by HASSAN MAHAMDALLIE
"AS THE police rushed past him, one of them hit him on the head with the stick. I was in my garden and I saw this quite clearly. He was left sitting against the wall. He tried to get up, but he was shivering and looked very strange. He couldn't stand. Then the police came back and told him like this, 'Move! Come on, move!' They were very rough with him and I was shocked because it was clear he was seriously hurt."
This is the shocking testimony of Southall resident Parminder Atwal, one of the many witnesses to the murder of Blair Peach at the hands of the Metropolitan Police on 23 April 1979. On Saturday, 20 years after his murder, a march was to go past the spot where Blair was fatally wounded. Blair was a an east London teacher. He was also a member of the Socialist Workers Party and the Anti Nazi League. He died protesting at the Nazi National Front holding a meeting in the predominantly Asian area of Southall, west London. Twenty years on the police killers of Blair are still walking free.
THE NAZI National Front announced that it was to hold a general election meeting on Monday 23 April 1979 in Ealing town hall. People in the area were sickened. "The news spread like wildfire," remembers Balwinder Rana, a local ANL activist from the area. "People felt very angry and very insulted."
The NF was expecting to make an electoral breakthrough in the 1979 election on the back of disillusionment with the Labour government. It held a series of provocative meetings around the country. Three years earlier an NF inspired gang had stabbed Gurdip Singh Chaggar in Southall, so the NF decided a meeting in the town on St George's Day would be a "suitable" provocation. The local Tory council gave the Nazis Ealing town hall to meet in. It even flew the Union Jack, which the NF used as an emblem, as a welcome.
Local people did all they could to get the march banned. On Sunday 22 April 5,000 people marched to the town hall and handed in a 10,000 signature petition. Balwinder recalls, "The march was attacked by the police who picked fights all along the way." A plea to the Labour government's home secretary, Merlyn Rees, to ban the march fell on deaf ears.
THE NEXT morning Southall woke up to find itself under police occupation. Three thousand police, with dogs, horses, riot vans, a helicopter and units of the notorious Special Patrol Group poured in. Police taunted people. A priest, Father Lloyd, told how they were saying, "Move along. A bit of exercise does you good. Stops you being constipated after all those curries you eat." Lloyd saw a policeman in a coach with the ace of spades held up against the window and "NF" written on the steamed up glass. As far as the police were concerned the NF was to be protected, while the people of Southall were the enemy. The then police commissioner, Sir David "Hammer" McNee, later told a black journalist, "If you keep off the streets in London and behave yourself, you won't have the SPG to worry about."
BLAIR PEACHS death sent shock waves through the British working class
At lunchtime Southall's shops closed in protest at the Nazi meeting. Factories shut down and Asian workers at nearby Heathrow airport walked out. Anti-Nazis, Blair Peach amongst them, arrived in Southall in solidarity. "There was a threatening police presence throughout the day," remembers Paul Holborow, secretary of the Anti Nazi League at the time. Their only purpose was to intimidate people." At around 3.30pm some of the demonstrators tried to get on a bus going through the police cordon. The police rushed on board and began to throw everyone off. Those arrested included Mr Rihal, on his way home to look after his wife who had just got out of hospital. The police later lied and said they had seen him damage the bus. He got three months in jail.
As Balwinder recalls, "At 6.30 people started to go towards the town hall. Suddenly the cordon parted and police on horseback came through and starting hitting people with long batons. They attacked men, women and children." The police sped transit vans through the packed and hemmed in crowd. An Ealing Gazette reporter said, "I had seen no trouble at all. Why were the SPG running around with their batons drawn? I was astonished by their brutality." NF leader Martin Webster, protected by the police, was ushering a pathetic rabble of Nazi saluting thugs into the town hall. Inside the local NF candidate was pledging to "bulldoze Southall to the ground and replace it with an English hamlet".
OUTSIDE people were hit by a full blown police riot. Demonstrators were chased down the road towards Southall Park where they were cornered and clubbed. Other people, many elderly, sought refuge in the local churchyard. The Telegraph recorded the scene: "Within three minutes, mounted police had cornered about 50 demonstrators against the walls and, moving through the churchyard, rounded up stragglers. As we watched, several dozen crying, screaming, coloured demonstrators were dragged bodily to the police station. Nearly every demonstrator we saw had blood flowing from some sort of injury."
The police surrounded 6 Park View Road. This was a house used by a young people's collective called Peoples Unite. It was a designated first aid and legal advice station. The police kicked the doors in and chased everyone out of the house. Police lined up on the stairs, truncheons drawn, and forced people to run a gauntlet of blows. Local activist Clarence Baker had been told earlier by the police, "You black bastard, we are going to get you." When they saw him in the house one policeman said, 'Get him.' About six were hitting me with their truncheons. I felt one blow. I did not really feel anything after that."
Baker ended up in intensive care with a blood clot on his brain. A lot of people could have died that day. At least three protesters were hit so hard their skulls fractured. Blair Peach was one of them.
"THE POLICE forced us down Beechcroft Avenue," remembers Blair's friend Jo Lang. "At least two SPG vans came up. The officers got out and charged us. You took one look at them and thought, 'These guys really mean business.' We ran, but Blair wasn't with us, so we went back to look for him. An Asian family had taken him into their living room. You couldn't see how badly injured he was. There was no blood. It was later said that he had been struck by a lead filled cosh. While he was in the ambulance he started having fits. At 12 o'clock they phoned and told us he was dead."
News of Blair Peach's death sent shock waves through the British working class. As Socialist Worker said on its front page, "He Fought The Nazis... The Police Murdered Him." The strength of feeling was shown by the numbers who attended Blair's funeral. The day before he was buried 4,000 local Asians filed past Blair as he lay in Southall's Dominion Cinema. Throughout that night Southall youth maintained a guard of honour over him. The next day the cortege travelled to east London. Bengali people from Brick Lane, who Blair had stood with against Nazi terror, paid their respects. "We shall remember him for ever. He fought for us, he worked for us, he lived for us and he died for us."
A mighty funeral procession 10,000 strong followed. Union delegations from across Britain paid their respects. There were 13 national trade union banners and TUC president Ken Gill spoke at the graveside alongside Tony Cliff of the SWP. Everyone there knew that Blair had stood up for what he believed inblack and white unityand for that, the police had struck him down.
JUSTICE FOR BLAIR PEACH
Saturday 24 April
ASSEMBLE: 1pm, Dominion Centre, The Green, Southall, London
RALLY: Southall Park
FOR MORE DETAILS POSTERS AND LEAFLETS PHONE 0181 980 3601
WHEN LOCKERS of police Special Patrol Group members who gave evidence at the Blair Peach inquest were searched the following weapons were discovered:
None of the police involved in Blair's murder have ever been charged.