Conspiracy law, class and society: Part 10

The British Withdrawal from Northern Ireland Campaign

Nobody likes to be charged with conspiracy, because the penalties are greater. But the rule of evidence are the same. People go on until the cows come home about the unfairness of conspiracy charges, but I can’t understand it.

Thus spoke Judge Neil McKinnon during the trial of fourteen supporters of the British Withdrawal from Northern Ireland Campaign. The charge was ‘having conspired together to seduce soldiers from their duty and allegience’, in particular with distributing a leaflet entitled ‘Some Information for Discontented Soldiers’ which set out the grounds on which members of the armed forces could appy for a discharge, and gave details of arrangements to help British soldiers who went absent without leave in Sweden. This is almost a repetition of the indictment in Harry Pollitt’s case, except that in 1925 seditious conspiracy was still tought to be useful. There are two main differences between the cases: the first took place during the buildup to the General Strike, at a time of national emergency, and in the second the accused were acquitted. The selection of these fourteen accused shows that in 1975, just as 50 years earlier, the state was extremely sensitive at a time when the ‘Troops Out’ movement was gaining strength. The trial is also memorable for McKinnon’s description of ‘human rights’ as ‘an emotive expression used in international documents’.