Page last updated at 13:22 GMT, Tuesday, 27 April 2010 14:22 UK

Blair Peach report: What the investigation uncovered

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

Bair Peach's coffin being carried during his funeral
Blair Peach's coffin being carried during his funeral

It is rare that an internal police document is exposed to the light of day - and so the publication of the investigation into the death of Blair Peach in 1979 makes extraordinary reading.

But from the very outset, the report by Metropolitan Police Commander John Cass makes it clear that there was no chance of any officer being prosecuted over the New Zealand teacher's death. Some 31,000 man hours were spent trying to get to the bottom of what had happened - and in the end detectives reached the dead end of insufficient evidence.

The death came during the 1979 general election campaign when the National Front was meeting on St George's Day at Southall, west London. The area was then emerging as one of the capital's centres of Asian culture.

Anti-racism campaigners turned out in numbers to face down the National Front. And things quickly spiralled out of control. Some 3,000 people were on the streets and some 345 of them were arrested. Almost 100 police officers were injured, along with 65 protesters and members of the public.

As a police officer with over thirty four years service reading and being briefed on the investigation reports leaves me feeling deeply uncomfortable
Met Police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson

"It was an extremely violent, volatile and ugly situation where there was a serious disturbance by what can be classed as a 'rebellious crowd'," wrote Commander Cass.

He said that the assembly was unlawful and cited law that said officers were entitled to use lethal force if it were the only means of suppressing a riot.

Parts of the protest crowd had been dispersed by officers - but many of the younger men were gathering up bricks, stones and bottles to throw back at the police.

Units from the Special Patrol Group were despatched to help. One of these was a van of six officers from Number 1 Unit, given the radio call sign 1-1.

It reached the group of protesters, which included Blair Peach, and pulled up.

"Simultaneously, or thereabouts, ******************* [redacted] jumped from the carrier and were immediately involved with the demonstrators," wrote Commander Cass.

"The demonstrators at that junction were then endeavouring to avoid capture but the atmosphere of violence remained.

"I am of the opinion that if a person remains part of a crowd who are throwing missiles, that is collective support and guilt by presence and perhaps it ought to be a distinct offence."

But witnesses complained of brutal tactics. One told Commander Cass that officers were "hitting people indiscriminately".

Fourteen witnesses said they saw a police officer hit Blair Peach. Two of the statements were later retracted - but 11 gave evidence to the inquest.

Blair Peach
Blair Peach: Died in hospital

The teacher staggered momentarily from the scene before collapsing at a house where he remained until an ambulance arrived. He was taken to hospital and died later from his injuries.

"Some say he was hit by a truncheon, some say several times but that is not in accordance with the medical evidence," said Commander Cass.

"Others say he was hit by an officer wielding a riot shield. No officer has admitted striking Blair Peach either deliberately or accidentally or given an account which would indicate that he may have done so without realising it."

"The officers in that carrier who could have assaulted Blair Peach were Officer E, officer H, Officer G, Officer I, Officer J and Officer F.

"Earlier that day those officers… had been involved in other incidents and if the soreness of the previous incidents had worn off, it no doubt remained in the mind."

'Explanations lacking'

Some of the statements given by the six officers contradicted each other. Others, warned Commander Cass, felt like a cover-up.

Officer F, the van's driver, said that E and H had "got out of the carrier on the corner and went straight into the crowd".

Officer F's police station locker was searched and investigators found a lead cosh, and other truncheon-like weapons. He denied having them with him at Southall.

Officer E was subjected to lengthy questioning because the circumstances indicated that he could have been responsible for the blow. When detectives accused him of trying to mislead them, his solicitor advised him not to answer any more questions.

"[Officer E] has not given a credible account of his movements and it is disturbing," Commander Cass wrote.

The most serious aspect of this case has, without doubt, been the obstruction of the investigating officer in the execution of their duty
Cass report

"There was no doubt that he was suffering from stress which together with his driving personality attaches to him grave suspicion, if not as the officer responsible but for concealing it.

"He has since transferred from the Special Patrol Group. He is a [redacted] and I have reason to believe he was well thought of with potential for high rank."

But Commander Cass said there was insufficient evidence to charge any officer with the death.

"Whilst it can reasonably be concluded that a police officer struck the fatal blow, and that that officer came from carrier 1-1, 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."

He went on: "The most serious aspect of this case has, without doubt, been the obstruction of the investigating officer in the execution of their duty."

"It can be clearly seen from the various statements and records of interviews with these officers that their explanations were seriously lacking and in the case of Officer E, Officer F and Officer H, there was deliberate attempt to conceal the presence of the carrier at the scene at the vital time."

An excerpt of the Cass investigation
An excerpt from the Cass investigation

John Cass finished his report in September 1979 and recommended that Officers E, H and F be charged.

"I strongly recommend that proceedings be taken against Officer E, Officer H and Officer F for obstructing police in the execution of their duty, conspiring to do so and attempting or conspiring to pervert the course of justice."

The files were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Thomas Hetherington. On 9 October, he responded with a letter to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir David McNee.

"I have now considered your two reports dated 12 July 1979 and 14 September 1979 concerning the death of Blair Peach and allied matters. In my opinion the evidence is not sufficient to justify and criminal proceedings against any of the police officers named in the reports."

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