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Campaigner hits back at Ricky Tomlinson's sensational claim Richard Whiteley was a spy

Eileen Turnbull has dismissed the claim - but Royle Family star stands by it         

Ricky Tomlinson and Richard Whiteley

A researcher for the campaign to clear the names of the so-called Shrewsbury Pickets – including Ricky Tomlinson – dismissed the TV funnyman’s allegation that Countdown presenter Richard Whiteley was a government spy.

Ricky made the revelation after opening Chester’s new-look Bull and Stirrup on Tuesday which has been rebranded as a Wetherspoon’s hotel.

Ricky Tomlinson's claim that Countdown host Richard Whiteley was MI5 spy creates waves

It was at the very same pub that, as an unknown plasterer, Ricky and his comrades helped organise the first ever national building workers’ strike back in 1972, which led to him and five of his pals being jailed after picketing in Shrewsbury.

Ricky Tomlinson pictured with Eileen Turnbull

But Eileen Turnbull from the Shrewsbury 24 Campaign said there was no evidence the late Countdown host Richard Whiteley was a government spy even though The Royle Family star is standing by his remarks saying Whiteley presented a documentary designed to influence the jury at Shrewsbury Crown Court.

Jim Royle brands Chester Wetherspoon's crowd 'shirkers!'

She told our sister paper the Liverpool Echo: “What Ricky said about Richard Whiteley came totally out of the blue. I knew nothing about it. It took the wind out of me, and there was no need for it. We have no evidence at all that Richard Whiteley was ever involved with the security services.”

She added: “I don’t know why Ricky is saying this. I haven’t got a clue. What I am going to try to do is get hold of Ricky and arrange to sit down with him and have a chat, in confidence. It saddens me because I have been working on this campaign for almost 10 years.”

TV star Ricky Tomlinson claims Countdown's Richard Whiteley was a spook

In December 1973, Ricky was jailed for two years after being found guilty of unlawful assembly, affray and conspiracy. He and the late Des Warren, who was sentenced to three years, were the most severely punished of a group of 24 convicted men.

The arrests were made in the wake of the 1972 national building strike, during which flying pickets went from site to site to try and convince workers to join the dispute.

The Shrewsbury 24 Campaign is waiting to hear from the Criminal Cases Review Commission to see if the cases will be referred to the Court of Appeal, as it continues to fight for the convictions to be overturned.

Video: inside Chester's new-look Bull & Stirrup

Ricky and Eileen have worked closely together on the campaign, but Eileen said today: “About 18 months ago Ricky decided he wished to make a documentary and all his interest and energy is going into that. He’s absolutely dedicated to it and is doing it himself.”

The actor believes the 1973 ITV programme Red Under The Bed may have influenced the jury and its decision to convict. It was presented by Richard Whiteley.

A Countdown publicity photo with Carol Vorderman Rick Wakeman Susie Dent (Lexicographer) Richard Whiteley and Jill Miller from Glasgow

Making his bombshell claims, Ricky had said: “We found out this week that the film was designed, written, made and paid for by the security services.”

He told the Echo he would welcome Eileen getting in touch, and he maintained: “Richard Whiteley was part of the intelligence services. You can only go on what you are told, and I have been told this in good faith by a good source.”

And when he heard that the researcher was dismissing his claims, saying there was no evidence, Ricky responded: “How does she know?”

He added: “I absolutely believe I will be proved right when everything comes out.”

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