This week sees the fortieth anniversary of the death of Blair Peach. For those unfamiliar with his case or for those who had simply forgotten here are the brief facts:
Blair Peach was born in New Zealand but having visited the UK he found he liked it (or at least some of it) and decided to move here (in 1969). He was a teacher and also had a deep interest in politics particularly (relevant for the times) anti-far right activism. He was once arrested and charged with threatening behaviour after challenging a local publican for refusing to serve a black person. He was acquitted.
On the 23rd April 1979 (St. George’s Day annoyingly enough for us non-fascist English patriots) what was then The National Front had decided to hold a meeting at Southall Town Hall in the borough of Ealing. Despite a petition of ten thousand or more signatures against the meeting (Southall had a large black and Asian community) the local council decided to let the thing go ahead under the Representation of the People Act 1969. In the evening of that day large crowds had gathered as had a large contingent of the Metropolitan Police. One thing led to another and as tensions rose the police became more intent on dispersing the crowds rather than containing them. In the ensuing chaos Peach and a small number of friends decided to try and leave the scene. Unfortunately they went the wrong way and, again amidst scenes of chaos with violence erupting, Blair was confronted by a unit of the Special Patrol Group (an “anti-riot” section of the Metropolitan Police). He was struck on the head. Peach was taken into a nearby house owned by a local Asian family and given first aid. It became obvious that an ambulance was required and one was duly called. Despite an emergency operation he died from his injuries at 12.10 am on the 24th April.
Peach’s funeral was attended by some five to ten thousand people. Three days after this Sir David McNee, then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, was reported as telling a black reporter: “I understand the concerns of your people . But if you keep off the streets of London and behave yourselves you won’t have the SPG to worry about”.
The Inquest, which after many false and re-starts finished the following year, concluded a verdict that Blair Peach had suffered ‘death by misadventure’.
No one was ever charged.