Police lead-filled cosh kills peace protestor
Blair Peach was killed on 23rd April 1979 by members of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Patrol Group while he was attending an anti-Nazi demonstration in Southall in West London. During the protest, against the National Front, Blair was knocked unconscious and killed by the police.
In April 1979, the events of the general election were overshadowed by fighting between the police and the largely-Asian population of Southall.
The National Front had decided to hold a public meeting during the election campaign. 3,000 protesters, including members of the Southall Youth Movement, the Indian Workers’ Association and the Anti Nazi League, protested about the presence of fascists in a mainly Asian community.
According to testimonies given by eye witnesses in court, as police rushed past Blair, one of them hit him on the head with a baton or large stick. Already seriously injured he was left sitting against a wall.
Blair made several attempts to get up, but he was shivering with shock and couldn’t stand. At least three other protesters were hit so hard to the head that their skulls were fractured.
Blair’s friend Jo Lang recalled that police officers had got out of their vans and charged at protesters. Jo said, “We ran, but Blair wasn’t with us. So we went back to look for him. “An Asian family had taken him into their living room. You couldn’t see how badly injured he was. “It was later said that he was hit with a lead-filled cosh. While he was in the ambulance he started having fits, and at 12 o’clock they phoned and told us he was dead.”
Blair Peach (1946-1979) was a teacher at Phoenix Special School in East London, where he had taught since his arrival in England from New Zealand in 1969. He was a member of the Socialist Workers Party and of the Anti Nazi League, and was an active member of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in East London.
He was involved in many trade union and political struggles, including campaigning against apartheid in South Africa, and he became increasingly involved in anti-fascist and anti-racist struggles. He was committed to his pupils, and to giving all his students a good, anti-racist education.
The background to the events surrounding his death lay with the decision of the far-right National Front to hold an election meeting in Southall. The Front had almost no supporters in the area, but was hoping to gain publicity by bulldozing its way through the Asian districts of outer London.
It was 23rd April 1979 and by one or two o’clock there were young people milling around. A bus went past, with skinheads aboard, making v-signs. Some of the young Asians started to fight the skinheads, and the police responded by fighting the Asians.
By 3.30 in the afternoon, the entire town centre was closed, and the police declared it a ‘sterile’ area, meaning that it was free of anti-racists. An inquest recorded a verdict of death by misadventure, and the Met reached an out-of-court settlement with Mr Peach’s brother in 1989.
Jack Straw was a backbencher when he and 79 MP’s called for a public inquiry into the case after the inquest, but the request was rejected by the government.
As a mark of respect a school in Southall is now called Blair Peach School.
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