Today in London anti-fascist history, 1974: the death of Kevin Gately, opposing National Front demo

On 15 June, 1974, Kevin Gately, an anti-fascist demonstrator and student at Warwick University, was killed during a demonstration in Red Lion Square, Holborn, London, in a clash between police and anti-fascist demonstrators opposing the National Front’s meeting at Conway Hall.
He was the first person to die in a public demonstration in mainland Britain for at least 55 years, (since the British Army shot two looters dead in Liverpool during the riots associated with a police strike in August 1919).

On June 15, 1974, the rightwing National Front had organised a march through London, ending at Conway Hall in Red Lion Square. The Front’s influence was growing; from their origins as a merger of three far right splinter groups in 1967, run by men with long histories in neo-nazi organising, the NF had played populist nationalism to the max. In an era where full employment and the hopes of the 60s were giving way to recession, unemployment and increased industrial action by workers, the NF whipped up fears that migrants were threatening the ‘British Way of Life’, taking white workers jobs etc. Ably abetted by tory and some Labour politicians and many a media front page… Refugees like the Uganda and Kenyan Asians were hysterically held up as scapegoats; workers fighting for better wages and conditions were also painted as a threat to order.

At this point, in the early 1970s, the Front was concentrating on trying to win middle-class support, among traditional Conservative supporters disillusioned with tory policies from a rightwing perspective: a demographic nostalgic for empire and everyone knowing their place.

Rightwing violence, racist attacks were on the rise. NF candidates were winning larger shares of the vote in elections. But many on the left were determined to oppose the Front.

The National Front planned a march from Westminster Hall, handing in a petition as they passed Downing Street, to their meeting in Conway Hall. The Front had been using Conway Hall for meetings during the previous four years, but anti-fascist pickets began in October 1973. On 15 June 1974, they planned a meeting entitled “Stop immigration – start repatriation”.

Freedom of expression was Conway Hall’s mantra – coming from a long history of freethought – but should this be extended to fascists? If most on the left were prepared to demonstrate their opposition to fascism, but not to physically fight it, a growing minority had come round to the position of ‘No Platform’ for fascists; while in practice this was “about denying the NF venues to speak and was not interchangeable with the opposition on the streets”. “Essentially ‘no platform’ was an extension of the successful anti-fascist strategy that had been developed since the late 1940s. As well as physically combating fascist agitation in the streets, one of the major strategies was campaigning for local governments and other institutions to prevent fascists from using public places to speak or meet. Between 1972 and 1976, the ‘no platform’ concept dominated anti-fascist strategy, supported by the Communist Party, the International Socialists and the International Marxist Group (IMG), as well as becoming policy for the National Union of Students (NUS), which was considerably influenced by the IMG and the CPGB. The ‘no platform’ strategy was not limited to petitioning local councils and institutions to deny the NF access to meeting places, but included physical opposition to the NF organising in public.” (Evan Smith)

However, how ‘No Platform’ was interpreted varied among the different organisations…

Liberation (formerly the Movement for Colonial Freedom) organised a counter-demonstration that was to end with a meeting outside the hall, which was supported by most of the larger groupings on the left – including the Communist Party of Great Britain, the International Socialists (now the SWP), the International Marxist Group (IMG) and many other groups within the labour movement.

Liberation, not intending to try to prevent the NF meeting, booked a smaller room at Conway Hall for a separate meeting, to be preceded by a march along a route agreed in advance with the police, starting at the Thames Embankment to avoid the route of the National Front march. The police agreed that both marches could end at Red Lion Square. An open-air protest meeting was planned on the north side of the square, to the west of the National Front meeting in Conway Hall, with an address by Syd Bidwell, then Labour MP for Southall.

However while Liberation and others were content to march in protest,  the International Marxist Group planned to organise a mass picket at the main entrance of the hall, to deny the NF access.

