Blair Peach report 'links Scots former policeman to death'

A PREVIOUSLY unpublished report into the death of an anti-fascist campaigner during a demonstration against the National Front has "identified" a Scottish former police officer as the man most likely to be responsible for the death.

• The anti-racism campaigner Blair Peach was killed by a blow to the head while on a demonstration against the National Front in 1979. Picture: PA

Alan Murray led a unit of the Special Patrol Group, a specialist riot squad, which the Metropolitan Police believe was responsible for the death of Blair Peach, a 33-year-old New Zealander. Mr Peach was struck over the head during the demo in London in 1979 and died from his injuries.

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The report, which has remained secret for 30 years, was published yesterday.

It concludes riot police deliberately lied to officers investigating the death. In particular, it attaches "grave suspicion" to a policeman only identified as "Officer E" as responsible for the fatal blow and recommends that he and two other officers identified as "Officer H" and "Officer F" should face charges of perverting the course of justice.

Mr Murray, 60, from Glasgow, who now lectures in corporate responsibility at Sheffield University, yesterday told The Scotsman that he accepted he was "Officer E" and was in charge of the SPG unit during the riot.

But Mr Murray also insisted the investigation by Commander John Cass, a former senior officer at the Met's internal complaints department, was deeply flawed, and has strongly denied any responsibility for his death.

In an e-mail to The Scotsman, he said: "That I should be denigrated and accused of being obstructive is a gross distortion, but no less than I might have expected (remember I resigned because of the conduct and integrity of this investigation)."

Members of the SPG were suspected of hitting Mr Peach with a rubberised police radio or a lead-filled cosh. Relatives of the dead man have been campaigning to obtain a secret internal review of the killing for years.

Last year, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said he was willing to publish the document, but only after checking by solicitors.

The report concluded: "Whilst it can reasonably be concluded that a police officer struck the fatal blow, and that that officer came from carrier U.11 (Unit 1 of the SPG), I am sure that it will be agreed that the present situation is far from satisfactory and disturbing. The attitude and untruthfulness of some of the officers involved is a contributory factor."

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The report was made public after the Crown Prosecution Service said officials had completed their work and given their findings to senior officers. A copy of the report has already been passed to solicitors for Mr Peach's partner, Celia Stubbs.

The decision to publish was made after public pressure to reveal the almost forgotten review in the months after the death of Ian Tomlinson during G20 protests. But police solicitors advised prosecutors to look at it in case there was any chance further inquiries could be made and charges brought. The report said it was most likely that "Officer E", the first to leave the SPG van, had struck the blow that killed Mr Peach. The report goes on to say that "Officer E, Officer F" – the driver of the van – and "Officer H" had deliberately misled investigations.

In his final recommendations, Commander Cass wrote: "At this stage there is insufficient evidence to support proceedings against any person mentioned in this report regarding the death of Blair Peach, and I recommended accordingly. There are nevertheless the other matters which have been discovered during the investigation. The most serious aspect of this case, without doubt, has been the obstruction of the investigating officer in the execution of their duty."

Yesterday, Ms Stubbs' solicitor, Raju Bhatt, said she and the family wanted a public acknowledgement of the police's responsibility for Mr Peach's death.

He said: "The question of a prosecution is beside the point. What has been clear from the evidence is that Blair Peach died as a result of a blow struck by a police officer, and the public acknowledgement of that fact is awaited by the family from the Metropolitan Police and the authorities generally."

Sir Paul said the report made "uncomfortable reading".

He explained: "I have to say it's a matter of deep regret, and I have to say, really, that I'm sorry that over 31 years since Blair Peach's death we've been unable to provide his family and friends with a definitive answer regarding the terrible circumstances that he met his death."

'Inconclusive' evidence led to 30 years of silence

ON 23 April, 1979, a riot broke out during an Anti-Nazi League demonstration in Southall, London, against a National Front election meeting.

Officers of the Metropolitan Police Special Patrol Group, an elite anti-riot squad, moved in among the 3,000 protesters.

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Teacher Clement Blair Peach was struck over the head and found unconscious in a side-street. According to 11 witnesses, he was struck by members of the SPG. Mr Peach died the following day and a pathologist report concluded his broken skull was not the result of a truncheon strike, but a lead-weighted rubber cosh or another unauthorised weapon.

The investigation by Commander John Cass concluded that Mr Peach was struck by a police officer, but that there was insufficient evidence to press charges. An inquest jury returned a verdict of death by misadventure in May 1980.

The main findings of the 1979 report by Commander Cass were that:

• It could "reasonably be concluded" that a police officer was responsible for the strike that killed Mr Peach.

• A number of witnesses reported seeing Mr Peach being struck by a police officer, but no officer admitted striking anyone at the time he was hit.

• There was evidence to suggest Mr Peach was struck by the first officer to emerge from carrier U.11. This was Officer E.

But the report adds: "There is no evidence of a conclusive nature."

Officers E, F and H from U.11 are singled out for their "deliberate attempt to conceal the presence of the carrier at the scene at the vital time".