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Shrewsbury 24 activists hail MPs' vote for full facts of 1972 plot

Tomlinson: We won't stop until we know the truth on anti-union conspiracy

Shewsbury 24 justice campaigners hailed a big leap forward yesterday in their quest to expose a vicious Establishment conspiracy against innocent trade unionists.

MPs voted to open all secret files on the case following a historic Commons debate 40 years after three Shrewsbury pickets were jailed and 21 others tried on trumped-up conspiracy charges.

Amid passionate calls for justice, MPs voted by 120 to three to demand the lifting of the government ban on publication of papers held on spurious grounds of "national security."

In an emotional speech, former building worker Steve Rotheram MP declared: "We now know more than ever before about the political, judicial, media and police manipulation that scarred the lives of 24 ordinary men."

He denounced their "political show trial" and appealed to the government to end the heartache and obfuscation once and for all.

Lib Dem Justice Minister Simon Hughes claimed in a hand-wringing speech that the government wanted "the maximum revelation" of public documents.

But he refused to budge on the early release of four key documents, including one security service briefing on "Communist Party activity."

Blaydon Labour MP Dave Anderson, who spearheaded the backbench debate, contemptuously rejected the minister's stance.

Mr Anderson protested that "national security" was being used as "a national cover-up." It was being used to "abuse the people of this country."

Labour shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter strongly suggested that the next Labour government would release all the documents.

He praised the Shrewsbury 24 campaign as "the trade union movement at its democratic and campaigning best."

And he thanked Unite the union and its general secretary Len McCluskey for their magnificent support for the cause.

Actor and former jailed picket Ricky Tomlinson was among campaigners watching the debate from the visitors' gallery.

Mr Tomlinson pledged to follow up the MPs' decision and fight hard "to bring this to a conclusion."

The conspiracy trial of construction worker pickets in 1973 "was nothing but a political trial from day one," he said.

"And the sentences were illegal."

Mr Tomlinson spoke of his sorrow that his one-time fellow prisoner Des Warren was not in the Commons gallery to see the debate.

Mr Warren eventually died in 2004 a sick and broken man as a result of his treatment in jail.

Jubilant campaign worker Eileen Turnbull declared after the MPs' vote: "We have now reached a new stage in our 40-year struggle for justice."

Ms Turnbull said the Commons debate would also give a big boost to campaigners' submission to the Criminal Cases Review Commission to back demands that the Shrewsbury convictions must be overturned by the Court of Appeal.

"We are confident that the convictions will eventually be quashed, and we will overturn this miscarriage of justice," she said.

Ms Turnbull paid tribute to "a brilliant team" of Labour MPs, who had campaigned tirelessly and then secured yesterday's debate - including Dave Anderson, John McDonnell, Steve Rotherham and Tom Watson.

MPs referred in the emotion-charged debate to Ms Turnbull's sterling work in unearthing damning documents showing collusion between construction bosses, Tory prime minister Edward Heath and home secretary Robert Carr.


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