Blair Peach

New footage of Blair Peach tragedy brings back memories from Southall’s troubled past

Footage filmed by an undercover police officer at the funeral of Southall activist Blair Peach in 1979 was shown for the first time last week.

The footage emerged at a meeting of the Undercover Policing Inquiry – a public body investigating undercover policing in England and Wales.

Peach, a schoolteacher from New Zealand, died after being hit on the head while attending an ‘anti-fascism’ protest in Southall.

TROUBLED PAST: Southall in 1981 (Credit: Andrew Hackney under CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

The footage is the latest revelation from ongoing investigations through which it emerged in 2021 that police had infiltrated the activist’s funeral.

Southall is home to a population of overwhelmingly south Asian origin, with the 2021 census recording 80% of Southall Broadway residents as Asian or Asian British.

Tom Fowler, 43, founder of the website, is a close follower of the Undercover Policing Inquiry and was one of the first individuals to take legal action against Mark ‘Marco’ Jacobs, an undercover police officer who spent the years 2004 to 2009 infiltrating anti-capitalism, anarchist and various other groups.

The Special Demonstration Squad ‘SDS’ was the undercover unit of the Metropolitan Police responsible for both Jacobs’ deployment and for the ‘spy cops’ presence at Peach’s funeral.

Fowler said: “They were there to destabilise and undermine what they saw as dissent of any kind.

“The police were essentially protectors of National Front protests.”

Fowler alleged that from 1968 up until 1982 there was no infiltration of far-right groups, while surveillance focussed exclusively on the left, despite this being a time that the National Front was extremely active.

CULTURAL INFLUENCE: Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Southall

Southall resident John Hughes, 74, recounted that skinheads had been harassing some Asian women in a pub.

On the ensuing violence, he recalled: “People couldn’t believe what was happening.”

THE BROADWAY: Southall, 2005 (Credit: DMS)

Oliver Sanders KC who spoke at ‘Tranche 1’ of the Undercover Policing Inquiry last week maintained: “under-policing will tend to lead to disorder, over-policing has adverse consequences elsewhere.

“What the police needed was an understanding of the public order scene as a whole. So they needed to know who was who in terms of individuals and groups.”

Tranche 1 closing submissions on behalf of Tariq Ali, Ernie Tate and Piers Corbyn held that “the non-state core participants (“NSCPs”) had been targeted by the police and MI5 because of their politics and their ideas, not because of any engagement in crime, subversion or public disorder.”

LEGACY: Blair Peach Primary School

The quest to understand the extent of undercover agencies’ shaping of British society is one that continues and seems unlikely to result in definitive answers anytime soon.

In the meantime, the memory of dedicated schoolteacher Blair Peach lives on in the name of Southall’s Blair Peach Primary School.

A Met Police spokesperson said: “The MPS is assisting the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI), which is looking at how undercover policing has been conducted in England and Wales in the past 50 years.

“As part of its work, it will closely examine the work of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), a former MPS undercover unit that was in existence between 1968 and 2008.

“SDS officers were deployed into and reported on a wide range of activist groups, including those involved in social, environmental, justice and political campaigning. The MPS will support the UCPI as it explores whether specific undercover operations and deployments were justified, and properly authorised and managed.

“Undercover policing remains a vital tactic in the fight against serious crime and terrorism, and it plays a critical role in gathering evidence and intelligence to protect people from harm. Sometimes it is absolutely the only way to keep people safe.”

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