A Nod and a Wink

“A law made before the Middle Ages and never sanctioned by Parliament has been dug up quite recently to be used virtually unchanged as a tool of suppression. Let‘s be quite clear – this law can affect us all. To be charged with conspiracy, you need not have committed any crime or have even been associated with a crime.”

In A Nod and a Wink, John Pilger demonstrates how the charge of conspiracy is being used as a means of political suppression in Britain, comparing this with statutes in police states such as Brazil and the Soviet Union, which use “a vague law” to silence and imprison people for their political or religious views. 

Committing or contemplating committing a trivial civil wrong such as trespass can become the criminal offence of conspiracy if at least two people are involved.  According to one English judge, conspiracy can amount to “a nod and a wink”.

Peter Hain, a Young Liberal and South African exile – later to become a Labour MP – is seen being carried away by police while taking part in an anti-apartheid demonstration at a tennis match in 1969. Three years later, he was convicted at the Old Bailey on a charge of conspiracy to trespass and fined £200. “They would not have been able to get me on ‘trespass’ on its own without sticking ‘conspiracy’ in front of it,” Hain explains.

Pilger then highlights the case of Shrewsbury building workers who went on strike in 1973 to protest against the use of non-union labour and its acceptance of dangerous work conditions, resulting in pickets being charged with conspiracy to intimidate and imprisoned. 

Cases where conspiracy charges have failed include those against a contact magazine distributor after a case under the Obscene Publications Act was dismissed and Welsh-language demonstrators previously in court accused of being equipped to cause criminal damage, carrying a roll of Sellotape and two glass cutters.

Pilger concludes: “The laws of conspiracy are still being used in this country. They’re used to intimidate and silence all kinds of dissent.”

A Nod and a Wink (Pilger, ATV), ITV, 28 August 1975

Producer-director: John Ingram (27 mins)

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The John Pilger archive is held at the British Library