(double click to enlarge)
from Socialist Lawyer, October 2014
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
‘As a campaign meeting, it must have been one of the biggest yet, a hundred National Front supporters, three and a half thousand police and thousands of Asian demonstrators.’ This was the way News at Ten began its report of the clashes in Southall on 23 April 1979, midway through the general election campaign that would end with the victory of Margaret Thatcher. The report contained footage of police officers arresting middle-aged men in turbans, women sitting down in the road and demonstrators with their heads swaddled in bandages. The final images showed around twenty NF supporters, all men, giving Nazi salutes as they went into Southall Town Hall.
Southall was one of the most racially diverse areas in London: in five wards surveyed in 1976, 46 per cent of the population had been born in the New Commonwealth. The National Front’s candidate, John Fairhurst, had stood in nearby Hayes and Harlington in the two 1974 elections. He wasn’t standing in Southall in the hope of securing a high vote, but because the NF thought putting up a candidate there would get them publicity. On 23 April, 2875 police officers were deployed (including 94 on horseback) to protect the NF’s right of assembly, 700 protesters were arrested, 345 of whom would be charged, 97 police officers and 64 members of the public were reported to have been injured, and one demonstrator, Blair Peach, was killed.
On 27 May the following year, an inquest jury reached a verdict in Peach’s case of death by misadventure. But the jurors had not been given access to all the relevant information. Soon after Peach’s death, Commander John Cass, chief of the Metropolitan Police’s Complaints Investigation Bureau, carried out an internal inquiry into the killing. It was a substantial piece of work: Cass was assisted by thirty police officers, the inquiry took 31,000 hours of police time, and, including interview transcripts, the complete report was 2500 pages long. It found that Peach’s killer was one of six police officers, with one clear principal suspect, and that three of the six should be prosecuted for attempting to frustrate the investigation. Counsel for the police and the coroner both had access to the report but went out of their way to conceal its findings from everyone else involved in the inquest.
The Cass Report wouldn’t be published until 2010, a year after Ian Tomlinson died, having wandered into the protests against the G20 summit and been struck on the leg and pushed to the ground by a police officer. Tomlinson’s death encouraged Peach’s family to ask again for the Cass Report to be released. Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, agreed to do so. The inquest into Tomlinson’s death resulted in a verdict of unlawful killing, which made possible the criminal prosecution for manslaughter of PC Simon Harwood. (He was acquitted.) The finding of death by misadventure in Peach’s case made any prosecution impossible, despite there being a strong argument for a second inquest. The High Court can order one, as it did recently on the Hillsborough disaster. Of that case Lord Judge, then lord chief justice, held that ‘it seems to us elementary that the emergence of fresh evidence which may reasonably lead to the conclusion that the substantial truth about how an individual met his death was not revealed at the first inquest, will normally make it both desirable and necessary in the interests of justice for a fresh inquest to be ordered.’ This statement is clearly applicable to Peach’s case….
Regular readers of this blog may enjoy my piece which has gone up on the LRB blog today setting out – in detail – what we know about the death of Blair Peach (killed by the police at an anti-fascist protest Southall in 1979) – how it happened – the officers who were identified as responsible for the killing – and why Commander Cass identified them as his primary suspects. The article can be read in full, here.
The piece is only an extract from a pamphlet, which is due to be published (with additional pieces by Soren Goard, Richard Harvey, Balwinder Rana and Susan Matthews) by Defend the Right to Protest in June. Details here.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
Here is the audio of a talk I gave to a meeting in North London three weeks ago, explaining who Blair Peach was and why his anniversary matters
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
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.