Wrongful imprisonment of an Irish communist

In November 2022 it was fifty years since the wrongful imprisonment of Noel Jenkinson, an Irish communist sentenced to life imprisonment, with little or no evidence against him other than his left-wing political beliefs.

     The charge against him was the Official IRA bomb explosion at the headquarters of the British Parachute Regiment in Aldershot on 22 February 1972. The prosecution did not prove that Noel had ever been in Aldershot: Judge Sebag Shaw said they did not need to.

     Noel Jenkinson was born on 22 December 1929 into a comfortable background in Loughcrew, Co. Meath. Like many of his generation in the 1950s, he emigrated to London in search of employment, where he became active in the trade union movement while working with London Transport. In 1964 he was elected as secretary and shop steward of the Highgate Branch of the Transport and General Workers’ Union.

     As well as his membership of the TGWU he was a long-time member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Despite misgivings, Noel resigned from the party in 1963 after he was disciplined for speaking on a platform in support of the Cuban Revolution. He later became involved with the breakaway Committee to Defeat Revisionism, for Communist Unity. What’s more, when the North of Ireland erupted in 1969 Noel joined the Civil Rights Solidarity Campaign in London and became its chairperson.

     Following the Aldershot explosion the police carried out raids on Irish political activists around London. Noel was arrested after a receipt from an Aldershot shop was found in his home during a search. At the committal hearing it was revealed that the receipt belonged to Detective Chief Inspector Smith, who accidentally lost it.

     Judge Sebag Shaw made constant interjections during the examination of the defendant, questioning him about his support for communism, how many times he had visited communist Cuba, and what his views were on capitalism. This took place before a jury in Winchester Crown Court, a staunchly conservative city.

     The judge passed a life sentence, with a recommendation that he spend at least thirty years in prison.

     Four years later, on 9 October 1976, Noel Jenkinson died though medical neglect at Leicester Prison. He was laid to rest at Deansgrange Cemetery, Co. Dublin.