When the Liberation demo of around 1,200 people came from the east, having marched westwards along Theobald’s Road and turned into Old North Street to enter Red Lion Square, a police cordon blocked the way to the left, east of Old North Street, to allow the National Front march to reach Conway Hall.

The NF march of around 900 people approached from the west, marching down Bloomsbury Way to the west side of Southampton Row, accompanied by an Orange Order fife and drum band. The march arrived at Southampton Row around at around 5:50 pm, where they were stopped by the police.

A group mainly composed of the IMG moved to block the doors of Conway Hall. The police, with what Lord Scarman later described as a ‘concern… with maintenance of public order’, attempted to disperse the IMG contingent. The IMG members refused to be dispersed and according to Lord Scarman’s report, ‘when the IMG assaulted the police cordon there began a riot, which it was the duty of the police to suppress, by force if necessary’. The cordon was reinforced by members of the Special Patrol Group and by mounted police, who eventually forced the demonstrators back and then cleared the square, with liberal use of police truncheons.

During this initial violent clash between police and militant anti-fascists, lasting for less than fifteen minutes, Kevin Gately, a student from Warwick University, was fatally injured. Gately died from a brain haemorrhage, resulting from a blow to the head.

The following description of the moment of his death was published in the Guardian two days later:

“Kevin Gately, the Warwick University student who died after the violence in Red Lion Square, London, on Saturday, was left prone and motionless on the ground as the police drove demonstrators back. We saw his body emerge, rather as a rugby ball comes slowly out of a scrum, as the police cordon gradually moved forward. He appeared to have fallen whilst being involved in a fracas near the front line of the demonstrators who clashed with the police. Above him the police were engaged in a pushing match with a mass of demonstrators.

Both sides were packed tightly together and it seems to us inconceivable that he was not at least trampled upon. He was lying on the ground amid a litter of broken placards, torn banners and lost shoes. Almost immediately he was carried away by policemen holding his outstretched limbs. He appeared to be unconscious. But last night there was no clear evidence of why he collapsed in the first place. A post-mortem examination at St Pancras mortuary was adjourned until today after proving inconclusive. Further tests are to be carried out but the indications are that he died of a cerebral haemorrhage. The police maintained that there were no marks of physical injury but he must have been at the very least tightly crushed in the melee before he fell. And although we saw policemen making every effort to avoid standing on him as they struggled with the crowd he was carried by his arms and legs before being laid on a stretcher about 10 yards away. A bitter row over the police conduct at the demonstration started yesterday with demands for an inquiry and questions being tabled in the House. Mr Tony Gilbert, who organised the march for the Central Council of Liberation, said yesterday that Mr Gately, aged 21, had in effect been murdered by the police. “When you get police diving in with truncheons and horses and somebody is killed in circumstances like this I would call it murder.” Other Left-wing spokesmen accused the police of unwarranted brutality. Miss Jackie Stevens, a fellow student, said that she had been next to Mr Gately linking arms with him. Their line was the first in the march which turned into the police cordon by swinging left when they entered Red Lion square, instead of right. Organisers of the demonstration claimed that they had agreed with Scotland Yard to turn left and only found out at the last moment that they were being made to turn right. This was flatly denied by Scotland Yard. Miss Stevens claimed that the police had charged the marchers. “We tried to get through to Conway Hall. The police charged us and drew their batons. They charged into us with their horses. I fell. I was trodden on by a police horse and had my head kicked by a policeman.

“I find it very hard to believe that Kevin could not have been touched. There was blood all over the place, people screaming, and teeth all over the ground. It was horrific.” She said Mr Gately had never been on a demonstration before, and was not a member of any political group.”

There were other altercations nearby close to Southampton Row. Clashes between police and anti-fascist demonstrators went on for most of the day, with the end result being that ‘one person died, 46 policemen and at least 12 demonstrators were injured, 51 people arrested and the whole police operation had cost an estimated £15,000’. The CPGB and Liberation emphasised the peaceful nature of their march, quoting Gilbert as saying, ‘At least 99.9 per cent of the 2,000 people there were absolutely peaceful and they were attacked’.

