Friday, 23 April 2021

The Death of Blair Peach

 Blair Peach  died from a broken skull , as a result of  being struck on the head  by a truncheon wielding policeman from the Special Patrol Group during a demonstration  on the 23rd of April 1979. 
 Clement Blair Peach was born in New Zealand on the 25th of March 1946.  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 and started working as a teacher at  the Phoenix School in Bow, Tower Hamlets, East London, a special needs school.
Peach was no stranger to radicalism and protest; he was a member of the Socialist Worker’s Party, as well as the Socialist Teacher’s Association and the East London Teacher’s Association, both within the National Union of Teachers. A committed anti-fascist.In 1974 he was acquitted of a charge of threatening behaviour after he challenged a publican who was refusing to serve black customers. He was also involved in campaigns against far-right and neo-Nazi groups; he was well known for leading a successful campaign to close a National Front building in the middle of the Bangladeshi community around Brick Lane. He was also arrested in April 1978, outside a public meeting held by the NF in an East London school. The police had arrested a fellow demonstrator, who was black and female. Peach instinctively placed himself between the woman and the arresting officer and said, “Leave her alone, she has not done anything.” He was arrested, and pleaded not guilty but was convicted, receiving a fine of £50.
Peach was elected President of the East London Teachers Association in 1978. Twice that year he was attacked by supporters of the National Front as he cycled home from teaching at the Phoenix School, and he suffered black eyes, bruising and cuts. According to the East Ender newspaper, “Doctors fear permanent damage may have been done to one of his eyes. His finger has been bitten through to the bone shredding the nerves.” Even before 23 April 1979, Peach was putting his body on the line in the cause of the struggle against fascism.
On St. George’s Day 1979, the fascist National Front held a meeting in Southall Town Hall. The Front had almost no supporters in the area, but was hoping to gain publicity by bulldozing its way through the heavily Asian district of outer London.  a neighbourhood which, especially since the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Gurdip Singh Chaddar in Jun 1976, had been the target of increasingly violent attacks not only by National Front supporters but also by the local police. Nearly 3000 of the latter were deployed that day to ensure the fascists could hold a rally, 94 of the on horseback.The Anti-Nazi League held a counter demonstration outside the Town Hall. Peach was one of 3000 people to attend,
When the National Front meeting began, members of the Special Patrol Group were among police who tried to clear the area of demonstrators. The SPG was a specialist group that had gained notoriety following the Red Lion square disorders in 1974 at which student Kevin Gately was killed by a blow to the head by an unidentified assailant.
The demonstration turned violent;700 protestors were arrested, paramedics were denied proper access to tend to police-battered bystanders, the People Unite community centre run by the reggae band  Misty In Roots which was being used as a medical centre to treat wounded anti racists  was raided. Dozens of eye-witnesses complained that police officers aimed their batons at the heads of doctors, nurses and solicitors who had sheltered there. The band's manager Clarence Baker beaten into a coma from which he only emerged months later. 
According to 14 eye-witnesses who gave evidence to the subsequent inquest, Peach sustained a blow to the head from a weapon by a police officer at the junction of Beachcroft Avenue and Orchard Avenue, as he tried to get away from the demonstration. that left him staggering in to a nearby house. The impression is sometimes given that Blair Peach died instantly in the street but in fact he was still conscious though very dazed and finding it hard to speak when the ambulance arrived a quarter of an hour after the injury.  There was no blood or external trauma but it’s clear that he was suffering from a swelling in the brain, what’s termed an extra-dural haematoma. Blair Peach died in an operating theatre at the New Ealing District Hospital at 12.10am. He was only 33 years old. At least three other anti fascist protesters were hit so hard to the head that their skulls were fractured.
Peach’s death struck a chord amongst the communities he had stood up for, and across the city as a whole. A few days after his death, 10000 people marched past the spot where he was fatally injured. His funeral was delayed by several months, until the 13th of June, but that was also attended by 10,000 people. The night before his funeral, 8000 Sikhs went to see his body at the Dominion Theatre in Southall.
In the aftermath of Peach's murder, protesters were everywhere, flyposting, speaking, organising, discussing the lessons. The police were around, in very large numbers, but they did not dare to stop people from organising. It was almost as if the police were shamed by the enormity of what they had done. June 1979 also saw a 2,000-strong first Black people’s march against state harassment through central London.
Police investigated themselves in the aftermath of Blair Peach's death and identified  6 cops, 1 of whom administered  the fatal blow. No one has ever been charged.. 

