How a riot in Southall became a symbol of police corruption

Shortly before 8pm on a wet Monday in April 1979, a police van carrying six officers from Unit 1 of the Metropolitan Police's Special Patrol Group pulled up on Beechcroft Avenue in west London alongside a group of anti-fascist protesters who had been picketing a National Front meeting at Southall Town Hall.

Among the crowd was Clement Blair Peach. Within moments of the police van arriving Mr Peach, a 33-year-old slim, bearded teacher from New Zealand, suffered a blow to the head which fractured his skull and would later kill him.

Bruised but not bleeding, Mr Peach staggered across the road and into a nearby house. When an ambulance called to collect him arrived at 8.12pm, Mr Peach, perhaps not realising the severity of the situation, told paramedics: "My head hurts". Four hours later, at 12.10am, he died at New Ealing hospital.

His case became a cause celebre for campaigners who had often complained about the heavy-handed tactics of the Special Patrol Group (SPG), an elite unit, which came to consider itself as a separate entity within the Met.

It was immediately suspected that a police officer had delivered the blow which killed Mr Peach but it was never proven. A three-decade-long campaign followed, yet, far from secure a prosecution, Mr Peach's family and friends have never even been able to ascertain the exact details of the last moments of his life.

But yesterday a previously unseen police report provided them with closure, of a sort. It revealed that it was almost certainly a policeman who killed Mr Peach and even identifies the officer thought to have delivered the fatal blow.

The release of the documents is bittersweet, however, because, failing a confession, no-one will ever face prosecution over Mr Peach's death.

The report, complied by Commander John Cass, says that his investigation was thwarted by the six officers in the van which pulled into Beechcroft Avenue on that night.

Chief among the culprits was Officer E – the man identified as being most likely to have struck the fatal blow.

Although the report says he was "well thought of with potential for high rank", it adds he was a young officer with "a forceful personality". It was elements of the latter trait which manifested themselves on 23 April 1979. The report paints a picture of an arrogant officer who revelled in the confrontational atmosphere of that night.

One witness said that Officer E got out of the van, waving his truncheon and shouting: "Come on you bastards". It was at this point that 14 witnesses saw an SPG officer hit Mr Peach.

But Commander Cass uses his report to outline the collective amnesia suffered by Officer E and his five colleagues, officers F, G,H,I and J, who found themselves unable to recall any incident that day involving an altercation with Mr Peach – who would have been memorable as one of the only white protesters at the scene. The report describes how, amid the confusion and chaos of a barely-controlled riot, three of the six officers produced suspiciously identical accounts of the day's events, each of them failing to make any mention of the assault on Mr Peach.

Commander Cass wrote: "No officer has admitted striking Clement Blair Peach either deliberately, accidentally, or given an account which would indicate that he may have done so without realising it."

In further interview, Officer E was no more helpful. When it was suggested he must have seen Mr Peach being hit, he replied: "Well I didn't. How much longer have I got to stay?"

Cass also suggested that officers had altered their appearances, growing beards and shaving moustaches, to hamper the investigation by making identity parades more difficult.

Speaking about the actions of the officers with respect to the similar statements and refusal to co-operate, Commander Cass added: "A strong inference that can be drawn from this is that they have conspired together to obstruct police."

The investigation, which was kept from public view for 31 years in the vain hope that a prosecution would materialise, also revealed a worrying culture within the SPG.

An Officer F was suspended after the investigation team found a lead cosh and a whip in his locker. He was also in possession of a stolen driving licence. In an interview he justified possession of the cosh by saying he was a collector of weapons including "Nazi memorabilia" such as bayonets and swords.

Five other officers were found to be in possession of a variety of potential weapons, including a sledge hammer, three knives, wooden staves, a crowbar and three unauthorised truncheons.

Nonetheless, while Commander Cass is critical of the officers who refused to help his investigation, he reveals views which would raise eyebrows if uttered at Scotland Yard today. He suggests that, not withstanding the death of Mr Peach, police can be legally justified in using the most extreme measures in dealing with a riot. Quoting from a legal text, he said: "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."

Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?