The Court of Appeal has unanimously overturned the convictions of the ‘Shrewsbury 24’ after a referral to the Court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
The appellants were charged with conspiracy to intimidate, unlawful assembly, and affray following the first national building workers’ strike in 1972.
The convictions were appealed on two grounds of abuse of process. First, original witness statements had been destroyed by the police and this fact had not been disclosed to the defence counsel or to the court. Second, a controversial documentary had been broadcasted on national media, which was highly prejudicial to the appellants.
The Court upheld the first ground, finding in particular that an unknown number of the first written accounts by eyewitnesses had been destroyed in a case in which the allegations essentially turned on the accuracy and credibility of their testimony. 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 consequently all verdicts are unsafe.
Danny Friedman QC was involved in this case.