The death of Blair Peach was the dire outcome of a double-edged state racism. The police that day staunchly protected a racist gathering in a predominantly Asian community, while unleashing militarised measures of control and punishment on demonstrators looking to oppose the fascists (Institute of Race Relations, 1979).
Blair Peach’s death became a focal point for those who questioned the nature of the Special Patrol Group and the general lack of police accountability which that force epitomised. And, from the agitation of Blair’s family, especially his long term partner Celia Stubbs, about the inadequacy of the inquest system and the secrecy surrounding the coroner’s court and the evidence withheld from the family, was created the organisation INQUEST.
The Metropolitan Police commissioned an internal inquiry into what happened, which was led by Commander John Cass. 11 witnesses saw Peach struck by a member of the Special Patrol Group (SPG). The SPG was a centrally-based mobile group of officers focused on combating serious public disorder and crime that local divisions were unable to cope with. It started in 1961, and was replaces in 1987 by the Territorial Support Group, which also has a less-than stellar reputation amongst activists.
The pathologist’s report concluded that Peach was not hit with a standard issue baton, but an unauthorised weapon like a weighted rubber cosh,or a hosepipe filled with lead shot. When Cass’ team investigated the headquarters of the SPG, they found multiple illegal weapons including truncheons, knives, a crowbar, and a whip. 2 SPG officers had altered their appearance by growing or cutting facial hair since the protest, 1 refused to take part in an identity parade, and another was discovered to be a Nazi sympathiser. All of the officers’ uniforms were dry-cleaned before they were presented for examination.
Cass concluded that one of 6 officers had killed Peach, but he couldn’t be sure who exactly, because the officers had colluded to cover up the truth. He recommended that 3 officers be charged with perverting the course of justice, but no action was ever taken. The results of the inquiry were not published, and the coroner at the inquest into Peach’s death refused to allow it to be used as evidence, despite making use of it himself. Two newspapers, the Sunday Times and the Leveller, published leaks naming the officers that had travelled in the van that held Peach’s killer. They were Police Constables Murray, White, Lake, Freestone, Scottow and Richardson. When the lockers of their unit were searched in June 1979, one officer Greville Bint was discovered to have in his lockers Nazi regalia, bayonets and leather covered sticks. Another constable Raymond White attempted to hide a cosh. 
Celia Stubbs, said: "This report totally vindicates what we have always believed - that Blair was killed by one of six officers from Unit 1 of the Special Patrol Group whose names have been in the public domain over all these years."
The death of Blair Peach was a public relations disaster for the Metropolitram Police,  a well respected and well liked activist who fought hard for local communities. Peach was a man for whom many people cared about. The Met should have been transparent, finding out what happened and punishing those responsible quickly and openly. Instead, they covered up the cause of Peacg's death for 3 decades, allowing what happened to fester,contributing to a sense of resentment and distrust that continues to this day.
Campaigners have since  demanded a fresh inquiry into Blair Peach's death Gareth Peirce, the lawyer who defended many of those arrested in 1979, said: “Unquestionably a public investigation is required as to what happened and why it was covered up for so long. A man was killed, wholly innocent people were convicted and evidence against them fabricated.
The police went out to deliberately inflict injuries on innocent people and were being provocative and racist. An onslaught of violence was unleashed on the Southall community and other protesters. The Hillsborough inquiry shows that reopening investigations into incidents that happened in the past is not only important but achievable.”
The late Darcus Howe  writer and anti racist activist once remarked: “The death of Blair Peach is a lasting injustice. But it is also a pressing issue because there is no evidence that the policing mistakes that led to the death of Blair Peach have been consigned to the past.
The campaign for justice for Blair Peach was the model for all the others that have come since. We now know, that from the very start, it was infiltrated by undercover police, who targeted his grieving partner, family and friends before he was even buried.
Following his death, his partner Celia Stubbs launched a justice campaign, which was infiltrated by officers serving in the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), a secret police unit accused of serial abuses over decades.
Following his death, his partner Celia Stubbs launched a justice campaign, which was infiltrated by officers serving in the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), a secret police unit accused of serial abuses over decades.
Speaking on behalf of Ms Stubbs, Matthew Ryder QC told the Undercover Policing Inquiry that the killing of Blair Peach and the subsequent “cover-up” was one of the “most notorious events in the history of British policing.”
Mr Ryder said that the campaign for police accountability became a “focus” for the spycops, adding that this was a “vivid illustration” of “inappropriate undercover policing” of those seeking justice.
The lawyer said that a “source of significant distress” for Ms Stubbs was the presence of undercover officers at Mr Peach’s funeral. Documents disclosed to the inquiry reveal that officers compiled a list of people who attended and even took photographs of individuals.
The attendance at the funeral was obviously an intelligence-gathering exercise” said Mr Ryder, disputing statements by one officer that he was only present to protect his cover.
SDS reporting on the campaign continued for another 20 years, the inquiry heard, with a document dated to 1998 recording a protest on the anniversary of Mr Peach’s death.
Celia Stubbs says she was horrified to discover she was spied on for years while campaigning for justice. She will give evidence next month to the inquiry into undercover policing as it examines the extent of covert surveillance in the 1980s.
First the fatal beating from the Special Patrol Group, quickly followed by the long deception from the Special Demonstration Squad; the violence from the Metropolitan Police towards people who stood up against injustice was unrelenting.
Peach dedicated his life to standing up to racism, something that the NUT [National Union of Teachers] celebrates through its annual Blair Peach award. The award is given to individu­al NUT members or groups of members who have made signifi­cant and exemplary contribu­tions to LGBT+, race, gender, and/or disability equality in their school or division.Peach was the very definition of an anti-racist activist and ally. and after his death a number of writers have dedicated poems to his memory, including Chris Searle, Michael Rosen and Susannah Steele, Louis Johnson, Edward Bond, Sigi Moos, Sean Hutton and Tony Dickens, and songs including  the following  by dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson  in Jamaican patois.

