On Saint George`s day, April 23 1979, a New Zealand born special school teacher attending an Anti-Nazi League demonstration in Southwark was hit over the head and subsequently died of his injuries. 31 years later a report in to the circumstances of his death has finally been made public. No prosecutions are likely.
Blair Peach stood up to the National Front, but fell at the hands of the Metropolitan Police. Commander John Cass undertook an internal investigation of the killing and concluded that is was “likely” that one of six Special Patrol Group police officers was responsible for the killing. The report, kept secret for more that 30 years, said it could “reasonably be concluded that a police officer struck the fatal blow” and recommends that officers involved in the subsequent cover-up be charged with perverting the course of justice. No charges have ever been brought.
Two weeks after Blair Peach was killed, Margaret Thatcher came to power in a general election and it didn`t take long before social unrest was burning the streets of Handsworth, Brixton and Liverpool 8. Those of us old enough to remember and be a part of Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism events will recall running the gauntlet of police lines with some officers openly supporting the National Front. The use of the police as enforcers of political policy became more overt during the miners` strike of 1984 and terrible lack of control of the poll tax demonstration in 1990 led to the Met deploying armed response teams against protesting British citizens. Nine months later, Mrs Thatcher resigned and then, in his first speech as Prime Minister, John Major announced the end of the poll tax.
The police service has moved on and we are now in the position of being able to laugh at the antics of DCI Gene Hunt in Ashes to Ashes and Life on Mars but thirty years ago those TV shows would have been considered fly-on-the-wall documentaries. The increased use and sophistication of surveillance and intelligence gathering sees pensioners and parents pushing prams to anti-war demonstrations photographed and indexed by the police. Arrests have been made under anti-terrorism legislation of people wearing tee-shirts that dare to criticise the Labour government and the G20 protests last year led to another loss of life.
Ian Tomlinson was not a G20 protestor but was the victim of an unprovoked assault by a masked police officer who had removed shoulder ID tags from his uniform. The officer, a member of the present-day Special Patrol Group, now called the Territorial Support Group, has not been identified or charged with any offence. The difference between this and the Blair Peach killing was the presence of cameras that recorded this and other assaults by the police.
Whatever the outcome of the election, one thing is certain. Whoever is trusted to govern us will find it necessary to make cuts in public services and jobs are likely to go. We may be in for another winter of discontent and possibly further civil unrest. It remains to be seen if the police will be used to impose politically difficult decisions and control, rather than serve the public.
We can only hope that the law does not consider itself to be above the law and that they remember people like Blair Peach.