Demand for inquiry into Peach death

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The Independent Online
JACK STRAW is being urged to "stay true to his principles" by campaigners fighting for an official inquiry into the death of teacher Blair Peach during a demonstration against the National Front 20 years ago.

As a young MP, Mr Straw was among the 79 signatories of a Commons early day motion asking for a judicial inquiry into the events in Southall on 23 April 1979 when Peach was killed, allegedly by a police baton. Among others who signed the motion were Robin Cook, now the Foreign Secretary, and Michael Meacher, the environment minister.

The Blair Peach 20th Anniversary Committee is marking his death by seeking a meeting with Mr Straw to discuss an inquiry. Its hopes have been raised by the Home Secretary's swift establishment of the inquiry into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence and his ruling that General Augusto Pinochet should face extradition to Spain on charges of human rights abuses.

It wants to use the anniversary to highlight the links between the events of 20 years ago and continued evidence of racism within the police force.

Alex Kenny, organiser of the committee, said he hoped the Home Secretary would be receptive to the request since it was "Mr Straw's first opportunity to address what clearly was a miscarriage of justice.

"It wasn't just one attack on one individual by the police, Southall was virtually under siege and hundreds of people were arrested," he said. "It would be difficult to bring anyone to account but there are still lessons to be learnt. We want recognition that the inquest verdict of death by misadventure was wrong. We would also like the Metropolitan Police to apologise to Blair Peach's family and the residents of Southall."

Blair Peach, a New Zealander, had lived in Britain for 10 years at the time of his death, aged 33. An active member of the Socialist Workers Party, he was married with two daughters. He died during clashes over the holding of a National Front meeting.

The committee is supported by campaigners for Stephen Lawrence and Ricky Reel - an Asian student found dead in the Thames - as well as trade unions and anti-racism organisations. A march on 24 April will pass the spot where Peach was killed.