Shrewsbury 24: Photographer Dave remembers brush in court with picket Ricky Tomlinson

As a 21-year-old Star photographer David Bagnall had no fear going out to cover angry pickets, but that was a different matter when he was called to give evidence at the trial a year later.

A photograph by Dave Bagnall of the builders' strike as discussions take place, with Ricky Tomlinson, centre
A photograph by Dave Bagnall of the builders' strike as discussions take place, with Ricky Tomlinson, centre

This week saw 14 men – part of the ‘Shrewsbury 24’ – have their convictions for involvement in the 1972 pickets in the county overturned by the Court of Appeal.

The 14 men included TV star Ricky Tomlinson, who was jailed for two years after the original trial.

David, now 71, and living in Ironbridge, has recounted his experience in going out to cover pickets as they happened – and of appearing as a witness at the trial that followed.

He explained how they were not exactly welcomed as they turned up to cover the action.

A young Dave Bagnall

He said: “In September 1972 the Construction Workers Unions picketed building sites in Shrewsbury and Telford. The Shropshire Star sent a senior photographer and reporter to the Shrewsbury site in the morning but they didn’t get any pictures because they said they were intimidated.

“I was 21 at that time and probably the youngest photographer on the paper and later that day I was sent by the paper to the Brookside housing site along with reporter Phil Jones who was about the same age as me.

“Gordon Riley was the news editor and I guess he thought we were too young and naïve to be scared off easily and he was right because we got the pictures and the story.

“There were only a few police officers present and they just watched what was happening as the pickets tried to get the workers to down tools and listen to speeches.

Photographer David Bagnall took images like this one of the builders’ strike

“When the pickets spotted us a group of them came over and told us to ‘get lost’ – with stronger language – at this point Phil who was wearing sunglasses told them we had every right to be there to which one of them told him he would be wearing a permanent pair of sunglasses if he didn’t clear off.

“As we already had plenty of pictures we decided it might be a good idea to move onto the next site and a few of them followed us to the car and shook it from side to side before we drove off.

“The next site was Woodside in Telford where I photographed pickets Ricky Tomlinson and John McKinsie Jones talking to Police Superintendent Meredith. Nobody bothered us at the site and we went back to the office so I could process my pictures.

“Later that day Phil and myself were told the police wanted to interview us and take statements from us at Dawley Police Station. I hadn’t seen anything the police hadn’t seen but I had taken pictures which seemed to be their main interest. The next day the editor handed over the negatives to the police and that was the last I ever saw of them.”

David Bagnall pictured as a young newspaper photographer in 1972

David explained that his real fear came as he was called to give evidence – walking into a courtroom with banks of barristers and QCs lined up to listen to his words.

As he reveals, there was also the added complication of his reluctance to use “industrial language” in front of the court.

He explained: “Just over a year later I was called as a witness at the Shrewsbury Crown Court trial of Ricky Tomlinson, Des Warren, John McKinsie Jones and three others. I don’t think I was really that scared when I was confronted by the pickets but appearing in that witness box was terrifying.

“There were three rows of barristers and QCs. The first to question me was Maurice Drake QC and his first questions were technical about how I got the pictures. He then asked if I was scared when confronted by the pickets and I mumbled something like ‘yes a little bit’ he then asked me what the pickets said to me.

“It was at this point out of the corner of my eye that I noticed a reporter called Ethel Leake looking straight at me, Ethel was a lovely lady whose family had owned the Wellington Journal where I started my career. Like most newspaper offices in those days bad language was in regular use but nobody ever swore in front of Ethel she was just too nice.

“So in answer to the QCs question I said they told me to ‘eff off’ to which he replied can you use the precise words please, I said no I prefer not to.

“At this point the Judge intervened and said ‘Mr Bagnall you will tell the court the exact words used you don’t have a choice in this matter’. So the QC asked me the question again, I replied they told me to ‘**** off’.

“His next question was “and what did you do then” and I said ‘I ****** off’. Everybody in court started laughing including Ethel and even the judge managed a smile.”

David’s pictures were used in the appeal which saw the convictions overturned earlier this week and he also revealed that he had later met Mr Tomlinson on another job for the paper – but had not had the nerve to reveal their former meeting.

He said: “About 20 years ago I went to photograph Ricky Tomlinson opening a supermarket. I think it was Cheslyn Hay, and I did not have the nerve to to tell him I was one of the witnesses at the trial that sent him to jail. But he was a really nice funny bloke and I got on really well with him.

“I knew what picture I wanted but could not work out how to do it and he went quiet for a bit and said 'I know what you are thinking, you want me to get in the shopping trolley', I laughed and said yes, and he said “I’ll get in but you’ll have to get me out”.

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