"Misadventure" at the hands of the Metropolitan Police
THIS blog has become a bit like a chronicle of deaths in the past few postings, but c'est la vie. We are commanded to remember, especially those left crying out for justice. Today, St.George's Day and Shakespeare's birthday for some, a friend posting on facebook reminded me of this one:
On 23 April, this day, in 1979 the anti-fascist Blair Peach was killed by a blow to his head by an unknown policeman, a member of the Special Patrol Group. The exact identity of his murderer remains unknown. The Guardian reported that when other police "raided lockers at the SPG headquarters he uncovered a stash of unauthorised weapons, including illegal truncheons, knives, two crowbars, a whip, a 3ft wooden stave and a lead-weighted leather stick. One officer was caught trying to hide a metal cosh, although it was not the weapon that killed Peach. Another officer was found with a collection of Nazi regalia."See also: Blair Peach killed by police
On the night he was killed he had gone to Southall in west London, where the National Front was holding a St.George's Day meeting in the town hall. Local people had petitioned the council not to allow the NF the use of the premises, but were told it was entitled to hold a meeting with the general election coming. On the night about 40-odd Front supporters were bussed in, while more than 2,000 police confronted protesters, mainly young Asians Blair Peach was struck down by a blow to the side of the head. He died later in Ealing hospital. The official verdict was "death by misadventure". Another demonstrator hit by police was in a coma for five months.
Some 10,000 people took part in a tribute to Blair Peach in Southall. In later years there were demonstrations on the anniversary of his death.
Not till April 2009, thirty years later, was the police report into what happened, by Commander Sir John Cass, released, (with officers' names redacted), after persistent campaigning for truth by Blair's family and friends, notably his girlfiend Celia Stubbs, who wrote:
The mindset and attitude of Commander Cass, other senior Metropolitan police officers and coroner John Burton also stymied this inquiry. Cass set the scene by saying: "It was an extremely violent, volatile and ugly situation where there was serious disturbance by what can be classed as a rebellious crowd ... Asian youths appeared quite often to lose complete control of their emotions." He said "the demonstrators received orders from the Anti-Nazi League."
Of Blair, who was known to the police as an anti-racist campaigner, he stated: "If he was true to form he may have been in dispute, conflict, obstructing or interfering with the police."
So according to Cass, the thousands of angry young local Asians who saw the NF rally in their area as a provocation, by an organisation they associated with racial attacks, appeared to "lose control of their emotions", but they were taking "orders" from the ANL, like a disciplined force - such as the Metropolitan Police were supposed to be.
And though witnesses say Blair Peach was doing his best to restrain the youth and persuade them to stay on the pavement when he was hit from behind, it is enough for Sir John to suggest the teacher had "form" and that he "may have been" obstructing or interfering with the police. In other words, he was a "Red", so who needs evidence?
As the Guardian noted:
<>I remember my Dad, who served in India after Amritsar, telling me about the Riot Act, and the regulations that are supposed to govern the conduct of forces dispersing crowds and how much force they can use. From what he told me and from what I have seen of the Metropolitan Police in action, the soldiers like him were more resticted, and certainly less enthusiastic in breaking heads. But I suppose the scabby old imperialist lion is bound to get more savage in its lair, and the police didn't just enlist for a shilling a day, especially not in units like the SPG which consider themselves an "elite".
Today 34 years ago my friend, colleague, comrade, neighbour Blair Peach was murdered whilst leaving a demonstration against the National Front. The only people in the vicinity were members of the Metropolitan Police Special Patrol Group. The names of all six members of the unit have been known since that night. None have ever been charged.
He is remembered for his stance against racism but he participated in campaigns in all these areas. It was very fitting that the Union created the Blair Peach Award. We should cherish his memory but as Blair would have said it is not enough just to say we are committed to these principles - it is important that we act on them.