Friday, April 17, 2009
Police run riot - 30 years on from the murder of Blair Peach
It certainly makes a change to see the police coming under such close scrutiny following the death of Ian Tomlinson, attacked by police as he walked home from work on the day of the demo. The assault was filmed by a passer-by and rapidly made its way round the world, leading to the suspension and questioning for manslaughter of the policeman concerned, and followed by more home-made videos of other violent incidents.
Videos from the Guardian here:
Undoubtedly he would have got away with the attack had it not been filmed, and none of the other videos of police brutality would have been taken nearly as seriously as they are now. The police have a long history of filming and photographing - overtly and covertly – demonstrators, dating back decades. I well recall the CND rallies of the early 80s, animal rights demos, miners protests, marches against apartheid and so on, when being filmed by an army of police was an occupational hazard, and failure to remove any item obscuring your face often leading to arrest (although strangely the police are allowed to do this, frequently removing identifying insignia as well).
Yet now the omnipresence of cameraphones and digital cameras is turning the tables. The police can’t nick every one with a phone, and while the National Union of Journalists is campaigning against police harassment, assault and arrest of journalists covering demos http://www.thejournalist.org.uk/Aug08/feat_cops_main.html , they’re fighting a losing battle when it comes to any old joe with their digital device.
There’s much talk of the practice of ‘kettling’ – confining protesters to a small area for hours, yet this is hardly a new practice. Anyone in Trafalgar Square in 1985’s anti-Apartheid demo will well remember being held in there for five hours almost to suffocation point – I really thought someone (possibly me!) would be crushed to death – while the police yanked people randomly from the crowd to receive a beating, or letting small groups of people, into Charing Cross tube, only to be greeted by a squad of police attacking them.
The spectre of the murder of Blair Peach has also risen since the death of Tomlinson. Peach was a schoolteacher marching in east London against the Nazis, ironically thirty years ago this month, and witnesses say he was hit on the head by police, dying later. http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/46954,features,blair-peach-30-years-on-death-of-a-political-protestor
At the time his death became a cause celebre, attributed to the feared thuggish paramilitary Special Patrol Group, though despite numerous witness statements, nobody was ever charged. The SPG was subsequently disbanded, only to be replaced now by the Territorial Support Group (spot the difference) who are implicated in the death of Tomlinson. Campaigners for the truth about Peach’s death have never let the case rest and they must be having a feeling both of déjà vu and of optimism that just maybe – just maybe – if the truth comes out about Tomlinson’s death and justice is seen to be done, then the facts about Blair Peach’s murder and those responsible will finally emerge after thirty years in the shadows.