Actor Ricky Tomlinson seeks inquiry into police file on him

‘Royle Family’ star who was jailed over 1972 building workers’ strike says police spied on him

Ricky Tomlinson (77) is pressing the judge-led public inquiry into the undercover infiltration of political groups to launch a thorough investigation. Photograph: Jim Watson/Getty Images

Ricky Tomlinson (77) is pressing the judge-led public inquiry into the undercover infiltration of political groups to launch a thorough investigation. Photograph: Jim Watson/Getty Images


Ricky Tomlinson, the actor who starred in the TV comedy The Royle Family, has called for a proper investigation into why police covertly monitored his political activities.

Tomlinson (77) who says he and others were unjustly jailed over their roles in a strike that has become a cause célèbre for trade unionists, is pressing the judge-led public inquiry into the undercover infiltration of political groups to launch a thorough investigation.

His call comes after a police officer working for a secretive police department that spied on political activists has said he saw the secret file on Tomlinson.

Lord Justice Christopher Pitchford, who is heading the inquiry examining how undercover police units spied on hundreds of political groups since 1968, has decided that Tomlinson should not become a core part of the inquiry as he has not demonstrated that information in the file was supplied by an undercover officer. The judge said that decision would be kept under review.

Tomlinson, who said the police kept a secret file on him because he was an activist “with a big mouth”, added that the police and the government have “got so much to hide”.

The actor told the Guardian that the police should be compelled to hand over the complete file. “Let’s see what they have got, and where the information came from. Let’s see how long they have been investigating me and stuff like that.”

Before Tomlinson gained fame as an actor in films such as Raining Stones and Riff-Raff, he worked as a plasterer.

After a period supporting the National Front, he became a left-wing trade unionist in the 1970s, campaigning for better conditions in the construction industry.

In 1972, in an era of heightened trade union militancy, he took part in the first ever national building workers’ strike to secure better wages and safety regimes.

Months after the dispute ended, 24 strikers were arrested and charged with committing offences such as conspiracy to intimidate and affray while picketing.

They were convicted after trials at Shrewsbury crown court, with Tomlinson being sentenced to two years in jail.

For several years, Tomlinson and other campaigners have been seeking to clear the names of those convicted, saying that the strikers – known as the Shrewsbury 24 – were prosecuted in a politically motivated trial designed to suppress trade unionists.

Official papers released last year suggest that the highest reaches of the Conservative government were involved in an attempt to influence the jury in the prosecution.

Other official papers have been kept secret on the grounds that they may damage the security of the nation.

Tomlinson struggled to get work as a plasterer after he was blacklisted. He turned to acting and got his break in the 1980s playing Bobby Grant in the Channel 4 drama Brookside. He continued to attend left-wing rallies and speak out.

‘Political thug’

In 2002, Tony Robinson, a former special branch officer who monitored political activists, disclosed to the BBC that the police had opened a file to record Tomlinson’s political activities, saying that he was “a left-wing agitator and prone to violence and, basically speaking, was a political thug”.

Robinson, who worked for special branch between 1965 and 1981, said the strikers in the “very violent” 1972 dispute had intimidated workers who carried on working.

Tomlinson rejects the claims, saying: “I have got no record of violence or anything like that. Where does this come from?”

He says that he has known for a long time that the strikers were infiltrated by the police.

In May, he applied to the Pitchford inquiry to be designated as a core participant. This would have enabled him to be given access to evidence, make statements at the inquiry and have lawyers examine witnesses.

Pitchford has rejected his application ruling that Tomlinson was unable to demonstrate that the information in the file emanated from an undercover officer. “It may have done, but equally it may not have.”

Pitchford added: “Special branch files may be created from a variety of sources including the uniformed police, detectives, informers, police records and public knowledge.”

He also ruled: “However, sufficient information has been received by the inquiry to require further investigation. Mr Tomlinson’s application will be kept under review.”

Pitchford has similarly turned down applications from figures including the Green peer Jenny Jones, whose political activities were monitored by police for many years, and the gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

The rejections have given rise to fears that individuals have to prove that they were spied on by undercover officers before they can be accepted into the core of the inquiry.

Tomlinson said Pitchford’s rejection was “absolutely ludicrous. Why not give us the benefit of the doubt. Why is [it] always in the establishment’s favour?”

He added that the police “play a game. We have got to find the evidence to give to them to say that a foul has been committed. They have the evidence and they do everything in their power to stop you getting it.”

The inquiry is expected to start its substantive hearings next year.

Guardian Service