Defend the Right to Protest and the NUT teachers’ union have teamed up to launch a pamphlet about Blair Peach, the antifascist protester killed by police in 1979. Anindya Bhattacharyya reviews it in the latest issue of rs21 magazine.
One of my earliest memories of TV news was watching footage of Anti Nazi League protesters demonstrating against the National Front. I remember feeling elated but also somewhat confused by the scene.
Growing up in 1970s Surrey suburbia I’d learned to be wary of white people. There were the ones that were openly racist, and the ones that were more discreet. But here was a massive and predominantly white crowd on our side, taking on the skinheads.
Around the same time I first heard of Blair Peach, the antifascist demonstrator killed by police on St George’s Day, 1979, in Southall. It’s a testament to the strength of the justice campaign that gathered round him that a child living in Epsom, unaware of even the existence of an organised left, learned of and remembered his name.
It’s now 35 years since the Special Patrol Group struck the blow to Blair’s head that killed him. But questions that have remained unanswered all these years have been given a new lease of life by recent events. The head injury suffered by Alfie Meadows – followed by his high profile trial and acquittal – together with the result of the Sean Rigg inquest and the murder charge now facing the officer that killed Azelle Rodney have put the heat on the police in an unprecedented manner.
One aspect of this involves the Cass report, compiled by a police commander in the wake of Blair’s death but kept secret by the state until 2010. The release of this document made few ripples in the media, however, with the honourable exception of The Guardian. But a close reading of the report reveals a wealth of previously unavailable detail about what happened that day.
David Renton’s new pamphlet goes through the Cass report with a fine toothcomb, summarising its contents and laying out exactly why the inquest into Blair’s death should be reopened. It includes moving introductions from Alfie’s mother Susan Matthews, Blair’s friend and comrade Balwinder Rana, barrister Richard Harvey and Søren Goard, a recently acquitted antifascist protester.
The pamphlet identifies the prime suspect for Blair’s killing and makes a powerful case for a fresh inquest. This is a demand now being taken up by justice campaigners and by Blair’s friends and relatives. It is vital reading for anyone involved in today’s justice campaigns – and draws a tight connections between police brutality today and that of four decades ago.
▶ Who killed Blair Peach? pamphlets cost £2 each and can be ordered individually or in bulk from the Defend the Right to Protest website
picture credit: Alan Denney on Flickr