At the centre of Tomlinson's story is his prosecution as part of the "Shrewsbury seven", which followed a violent strike in the Shropshire area. This is what really happened.
On 6 September 1972, Tomlinson was one of the organisers of the flying pickets who assembled at Oswestry Labour Club to load their coaches with crates of beer. How do I know? I was the co-owner of the largest contractor in the town and some of our men were with the strikers. The strike was official, but the flying pickets were not.
In Tomlinson's account, the pickets were peaceful and asked permission to talk to the men on the sites. This is not supported by the evidence. The pickets' first visit was to Kingswood Oak, a housing site in Shrewsbury. I arrived just behind them. They were led by Des Warren, the communist who had earlier caused havoc on the "strike a day site" at the London Barbican development. Warren delivered a tirade to the workers assembled in the canteen. When two senior police officers entered the building, Warren told them to "f*** off!", which they promptly did.
Shortly afterwards, the strikers arrived at our housing site at Severn Meadows. Tomlinson came to the barrier at the entrance where I told him that it was private property and that they had no right to enter. He used the same choice words as Warren, and the hoard ran across our site until they reached the River Severn where they threw a Tarmac compressor into the river and threatened to throw Bob Gray, a reporter from The Shropshire Star, after it.
The pickets then moved in convoy along the A5 to Telford where they attacked and hospitalised Clifford Growcott, who was working on Sir Robert McAlpine's Brookside housing estate. Growcott's recollection is that he was punched and kicked like a football, and although Tomlinson was not directly involved in the violence, when Growcott sees him on television he relives his traumatic experience.
The outcome of the event was the trial of the Shrewsbury seven (Tomlinson calls them the Shrewsbury two). I was a Crown Court witness. This was my second meeting with Tomlinson – and this time I spoke and he listened. Warren and Tomlinson were both imprisoned, as were four others now long forgotten.
According to a recent article in the Daily Mail, Tomlinson was surprised that the special branch tagged him "a thug". I wasn't. He believes that the trial was politically motivated and that the Tory government and big contractors were out to get him and his chums. In my opinion, it was their picketing that was politically motivated, and which made the trial imperative. The strike leaders were attempting to overturn democracy.
Sir Robert McAlpine was in the news in Building last week, which will interest Tomlinson who seems to be magnetised by the firm. He worked on its Wrexham by-pass project, invaded its Telford site and accused Sir Alfred McAlpine of keeping his horses in a better condition than he kept his workmen. The fact that McAlpine died 25 May 1944 was overlooked. I find "Ricky" Tomlinson entertaining, but Eric cannot collect all his facts. News goes round in circles, and Tomlinson and McAlpine are both part of the merry-go-round. There are no prizes for spotting how the two differ.
At first he wanted me to fit bulletproof glass, but this would be too heavy for the structure. Instead, I found a window tint film that obscured vision and resisted flying glass. All was well until the winter nights drew in, when it was found that when the lights were on, the movements of the guards could be seen from the road. So Chalky came up with the idea to paint the walls the same colour as they guard’s trousers and shirts. Decorators were duly dispatched and when I arrived back, the walls were sky blue above dado level and dark blue below. Later that evening Chalky handed me a pair of binoculars and asked me to observe the results from the road. I took up position and peered at the guardhouse. I could see Chalky and the two other guards as clear as day. They were holding up signs that said “Nice”, “One” and “Greg”. When I got back they could barely contain their laughter; tears were rolling down their cheeks. And whenever I visit the guard room now they all stand against the wall and say “Can you see me? Can you see me?”
Morale of this story – beware of people called Chalky, especially if they were in the SAS and give you decorating tips.
Greg Trickey works for Devon Fire and Rescue Service.
Peter Starbuck is a quantity surveyor who founded WSJ Contractors in 1966. He sold the company in 1987.