Tory Government’s participation in the miscarriage of justice
Actor Ricky Tomlinson claimed that the 1973 documentary “Red Under The Bed” was part of a British Government conspiracy to jail a group of striking workers for offences linked to the 1972 builders’ strike in Shrewsbury.
He stated: “They made a film which went out on television the night the jury were out considering the verdict… and it was so anti-trade union that two of the jury changed their mind and brought a majority verdict in of 10-2 guilty. The film was designed, written, produced and paid for by the security services. This article confirms Ricky Tomlinson’s allegations and should be read together with a previous article (https://caltonjock.com/2022/02/06/i-bet-you-have-never-heard-of-david-russell-walters-but-in-his-45-years-in-politics-he-has-ruthlessly-hammered-the-scots-and-he-has-plans-to-inflict-more-pain/)
27 Aug 2012: File-PREM 15/2011- TV programme-‘Red Under the Bed’
The National Archives website said that the file had been “retained” by the Cabinet Office under section 3(4) of the Public Records Act 1958. Why would the file be withheld from the public when it related to a current affairs programme that was broadcast on ITV in November 1973?
In August 2013, following a freedom of information request by a Shrewsbury 24 campaign researcher the Cabinet Office finally conceded and released some of the papers. Why is the file relevant? It is relevant because of the film ‘Red Under the Bed’ broadcast on 13 November 1973, the very day on which the prosecution completed its case against the pickets. And it was fully featured in the TV listing section of the local evening newspaper, the Shropshire Star, which would have been read by many of the jurors.
The film included a highly tendentious commentary by Woodrow Wyatt, interspersed with footage that showed the following:
two of the six defendants, John Carpenter and Des Warren.
- At Shrewsbury Crown Court, surrounded by police officers, with a group of demonstrators attending a meeting nearby.
- Images of a march through Shrewsbury in which the defendants could be made out.
- Violence and damage alleged to have been caused by pickets on building sites during the national building strike of 1972.
- Violence and damage alleged to have been caused by pickets during a recent coal strike and a recent dock strike.
The day after the broadcast, defence counsel applied to the judge for the television company to be held in contempt. The judge viewed the film and dismissed the application and criticised the defence for raising the point.
The film, which lasted for one hour, was followed by a studio discussion of 30 minutes. Damningly, the follow-up discussion was not broadcast across all ITV regions but it was transmitted only by ATV, the region covering Shrewsbury.
The final words of that discussion were from the then Conservative MP Geoffrey Stewart-Smith who was asked by the studio chairman, the late Richard Whiteley:
“Can you give me one example in 1973 of blatant communist influence?”
“The violence in the building strike was called by a group, The Building Workers Charter, operating in defiance of the union leadership indulging in violence and flying pickets and this is an example of these people operating, opposing free trade unions”.
Stewart Smith’s statement was blatantly prejudicial to the trial and the questions that needed to be asked and answered were: Why was the film made and why it was shown on that particular date?. Events since reveal the highest level of collusion between the Government, the security services and the producers of the film.
The first document in the file was a memo from Mr Thomas Barker of the Information Research Department (IRD)* to a Mr Norman Reddaway in which he boasts:
“We had a discreet but considerable hand in this programme….In general, the film, given national networking, can only have done good.”
He went on to praise the studio discussion after the broadcast.
The file contained other documents, including a note from the Prime Minister, Ted Heath, supporting the film after being sent a copy of the transcript by the Cabinet Secretary.
26 May 2020: More revelations on the “Red Under the bed” miscarriage of justice
The Guardian updated followers of the campaign for justice through the publication of newly declassified documents which revealed that Home Secretary Robert Carr had taken a personal interest in the prosecution of Ricky Tomlinson and his men. At the centre of his personal interest was the “Red Under the Bed” documentary, written by Woodrow Wyatt, directed by John Phillips and Norman Fenton and commissioned by the IRD on the encouragement of the Conservative government under the leadership of Edward Heath.