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Kevin Gately was born in England to parents of Irish descent. He had red hair and was approximately 6′ 9″ tall; contemporary photos show him standing out above the crowd because of his exceptional height. He became a mathematics student at Warwick University, and was in his second year in June 1974, three months before his 21st birthday.

An inquest at St Pancras Coroner’s Court later concluded that Gately’s death was caused by a brain haemorrhage resulting from a blow to the head from a blunt instrument.

In the days following the demo, there were calls for an inquiry into Gately’s death. NUS President John Randall said, ‘We now know that Kevin Gately died as a direct result of police violence’. By the end of the month, Lord Scarman had been placed in charge of a public inquiry, conducting a tribunal with witnesses throughout September 1974, eventually reporting in February 1975. Scarman’s report whitewashed the police actions and criticised the demonstrators, primarily putting the blame for the violence – and Kevin Gately’s death – on the IMG, and criticising the naivety of Liberation. The report was ‘unable to make any definition finding as to the specific cause of the fatal injury which Mr Kevin Gately suffered’.

The coroner’s inquest heard that the cause of his death was a subdural haemorrhage caused by a modest blow to his head, and the jury returned a verdict of death by misadventure on 12 July 1974 by a majority of 10-1. He was found to have a small oval bruise behind his left ear, and had collapsed shortly afterwards, only 10 feet from the edge of the police cordon. Possible causes for the injury were a blow from an implement, such as police truncheon, or from a projectile, or from being kicked after falling to the ground. His exceptional height led several newspapers of the time to allege that his death may have been the result of a blow from a mounted police truncheon. Neither a coroner’s inquest nor the Lord Justice Scarman inquiry were able to find evidence to prove or disprove this claim.

Gately was buried in Surbiton on Friday 21 June. The same day, 500 students marched through Coventry with black armbands. The following day, Saturday 22 June 1974, thousands joined a silent march retraced the route of the Liberation counter-demonstration from the embankment to Red Lion Square. The march was led by personal friends of Gately, followed by University of Warwick students and then by students from many other universities and colleges as well as contingents from many of the left wing groups that had taken part in the original march. This march also received widespread media coverage. There’s a very short snippet on youtube

The events of 15th June 1974 raised questions of how fascism was to be opposed – questions the Communist Party (CP) addressed by getting all the answers wrong. The CP had supported the counter-demonstration, claiming 5-600 who attended were CP members. In the Morning Star (the Communist Party newspaper) on 15 June, 1974, an article urged people to support the counter-demo, including an appeal by leading trade unionists, stating that the NF’s ‘poisonous ideas are a threat to all that is best in our society’. In the aftermath, the Morning Star declared that “blame for what occurred… must be placed where it belongs – on the authorities for permitting it, and the police for brutality”. The CP position was that the march by the NF was in violation of the Race Relations Act, and should have been banned. As London District Secretary Gerry Cohen wrote in the Morning Star, “The police, like the National Front, are on the side of the exploiting class. They operated on that side with thoroughness and with fury on Saturday in Red Lion Square. And Kevin Gately died”.

The CP’s stance – appealing to the repressive apparatus of the State, such as the police, the judiciary and the Home Office, to deal with fascists – showed some extreme naivety. Suggesting the police and the wider State could be persuaded to counter the NF, (despite long experience of the police’s hostility to the left, preparedness to use force against pickets, demonstrations etc, and growing evidence of police rank n file sympathy for NF politics), was a non-starter as anti-fascist strategy.

