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23 March 2021

Convictions of the Shrewsbury 24 overturned after 47 years

5 mins

The Court of Appeal has today overturned the convictions of the Shrewsbury 24, correcting a miscarriage of justice that has lasted 47 years, and which some of the pickets have not survived to see.

Bindmans LLP act for 12 of the successful appellants including the leading picket, Des Warren (deceased), John McKinsie Jones, Ken O’Shea (deceased), Malcom Clee, Michael Pierce, Terry Renshaw, Kevin Butcher, Bernard Williams, Alfred James (deceased), Roy Warburton (deceased), Graham Roberts (deceased) and John Seaburg (deceased). Since their convictions in 1973-74, they have always maintained their innocence.

The Shrewsbury 24 Campaign has worked tirelessly with the pickets over the past 15 years to overturn this miscarriage of justice.

The successful appeal follows the referral of the pickets’ convictions to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, seven years after such a referral was requested, and not before the pickets had to judicially review the CCRC to overturn an initial refusal. The referral was based on evidence discovered in the National Archives by the Campaign’s Researcher, Eileen Turnbull showing two separate grounds for an abuse of process:

  1. original witness statements had been destroyed by the police and this fact had not been disclosed to the defence counsel or to the court; and
  2. the broadcast of a highly prejudicial documentary during the first trial, the content of which was contributed to substantially by a covert agency within the Foreign Office known as the Information Research Department.

The Court of Appeal, in a unanimous judgment, upheld the first of these grounds in respect of all appellants, observing at paragraph 87:

‘If the destruction of the handwritten statements had been revealed to the appellants at the time of the trial, this issue could have been comprehensively investigated with the witnesses when they gave evidence, and the judge would have been able to give appropriate directions. We have no doubt that if that had happened, the trial process would have ensured fairness to the accused. Self-evidently, that is not what occurred. Instead, we are confronted with a situation in which an unknown number of the first written accounts by eyewitnesses have been destroyed in a case in which the allegations essentially turned on the accuracy and credibility of their testimony. As we have already described, we consider it correct to infer that the descriptions by the witnesses would in many instances have changed and developed as they were shown the photographs and as the police gained greater understanding of what those responsible for the investigation sought to prove. Those changes and developments could have been critical for the assessment by the jury of whether they were sure that the individual appellants were guilty of the charges they faced. The jury either needed to have this evidence rehearsed in front of them to the extent necessary, if the statements were still in existence, or they needed to be given clear and precise directions as to how to approach the destruction of the statements if that had occurred. Neither of those things happened, and in consequence we consider the verdicts in all three trials are unsafe.’

Terry Renshaw, speaking on behalf of the pickets, said:

We never thought that we would see this day, when this miscarriage of justice was overturned. The Court of Appeal has acknowledged that we did not receive a fair trial. The police and the prosecuting authorities used every trick in the book to secure guilty verdicts even if it meant trampling over our rights and manipulating the evidence.

On behalf of all the pickets I would like to pay tribute to the Shrewsbury 24 Campaign, without whom we would never have achieved this victory. In particular we owe a great debt to our Researcher, Eileen Turnbull, for working tirelessly to obtain the crucial evidence that brought about our victory.

Jamie Potter, Joint Head of the Public Law and Human Rights team at Bindmans and solicitor for the pickets in the judicial review of the CCRC, as well as the first 12 appellants in the appeal, said:

The Shrewsbury 24 pickets, supported by the Campaign Committee, have had to fight every step of the way to achieve justice more than forty seven years after the police destroyed witness statements ‘before photographs were available for witnesses and before the Officers taking the statements knew what we were trying to prove.’ Both the CCRC in their original decision and the CPS have sought to argue that such destruction had an innocent explanation. However, the Court of Appeal could ‘see no basis’ for this position.

Exposing this miscarriage of justice has only been possible because of the tireless and forensic work of the Campaign’s Researcher, Eileen Turnbull, which lead to her uncovering records that only survived by chance. It is welcome that the Court of Appeal has, however, called on the Ministry of Justice and HMCTS to reconsider their current document destruction policies, not least given the possibility of digital storage, to reduce the risk of other miscarriages of justice going hidden in the future.’

Bindmans LLP’s clients were represented in the Court of Appeal by Danny Friedman QC (Matrix Chambers) and Ben Newton (Doughty Street Chambers,) together with Kate Goold and Jamie Potter of Bindmans LLP. 

Please find a full copy of the judgment here

The Shrewsbury 24 Campaign website is  Spokespersons for the pickets are Terry Renshaw, convicted picket and founder member of the Shrewsbury 24 campaign and Dr Eileen Turnbull, Researcher and Secretary of the campaign. 

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