months suspended sentences respectively to run concurrently for two years.

The third trial at Shrewsbury took place on 26th February 1974. A further nine pickets stood trial on charges of unlawful assembly and affray. John Seaburg was convicted of affray and unlawful assembly. He was sentenced to six and four months imprisonment respectively, suspended for two years. Terry Renshaw and Edward Williams were convicted of unlawful assembly and were each sentenced to four months in prison, suspended for two years. The other pickets convicted at this trial were also given suspended sentences of four months imprisonment, suspended for two years.

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