The Employers And The Conservative Government

The main employers’ organisation, the National Federation of Building Trade Employers (NFBTE), encouraged member building firms to keep records of picketing on their sites from the earliest days of the dispute. Their Press Officer, M.A.P. Harnett, sent a letter to all member companies on the September 20th 1972, six days after the strike ended. It was entitled ‘Intimidation Dossier’. The first paragraph of the letter said, “You will be aware, both from newspaper reports and from internal communications, that we are compiling a dossier on incidents of intimidation and violence during the recent wage dispute. The intention is to pass this document to the Home Secretary for his consideration with a view to tightening up the law on picketing in industrial disputes.”

The Federation urged an immediate response from their affiliated members:

We have a considerable amount of material already to hand from Regions but there is a need for more. I am therefore writing to ask if you would kindly let me have full details of any incidents which you may have available. In addition, I would ask as a matter of urgency that you kindly consider seeking from those of your members who you know to have been involved in incidents full information for onward transmission to this office. Especially valuable would be signed statements from eye witnesses.’

The firms complied and a dossier was sent to the Conservative Home Secretary, Robert Carr.

Two weeks before the dossier was published Carr, who was given an advanced copy, addressed the House of Commons on 11th October 1973:

There is nothing wrong with the law, the real problem was enforcement. Following disturbing evidence of intimidation from many areas during the national building workers strike I intend once again to draw the attention of Chief Constables to the provisions of the law and discuss with them what further action they may take to defeat such violence and intimidation in industrial disputes.

The Financial Times reported on the NFBTE dossier,

This document is itself flawed since it suggests the existence of a sinister plot without being able to substantiate the allegations. Many of the incidents that have been listed seem to be little more than the ordinary spontaneous angry behaviour that might be expected on a building site at any time (and especially during an industrial dispute)…the publication reads more like a politically motivated pamphlet than a serious study.

Robert Carr instructed the Chief Constable of West Mercia and the Chief Constable of Gwynedd to investigate picketing in the Shrewsbury area during the dispute. The NFBTE dossier included reports of alleged instances from building sites across the country over a twelve-week period, but the Government decided to order an investigation only into alleged instances on a McAlpine site in Shrewsbury on September 6th 1972.

We have to remember how remote an area Shrewsbury is compared with other regions of the country. A team of detectives was put to work. They were billeted in a hotel in North Wales, which was used as a central point for the huge investigation. 800 statements were taken of which 600 were discarded. It was estimated at the trial there had been… worth of damage on the site. The estimated cost of the trial, not counting the three appeal hearings, was £500,000 (£4.72m at 2010 prices).

The preliminary report of the two Chief Constables went to the Director of Public Prosecutions in February 1973. Shortly afterwards, on the 14th February, 24 former pickets were arrested and charged with 210 offences between them.

Although all 24 were charged with the offence of intimidation under section 7 of the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1875 just six pickets were to stand trial for the common law offence of conspiracy (to intimidate). At the time The Guardian asked “how the ‘Shrewsbury Six’ were chosen from the hundreds of pickets who were instrumental in closing many sites and persuading non-strikers to join the stoppage, not only in Shropshire but throughout the country?” How indeed.

None of the pickets were convicted of assault.

The first Shrewsbury trial involved six of the pickets. They faced a shopping list of charges: Des Warren had 28 charges levelled against him, Ricky Tomlinson 21, John McKenzie Jones 12, John Llywarch 9, Ken O’Shea 13 and John Carpenter 9, yet when the trial actually began the Crown proceeded with just 3 charges against them:

  • conspiracy to intimidate
  • affray
  • unlawful assembly

At the end of the trial the remaining charges against each of them were left to lie on the file. They were not withdrawn.

The Construction Industry’s Powerful Friends

Robert Alistair McAlpine became the Treasurer of the Conservative Party in 1975. The McAlpine family had great political influence in the North Wales area. The High Sheriff of Denbighshire, which is a large part of the county of Gwynedd, is the senior person responsible for law and order. Up to the 1970’s the past nine High Sheriffs had been members of the McAlpine family. The person appointed in April 1974 was Mr Peter Bell, a director of McAlpine and the son-in-law of the late Sir Alfred McAlpine, who was also Mr Bell’s predecessor as High Sheriff. McAlpines were the main contractors of the Brookside building site in Shrewsbury, which featured prominently in the charges against the pickets.

An indication of the power and influence of the Construction Industry is shown by this report of a private Christmas dinner organized by McAlpines in 1970.

“Anyone who can hold a private party and make it virtually impossible to get a cabinet quorum cannot be without influence or friends. In what other industry can any person boast of such a wide and diverse circle of acquaintances? None.”

 Construction News 17 December 1970

The Occasion: the McAlpine’s Christmas beano December 1970

The Venue: The Mc Alpine’s own hotel, the Dorchester, Park Lane, London

The Menu : La Friande de Perdreau, whatever that may be, washed down with Chateau Rancan Gassies and rounded off with a copy of a biography of Ted Heath as a presentation for every guest.

The guest list: Unbelievable, 700 of the wealthiest, most powerful people in Britain. The following were on the top table.

Edward Heath yachtsman

Lord Chandos of Panmure Gordon stockbrokers

Sir Gerald Templer ex boss of the British Army and chairman of the British Metal Corporation

Harold MacMillan ExTory Prime Minister

Sir Joseph Lockwood boss of EMI director of Smith’s Industries, Beechams and Hawker Siddeley

Lord Thomson owner of Thomson Newspapers

Lord Inchape boss of P&O, director of Burmah Oil and BP Lord Renwick of W Greenwell stockbrokers

Selwyn Lloyd former Tory chancellor and Foreign Secretary

Sir Charles Forte boss.of Trust House Fortes

Sir Desmond Plummer former boss of the Greater London Council

Lord Perth boss of Tate & Lyle

Lord Amory former Tory chancellor of the Exchequer, ex director of Lloyds, ICI and

John Heathcoats

Ray Gunter former Labour Minister of Labour and director of Securicor

Gordon Brunton boss of Thomson Newspapers.

Lord Citrine former Electricians Union official, former Genral Secretary of the TUC, former Chairman of the Electricity Board

Charles Clore boss of the British Shoe Corporation, director of Scottish Motor Traction, Selfridges etc,

Dr Finniston boss of the British Steel Corporation

Sir Ronald Leach of Peat Marwick company doctors

Lord Hall former head of the Post Office

Lord Stow Hill formerly Frank Soskice, Labour Home Secretary

Sir David Brown owns David Brown Tractors

J A Boyd Carpenter ex Tory Minister and chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority

Lord Mancroft Ex Tory minister, Cunard and Great Universal Stores director

Sir Louis Gluckstein head of Great Universal Stores

Sir Alec Douglas Home former Tory Prime Minister and smallholder

Sir Halford Reddish free enterprise fanatic, boss of Rugby Portland Cement and director of Granada.

Reginald Maulding director of several dubious companies

Lord Showcross former chairman of BSA, and former Labour Attorney General

Sir Arnold Weinstock boss of GEC

Duncan Sandys former Tory Minister director of Llonrho

Lord Hill former boss head of the BBC and the ITA

Sir Max Rayne head of London Merchant Securities, the property empire

Lord Aldington friend of Jack Jones, director of English China Clays and G EC

Sir Harold Samuel property king and boss of Land Securities

John Peyton Tory Minister of Transport

Sir Miles Thomas director of the Thomson Organisation and of a dubious gambling club, ‘The Pair of Shoes’

Sir Paul Chambers formerly of ICI now insurance magnate and director of National Westminster