Blair Peach’s gravestone

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grave

Photograph by Sybil Cock, double click on image to enlarge

The inscription reads: “Blair – Beloved son of Janet and Clement Peach – Loved brother of Roy and Philip – And beloved friend of Celia Catherine and Rebecca – Born 25 March 1946 Napier New Zealand – Died 23 April 1979 Southall England Let them remember for all time this man as their brother and as their friend William Morris”

At the East London Cemetry and Crematorium

The Leveller names Blair Peach’s killers

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Leveller

The most important article to have been published about Blair Peach’s killing was this article for the Leveller magazine, from January 1980. The Leveller, for those who don’t know, was a left-labour magazine, with contributors including Steve Bell, Julia Bird, and Tim Gompsill and the late, erudite historian of the left Al Richardson.

In January 1980, the Leveller broke the news that six police officers: Murray, White, Scottow, etc, were the prime suspects for Peach’s killing. There names had not previously been published.

Re-reading it now, there is one paragraph which leaps off the page.

“Witness accounts are unclear as to whether Peach was hit by the first officer who jumped out of the van, but it would surely not have been beyond the Cass enquiry’s power to establish who was sitting where in the van and who was first on to the street. There are two doors on the passenger side of SPG Carriers, one of the radio operators in the front seat, in this case most likely to have been Murray, as senior-ranking officer, and one for the other other four constables in the back. Strangely enough, it was the Carrier’s driver, PC Raymond ‘Chalky’ White, who was held [in June] for three days’ continuous questioning by Cass and the enquiry team…”

We know why at the early stages of the Cass inquiry his attention focussed on White: first (as the Leveller went on to explain) because White’s locker had been found to contain a cosh, and because the early medical evidence found that a cosh was a possible cause of the death. And second, because White was one of three officers, also including Inspector Murray, to have claimed falsely that Murray left the vehicle a full junction away from where Peach had been killed.

The reasons why Cass had decided that White was probably not the killer were again two-fold. First (as the Leveller went on to explain) because White had been the driver, and Cass had very little information as to how long he had been out of the vehicle. (The Leveller surmises that Cass could have asked who was sat where in the police carrier. He did indeed ask, but the officers from the van refused to say). And second, because the medical evidence was ultimately that White’s cosh was not the murder weapon, but that it was more likely to have been a police radio.

Nowhere in the Cass report was there any attempt to work out which officer might have been operating the radio. On my reading of Cass, he assumed that the chances of any officer holding the radio were just about equal. But if you go back to the Leveller piece,  you will see an additional detail, which I, for one, find telling.

As ever you can double click on the image to enlarge it and read the original article.

Finally, I’m hoping to bring out over the next few weeks two further pieces which will go into much more detail about how exactly Peach was killed. The first will, hopefully, be a piece for the London Review of Books. The second will be a pamphlet for the campaigning group Defend the Right to Protest. Until then, #JusticeforPeach.

H/t Evan Smith

The Communist Party and Blair Peach

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cp01 After previous articles looking at the reporting of Blair Peach’s death by the SWP and the IMG, today I thought I’d look at the Communist Party of Great Britain, which, after an initial period of scepticism about the Anti-Nazi League had come fully on board by late 1977, a shift marked publicly by the agreement of Ken Gill the General Secretary of TASS, an old-school loyalist to the Eastern European states, to speak at Peach’s funeral in 1979.

I’ve already given some examples of the coverage of Blair Peach’s killing in the Morning Star, which was exemplary, and indeed continues in a similar vein today.

Here, with thanks to Evan Smith, are two examples of the CP’s involvement, as a party, in the campaign. The first (top) is a letter sent by Ken Worpole, a teacher, a friend of Blair Peach and a member of the Friends of Blair Peach committee, a writer about landscape, and at times a loosely-fellow-travelling supporter of the EuroCommunist wing of the CP, in February 1980, to the party asking it to support the demonstration to coincide with the opening of the final inquest, 4 days after the anniversary of Peach’s death. “We hope very much”, Worpole writes, that “the Communist party will agree [to] sponsor this demonstration and help mobilise as many people as possible on the day as part of a drive to run the tide against the vicious “law and order” offensive being waged against the working class movement, particularly the immigrant communities”.

The second (below) is  a letter from the CP to the Home Office (and the official reply).  CP General Secretary Gordon McLennan was adding his party’s name to the demand for  a public enquiry into Peach’s death and the events at Southall. The Home Office’s reply is a typical piece of officialese, ignoring altogether the demand for an enquiry and merely repeating facts already in the public domain: that the police officers had been investigated by Commander Cass, and that the Director of Public Prosecutions had decided not to prosecute.

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The important interim pieces of information - that Cass had called for prosecutions, but been turned down by the DPP – the civil servants knew perfectly well but refused to admit. As ever you can double click on the images to enlarge them.

On the death of Blair Peach by Siegfried Moos

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And the earth span
And the stars stared
And the angry clouds
Spat their contempt
Into the face
Of this mean, murderous planet
Which feeds its innocent soil
With the young bodies
Of the selfless best
Now hung or stabbed or shot
Now driven to destroy themselves
Now battered in the streets

The wide horizon’s
Giant ear listens
To hear explode
The fury of outrage
Against so foul a deed

When you again
Hear thunder roll
Over the burial ground
It drums in your ear
Remember
Remember
Remember

My friend Blair Peach

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peach

Guest post by an anonymous contributor

Blair became involved in organised teacher politics in London through the Rank and File movement, an organisation of rank-and-file teachers which the SWP had originally set up but which went far beyond the SWP’s ranks. He was very active in Rank and File at a London and national level and realised that his politics were closer to the SWP than to other organisations on the left. In 1977, he and I both joined the SWP, but he retained a passionate commitment to Rank and File Teacher and to the production and distribution, nationally, of Rank and File Teacher magazine.

In 1974, when Rank and File was pressing for a significant increase in teachers’ salaries, teachers at Phoenix School voted to take unofficial industrial action. Peach, and other teachers, were summoned to appear before a governors’ panel, threatened with disciplinary action. They had, however overwhelming support from parents, pupils and other local teachers and, after the hearing, they were completely vindicated: the teachers won.

Phoenix School was, in the language of the time, a School for the Delicate. Blair and I both taught literacy. We had pupils with a wide range of special needs; learning needs, behavioural needs and medical needs, some of which were life limiting. The school had both a primary and a secondary element, and we took in a number of pupils who had coped at primary school but failed at a larger comprehensive. Our class sizes were small; I never taught more than 10 or 12 pupils at once and sometimes pupils worked in very small groups for reading, even 1-1. One of the things which Blair was passionate about was trying to give pupils similar opportunities to their peers in mainstream schools. He managed to institute CSE / ‘O’ level provision for the small number of older pupils who could benefit and also overcame opposition and organised a school trip to Paris, which, for some of those who went, was the first time they had travelled out of East London.

Blair was happiest talking politics with friends in the pub. Meetings often moved on to the pub and it was after such a meeting that the events that provoked the picketing of the Railway Tavern took place.

Blair was a socialist and committed to public services. After he had been attacked and injured by racists in a local park, Blair made the detour to Bethnal Green hospital in order to emphasise the need for the local casualty department, which had recently been closed. Only then did he make his way to the London Hospital, to get the treatment he needed.