Death of Blair Peach
|Born||Clement Blair Peach
25 March 1946
|Died||23 April 1979
Southall, London, England
Cause of death
|Known for||Death during Anti-Nazi League demonstration|
Clement Blair Peach (25 March 1946 – 23 April 1979) was a New Zealand-born teacher who died during an anti-racism demonstration in London, England. A campaigner and activist against the far right, Peach was knocked unconscious in April 1979 during an Anti-Nazi League demonstration which turned violent in Southall against a National Front election meeting in the town hall.
He died the next day in hospital from head injuries that he sustained, later officially attributed to the Metropolitan Police Special Patrol Group (SPG) when a Met internal report was finally made available in 2010. At the time, fourteen witnesses said they had seen members of the SPG strike Peach. No one was ever charged, but it was suspected that he had been hit by a rubberised police radio. An inquest jury returned a verdict of death by misadventure in May 1980. Peach's girlfriend, Celia Stubbs, continued to campaign for many years for a public inquiry into his death. The Metropolitan Police Service reached an out-of-court settlement in 1989 with Peach's brother. The Metropolitan Police reports into the death of Blair Peach, identifying the probable responsibility of one of their own officers, were made available to the public on 27 April 2010.
Peach was born in New Zealand. He studied at Victoria University of Wellington and was for a time co-editor of the Argot literary magazine with his flatmates Dennis List and David Rutherford. He worked as a fireman and as a hospital orderly in New Zealand before moving to London in 1969. He became a teacher at the Phoenix School in Bow, East London, a special-needs school, working there from 1969 until his death 10 years later. At the time of his death he was an active member of the Socialist Teachers' Association within the National Union of Teachers, and a member of the Socialist Workers' Party.
Activism and death
Peach was an active member of the East London Teachers' Association, a branch of the National Union of Teachers, and became its president in the last year of his life. In 1974, he was charged with threatening behaviour after challenging a local publican's refusal to serve black customers, but acquitted.
Peach became a campaigner and activist against far right and neo-Nazi organisations. He attended a demonstration held by the Anti-Nazi League outside the town hall in Southall on Monday 23 April 1979, St George's Day, joining 3,000 protesters against a National Front meeting taking place in the town hall, in the run-up to the 1979 UK general election. The demonstration saw the presence of over 2,500 police, and became violent; more than 40 people, including 21 police, were injured and 300 were arrested. Peach was knocked unconscious in a side street, at the junction of Beachcroft Avenue and Orchard Avenue ( ), and died the next day in Ealing Hospital. Another demonstrator, Clarence Baker, a singer of the reggae band Misty in Roots, remained in a coma for five months.
Days after Peach's death, 10,000 marched past the place where he collapsed. The now-demolished Dominion Cinema, Southall, where his body was lying in repose, was visited by 8,000 Sikhs on the eve of Peach's funeral. 10,000 people attended his funeral, which took place 51 days after 23 April. Public reaction to Peach's death, and other underlying racial tensions including excessive police use of the Sus law, ultimately led to the 1981 Brixton riot and a public inquiry by Lord Scarman.
The Cass Report and inquest
A team of 30 detectives from the Metropolitan Police, headed by Commander John Cass, conducted an internal investigation of Peach's death. The pathologist's report indicated that Peach's broken skull was not the result of being struck by a truncheon, and he suggested Peach may have been struck by a lead weighted rubber cosh or hosepipe filled with lead shot; unauthorised weapons. Cass' investigation of the Met's Special Patrol Group (SPG) headquarters unearthed a hoard of unauthorised weapons, including various illegal truncheons and knives, two crowbars, a whip, a 3 ft wooden stave, and a lead-weighted leather stick. An officer was discovered attempting to dispose of a metal cosh; however, it was proven not to be the weapon that killed Peach. Another officer was discovered to be a Nazi supporter. It was also uncovered that one officer present at the riots, who was clean shaven on 23 April, decided to grow a beard, whilst another shaved off his moustache which he had sported on 23 April, the day of Peach's death. Another officer refused to participate in an identity parade, and all the police officers' uniforms had been dry cleaned before they were to be inspected.
Cass' reports were leaked and it was reported that he had narrowed down the suspects to six SPG officers, one of whom he believed to have killed Peach. It was claimed by activists that the coroner, Doctor John Burton, dismissed reports that Peach was killed by an officer even before the inquest had finished. He also refused to let any of the details from the Cass Report to be submitted as evidence. Burton then wrote various letters to the Home Secretary, Lord Chancellor and Attorney General, attacking what he believed to be a well organised fabrication being spread about the death of Peach. The letters accused media organisations such as the BBC for promoting what he called "biased propaganda". He continued by pouring scorn onto the witnesses statements, stating that some were "totally politically committed to the Socialist Workers Party" and dismissed their evidence as a mere "fabrication". He also stated, referencing some of the Sikh witnesses, that they "did not have experience of the English system" to give reliable evidence. In contrast, Burton showed sympathy to the various police officers who gave evidence, despite their inconsistencies. Burton's behaviour was described by one Home Office official as "extremely irate", and he resisted calls for the inquest to have a jury until he was forced by the court of appeal. Burton was concerned that the inquest might be hijacked by the "extreme left". The inquest jury returned a verdict of death by misadventure on 27 May 1980, prompting Peach's girlfriend, Celia Stubbs, to claim the police constable who allegedly administered the fatal blows had got off "scot-free". She continued to campaign for many years, unsuccessfully, for a public inquiry into his death. Eleven witnesses said they had seen members of the SPG hit Peach. After the inquest Burton wrote a large article entitled The Blair Peach Inquest - the Unpublished Story and attempted to publish it until he was convinced by civil servants that the report would "discredit the impartiality of coroners in general and Dr Burton in particular".
In June 2009, the Metropolitan Police Authority decided to publish the original internal police inquiry into Blair Peach's death by the end of the year. As of December 2009, the Crown Prosecution Service was reviewing the internal report and said it would advise police as to whether further action should be taken.
The reports into the death of Blair Peach were published on the Metropolitan Police website on 27 April 2010. The conclusion was that Blair Peach was killed by a police officer, but that the other police officers in the same unit had refused to cooperate with the inquiry by lying to investigators, making it impossible to identify the actual killer.
The Metropolitan Police report stated that an SPG policeman, identified as Officer E, was “almost certainly” the one whose assault killed Peach. Alan Murray, at the time an inspector in charge of SPG Unit One and now a lecturer in Accounting and Corporate Responsibility at Sheffield University, has admitted that he believes himself to be Officer E, but has denied killing Peach. Murray was described as “young and forceful” by the report, lied to investigators, and refused to participate in identity parades; to this day he wears the beard which it is suspected he originally grew to impede identification in case he were compelled to do so.
A primary school in Southall was later named after Blair Peach.
"Reggae Fi Peach", a song on Linton Kwesi Johnson's album Bass Culture, chronicles the death of Blair Peach in the form of dub poetry. The Ruts commemorated the death in the tune "Jah War". The 2 Tone album The 2 Tone Story is dedicated to his memory. Hazel O'Connor wrote "Calls the Tune" in his memory.
Ralph McTell wrote the song "Water of Dreams" in 1982.
Chris Searle edited One for Blair in 1989.
The Blair Peach Award was set up by the National Union of Teachers in 2010 to commemorate the former NUT member and as recognition of exemplary work by current members in schools and Union branches for equality and diversity issues.
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