Over thirty years ago Blair Peach died following a demonstration at an anti-National Front demonstration in Southall, during the 1979 General Election campaign. Today the Metropolitan Police published the report of the investigation into his death. The publication of the report follows a long campaign by Blair Peach’s family and Inquest, which was supported unanimously by the Metropolitan Police Authority last year.
The decision by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to publish the report and its supporting information should have been a very positive display of openness and transparency by the MPS and a demonstration of how much has changed in policing in the last thirty years.
The report itself contains some devastating findings and demonstrates the mindset of the investigation at the time. For example, the demonstration in which Blair Peach was involved is described as
” an extremely violent, volatile and a ugly situation where there was serious disturbance by what can be classed as a ‘rebellious crowd’.
The legal definition ‘unlawful assembly’ is justified and the
events should be viewed with that kind of atmosphere
prevailing. Without condoning the death I refer to Archibold,
38th Edition, paragraph 2528 “In case of riot or rebellious
assembly the officers endeavouring to disperse the riot are
justified in killing them at common law if the riot cannot
otherwise be suppressed”.”
The investigation report found that:
“Whilst it can reasonably be concluded that a police officer struck the fatal blow, and that that officer came from carrier U.11, I am sure that it will be agreed that the present situation is far from satisfactory and disturbing.”
It went on:
“The attitude and untruthfulness of some of the officers involved is a contributory factor.
“It is understandable that because of the events of the day officers were confused, or made mistakes, but one would expect better recall of events by trained police officers.
“However, there are cases where the evidence shows that certain officers have clearly not told the truth.”
Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, however, in his statement today only felt able to say:
“As a police officer with over thirty four years service reading and being briefed on the investigation reports leaves me feeling deeply uncomfortable. Thirty one years later we have still been unable to provide the family and friends of Blair Peach with definitive answers regarding the terrible circumstances of his death. That is a matter of deep regret.”
This falls a long way short of acknowledging the responsibility of the Metropolitan Police Service for what happened.
Clearly, “sorry” remains a very difficult word for a Commissioner to utter.