Page last updated at 12:29 GMT, Tuesday, 13 October 2009 13:29 UK

Blair Peach 'prime suspect' speaks out

Newsnight's Peter Marshall talks to former police inspector Alan Murray

Anti-racism campaigner and teacher Blair Peach died as police dispersed protesters at an anti-fascist protest in Southall, west London, in 1979. Thirty years on Newsnight's Peter Marshall pieces together the events and looks at how they still resonate today in the wake of April's G20 protests.


Spot the difference. April 2009, the police clash with demonstrators in London, a man dies, the police are accused, but, as yet, no officer has been charged.

Blair Peach
Blair Peach was a special needs teacher and anti-racism activist

April 1979, police clash with demonstrators in London, a man is killed, the police are accused. And no officer has been charged.

For Alan Murray, watching the footage of this year's G20 demonstrations, the violence and the baton-wielding police, it all looked sickeningly familiar:

"It was 30 years to the month after the death of Blair Peach and there were so many similarities which show we haven't moved on very far."

Mr Murray says he is constantly reminded of what happened to Peach, killed protesting against a National Front election meeting in the heart of Britain's biggest Asian community.

Suspicion

Eleven witnesses said they had seen members of the Metropolitan Police's Special Patrol Group hitting Peach. But none of the officers was identified.

An investigation by the Met's internal complaints department reportedly recommended the prosecution of officers. But the director of public prosecutions decided there was insufficient likelihood of convictions and pressed no charges.

It will be a cover up as it normally is in these situations. I don't think we'll find out who struck the fatal blow
Southall protester Shanawar Chaudhry on Met plans to publish a report on Peach's death

Mr Murray knows all this: "It comes up in my mind whenever there is news of demos or after any report of police malpractice, so it is something that is with me constantly."

Mr Murray also knows if there was a prime suspect in the unsolved death of Blair Peach - it is himself.

Thirty years ago he was perhaps the highest flyer of all the graduates of the Met's Bramshill Police College. Appointed inspector at the age of 25, he was earmarked and fast tracked for advancement.

His annual appraisals gleamed: "The personal example and energy he applies to his work is really exceptional", reads the confidential assessment of March 1978. It praises his "major successes in arrests for serious offences".

At that point he was four months into leading Number One Unit of the elite Special Patrol Group, the controversial SPG. The appraisal records "He is very steady under pressure and controls his men at all times".

Those words look dreadfully ironic given what was to happen the following year at the junction of Beechcroft Avenue and Orchard Avenue, Southall.

Police 'incitement'

Today at the Jalebi Junction restaurant on Southall Broadway, just around the corner, Balraj Purewal is convinced that Peach "was murdered by the police".

Ian Tomlinson
The death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests rekindled Peach memories

Mr Purewal grows angry as he recounts in the present tense the events of 1979, envisaging the moments before the special needs teacher and committed anti-racist campaigner died:

"Scared out of his wits, he's running for his life and is accosted, surrounded by police, by the SPG. And he's being beaten with batons and he's being kicked."

Mr Purewal accepts that he cannot know any of this for certain - he was elsewhere in Southall at the time, engaged in his own battles, trying to break through the lines of police protecting the loathed National Front and their election meeting in the Town Hall.

But he and his friend, Shanawar Chaudhry, are convinced by their own experiences of the day that Peach died.

"They had this aura, the SPG, 'we're untouchable, we go where no one else goes'," says Mr Chaudhry.

Mr Purewal recalls police officers "going up and down, up and down The Broadway. On the glass, on the condensation, of their mini buses they were writing 'NF' and sticking up two fingers. They were inciting the crowd".

'Officer in trouble'

Both police and demonstrators agree that Southall witnessed the worst violence in what was a year of violent street protests. And both remain sceptical at the promise from the current Met commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, to publish the results of the police investigation into Southall before the end of the year.

"It will be a cover up as it normally is in these situations. I don't think we'll find out who struck the fatal blow," says Mr Chaudhry.

Inspector Alan Murray was in charge of SPG Unit One as it raced to Beechcroft Avenue to answer an emergency call that day. Another SPG unit was in trouble and needed help.

There was an officer running down Beechcroft Avenue chasing somebody and we followed down there
Alan Murray

"When we got there it was pretty ugly. There were bricks and bottles and debris. There was an officer on the ground injured, it looked quite serious, and there were people running all around. So it was pretty chaotic," he says.

"There was an officer running down Beechcroft Avenue chasing somebody and we followed down there."

Mr Murray says there were six SPG men in his van and he was the first to jump out. He denies that one of them shouted "give them a spanking".

"I've never used those words. To talk about giving people spankings is not the language of the cops I used to work with. If that was what was being intimated it would be said in a much more forceful way."

He says he has no memory of seeing Peach and, while he knows some officers did use excessive force at Southall, he saw none of his men behave badly. He drew his baton but, he maintains, even during the heat of the worst violence, he did not use it.

Mr Murray believes he was targeted by the police investigation in 1979. He says, under pressure to find a culprit, sources in the Met leaked information implicating him and his men.

He agrees he felt he was being stitched up and because of that resigned immediately after the inquest on Peach returned its verdict of misadventure.

Change of career

So I ask him directly, did he kill Blair Peach?

Blair Peach campaigners
Campaigners have fought a 30-year campaign for justice for Blair Peach

"Under no circumstances," he says, and he repeats the phrase: "Under no circumstances was I involved in the death of Blair Peach. I was not involved in his death. I'm as certain as I can be."

He says he is similarly certain that none of his SPG unit killed Peach.

But it was a chaotic scene? He agrees that it was, but repeats that he is "as certain as I can be".

So what would he say to Peach's family, still awaiting justice and an explanation for his death?

"I think it was a dreadfully tragic incident and I'm very sad I was part of it. "

Before Southall, Inspector Alan Murray looked certain one day to become a Met commander, perhaps even commissioner.

Instead today Dr Alan Murray is a respected academic who lectures in corporate responsibility at Sheffield University, writes tomes on accountancy and accountability, and has a CV which records he is treasurer of the British Academy of Management and the British Accountancy Association.

It is not what was envisaged for the man who was social secretary of the SPG.

"I'm still here and I've made a new career for myself," he says. "Blair Peach was killed. And that's something I think about, often."

Watch Peter Marshall's film in full on Newsnight on Tuesday 13 October 2009 at 10.30pm on BBC Two.



SEE ALSO
Blair Peach death secrecy review
25 Jun 09 |  London
Call to publish 1979 death report
14 Jun 09 |  London
Blair Peach inquiry ruled out
13 Apr 99 |  UK News


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