Yesterday marked 33 years since New Zealand born teacher, Blair Peach, was killed by a police officer at an anti-fascist rally in Southall, west London, yet the lessons have still not been learnt as unaccountable police brutality continues to be used against protesters in the UK.
The echoes of the death of Blair Peach were unmistakable when police used batons to hit young protesters at the student demonstrations on December 9, 2010. During this incident Alfie Meadows, 19 at the time, received such a forceful blow to the head he was knocked unconscious. Upon arrival at hospital it was discovered that he was suffering from bleeding of the brain, and required emergency life-saving brain surgery.
Peach was fatally assaulted during an Anti-Nazi League demonstration against a National Front election meeting in Southall town hall on April 23, 1979. Fourteen witnesses saw members of the Metropolitan Police strike Peach, but no one was ever charged. Following his death 10,000 protester marched past the spot where he collapsed. 8,000 Sikhs visited his body in the Dominion Cinema in Southall, and 10,000 attended his funeral. It is widely believed that the discontent following the incident, as well as underlying racial tensions contributed to the eruption of the Brixton riots in 1981.
It took 31 years for the Metropolitan Police to accept responsibility for the death of Blair Peach. Until 2010 officially his death was the result of "misadventure", not police brutality.
While Alfie Meadows was lucky enough to survive, the attention, and indeed outrage surrounding the incident has been heightened after the now 21-year-old was charged with violent disorder during the December 9 protests, conveniently absolving responsibility from the police.
The case against Alfie Meadows was concluded last week, with a hung jury unable to identify whether Meadows was guilty of violent disorder. While this may be debatable, what is certain is that he received life-threatening injuries, with evidence pointing towards the Metropolitan Police as the guilty party.
Three decades after the death of Blair Peach at the hands of the police, the ramifications of which were monumental, the Met Police continue to treat protesters, peaceful or otherwise, in a heavy-handed manner which throws into question the supposedly entrenched right to protest in this country.