The logical extension of this liberal stance was that the CPGB also slagged off the IMG for aiming at confrontation with the NF. They took the view that the anti-fascist movement needed to appeal to the broader progressive and labour movements, “but what this small section of the march did was to make this more difficult”. Physical confrontation, they suggested, ‘played into the hands of all those in the key positions of establishment…aimed at destroying our basic democratic rights’. The CP seemed concerned to distance themselves from the physical opposition [As the CP hierarchy had also done organisationally on the 1930s in many cases, despite the widespread participation of CP members on the ground – check out Joe Jacobs book Out of the Ghetto for some of the conflicts within the CP in East London around this].

In a press release, the CP stated that, “At no time did our Party contemplate, nor did it take part in any discussions that contemplated of bringing about any physical confrontation with the police or anybody else at this demonstration’; tactics like the IMG’s blocking of the doors they called ‘the adventurist tactics of a minority’. According to the Party, there was ‘absolutely no reason why the police could not have contained the situation peacefully at all times’ and the police had ‘undoubtedly mishandled the situation”.

This blatantly ignored the reality of organising against fascism, whether in the 1930s, the 1970s, or today. It was physical confrontations that forced the British Union of Fascists onto the defensive at Cable Street and beyond; it was to be mass physical opposition later in the 70s that was to defeat the BF on the streets (if politically they were also undermined by the tories moving to the right under Thatcher). This analysis reflects the reality of later anti-fascist mobilising, in which the CP organisationally played little part. (In fact, the IMG would also not play as significant a role again, being eclipsed by other groups like the International Socialists, before declining and imploding…) Some parts of the state and the capitalist class will often happily allow fascist groups to grow, as a counter-weight to workers struggles, especially (as in 1974) when industrial struggles are rising and elements of the upper class feel a strong fascist movement can be used against the working class (or as possible footsoldiers in the event of a rightwing coup, which some were contemplating). In the event the NF were not necessary, as but that was not obvious in 1974. But given the widespread support for the NF among the police rank and file, and a more concealed preference for fash over commies at most levels of the British establishment, the CP’s demands were laughable.

Scarman’s report reflected the ‘nuanced’ establishment response – the police were ‘right not to ban the National Front demonstration’, but the Race Relations Act needed ‘radical amendment to make it an effective sanction’, the anti-fascists were ultimately responsible for the trouble and Kevin’s death, and the anti-fascist movement should ‘co-operate with the police’. The CP and Scarman had more in common than they disagreed on… Though the CPGB were critical of Scarman’s dismissal of the failure to ban the National Front march under the Race Relations Act, they also demanded that demonstrations that ‘conflict with the law…should be banned’. Yeah cause that’ll never be used against the workers, eh?

The CP seemed unable to see the contradiction between condemning the police’s actions and demanding that they be given more powers…

The NF’s electoral fortunes did not grow exponentially – their profile brought them “notoriety but no tangible gains”. In response the more street-oriented elements of the NF pushed the organisation towards more street marches and confrontation, and attempted to orient their politics more towards a working class audience. This NF campaign chimed with, and contributed to, an increase in violence against Britain’s black population, including racist attacks and murders. But this led to a broad culture of resistance to the Front, to the events of Wood Green, Lewisham and Southall; the Front were vastly outnumbered on the street.
In fact, in the aftermath of Red Lion Square, numbers at anti-fascist demonstrations increased dramatically and continued to rise throughout the mid-to-late 1970s. As Nigel Copsey wrote, ‘despite adverse publicity that the Red Lion Square disorder had generated for the left, more anti-fascists than fascists could be mobilised at street level’.

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At this time there were three Social Demonstration Squad undercover police spying inside the International Marxist Group, as well as at least 4, maybe 5, inside the International Socialists. That’s the ones that the Public Inquiry into Undercover Policing has admitted to so far… More are to come, we would guess. Undoubtedly, the SDS were probably infiltrating the National Front too, though this has not yet been revealed, and may not be. How much information did the police have on the IMG’s intentions beforehand…? Were there also undercovers marching with the NF? A later anti-fascist demo (at Welling in October 1993) saw at least four undercovers, some marching with anti-racists, and one (at least) inside the bookshop of the British National Party. There have long been suggestions that the Welling march was set up by the police, to ensure rioting, to try to discredit the anti-racist movement… We’re not sure, and probably never will be. Wonder if similar questions could possibly be levelled at the events at Red Lion Square in June 1974?

