Tag Archives: Cass report

Blair Peach in the press: “Peach group name police on ‘wanted’ poster” (22 April 1980)

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Ten thousand people marched through central London to commemorate the anniversary of Peach’s death. Protesters carried posters identifying the six officers in Unit 1/1 who were in the vicinity of Peach when he was struck and killed.

The Police Federation called the poster “deplorable”, while for the Coroner John Burton it was  yet another incident justifying his belief that the demonstrators and not the police should have been prosecuted – in the case, for contempt of court.

 

Blair Peach in the press: “Unofficial report condemns ‘police violence’” (23 April 1980)

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The NCCL report, published on the anniversary of Peach’s death in 1980, was scathing about the police’s conduct on the day. Three passages (not quoted in the Times article) give a flavour of report as a whole:

“On a number of occasions, the evidence shows that police officers used their truncheons, not for self-protection but as instruments of arbitrary, violent and unlawful punishment”

“There is disturbing evidence of racist behaviour by police officers on duty on 23 April”

“We believe the SPG has no place in the policing of demonstrations”.

 

 

 

Blair Peach in the press: “Peach riot PC ‘grew a beard’” (8 April 1980)

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Amanda Leon, one of the witnesses at the Inquest, had travelled to Southall with Blair Peach and had been with him on Beechcroft Avenue. Leon told the Inquest that she heard police sirens and saw a row of a row of police officers with shields and truncheons ready to charge. She saw a police officer hit Peach from behind on the head, with a truncheon. She too was then hit by a different officer, and was later seen in hospital with a lump on her head. The papers disclosed with the Cass report show that on their count six demonstrators received head injuries on 23 April, three of them (Peach, Leon and an un-named middle-aged Asian man) on Beechcroft or Orchard Avenues (Cass, enclosures, page 259), although given the large numbers of protesters reporting that the received similar blows to the head at Park View Road, it is likely that the real figures ran into several dozens.

The press coverage of her evidence went into the conduct of an unknown Officer who, Leon claimed, had grown a beard in order to avoid identification. It seems most likely from the Cass report that this was “Officer E”, Inspector Murray, who had attended for duty in August 1979 with a black eye, which he claimed to have suffered while playing badminton, and with a beard (Cass, enclosures, page 607, 617).

Blair Peach in the press: “Liberties panel demands full Peach inquiry” (9 October 1979)

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As well as the Friends of Blair Peach Committee and the Anti-Nazi league, one of the main organisations keeping pressure on the Home Office to concede an inquiry was the Committee founded by the National Council of Civil Liberties.

Chaired by Michael Dummett and with members including Joan Lestor MP,  Patricia Hewitt General Secretary of the NCCL, Paul O’Higgins, an academic lawyer at Cambridge, and the philosopher and activist Stuart Hall, the NCCL report would eventually conclude:

“There is reason to believe that Blair Peach was killed by an SPG officer, and no evidence to suggest that he was killed by anyone else. It is a matter for astonishment that the police investigation in his killing has resulted in no criminal or disciplinary proceedings.”

 

 

 

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.

Blair Peach in the press: “six police in probe” (7 October 1979)

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The news that the DPP did not support prosecution of any of the officers named in the Cass report did not prevent others from taking up the call for the report to be published. By autumn 1979, the Conservative government was maintaining its line that there would be no public inquiry, which meant that the most important public forum would be the coming inquest. Would the Coroner John Burton agree to let Peach’s family see Cass’ report?

We know now that he never did disclose the report, which he referred to, and which counsel for the Metropolitan police also had, making it practically impossible for the barristers at the Inquest representing the family and the ANL to properly examine witnesses.

The National Council of Civil Liberties was watching the inquest closely, and its Committee of observers chaired by the Oxford philosopher Michael Dummett, complained of the injustice of depriving one party to a public inquest access to information held by another, “We believe that the existence of private evidence, available to the coroner and the Metropolitan Police counsel but not to the other parties, made it impossible for the inquest to be a proper and fair investigation of the cause of Blair Peach’s death and seriously weakened public confidence in the proceedings. Such evidence should either be exclude altogether or, if given to anyone involved in the inquest, should be given to everyone… [T]he law should be changed to provide all parties at an inquest with an entitlement to see all evidence made available to the coroner.”

Blair Peach in the press: “why the police report on Peach’s death must be published” (5 October 1979)

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Commander Cass completed his second, substantial report, on 14 September 1979. Cass found that Peach must be assumed to have been killed by a police officer, as there was no evidence of any other potential cause of death. He considered the possibility that the blow might have been struck accidentally or unwittingly, but again, there was no evidence at all to suggest this. If an officer had wanted to say that it had been a mistake, they could have come forward to say so and none had. Cass wrote. “In the absence of other evidence it is therefore a matter of consideration as to whether the death was unlawful, there being little evidence from any source that criminal acts were being committed by the demonstrators at the time of the death.”

Cass had one primary suspect – “Officer E” – “Officer E is aware of what actually occurred”, he wrote, “It can be clearly seen from the various statements and records of interviews with these officers that their explanations were seriously lacking and in the case of Officer E, Officer F and Officer H, there was [a] deliberate attempt to conceal the presence of the carrier at the scene at the vital time.”

Yet just three weeks after the Cass report, the Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Thomas Hetherington announced that despite Cass’s “very thorough” report, there would be no prosecutions, either for murder or for conspiring to pervert the course of justice.

The authors of the above letter – 12 academic lawyers at the University of Kent including Wade Mansell and Ian Grig-Spall – did not know what was in the Cass report, the main details of which only became public knowledge in 2010 – but they rightly insisted that the Cass report should be published.

Blair Peach in the press: “an inquiry is inescapable” (5 October 1979)

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In October 1979, the Guardian came out in support of a public inquiry into the events at Southall:

“Public confidence is bound to have been shaken by Southall. The eye witnesses who saw the police using their truncheons had their stories splashed across the front pages of even the most conservative newspapers … The four witnesses who the Anti Nazi League say saw Mr Peach beaten by the police should be allowed to give their evidence and be cross examined by a judicial inquiry. Let Mr Whitelaw wait, if he wants, until the inquest is over: but a public inquiry is what is needed”

No such inquiry was ever ordered.

Blair Peach in the press: “Southall gets a whitewash” (5 October 1979)

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While by October 1979, there was pressure on the police to identify the six officers who had been on carrier 1/1,  and one of whom had struck Blair Peach, killing him, in the Magistrates Court, it remained the case that anyone accused by the police was facing almost certain conviction.

According to this article, by David Ransom, writing in the New Statesman: “Last week [one of the Magistrates] Mr Canham astounded lawyers and onlookers by binding over two witnesses for £100 each, for a year. There were no charges against them, but Mr Canham said he was satisfied that they had been members of ‘that hostile crowd, and coming to court to excuse such behaviour justifies my binding you over.'”

Ransom, a member of the Friends of Blair Peach Committee, would later publish “License to Kill”, a pamphlet detailing the events of the Inquest and of the first year of the campaign to bring Peach’s killer to justice.

Blair Peach in the press: “anger at DPP’s decision” (4 October 1979)

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Commander Cass produced a second report on 14 September 1979.

He believed he had identified the killer as one of Officers E, H, G , I , J and F. While he did not recommend their prosecution for murder, he did believe that three officers had conspired together to obstruct police, and called for them to be prosecuted.

Three weeks later, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Thomas Hetherington announced that there would be no prosecutions.

It would be another 31 years before the report was made available to Blair’s family and to the public.