Blair Peach in the press: “who killed Blair Peach” (9 October 1979)

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As reports came out that six police officers were at the centre of the investigation, attention turned to the inquest and whether that would be capable of being a fair process. There were widespread concerns about Coroner John Burton, who had initially refused the request of Peach’s family to have the case heard by a jury. By tradition, juries were mandatory at all inquests. But since 1926, they had been optional, save with some exceptions: where a death occurred in prison, where it was caused by an accident, poisoning or disease requiring notice to an inspector or government department, and where it occurred in circumstances whose repetition would be prejudicial to public health or safety. At this stage, Peach’s family’s understanding of his death was that he had been killed by a weapon, probably not a truncheon, and it appeared that police officers were routinely taking such weapons on demonstrations. This was the argument which they wanted to test. By its very nature, it was an argument which made a jury appropriate. Burton’s initial refusal to accept a jury can be seen as an attempt, from before the inquest had started, to keep control and close off any lines of inquiries which would be impliedly critical of the police. The Coroner’s decision had to be appealed twice, before the higher courts agreed and accepted that a jury would be appropriate.

While this argument was taking place, the Friends of Blair Peach Committee for a much more straightforward judicial-led public inquiry. This advertisement in the Guardian, making that demand, was signed by 6 MPs, two national unions, Peach’s old union branch (NUT East London Association) and Spare Rib magazine.

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