A memo from an IRD official, dated 21 November 1973, referred to the show’s broadcast on 13 November and revealed how the IRD had a “discreet but considerable hand in this programme”.
The Prem 15/2011 file also confirms that the IRD had colluded with the Department of Employment and the Security Service (Mi5) to provide a “large dossier of background material”, including a paper on “Violent Picketing”, to the film’s writer, Woodrow Wyatt.
The programme was, in the words of the IRD a “hard-hitting and effective exposure of Communist and Trotskyist techniques of industrial subversion” — a feather in the cap of the Tory government’s “new unit” and its sister organisation, (IRIS). But this hadn’t stopped them from wanting to go further. Much further.
By Means Foul or Fair
It was confirmed that the documentary was originally intended to conclude with Wyatt’s message that the main aim of Britain’s Communist Party was to take over the Labour Party “by means foul or fair”. To achieve this, Wyatt had carefully stitched together extracts from interviews with leading Communists, Trade Unionists and Industrialists and presented them as evidence to support the IRD’s theory that the Communist Party of Great Britain was infiltrating the Trade Unions using coercive and violent means to create wide-scale civil disruption.
There was only one snag. Brian Connell, the former Intelligence man put in charge of the documentary found that Wyatt’s message didn’t comply with the Independent Broadcasting Authority’s standards of objectivity. Wyatt was enraged. The general feeling among executives at the IRD was that the proposed cuts to Wyatt’s commentary had “left the ending of the film rather formless”.
To pack the kind of punch that they had in mind, TV audiences would need to come away from the show utterly convinced that the ‘violent acts of picketing’ organised by Warren and Tomlinson were Communist acts of industrial subversion and that its bid to seize control of the Labour Party and British pits was urgent and real.
The documentary’s ‘principal witness’ was News of the World journalist, Simon Regan, a sleazy tabloid hack specializing in ‘rumour, gossip and nudge-and-wink innuendo’ whose series of reports on violent picketing in November 1972 had been completed under the direction of the IRIS in the first place.
The picture that Regan painted for the viewers was a cruel and disturbing one: “I was witness to people being shaken from the scaffolding … I was witness to men being punched and kicked.” Regan went on to describe how the Communist Party “Action Committee” would bus-load pickets into towns and hunt men down. According to the 30-year old journalist, they even went to his pub and threatened to shoot him through both legs.
As a result of the IBA’s misgivings, the broadcast was shelved for some six months before Connell had a brainwave. Wyatt and the IRD found that they were able to get around the cuts enforced by the IBA by tagging on a special discussion programme that would immediately follow the main film. The studio discussion segment would be chaired by Richard Whiteley with a panel that would include Barbara Castle MP, Geoffrey Stewart-Smith MP and Alan Fisher. And it was this discussion segment — with John Fairley drafted in as Executive Producer — that allowed Woodrow Wyatt to make many of the points that had been “excised” from the film by the IBA’s standards committee.
The finished programme was broadcast on 13 November 1973 just as the prosecution was closing its case against Tomlinson and Warren at Shrewsbury Crown Court. Whilst there’s no evidence to suggest that Wyatt, Fairley or other members of the production crew knew the extent to which they were being manipulated, the impact of the film was brutal.
The jury who convened in the weeks following the programme’s broadcast found both men guilty of unlawful assembly, causing an affray and conspiracy to intimidate. On 19 December 1973, Justice Hugh Mais handed Warren a three-year prison sentence and Tomlinson was awarded two years. Four other men in the so-called ‘terror squad’ received lesser sentences.
It should come as no surprise to learn that Justice Hugh Mais’ cousin was author, broadcaster and former journalist, S.P.B. Mais whose publisher, Johnson Publications and its assistant editor, Geoffrey Baber, were deeply enmeshed in the shamelessly right-wing Monday Club, alongside former Mi6 deputy director, George Kennedy Young. Young was subsequently accused by Labour MP John Mann of having played a backstage role in the whole shameful Shrewsbury drama. (The Guardian)