Monday, June 16, 2014

Remembering Kevin Gately

IT was forty years ago, on June 15, 1974, that Warwick University student Kevin Gately was killed in the 'battle' of Red Lion Square.  He was a few days short of his 21st. birthday. No one has ever been found responsible for the killing.

That day the fascists of the National Front were marching to a meeting in Conway Hall, traditionally a venue for left-wing and progressive meetings. Just how the hall's owners, the humanist South Place Ethical Society, had been persuaded to let their premises to a bunch of racists, I don't know.

A crowd assembled to demonstrate against the National Front. Among the organisations taking part in this protest were Liberation (the former Movement for Colonial Freedom), the Communist Party, the International Socialists (who later became the Socialist Workers' Party), and the International Marxist Group (IMG), then a growing influence among students.

Kevin Gately, a second year maths student, was not a member of any of these organisations. But he was opposed to racism and fascism, and was persuaded to go on this, his first, demonstration, particularly when he heard his girl friend was going.

Besides the fascists and their left-wing opponents, another element was out in force that day, and probably better prepared, and equipped, to determine the outcome.  This was of course, the Metropolitan Police, including the elite Special Patrol Group, formed to deal with "serious public disorder".

.At some point there was disagreement among the organisers as to whether to chance a serious confrontation with the police. This was not Cable Street in 1936, when a working class population aware of what fascism was doing in Europe, and sick of Mosley's Blackshirts' activities in the east End, turned out to say "they shall not pass".  The students might adopt the same slogan, but did they really know what they were getting into?

By the end of the afternoon the debate might have seemed irrelevant. Groups of demonstrators were not only attacked by police, but found their retreat blocked by more police. A section of the anti-fascist demonstrators apparently led by the IMG had managed to get into Red Lion Square, hoping to deny the National Front access to Conway Hall, but were subjected to repeated charges by police. The Warwick students, some of whom were IMG members, were caught up in this. Among them, standing out by his height (6 foot) and red hair, could be seen Kevin Gately.  

Photos show Kevin moving through the crowd, apparently trying to get away from the crush of bodies at the front being shoved back and forth against the police cordon. Later, the Warwick students
got away from the square and were returning to their bus when they noticed they were without Kevin. The clashes in Red Lion Square had only lasted a quarter of an hour, but after them a St.John ambulance crew found the Warwick student lying on the ground.

A student who went to University College Hospital was shown Kevin Gately's body and asked to identify him. A pathologist later confirmed that Kevin had died from a blood hemorrhage as a result of a blow to the head.  Some say his height above the crowd, and red hair, made him a target for police batons.  The Warwick student on his first demonstration was the first person in over half a century to be killed on a demonstration in Britain.

Five years later, on April 23, 1979, it was the turn of New Zealand born teacher Blair Peach, killed by a blow to the head in Southall. Eye witnesses said he had been attacked by members of the Special Patrol Group. Thirty years later, after much campaigning, the Metropolitan Police issued a report acknowledging its men had killed Blair Peach.

A painting in honour of Kevin Gately hangs in the student's union at Warwick. But though there was a demonstration over his death in the immediate aftermath, neither he nor the circumstances of his death have received much attention over the years.

An item in the current issue of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, part of an editorial by Gerry Gable, says "Like we still remember Blair Peach, so should we recall the unresolved death of young Kevin".

"Some claim it was from a lethal akido blow, a martial arts technique favoured by many riot squad officers", observes Gable, going on to regret that "Nobody appears to have pursued the idea that the blow may have been struck by one of the agents provocateur who were seen seen assaulting people on what was supposed to be their own side and pushing people under the hooves of the police horses."

Maybe the idea has not been pursued because these suggestions have not been aired before, or perhaps because applying Occam's Razor, if a simpler explanation appears to hand, namely that Kevin was killed by a blow from an unidentified police officer, there is no need to chase after more complicated explanations. These might be put out by a police source keen to confuse and divert any investigation of their direct role. It would not be the only time they used such tactics.

On the other hand, if Gerry Gable or anyone else has evidence that provocateurs were at work in or around Red Lion Square that day, this should be looked at, not as any kind of excuse for the police, but on the contrary, to fully expose the methods used by the state and what the game was.

Gerry mentions the inquiry conducted by Lord Scarman, which "failed to establish the circumstances of Kevin Gately's death".  But this was not the focus of Scarman's inquiry, which was to "review the events and actions which led to disorder in Red Lion Square, London, on 15 June, and to consider whether any lessons may be learned for the better maintenance of public order when demonstrations take place".  

The IMG held its own internal inquiry into the events in which its members had been involved that day. The late Bob Pennington and Gery Lawless took part in the proceedings, and IMG members who had been at Red Lion Square gave evidence. I don't know whether any of this was published, or whether any of the IMG's successor organisations (Socialist Resistance,Socialist Action, etc) have had anything to say on the matter.
Sadly, the anniversary of Kevin Gately's death seems to have passed without much in the way of commemoration, or comment.

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