Linton Kweisi Johnson - Reggae fi Peach

Everywhere you go its the talk of the day,
Everywhere you go you hear people say,
That the Special Patrol them are murderers (murderers),
We cant make them get no furtherer,
The SPG them are murderers (murderers),
We cant make them get no furtherer,
Cos they killed Blair Peach the teacher,
Them killed Blair Peach, the dirty bleeders.

Blair Peach was an ordinary man,
Blair Peach he took a simple stand,
Against the fascists and their wicked plans,
So them beat him till him life was done.

Everywhere you go its the talk of the day,
Everywhere you go you hear people say,
That the Special Patrol them are murderers (murderers),
We cant make them get no furtherer,
The SPG them are murderers (murderers),
We cant make them get no furtherer,
Cos they killed Blair Peach the teacher,
Them killed Blair Peach, the dirty bleeders.

Blair Peach was not an English man,
Him come from New Zealand,
Now they kill him and him dead and gone,
But his memory lingers on.

Oh ye people of England,
Great injustices are committed upon this land,
How long will you permit them, to carry on?
Is England becoming a fascist state?
The answer lies at your own gate,
And in the answer lies your fate.

Peach was a deeply private person, more comfortable in political rather than literary circles, No more than one or two of the writer mentioned above can have known that in his youth Blair Peach had been a poet himself. At the University of Wellington he had helped edit a literary magazine Argot, Against the untimely horror of his untimely death perhaps a tint satisfaction can be found in the way h has ben remembered since by the people of Southall as a man who fought alongside them, and by his fellow writers.
It is sad though  that  battles which were fought against state-sanctioned violence and far-right racism are still the battles being fought today, and we should not forget that Blair Peach wasn’t the first person nor the last to be killed by the  police, since his murder Cynthia Jarrett,( whose death during a police raid prompted the notorious Broadwater Farm disturbances in 1985)  Mark Duggan, Ian Tomlinson, Jean Charles de Menezes; are some other people who have  had the misfortune of being famous because they were killed by the Metropolitan Police. The fight for justice goes on, as does Blair Peach's legacy who  believed in the inclusion of everyone no matter what race, religion or educational ability. As was the case over 40 years ago, a principled democratic debate about police powers and methods is vital. We must also continue to  confront and resist the forces of fascism and racism everywhere and continue to defend the right to protest.without any reservation..


  1. I remember Blair Peach's death. I was living in Kent at the time and a member of Medway SWP branch. My daughter was just a few months old. Thatcher was about to become Priminister. The National Front were very prominent. Blair's death was so awful. We had seen Kevin Gately die not long before. Police violence was so inevitable. But although all these things were so awful, I still felt we could change the world and have a socialist system.

  2. Thanks for your memories, it is so sad we are still having to fight for the same reasons as Blair Peach and Kevin Gately ( both martyrs against fascism and racism) but fight we must until these evil forces are finally overcome once and for all