Documents on ex-NF member will stay secret until 2022

Ricky Tomlinson – comedy star, ex-NF member and jailed trade unionist.

Television star and former National Front member Ricky Tomlinson has been told that government documents relating to his jail sentence in 1973 will remain secret for at least another decade.

Tomlinson – best known for his role in the long-running television comedy The Royle Family – joined the NF in 1968, soon after its formation.  He surprised many viewers by telling a BBC interviewer in 2002 that “some of them [NF members] were really nice guys worried about their kids and their country. They weren’t skinheads or thugs.”  In 1969 he was an NF candidate for Liverpool City Council.

By the early 1970s Tomlinson (though still a member of the NF) was an activist in the building workers’ union UCATT, who began the first ever national building workers’ strike in 1972.  The strikers succeeded in winning a pay rise, but five months later twenty-four union activists were arrested and charged with various offences linked to alleged intimidation on the picket line.  Six of them were jailed at Shrewsbury Crown Court in 1973: Ricky Tomlinson received a two year sentence, while his colleague Des Warren got three years.

Ricky Tomlinson (right) and Des Warren, two of the Shrewsbury Pickets, pictured in 1975 after Warren’s release from prison.

Warren (who died in 2004 aged 66) was a Communist, while contrary to most recent reports Tomlinson was still a nationalist at the time of the trial, where the defendants became known as the “Shrewsbury Pickets”.  In his autobiography The Key to My Cell Warren writes:

At the Scrubs for the first time I was in a cell with Ricky Tomlinson. I had never heard his name before the building workers’ strike. I met him first at an action committee meeting at the Bull and Stirrup in Chester. Before the meeting we got into an argument. I overheard what he was saying to a group of building workers and I gave a derogatory fascist salute. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I’m a socialist, but a national socialist. So what!’ He never tried to hide his views, and over these we were continuously in conflict. However, there was agreement on all the actions we took in jail, except in 1975 over the parole issue.

He had left the National Front but still put forward their racial views. Tomlinson saw a Jew behind every pillar. He used to say: ‘What we need is a strong man to sort this lot out.’ He was an admirer of Idi Amin and Enoch Powell. He admired Idi Amin because he cleared Asians out of his country…..

Several times he said to the screws when he was arguing against the conspiracy charge: ‘How could there have been any conspiracy when I’m National Front and Warren is a Communist?’

Last year researcher Eileen Turnbull discovered documents at the National Archives which implied that the Conservative government in 1972-73 had ignored warnings that the case against the Shrewsbury Pickets was weak, and had taken a decision to prosecute for political reasons.

Ms Turnbull and the surviving pickets have applied for release of all relevant papers, which are now almost forty years old.  The standard period for releasing government documents in the UK documents is thirty years, presently being reduced to twenty years, but various exemptions apply – notably for documents relating to “national security”.  This week the UK’s Department of Justice announced that the national security exemption was being invoked in the Shrewsbury Pickets’ case, and that consequently the documents will not be considered for release for a further ten years!

Tomlinson held a press conference this week in Liverpool, joined by the city’s Mayor Joe Anderson and fellow trade unionists, calling for the overturning of the government’s ban on release of the documents.

Ricky Tomlinson at a Shrewsbury Pickets’ campaign rally

If and when the documents are released, perhaps we will find out to what extent Britain’s political establishment was monitoring the involvement of nationalists within trade unions and other working class campaigns?

As Daily Mirror columnist Kevin Maguire noted today:
“If the establishment had nothing to hide documents would be released, as we discovered when Hillsborough files were finally made public.”

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