This Sunday a large proportion of TV drama lovers will be sitting down to watch the final episode of ‘Line of Duty’. The highly successful BBC show has had a few series, I cant remember how many, and now, I think, it’s coming to an end.
Like with many tightly constructed drama series I only have the vaguest of clues about what is actually going on but the main premise is that the Police are prone to corruption which needs to be rooted out by a special unit, which might be corrupt itself.
It’s possible that the British police are the best in the world, as Tom Robinson ironically informed us in ‘Sing if You’re Glad to be Gay’ but it’s really not surprising if we often feel we cant trust them.
And so, just over 40 years ago the police almost certainly killed Blair Peach, and then tried to cover it up.
For years after that it seemed that images of Peach were everywhere, the same grainy black and white photo on posters stuck to walls and lampposts usually calling for justice for his killers.
Until 23rd April 1979 no one had really heard of Peach. He had arrived in Britain from New Zealand 10 years earlier . He became a teacher at a special needs school in East London and entered into a relationship with a woman he had met in New Zealand previously and became a father to her daughters. He was politically active especially in relation to anti-racism. Until the day of his death, the only time he had come to the attention of the authorities was when he was acquitted of threatening behaviour against a pub landlord who had refused to serve black customers.Peach wasn’t a spokesman, he was just a guy who stood up for his beliefs against a rise of fascism in a country he had chosen to live in.
By the end of the 70’s the national front where growing in presence and numbers. They had decided to hold a meeting in Southall which was a diverse area of London and many of the residents regarded this as a provocative act. There has been a prominent racist murder a couple of years before, defence groups had been formed and, inevitably there would be a very visible opposition to the national front.
Brought in to police this was the Special Patrol Group (SPG) critically viewed as a force within a force and a mistrusted and symbolic presence at any public order event.
The death of Peach can be read in more detail here.
Basically the SPG force exited one of their vans with the aim of dispersing the crowds. They did this with minimum tact and maximum force, Peach was hit on the head, he was take to a nearby house but was clearly in a bad way and was taken to hospital where he died while being operated on.
Almost immediately the cover up began, eventually the subsequent investigation would be dismissed as fabrication but Peach’s death was considered as misadventure. It appeared that Peach had died not from a truncheon blow but from an illegal cosh, examples of which along with, in one case, nazi memorabilia, were found in possession of SPG members.
AT the very very least there has been unwarranted police aggression a theme that would resurface in later years with the death’s of Jean Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson.
For a while battle lines were drawn with Rock against Racism and the Anti Nazi League offering a direct challenge to the growth of fascism, most of the new bands from the Clash to Madness played gigs for the causes along with a thousand minor local bands up and down the country.
We are never likely to find out how Peach died, it becomes less likely every year to find out how a teacher and a father making his way home from a protest against fascism came to be hit on the head by a heavy object such as ones known to be carried by the SPG who were in the process of ‘dispersing’ the crowd.
What we do know is that his family eventually received damages two years after the SPG, after continued bad publicity, were disbanded.
Musically the events around Peach’s death were recoded by the likes of the Ruts and the Pop Group, perhaps the most direct tribute is Reggae Fi Peach by Linton Kwesi Johnson
Most fittingly though a school in Southall is named after him