In the end though it doesn’t change the necessity for opposing fascism physically and no platforming fascists wherever they raise their heads.

In memory of Kevin Gately
18 September 1953 – 15 June 1974

Lots of this post was nicked from here

And here is an interesting account of left groups and opposition to fascism in the 1970s, which covers the decline of the CP’s influence in antifascist organising…

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Today in London policing history: cops shoot Harry Stanley dead, Hackney, 1999

Harry Stanley was a 46-year-old Scottish painter and decorator, who lived in Hackney, East London. In September 1999 he was recovering from a successful cancer operation.

On September 22nd Harry left home, went to visit his brother, who had been fixing a table leg after it had been damaged earlier in the year. On his return home he went for a drink in a local pub.

Another punter in the pub, mistaking Mr Stanley’s accent for Irish rather than Scottish and noticing that he was carrying ‘something long in a bag’, telephoned the police to say that a man with an Irish accent was leaving the pub with a sawn-off shot gun in a plastic bag.

Within a few minutes PC Fagan and Inspector Sharman, an armed response unit from the Metropolitan Police service specialist firearms unit SO 19, arrived in the area. The officers approached Mr Stanley from behind. They shouted, “Stop, armed police!” Mr Stanley (who had no reason to imagine that the police wanted him or having any idea that they were police officers) did not stop at that command.

The police say that they shouted again, to which Mr Stanley responded by turning around. The police officers opened fire, killing him. One shot hit Harry Stanley in his head, the other hitting him in his left hand.

In the bag he was carrying was the repaired two-foot table leg, which he had collected from his brother.

Surrey Police carried out a criminal investigation under the supervision of the Police Complaints Authority (which was replaced in April 2004 by the IPCC).

In June 2002, after the CPS decided the officers should not face criminal charges, an inquest was held. HM Coroner for Inner North London Dr Stephen Chan refused to allow the jury at the inquest into the shooting by Metropolitan Police officers of Harry Stanley to consider Unlawful Killing as a verdict, they returned instead a unanimous “Open” verdict rather the only alternative left to them of “Lawful Killing”.

This verdict was, however, quashed by the High Court and a second inquest was held in October 2004. The second inquest jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing, but this was also later quashed by the High Court.

However, the officers were arrested by Surrey Police in June 2005, after new forensic evidence emerged. The damage caused to the rear of the left shoulder of Harry Stanley’s jacket indicated that the fatal shot DID come from behind him before entering the left side of his head, above his ear.

When Surrey Police and the officers obtained expert opinions about the new forensic evidence a reasonable doubt was nevertheless raised that the officers and Harry Stanley both had time to perceive a threat to each other before the fatal shot was fired. Therefore, in October 2005, the CPS announced that they had advised Surrey that there was insufficient evidence to charge the officers with any criminal offence, including perjury. Both officers had claimed Harry Stanley had pointed the table leg at PC Fagan in a threatening manner – neither inquest jury accepted this, and neither did the IPCC.

Harry Stanley’s widow Irene and other friends and family organised as the Justice for Harry Stanley campaign. The campaign succeeded in getting the initial inquest’s “open verdict” overturned. In November 2004 a new jury returned a verdict of “unlawful killing”.

The two officers who shot Harry Stanley were then suspended from duty. This resulted in a protest from fellow armed Metropolitan Police officers, 120 of whom handed in their gun permits. Since the stare really can’t afford to piss of its own armed wings, this lead to a “a review of procedures for suspending officers” concluding that the two officers could return to work, although on for “non-operational duties”.

In May 2005 the verdict of “unlawful killing” was itself overturned in the High Court, reinstating the original “open verdict”.

