MI5 and three other government departments collaborated to convict a group of striking construction workers picketing sites to improve pay and safety measures, the appeal court was told.
Lawyers for 14 trade unionists, including the actor Ricky Tomlinson, told the court that the “higher echelons of the state” were responsible for helping to get them unfairly convicted 47 years ago.
The men have campaigned since 1972 to clear their names, arguing that the establishment persecuted with the aim of undermining the trade union movement.
Their lawyers alleged that covert state agencies had worked together to fit-up the men accused of affray, unlawful assembly and conspiracy to intimidate.
Tomlinson, then working in the building trade, was one of six men jailed for two-years. On his release from prison he turned to acting after he was blacklisted by the building industry.
Barrister Piers Marquis said the covert state agencies gave a dossier on left-wing trade unionists to the makers of a “highly prejudicial” ITV drama called Red Under the Bed, that was broadcast as one of the three trials ws heard, influencing the jury to find the men guilty.
Marquis revealed that a secretive anti-communist unit within the Foreign Office, called the Information Research Department (IRD), “played a significant part in the production of the programme”.
He said: “Part of IRD’s remit was to provide anti-communist material to journalists for broadcast and dissemination.”
Marquis cited a memo from the head of the IRD who wrote “we had a discreet but considerable hand in the programme”, which was made by right-wing Labour journalist Woodrow Wyatt.
“Wyatt was given a large dossier of IRD background material with the agreement of the Department of Employment and the Security Service … It is clear from the programme that Mr Wyatt drew extensively on that material,” he said.
He cited another official memo which showed that the then prime minister, Edward Heath, had commented after being shown a transcript of the programme: “We want as much as possible of this.”
According to prosecutors in the original trials, the trade unionists intimidated other workers during the strike. Marquis said the programme sought to suggest that leftwing activists manipulated trade unions and used violence.
He said the programme clearly referred to the defendants and associated them “firstly with communism and subsequently with the overthrow of the state by means of violence”.
Marquis said: “At least three branches of government provided material to Woodrow Wyatt that directly impacted on the subject matter of high-profile and politically important criminal proceedings.”
The barrister representing 12 of the pickets, said: “It is clear now that the higher echelons of the state bore responsibility for deliberate covert involvement in the production of the programme.”
The case continues.
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