Previously unseen documents that implicate former prime minister Edward Heath in a concerted attempt to influence the jury in one of the most controversial prosecutions of trade unionists in British history will be revealed to parliament this week.
It is understood that a dossier of newly unearthed papers suggests that some of the most senior members of Heath’s 1972 Conservative cabinet and members of the security services commissioned and promoted an ITV documentary entitled Red Under the Bed that was screened on the day the jury went out to consider the case against the “Shrewsbury 24”. One of the previously unseen files shows that Heath, on seeing a transcript of the film ahead of the trade unionists’ conviction, informed the cabinet secretary: “We want as much as possible of this.”
Twenty-four men were arrested and charged with offences ranging from conspiracy to intimidate to affray following the first national building workers’ strike in 1972. The strike lasted for 12 weeks and won workers a pay rise, but the union’s picketing tactics enraged the construction industry and the government. Six men – including Ricky Tomlinson, who later found fame as an actor and starred in The Royle Family – were sent to prison. Tomlinson served 16 months of a two-year sentence.
Another striker, Des Warren, was jailed for two years and eight months. His death in 2004 from Parkinson’s disease has been linked to his time in prison, in particular to the use of a “liquid cosh” – a cocktail of tranquillisers – that was administered to inmates at the time.