The two officers were arrested and interviewed, but in October 2005 the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to press charges because there was insufficient evidence to contradict the officers’ claims that they were acting in self-defence.

Evidence, like a chairleg, perhaps?

The investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission also recommended that no further disciplinary action be taken against the two officers, but was critical of the way that they had conferred in the process of making their notes about the shooting. Indeed the IPCC recommended that police officers should give video recorded statements immediately after events rather than making their own notes in collaboration with others.

How many more?

Mainly taken from Inquest’s briefing on Harry Stanley

You can read the very lovely self-justification of the cops who shot him. You really couldn’t make this up…

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An entry in the
2016 London Rebel History Calendar

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Today in London funereal history: William Curner buried, Brockley, 1888, after being killed by police.

‘ON Saturday, 7th, another Trafalgar Square victim was buried with the ‘honours of war.’ William Curner, member of the Deptford Liberal Club and N.S.S., was at Trafalgar Square, got bludgeoned, arrested, and in the approved law’-n’-order fashion sentenced to fourteen days for doing nothing. The inquest is not finished, and so we do not know all particulars, only enough to make it sure that his death lies at the door of the police. The society to which he belonged gave him a public funeral, in which the Law and Liberty League and Socialist League took part.’ (Commonweal, January 14 1888).

In November 1887, the Social Democratic Federation and the Irish National League organised a demonstration against ‘coercion in Ireland’ in Trafalgar Square. The day became known as ‘Bloody Sunday’ after a clashes with police left hundreds injured and at least three dead. (Read a good account of Bloody Sunday.)

Among those who died was a Deptford radical, William Bate Curner. In circumstances similar to the death of Ian Tomlinson at the 2009 G20 demonstration, there was a dispute about the cause of his death. The inquest, held at the Lord Clyde pub in Deptford on 16 January 1888 heard that ‘he was stated to have received injuries to the head, inflicted by a policeman’ described as ‘barbarous and cruel’. However a verdict of ‘death from natural courses’ was returned, after medical evidence that he also suffered from heart problems. (Times January 17 1888). As with Tomlinson it is surely hard to believe that the injuries sustained at the hands of the police didn’t contribute to the death, even if there was an underlying health problem.

Curner’s funeral in Brockley Cemetery was a major event, reported in The Times on the 9th January 1888 (although they call him Curwin):

‘The remains of William Bate Curwin, stonemason, of 58, Henry-street, Deptford, who had died suddenly after undergoing a sentence of 14 days’ hard labour for taking part in riotous proceedings in Trafalgar Square, in the course of which he received certain injuries, were interred in Brockley Cemetery on Saturday. The circumstances of the death are forming the subject of an inquiry by coroner’s jury, the case standing adjourned.

The funeral procession reached the cemetery about 4 o’clock. It consisted of a hearse and two coaches and a walking party numbering about 1,000, and was made up of representatives of the Deptford and Greenwich branches of the National League, the Deptford branch of the Social Democratic Federation, the East Greenwich, Deptford, and Woolwich Radical Clubs, the West Deptford Reform Club, the Home Rule Union, &c.

The bands of the local branch of the National League and the East Greenwich Radical Club played the ‘Dead March’. The hearse bore the inscription ‘Killed in Trafalgar Square’. On banners draped in mourning were such inscriptions as ‘Honour to the Dead’ and ‘Assist the Widow. There was a very large gathering at the grave and a number of torches were used while the burial ceremonial adopted by the Secularists was performed by Mr Robert Forder. Addresses were then delivered by Mr W T Stead, Mrs Besant, and Mr J J Larkin, and a ‘Death Song’ having been sung by a Socialist choir, the proceedings terminated’ (Times, Jan 9 1888).

As can be seen from these two reports there is some confusion about the name of the dead man. The Times report of the inquest has the surname Curner, but in their funeral report gives it as Curwin. The former name seems, however, to be correct; genealogy sites have a William Bate Curner in Deptford, but not Curwin. Also the name Curner is used elsewhere – in the Socialist League’s report (below), and in E.P Thompson’s biography of William Morris (Romantic to Revolutionary).

