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1979: Teacher dies in Southall race riots

A 33-year-old man has died from head injuries after a bloody battle broke out between police and demonstrators in Southall.

The fighting began when thousands of protesters gathered to demonstrate against a National Front campaign meeting.

The extreme right-wing organisation had chosen Southall Town Hall to hold its St George's Day election meeting. The area has one of the country's biggest Asian communities.

It was a case of the boot going in - there was no attempt to arrest anybody<br>
Martin Gerrald, Anti-Nazi League protestor<br>

Police had sealed off the area, and anti-racism demonstrators trying to make their way to the town hall were blocked.

In the confrontation that followed, more than 40 people, including 21 police, were injured, and 300 were arrested. Bricks and bottles were hurled at police, who described the rioting as the most violent they have handled in London.

Among the demonstrators was Blair Peach, a New Zealand-born member of the Anti-Nazi League. A teacher for special needs children in east London, he was a committed anti-racism activist.

During an incident in a side street 100 yards from the town hall, he was seriously injured and collapsed, blood running down his face from serious head injuries. He died later in hospital.

Witnesses said his injuries were caused by police baton blows. Martin Gerrald, one of the protestors, was nearby Mr Peach at the time.

"Mr Peach was hit twice in the head with police truncheons and left unconscious," he said. "The police were wielding truncheons and riot shields. It was a case of the boot just going in - there was no attempt to arrest anybody."

'Excessively violent' charge

Another witness, 24-year-old Parminder Atwal, took the injured teacher into his house and called an ambulance.

He said, "I saw a policeman hit a man on the head as he sat on the pavement. The man tried to get up, fell back and then reeled across the road to my house."

The Anti-Nazi League claim Mr Peach bore the brunt of a "brutal" and "excessively violent" police baton charge.

A spokesman for Scotland Yard said it was impossible to comment on the death until a full-scale inquiry had been completed.


In Context
No police officer has ever been charged with the alleged attack on Blair Peach, although 11 eyewitnesses reported seeing him struck by police. <br>

An internal Metropolitan Police inquiry began on the day after his death, headed by Commander John Cass, but was not made public at the time. <br>

The inquest recorded a verdict of death by misadventure. The verdict was greeted with dismay, and 79 MPs called for a public inquiry into the case. The request was turned down. <br>

The Peach family gained access to parts of the Cass report in 1986. It named six officers, and in 1989 the Metropolitan Police reached an out-of-court settlement with Mr Peach's brother. <br>

Celia Stubbs, Mr Peach's partner at the time of the Southall riots, continued to campaign for a public investigation into his death. <br>

In April 2010, the police finally released details of the Cass report. Although names of the officers involved were not revealed, it did confirm that an officer probably struck the fatal blow which killed Mr Peach. <br>

It also confirmed that no officers would face prosecution following advice from the Crown Prosecution Service. <br>

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Watch/Listen
Photographers capture a scuffle between police and protesters
Police have been accused of "excessive violence"

News footage of the Southall riots


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