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Clement Blair Peach (25 March 1946 - 23 April 1979) was a New Zealand-born teacher who died, allegedly as a result of police brutality, during an anti-racism demonstration in west London. At the time he was teaching at a special needs school in east London, and was an active member of the Socialist Teachers' Association within the National Union of Teachers, and a member of the Socialist Workers' Party.

Contents

Life

Peach was born in New Zealand. He studied at Victoria University of Wellington and was for a time co-editor of the Argot literary magazine with his flatmates Dennis List and David Rutherford. He worked as a fireman and as a hospital orderly in New Zealand before moving to London in 1969. He became a teacher at the Phoenix School in Bow, East London, working there from 1969 until his death 10 years later.[1].

Activism

Peach was an active member of the East London Teachers' Association, a branch of the National Union of Teachers, and became its president in the year before his death.[1] In 1974, he was charged with threatening behaviour after challenging a local publican's refusal to serve black customers, but acquitted.[1]

Peach became a campaigner and activist against far right and neo-Nazi organisations. He attended a demonstration held by the Anti-Nazi League outside the town hall in Southall on Monday 23 April 1979, St George's Day, joining 3,000 protesters against a National Front meeting taking place in the town hall that day, in the run-up to the 1979 UK general election. The demonstration was attended by over 2,500 police, and became violent - over 40 people, including 21 police, were injured; 300 were arrested.[2] Peach was knocked unconscious by police in a side street and died the next day in Ealing hospital.[3] Another demonstrator, Clarence Baker - a singer of the reggae band Misty in Roots, remained in a coma for five months.[4]

Days after his death, 10,000 marched past the place where he collapsed. Thousands also visited his body at "lying in state" at the Dominion Theatre, and thousands more attended his funeral.[5]

Public reaction to Peach's death, and underlying racial tensions, ultimately led to the 1981 Brixton riot and a public inquiry by Lord Scarman.[6]

Inquest

A team of 30 detectives from the Metropolitan Police, headed by Commander John Cass, conducted an internal investigation of Peach's death, but the report of the investigation was never published, and the coroner did not allow details to be submitted as evidence at the inquest. The inquest jury returned a verdict of death by misadventure on 27 May 1980, prompting Peach's girlfriend, Celia Stubbs, to claim the police constable who allegedly administered the fatal blows had got off "scot-free".[7] She continued to campaign for many years, unsuccessfully, for a public inquiry into his death. Eleven witnesses said they had seen members of the Metropolitan Police Special Patrol Group (SPG) hit Peach.[8] No one was ever charged, but it was said that he had fallen to a blow from a rubberized police radio.[9] The Metropolitan Police Service reached an out-of-court settlement in 1989 with Peach's brother.[8] In June 2009, the Metropolitan Police Authority unanimously decided to publish the original internal police inquiry into Blair Peach's death by the end of the year.[10][11] The Crown Prosecution Service is reviewing the internal report and will advise police as to whether any further action should be taken.[12]

Special Patrol Group

An investigation by The Guardian newspaper revealed the discovery of "unauthorised weapons" in SPG lockers in Barnes police station (including a lead-weighted rubber cosh); the suspension of members of the SPG; the growing of a beard by one SPG member when he had been clean shaven on 23 April, and the shaving off of a moustache by another who had sported one at the demonstration, when SPG officers attended an ID parade; the refusal of another SPG officer to attend an ID parade; the dry cleaning of uniforms before they had been inspected. [13]

Memorials

A primary school in Southall was later named after Blair Peach.[14]

"Reggae Fi Peach", a song on Linton Kwesi Johnson's album Bass Culture, chronicles the death of Blair Peach in the form of dub poetry.[15][16] The Ruts commemorated the death in the tune "Jah War".[16] The 2 Tone album The 2 Tone Story is dedicated to his memory.[16] Hazel O'Connor wrote "Calls the Tune" in his memory.[16]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c Remembering Blair Peach: 30 years on, Chris Searles, Institute of Race Relations. 23 April 2009
  2. ^ Blair Peach: A 30-year campaign, BBC News, 25 June 2009]
  3. ^ 1979: Teacher dies in Southall race riots BBC On This Day, 23 April.
  4. ^ Blair Peach: Killed By Police, Socialist Worker, 21 April 2009.
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Southall Rising, BBC London.
  7. ^ 1980: Peach death was 'misadventure', BBC On This Day, 27 May.
  8. ^ a b Blair Peach inquiry ruled out, BBC News, 13 April 1999.
  9. ^ Activists to mark death of teacher, New Zealand Herald, 9 March 2009.
  10. ^ Minutes of MPA meeting 25 June 2009
  11. ^ Blair Peach death secrecy review, BBC News, 25 June 2009.
  12. ^ "CPS to review 1979 protest death". BBC News. 14 December 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/8412741.stm. Retrieved 14 December 2009.  
  13. ^ http://www.guardian.co.uk/.../2009/.../blair-peach-killing-cover-up
  14. ^ Blair Peach Primary School
  15. ^ Billboard
  16. ^ a b c d Reggae for Blair Peach by Socialist Aoterearoa Organisation blog

Further reading

External links

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