Refuting the latest smears against Warren
Chris Corrigan sets the record straight about Des Warren
The ideals fought for by Des Warren and his comrades during and after the 1972 building workers’ strike need to be clearly restated. By far the best way to honour the memory of those who were surely amongst the foremost class warriors of the last century is not simply to legally ‘clear the names’ of the falsely criminalised and jailed Shrewsbury pickets, but to organise to finish the fight against the ‘lump’, which led them into sharp conflict not only with the building employers and Tory government of the day, but also with the Ucatt union bureaucracy, the TUC cowards and their apologists.
Des is very clear in his book, The key to my cell, that it was these latter three who held that key, which they refused to turn in order to maintain their rotten, corrupt, class-compromise positions of defending capitalism as the source of their privilege.
Following divisions in the Justice for the Shrewsbury Pickets campaign, allies of these have attempted to undermine the authenticity of Des’s book. A rumour has been spread that the book was not really Des’s work at all or that in writing it he was ‘spoon-fed’ by the Workers Revolutionary Party, which organisation he joined after he was released from jail. Here, the record is set straight by Chris Corrigan, who assisted Des in the production of the book.
Des and Des alone
I am a life member of the NUJ and have been a journalist for 48 years. For the past three I have been a contract sub-editor at The Guardian newspaper. Prior to that I was a staff sub-editor at The Independent for 22 years.
Previously I was a news reporter on the Western Mail, then the Birmingham Post, and then, from 1969 to 1974, in Fleet Street with the Press Association news agency, where I was a high court and central criminal court/Old Bailey reporter. Needless to say, you require very high skills in shorthand for such tasks, in terms of accuracy and speed. In fact, I still have my Pitman’s shorthand certificates from the 1960s.
It was these shorthand skills that led to me to cover the appeal court case in the Strand, where Des and Ricky Tomlinson were seeking to overturn their Shrewsbury convictions. I got talking to Des during the many lunch breaks and adjournments - they were temporarily out on bail - and liked him enormously. Any trade unionist would - he was an extremely impressive man with very high principles which he powerfully expressed. No wonder employers did not like him.
By this time I resigned from the PA, which was increasingly departing from its traditional role as an impartial national news agency and joining in the general rightwing media campaign: eg, against the early-70s miners’ strikes and vilifying so-called dossing, card-playing, night-shift workers at Cowley and Longbridge. I worked freelance, and contributed news stories to various papers as well as, when possible, to the Workers Press, the WRP’s paper. I eventually joined the WRP in early 1975, when the Americans had to leave Saigon in a hurry.
I also got to know Des’s family, including Elsa, who worked tirelessly, speaking for the Shrewsbury campaign to free Des and his fellow defendants. As is known, their appeal was rejected.
After Des’s eventual release from jail, I kept in touch. He was anxious to bring out a book about his experiences. I offered to put my shorthand skills at his disposal - it must be emphasised he was unable to hold a pen still for even a second, or use a typewriter, because of his continuous shakes from the onset of Parkinson’s disease brought on by prison authorities administering Largactil and other heavy tranquilisers. (Largactil was later superseded by drugs which did not cause the same level of side-effects, which continual large doses often brought about.)
So Des needed help to write his book. When he was ready, and when I was available, I spent six weeks with him, sometimes staying at his house in Buckley, North Wales, or travelling by moped each day from Runcorn.
It went like this. Des spoke - I recorded what he said. Each night I would transcribe my shorthand notes onto printed sheets. These proofs would be checked by Des. We eventually had a full manuscript. After about a fortnight, I returned and Des had gone through the manuscript and made additions and changes during the next two weeks. He was ill, but his mind was still sharp, as was his memory, and he had full control of the content - every sentence of it. Nobody else except Des contributed to, or had any control, over its content. He wrote it - even the title, The key to my cell.
My role was as shorthand writer and secretary, and also as a researcher when dates and times needed checking or court transcripts and newspaper cuttings needed finding. All of which Des collated and chose where to insert in the book.
Finally, if anyone wants to challenge the integrity of the above account they can face the consequences or I am willing to meet them to sensibly discuss it. This includes Mr Terry Renshaw - if he is able to absent himself from his work as a highly active member of the North Wales Police Authority, which, in a previous form, helped put Des, Ricky and others behind bars in the first place.
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