Thirty-five years after East London teacher Blair Peach was murdered by the Metropolitan police at a demonstration against the racist National Front in Southall in April 1979, the struggle to determine the exact circumstances and perpetrators of his death still continues.
David Renton’s finely argued and profoundly persuasive pamphlet, Who killed Blair Peach?, makes a crystalline case for the necessity of a new inquest into Blair’s death, particularly in the context of the revelations of the crucial Cass report, set down before the original 1979 inquest, but which its jury never had the opportunity to consider and the lawyers representing Peach’s family were not allowed to see. The report was suppressed by the coroner in 1980.
After a lucid summary of Peach’s life and anti-racist activism, the events preceding the Southall protests and those on the day of the demonstration, Renton, a lawyer himself, analyses the import of the Cass report itself, written as an investigative record of key evidence gained by Commander Cass of the Metropolitan Police’s Complaints Investigation Bureau. The report by Commander Cass was not made public till 2010. It reveals that thirteen local residents and a friend of Peach saw an officer strike Peach on the head. Cass wrote: ‘from enquiries it is now obvious that the officers concerned were Special Patrol Group.’ He also described the original evidence by these officers as ‘a concoction’, which indicates that the individual policemen had conferred and colluded prior to their original police interviews in order to produce an agreed false account of the events.
Cass’ assumption was that Peach had been killed by a police officer, as there was no evidence that pointed to another cause. Furthermore, he writes that ‘the false statements made by Officer E, Officer H and Officer F are all of the same content. A strong inference that can be drawn from this is that they have conspired together to obstruct police.’
Renton is quite clear in his conclusions: ‘Once the basis of Cass’ findings is understood, it becomes all the more shocking that the Inquest was refused access to his report’, and that the inquest itself was but ‘a shadow of an inquiry’.
There can be no doubt that a new inquest must be called so that this vital and previously undisclosed evidence from the very gut of the Met be considered, so that Peach’s brave life and spirit is vindicated, and the true manner of his death is revealed.
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