Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Remember Blair Peach

It was twenty nine years ago today that Blair Peach was killed by the Special Patrol Group.

A committed socialist Peach was taking part in a demonstration against the Nazi National Front - an organisation that still exists but which also spawned the British National Party the largest far right organisation in the UK today. The NF were on the rise both on the streets and at the ballot box - and had had limited successes in unions, like the post workers. It posed a real threat to life and liberty and despite understanding that day that to confront the Nazis and the police would be physically dangerous large numbers took the courageous step to have their voices heard. They would not let the Nazis come and go as they pleased.

The SPG were a sub-organisation of the police designed to go into violent situations, a bit like the French CRS. Inevitably it attracted the most vicious and reactionary police officers and was renowned for racist, thug like behaviour. On that fateful day in 1979 the SPG were tooled up and full of bravado about the prospect of bashing in the heads of some reds.

Some three thousand took to the streets in support of the Anti Nazi League's protest with the express intention of ensuring the National Front's General Election campaign in a largely Asian area did not spark a wave of racist attacks. Like many of the demonstrations of that year the police were in no mood to play nicely, particularly when many of their number at the time supported the aims of the National Front.

The SPG laid into the demonstration with gusto. "The police ‘cornered’ 50 demonstrators, and [witnesses saw] ‘several dozen crying, screaming demonstrators were dragged ... to the police station and waiting coaches,’ they stated: ‘Nearly every demonstrator we saw had blood flowing from some injury’.’"1

It was then that Peach was attacked. One local resident testified in court as to what he saw ""As the police rushed past him, one of them hit him on the head with the stick. I was in my garden and saw this quite clearly. He was left sitting against the wall. He tried to get up, but he was shivering and looked very strange. He couldn't stand. Then the police came back and told him, 'Move! Come on, move!' They were very rough with him and I was shocked because it was clear he was seriously hurt.""2

Residents took him into their home and called an ambulance, but Peach's skull had been fractured with a heavy weapon and he died later that day.

Sometimes we think that those who paid the price for fighting for a more democratic society are long past martyrs from before the wars, but Blair Peach was killed fighting a racist police force defending a Nazi Party when I was at school. It would still be a few years before the NF was a spent force in British politics but Peach contributed to their defeat and we should use this day every year to remember and respect the sacrifice that Blair Peach made.


Magnus said...

Interesting to know. I remember footage from the UK and and all the unrest through the 70's and 80's and, of course, the National Front. I had never heard of Peach until now.

Anonymous said...

I was at school them. We had a rhyme: Blair Peach was a red, NF coppers smashed his head.