Socialist Worker

The cops murdered anti-fascist Blair Peach—then spied on his partner

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2754

Anti-fascists march to mourn the death of Blair Peach

Anti-fascists march in Southall, west London, to mourn the death of Blair Peach (Pic: John Sturrock)


Celia Stubbs gave evidence to the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI) on Thursday.

Police killed her partner Blair Peach during a protest in Southall, west London, on 23 April 1979.

He was 33 when they killed him, a teacher and a member of the Socialist Workers Party.

The cops ran amok through Southall and hundreds of people were injured. Some 2,756 cops ensured the Nazi National Front (NF) could have a rally despite thousands of anti-fascist protesters.

Celia said that officers “abused their surveillance powers to protect themselves from facing justice”.

Celia added the “improper surveillance” on her was particularly unpleasant because it took place when she was grieving for Blair.

The spies recorded the names of people who attended Blair’s funeral. Photographs of those who attended were shared among the undercover officers in order to identify other mourners.

In her written statement, she said, “The killing of Blair Peach is an important episode of alleged police misconduct of the most serious kind that remains unresolved.

“I believe my case and the circumstances of my surveillance shed light on a significant aspect of how the police behaved in response to Blair’s killing.

“They wanted to know what I was doing and what others who were helping me were doing, with the obvious inference that they did so to ensure that they stayed one step ahead of our campaign to hold Blair’s killers to account.”

She added, “I just don’t understand why I was spied upon, what was the purpose?

“And I’d certainly like to know how it’s going to be used, how long it will be kept and why they did it.”

Reluctance 

Celia was asked about a spy cop report from 1998 headlined “Touchy Subject”—the code name of an undercover cop. She said it reported on her reluctance to become involved in events to mark the 20th anniversary of Blair’s death.

“I find this very distressing,” she said. “I find the big anniversaries extremely difficult personally but I did participate.”

She added what the inquiry lawyer forgot to mention. “This was at a meeting at the Colin Roach Centre and the undercover officer was ‘Mark Cassidy’ who had infiltrated our group and was there for five years and had a relationship with a woman there which caused her terrible distress when she found out who he was,” she said.

Further she noted, “Also the last paragraph there. Suddenly it was said ‘potential for disorder’. I mean, we’d had remembrance demonstrations after five years, after ten years, and this was 20 years. There’d never been any disorder. I don’t know why he put that. I think it’s pretty unpleasant.”

Southall ’79, when the police killed Blair Peach
Southall ’79, when the police killed Blair Peach
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A 1979 spy cop report said, “The death of Blair Peach, an active supporter of the Anti-Nazi League, which was a consequence of a violent anti-fascist demonstration in Southall, provided the extreme left-wing with an opportunity to mount a sustained campaign to discredit and criticise the police.”

That is presumably why they spied on Celia and why to this day there is a Special Branch file on her and another on Blair. Which she has not been allowed to see.

She said, “When I received the documents in December 2019, it was extremely upsetting to see this material and to see how the police treated our actions and events that were law abiding and were simply trying to get to the truth of what happened.

“I was surprised by how upset and angry I felt. It seems that they lost all sense of the fact that Blair had been killed by police officers and that our distress about this was criminalised.

“It is hard to describe how violating this is.”

Oddly for all the reports and documents on the campaign for justice, there do not seem to be any reports of the April demonstration in Southall.

Throughout the years that the surveillance was taking place, the Met concealed a report of an internal investigation—the Cass report. It said it could “reasonably be concluded that a police officer” struck the blow to the head which killed Blair in 1979.

It was finally released in 2010.

None of the six cops—Michael Freestone, Anthony Lake, James Scottow, Anthony Richardson, Raymond White and Alan Murray—involved in his murder have ever been charged.


Cover-up in plain view

The ongoing, public cover-up of the spy cops has thrown a little light on the activities of the police.

Some cops have given evidence, some have just written statements, some have died and none of them have very good memories. They thought the meetings they went to were boring. Only MI5 cared what was said at them.

The Rose & Crown pub in Stoke Newington on 18 October 1971 was privileged to hold a meeting of the Hackney and Islington branch of the International Socialists (IS). It was the forerunner organisation of the Socialist Workers Party. Some 21 people attended to hear a report from a conference in Skegness.

Also in the pub were nine Special Branch officers watching the meeting. Perhaps this mob of coppers stood out because they were refused entry to the meeting.

They collected details and descriptions of those who attended, including their car registrations.

This was presented as evidence to inquiry to show why the cops needed to go undercover.

One of the cop attendees at the pub was so taken by the IS that he went undercover. As “Roger Harris”, he was in the Twickenham branch of the IS between April 1974 and October 1977.

The Twickenham branch was suspended from IS—during Harris’ time—and most of its members went on to join another organisation, the Workers League. Harris said he merely observed while he was membership secretary.

Harris stole the identity of a dead child as the basis of his undercover identity.

Harris says he did see the Home Office Circular that expressly forbids undercover officers from participating in serious crime. It also forbids being involved in anything that is likely to lead to a court being deceived.

Oddly, all the officers who have been accused of or have admitted to lying to courts can’t remember seeing the document.

Asked if he remembered any demonstrations against the NF turning violent, again the man’s memory failed him.

Square 

Though on 15 June 1974, Harris attended a counter-demonstration against the NF at Red Lion Square, London.

Police charged the crowd, with officers on horses using batons. Protester Kevin Gately was left unconscious from a blow to the head, from which he later died.

As is fast becoming a theme, Harris claimed not to remember the event, let alone any discussion among his colleagues. He vaguely admitted to remembering Gately’s name.

This seems to be backed up by the fact the inquiry don’t seem to have found reports of the demonstration at all. And other spy cops also don’t recall the incident.

How a cop infiltrated the SWP and abused a woman
How a cop infiltrated the SWP and abused a woman
  Read More

Harris went to Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) meetings at the police unit’s safe houses twice a week. The majority of the spycops attended these and compared notes.

Met commissioners visited the spy cops there. Commissioners Robert Mark and David McNee both visited during his deployment.

Another of the line-up of cops to give evidence used the name “Jeff Slater” or “Geoff Slater” to infiltrate Tottenham branch of the IS in 1974-75.

His fake identity was also stolen from a deceased child.

Slater, like many colleagues, suffered from memory loss. He said he attended various demonstrations to initiate contact with activists.

He recalls that IS members used violence, though says he never took part in any himself.

He also claims to have witnessed many incidents of major public disorder, which included police officers being assaulted.

But he could not recall any of them.

However, his information showed the babysitting rota of the IS north London district was shared in a report dated 8 January 1975.

This list shows Slater as volunteering. It is unknown if Slater ever took his turn.


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