Blair Peach 'killed by police', say reports

11:28, Apr 27 2010

New Zealander Blair Peach was almost certainly killed by police at a demonstration in London in 1979, previously secret police reports revealed today.

Metropolitan police had resisted releasing the documents for decades, but put them up on their website tonight, saying there will be no further investigation into Peach's death.

Peach, a 33-year-old teacher and peace campaigner, died from a blow to the head while marching against the National Front movement in Southall, west London.

His partner, Celia Stubbs, and members of his family in New Zealand, have campaigned for the release of the police inquiries into his death for nearly 30 years.

The reports, written in 1979 and 1980 by Commander John Cass, who led the probe into Peach's death, said it could "reasonably be concluded that a police officer struck the fatal blow". A police van carrying six officers was identified as having been at the scene when the fatal blow was struck.

Peach was almost certain to have been killed by an officer from its elite riot squad, known as the Special Patrol Group (SPG). Witnesses said they saw him being struck by a police officer, and the report found "there is no evidence to show he received the injury to the side of his head in any other way".

But Cass said there was "insufficient evidence" to charge any officer over the death, a decision echoed by the director of public prosecutions, to whom his report was delivered. An inquest into the death later returned a verdict of "death by misadventure".

Stubbs was "relieved" to see the report after so long, the Guardian Online reported. She, members of Peach's family and the officers named in the report, received the documents on Friday.

"This report totally vindicates what we have always believed - that Blair was killed by one of six officers from Unit 1 of the Special Patrol Group whose names have been in the public domain over all these years," she said.

Her lawyer, Raju Bhatt, said he was still examining the documents, but his initial reading indicated Cass had tried but struggled to "undermine" evidence, suggesting one of his officers killed Peach.

"What I read in this report is a senior investigating officer desperately trying to explain away this death, but despite himself, he is driven by the weight of the evidence to conclude that the death was caused by one of his officers," he said.

The Metropolitan Police said today the Crown Prosecution Service had provided independent advice saying there was nothing which would justify carrying out a further investigation into Peach's death, so police now felt it appropriate to release the reports.

Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said: "As a police officer with over 34 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.

"After a thorough review of all our material I asked the Director of Public Prosecution to provide a further reassurance that through being transparent we would not inadvertently endanger any potential prosecution. The CPS has now confirmed there are no further realistic avenues that we can pursue. I am of the clear view that the right place for these documents is the public domain".

For years, public suspicion centred on the SPG carrier U.11, the first vehicle to arrive on Beechcroft Avenue, the street where Peach was found staggering and concussed.

Cass said there was an "indication" that one officer in particular, who first emerged from the carrier but whose name has been deleted from the report, was responsible;

The investigation was hampered by SPG officers, who Cass concluded had lied to him to cover up the actions of their colleagues. He "strongly recommended" that three officers should be charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, giving detailed evidence to show how they were engaged in a "deliberate attempt to conceal the presence of the carrier at the scene at that time".

But none was ever charged.

One pathologist concluded Peach's skull was crushed with an unauthorised weapon, such as a lead-weighted cosh or police radio.

The Guardian said it already known that when Cass raided lockers at the SPG headquarters he uncovered a stash of unauthorised weapons, including illegal truncheons, knives, two crowbars, a whip, a 3ft wooden stave and a lead-weighted leather stick.

One officer was caught trying to hide a metal cosh, although it was not the weapon that killed Peach. Another officer was found with a collection of Nazi regalia.

In his report, Cass said the arsenal of weapons caused him "grave concern", but claimed there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the officers involved.

A total of 14 witnesses told investigators they saw "a police officer hit the deceased on the head" but, according to Cass, there were discrepancies in their evidence and most could not identify the officer.