Anti-Nazi protester Blair Peach was “almost certainly” killed by police during a demonstration against the National Front in Southall, west London, in 1979.
That was the conclusion of the Metropolitan Police’s own inquiry, released this week—under pressure from a freedom of information request—after a three decade campaign by his friends.
But nobody is going to be prosecuted.
Blair, a teacher and member of the Socialist Workers Party, was leaving the demonstration when officers from the Met’s notorious riot squad, the Special Patrol Group (SPG), attacked him.
Met commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, said the documents released on Tuesday made “uncomfortable reading” but he accepted the finding that a Met officer was probably responsible for Blair’s death and expressed his “regret”.
Reports written 30 years ago by Commander John Cass, who led the police’s investigation into Blair’s death, was one of several documents released. It reveals:
•Many witnesses saw Blair being struck by a police officer, and that, “there is no evidence to show he received the injury to the side of his head in any other way.”
•Officers in an SPG vehicle, known as U11, were the first to arrive on the street where Blair was attacked. Cass said there was an “indication” that one officer, who got out of the van first, but whose name has been blacked out from the report, was responsible.
•SPG officers hampered Cass’s investigation. He said there was a “deliberate attempt” to conceal the presence of the van at the scene, and that three officers should be charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. None was ever charged.
Despite the mountain of proof, Cass said there was “insufficient evidence” to charge any officer over the death.
When Cass raided SPG officers’ lockers he found a host of “unauthorised weapons”, including a lead-filled rubber cosh and knives. He also uncovered a stash of Nazi regalia.
Cass’s investigation was never likely to find an officer guilty. From the outset the police commander had defined Peach as a member of a “rebellious crowd” and said that the law allowed for the killing of rioters.
But it was not the anti-Nazis who were rioting—it was the police. The Anti Nazi League was attempting to stop an election public meeting by the National Front (NF). At lunchtime, thousands of Asian workers walked out of factories to join anti-racists from across London.
Inside the NF meeting the local candidate pledged to “bulldoze Southall to the ground and replace it with an English hamlet”. Those demonstrating outside were confronted by police running amok.
The Daily Telegraph wrote: “Police had cornered about 50 demonstrators against the churchyard walls. As we watched, several demonstrators were dragged crying and screaming to the nearby police station. Nearly every demonstrator had blood flowing from some injury.”
Responding to the release of the documents, Blair’s long-term partner, Celia Stubbs, said that those who campaigned for the truth about his death would feel vindicated.
“We always said that Blair had been killed by a policeman, and we gave the names of the six officers of the SPG from Barnes police station,” she said.
“It says in the report that it was an officer from this group that struck Blair.”
The six officers were Alan Murray—now a lecturer in corporate social responsibility at Sheffield University—Anthony Richardson, Raymond White, Michael Freestone, James Scottow and Anthony Lake.
Despite expressing his “regrets”, commissioner Stephenson stopped short of apologising for Blair’s death and insisted that there would be no public prosecution of the officers involved.
Instead, he said that it is “important to remember that the majority of these documents were produced 30 years ago and that they reflect the way policing was rather than is.”
That will be little comfort to the friends and family of Ian Tomlinson, the newspaper seller who died after being hit by a Met police officer during protests against the G20 in London last year.
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