Morris wasn’t at the funeral but he did write the Death Song which closed it – it was first used at the funeral of another of those who was killed in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday, Alfred Linnell. The line up at Curner’s funeral was quite impressive though. Annie Besant was already well known as a socialist and secularist, and later in 1888 was to play a role in the famous Match Girls Strike. W T Stead was a prominent campaigner and journalist – he was the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette at the time.
Robert Forder was secretary of the National Secular Society.

Henry Street, Deptford, is probably now part of Childers Street. Efforts to locate Curner’s grave in Brockley Cemetery a few years ago brought no result: if anybody else knows its whereabouts please comment.

Commonweal, newspaper of the Socialist League, also reported the funeral, on January 14 1888:

“Last Saturday afternoon William B. Curner, who died from injuries received from the conflict with the police on Sunday 13th November, was buried in Brockley Cemetery. The deceased was a Secularist and Radical, and as such occupied a somewhat prominent position in the borough of Deptford, where he resided. The occasion of his burial was marked by a public funeral, and the whole line of route from his residence in Henry Street, Deptford, to the cemetery was lined with sympathetic spectators. Blinds were drawn and mourning borders were displayed from houses, one of the chief. tradesmen displaying over his shop black flags, two with mottoes, ” Honour the Dead,”  and “Let all assist the Widow.” The funeral hearse bore Radical, Irish, and Socialist flags, and also a shield with the inscription “Killed for Trafalgar Square’. A band playing the “Dead March” preceded the hearse, the whole procession to the cemetery being most imposing.

At the grave R. Forder, surrounded by a dense throng of people, among them being representatives of Secular, Radical, and Socialist bodies, read the secular burial service. After which Mrs. Besant made a most impressive speech, in which she urged her hearers not to shrink back from the struggle for freedom in which their brother in the grave had fallen, for in their efforts to make life worth the living some must fall. Let them go from the grave the more determined than ever to carry on the fight for which, he had given his life. Mr. Stead followed with a most fervid speech, and speaking as a Christian at the grave of an Atheist dwelt on the necessity for the sinking of mere minor differences of opinion: the cause of the people was the cause of humanity, and all its lovers would unite for the overthrow of its enemies.

Mr. Larkin then made a brief speech, and the choir of the Socialist League brought the proceedings to a close by singing William Morris’s ” Death Song,” written to commemorate the death and burial of Linnell.

This is the second public funeral that has taken place within a month, the dead in each case being martyrs to the cause of freedom of speech. How many more are to be sacrificed ere “liberty the parent of truth” shall triumph?”

Good question – still waiting on the answer…

The majority of this post was lifted from our good friends at Transpontine (hope they don’t mind…)

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Appendix: William Morris’s Death Song

As noted above, written by socialist poet and artist William Morris, for the funeral of Alfred Linnell. Linnell was not in fact killed at Bloody Sunday, but was beaten by police a week later, on November 20th, in further clashes in Trafalgar Square as radicals attempted to re-establish public meetings there.

Linnell was buried in a huge radical/socialist funeral in December 1887, which tens of thousands attended, and Morris was one of the orators. he later led the crowd in singing the Death Song.

What cometh here from west to east awending?
And who are these, the marchers stern and slow?
We bear the message that the rich are sending
Aback to those who bade them wake and know.
Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay,
But one and all if they would dusk the day.

We asked them for a life of toilsome earning,
They bade us bide their leisure for our bread;
We craved to speak to tell our woeful learning;
We come back speechless, bearing back our dead.
Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay,
But one and all if they would dusk the day.

They will not learn; they have no ears to hearken.
They turn their faces from the eyes of fate;
Their gay-lit halls shut out the skies that darken.
But, lo! this dead man knocking at the gate.
Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay,
But one and all if they would dusk the day.

