The pamphlet was written with the intention of drawing readers’ attention to the inquest into Blair Peach’s death.
Inquests are the first legal investigation which takes place when a person has died violently, suddenly or in prison. They are on oath. They take place in a courtroom. They are controlled by a coroner who is, in this setting, effectively a Judge. Blair’s inquest began properly on 28 April 1980, almost exactly a year after his death. It had been delayed because of a series of decisions of the Coroner, John Burton, which had been challenged and partially overturned by the Higher Courts
One decision of Burton’s was to sit without a jury. This was a surprising decision. Juries are not mandatory in inquests but they are common, and they have to be sworn where a death occurs in circumstances whose repetition would be prejudicial to health or safety
For Blair’s family and friends, the issue was straightforward; Southall was a police riot, should it be repeated, then other people would be injured or killed.
Burton’s rationale for excluding the jury was that the family were wrong and he would not allow their argument to be heard in court. He would blame the demonstrators instead. In excluding the jury, he would exclude any possibility of blaming the police.
The Court of Appeal reluctantly overruled Burton on the principle that if justice is going to be seen to be done, then you must at least allow people the legal system to explore the remote chance that the police were at fault, before in the end finding some way to say that another factor was to blame
Burton’s second decision was to hold back from the Inquest –from the jurors, and from Blair’s family – the most important evidence into Blair’s death
Burton excluded the report of Commander Cass, head of the Met’s Complaints Investigation Bureau. But after an investigation involving 30 officers, and around 30,000 hours of police time, Cass believed that he had identified Blair’s killer
This is how Cass put it, “There is some evidence that the fatal blow was struck by a member of the first carrier at the scene, U11, and indeed an indication that it was the first officer out of the vehicle. This … was Officer E.”
Cass’s reasoning was as follows: when Blair was killed, only very few police officers were at the scene: six officers driving in a vehicle, U11
Officer E was in command. He, and at least one of his junior officers, had given an untrue account of what happened on the day, falsely suggesting that they had left their vehicles relatively early during the day’s event – and not, as they later admitted, at exactly the spot where Blair had died
Officer E – Inspector Alan Murray – had behaved violently on other occasions during the day. Afterwards, he had refused to co-operate with the police investigation.
Murray – and this is something which Cass did not notice –possessed his unit’s radio. The radio matters because the two pathologists investigating the cause of death had found that a police radio was the most likely cause of death
His police radio was the only one on Orchard Avenue when Blair was struck. Much later Murray was asked, “Where was your radio?” His answer was “I was using it a lot.” It was in his hands, in other words.
But the Cass report was never disclosed to the Inquest, and almost the information I’ve told you was kept back from the jury
The notes of the Inquest, when you read them, are troubling. When a barrister examines a witness in court, and the witness lies to you, the most powerful thing you can do is quote back at them a document which proves that they are dissembling. If you have to ask questions without those documents – it is almost impossible to control a witness.
The jury were not told that Cass has shown that the officers of vehicle U11 was the only police present at the scene
Murray insisted that many other officers were present – without the Cass report, the barristers acting for Blair’s family had no means to hand to show that he was lying
The jury were not told that Cass has shown that Murray had left the vehicle at exactly the spot where Blair was struck
All the jury were not told, although the police, the barristers for the police and the Coroner all knew Cass that had established that the demonstrators were doing nothing when the officers of U11 charged into them
Murray made it sound like a battlefield – had the barristers been given the Cass report – they could have shown he was lying
Coroner Burton told the jury that the scene was so violent that no demonstrator left there was “innocent”; he could say this only because he had suppressed the best account of the events
Where an inquest has been held and evidence has been rejected, or new evidence has been found, which makes it necessary that there should be a new inquest, the Attorney General has the power to apply to the High Court to order a second inquest.
It has happened this year with Hillsborough.
There should be a second inquest now for Blair.
The pamphlet can be order for £2 plus p+p from Defend The Right To Protest here