‘She went to jail for £7.50’: Language activist reacts to news that transmitter station made protest ‘profit’
A language activist has described the revelation that a fellow protestor went to jail for six months for damage to a door that amounted to £7.50 as “harsh”.
It was revealed last month that a transmitter station “made a profit” from a protest by a Welsh language campaign group because the cost of fixing the damage was less than what the court asked the protestors to pay.
The cost was said at the time, in 1977, to be £100 but the door actually cost £30, making the Independent Broadcasting Authority a £70 profit.
Angharad Tomos, one of four protestors who broke into the Winter Hill transmitter and turned the TV off for a few seconds across the north-west of England, said the punishment was disproportionate.
“In the court, we explained our demands, and were told that the damage to the door was £100 (not the £30 it was really worth),” she said, writing for the Lancashire Post.
“I remember the decision of the magistrate: “Angharad Tomos – six months, suspended; Sion Aled Owen – six months, suspended; Glen Phillips – six months, suspended; Teresa Pierce – six months.”
“Yes, my friend served six months prison sentence for the damage to that door. When you consider the real value to be £30 between four people, she served six months for the value of £7.50, which is harsh.”
Boyd Harris of the Chorley Historical Society said that he had looked into the incident on 4th March 1977 when four members of Cymdeithas yr Iaith broke into the Winter Hill transmitter station.
Boyd Harris recounted the experience of Bill Kay, who used to work as an engineer at the Winter Hill transmitter station, and wrote down his recollections of the day the protestors broke in through a glass door.
“As the Police were leaving they asked what would be the cost of replacing the glass door. Just off the top of my head I said ‘£100’,” Bill Kay wrote.
“It was eventually replaced at a cost of £30 but the damages set by the court and paid by the miscreants was the sum of £100, so that night I made a profit of £70 for the IBA.”
The break-in was part of a series of protests in Wales aiming to get a dedicated Welsh-language TV channel established.
The campaign was a success with the establishment of S4C five years later.
“When my panic subsided and I was in control of myself and of the situation, I questioned them about their motives,” Bill Kay wrote, in an article published in the Lancashire Post.
“They informed me they were members of the Welsh Language Society and that the intended disruption of the Winter Hill transmissions was part of their campaign for a 4th channel for Welsh speaking Wales.
“Winter Hill had been chosen because Granada programmes beamed from it not only covered NW England but also leaked over into north Wales, and this they objected to.
“I tried to explain that radio and tv signals are no respecters of geographical or political boundaries, and I tried to point out to them that inhabitants of N. Wales did not have to tune their sets to the Granada channel if they did not wish to receive it. But all this fell on deaf ears.”
Angharad Tomos said that the police had thought that they were members of the IRA when they were first arrested.
“We said straight away that we were members of the Welsh Language Society, but probably that meant nothing to them,” she told the Lancashire Post.
“When Bill was quoted in the article saying that one of the women had a hammer, I realised it would have caused him worry.
“When you tell a policeman in Wales that you’re a member of the society, they know straight away that you pose no physical threat at all.
She said that she was glad that Bill Kay mentioned that they had “behaved impeccably” but was sorry for scaring them.
“The minute we arrived at Chorley Police Station, there was some aggressive questioning by the police. They suspected we were members of the IRA,” she said.
“They didn’t know that ‘Angharad’ was a Welsh name, and when they heard ‘Shaun’ and ‘Theresa’, they immediately considered we were Irish Republicans.
“When we explained we were Welsh, they did not believe us. They did not know how we had the expertise to know where the control room was.
“When we said it was pure chance, they still did not believe us. We were kept at the police station for two days, and my hostel warden at the university could not track us down, and my parents could not contact us.”