Blair Peach, Marxist Martyr

Dean Parker’s Napier schoolfriend, Blair Peach died nearly thirty years ago but is still remembered in London and New Zealand.

In 2005 in Wellington there was a;

Blair Peach Tribute Gig at Sandwiches : DJ Manray, Art Official, The Spotlight Kid and Ras Stone played at Wellington’s own tribute gig to Blair Peach, a New Zealand born teacher who was killed by police during an anti-racism protest in London in the 70’s. This inspired the powerful anti-racism track Reggae Fi Peach by dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson.


Who was Blair peach? What did he do? Why did he die?

According to Wikipedia

Clement Blair Peach (25 March 1946 – April 23, 1979) was a New Zealand-born teacher who became a symbol of resistance when he died as a result of alleged police brutality during a demonstration in London… At the time he was teaching at a special needs school in London. He was also known as a left wing agitator and a member of the Socialist Workers Party. (At that time it was called the International Socialists; New Zeal)

A campaigner and agitator against…neo-Nazi organisations, Peach was killed in a clash with officers from the Metropolitan Police’s Special Patrol Group in Southall, in April 1979, during a demonstration by the Anti-Nazi League against a National Front election meeting taking place in the town hall. He was knocked unconscious and died the day after in Hospital.

An inquest jury in May 1980 later returned a verdict of death by misadventure, prompting Mr. Peach’s girlfriend Celia Stubbs to claim the police constable who administered the fatal blows to his head had got off ‘scot free’. She continues to campaign for a public inquiry into his death.

Marxist historian and former SWP and Anti-Nazi League member, Dave Renton gives his version of events on his website.

Twenty-five years ago, in April 1979, the events of the general election were overshadowed by fighting between the police and the largely-Asian population of Southall near Heathrow in West London. In the middle of this struggle, one left-wing teacher Blair Peach was killed. The background to the events lay with the decision of the far-right National Front to hold an election meeting in Southall.

On 18 April, residents met with the Home Secretary Merlyn Rees to ask him to ban the Front’s meeting. Rees declined. Instead, the Metropolitan police was instructed to keep the NF meeting open. On Sunday April 22, the day before the planned NF meeting, five thousand people marched to Ealing Town Hall to protest against the Front, handing in a petition signed by 10,000 residents.

Monday April 23 was St. George’s Day. Local shops, factories and transport closed at 1pm, and people began to block the road from lunchtime. According to one young Asian interviewed by the BBC, ‘We had to do something, the young people – we don’t want a situation like the East End where our brothers and sisters are being attacked every day.’

The police decided to close down the ‘Peoples Unite’ building, which anti-fascist demonstrators were using as their makeshift headquarters. Those inside were given ten minutes to leave. Police officers, formed up along the stairs, and beat people as they tried to escape. Tariq Ali was in the building, bleeding from his head.

Blair Peach, a schoolteacher and a member of the Anti-Nazi League, was clubbed to death as he sought to escape from the fighting. His death took place at around 8.30pm. He was killed on Beachcroft Avenue, a narrow suburban road. Peach had attempted to shelter from the police. His body was found towards the end of the road, on a corner that faced back towards the Town Hall. We know that an officer from the Special Patrol Group (SPG), the force that had stormed the People’s Unite building, hit him on the head.

It became clear that the vast majority of Southall residents felt a great sympathy for Blair Peach, the man who had died for them. The Metropolitan Police’s victory crumbled. The murder of Blair Peach became a symbol of the unjustified use of police violence. Fifteen thousand people marched the following Saturday, in honour of Blair Peach, with Ken Gill speaking, from the TUC. Workers at SunBlest bakery raised £800 for Peach’s widow.

Rock Against Racism brought out a special leaflet, Southall Kids are Innocent, ‘Southall is special. There have been police killings before … But on April 23rd the police behaved like never before … The police were trying to kill our people. They were trying to get even with our culture … What free speech needs martial law? What public meeting requires 5,000 people to keep the public out?’ Questions were asked in the New Zealand parliament.

For eight weeks, Peach’s body was left unburied, while people paid their respects. Queues formed outside the Dominion Theatre, where his body remained. According to one source, Peach’s death had ‘particular reverence for the predominantly Sikh Punjabi community, both as a white man who chose to assist them and thereby defend their right to reside in the country, and as an enemy of tyrannous oppressors whose struggles with the Sikhs are still talked of and remembered in popular bazaar calendar art.’

Am official inquest continued, limiting itself to the sole question of how Blair died. One distinguished pathologist Professor Mant commented on the damage done to Blair Peach’s skull, with an instrument that had not pierced his skin. He concluded that the murder weapon was probably not a truncheon, but more likely a cosh, or possibly a police radio.

On 13 June 1979, Peach was buried. Ten thousand people joined the procession. Another ten thousand marched through Southall again in memory of Blair Peach the following year. A school was named after him and further memorials have been organised since.

Noone was ever convicted for Peach’s killing. One thing is clear. He continues to serve socialism long after his death.

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76 thoughts on “Blair Peach, Marxist Martyr

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