Here lies the sign that we shall break our prison;
Amidst the storm he won a prisoner’s rest;
But in the cloudy dawn the sun arisen
Brings us our day of work to win the best.
Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay,
But one and all if they would dusk the day.

EP Thompson’s book gives a good account of Linnell’s funeral.

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An entry in the
2018 London Rebel History Calendar

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Today in London’s history: Richard O’Brien killed by police, Walworth, 1994

Richard O’Brien died on 4 April 1994, after being arrested for being drunk and disorderly and taken to Walworth police station, South London. He had 31 separate areas of injury to his body including cuts and bruising to his face and fractured ribs.

Richard, a market trader, was 37 and weighed 19 stone. He was placed face down on the ground with his hands handcuffed behind his back and his legs folded behind him, while cops pushed and racially abused him, then held him there with his face to the pavement while one of them, Constable Richard Ilett, knelt on his back.

The police said that he was drunk and disorderly outside the English Martyrs Club in Walworth Road. His family said he was waiting for a taxi.

Richard called out, “I can’t breathe, you win, you win”, One officer replied: “We always win.” Richard’s wife Alison was also nicked, as was their 14-year-old son, also called Richard, who was slapped and arrested by another officer after pleading with them to check on his father; and another of their children.

(A Crown Prosecution Service lawyer later argued in court that Richard Junior may have caused some of his fathers injuries. Seriously.)

Richard O’Brien had 31 sites of injury on his body, including cuts and bruising to his face, a dislodged tooth and fractured ribs. He had pinpoint bleeding suggestive of haemorrhaging after blood vessels on his face burst. The cause of death was given as “postural asphyxia following a struggle against restraint.”

After being held on the ground, Mr O’Brien was carried to a police van by six officers. He was then said to have been half-pushed and half-dragged into the vehicle.

His wife, Alison, who was already seated in the van with their son Richard, recalled an officer shouting: “We can’t get the big fat Paddy in,” before another grabbed him by the hair or head.

Police officers claimed they tried in vain to resuscitate Mr O’Brien after he was taken out of the van at Walworth police station.

At an Inquest in November 1995, PC Ilett insisted that Mr O’Brien had been drunk and struggled violently on arrest. He said that he had not seen any of the 31 injuries Mr O’Brien sustained and said he had shown nothing but concern for him. Patrick O’Connor, counsel representing the family, held up a photograph of Mr O’Brien showing his bloodstained and battered face and asked the officer: “Does this show your concern?”

The inquest jury brought in a verdict of unlawful killing. Sir Montague Levine, the Southwark coroner, said the case had shown an “appalling lack of instruction” in the training of police officers in restraint techniques. He went on to recommend the regular retraining of officers and improved education in methods of monitoring individuals involved in restraint.

Alison O’Brien, said after the verdict: “I’m delighted. The truth has finally got out now and after 18 months someone actually believes our story.”

The then Police Complaints Authority announced that two police officers concerned in the death would face disciplinary charges for neglect of duty, which enraged his family.

The Director of Public Prosecutions later admitted that decisions in the cases had been ‘fundamentally flawed’.

Alison later, in conjunction with Olamide Jones, partner of Shiji Lapite, also killed by the police, went to the High Court to appeal to have the DPP’s decision not to prosecute any officers overturned. This was successful, forcing the CPS to prosecute.

Three officers — Richard Ilett, Gary Lockwood, and James Barber — were eventually charged with manslaughter, but they were acquitted in 1999, when the defence argued successfully that O’Brien had had a heart attack when he tried to remove himself from custody.

In 2002, the O’Brien family won a £324,000 payout from Scotland Yard, partly for the arrests of Alison and the 2 children, but they received no apology.

The cops say they always win. They often do. Will that ever end?

Support Inquest, the organisation which has been working to help relatives of those who have died in custody and detention.

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An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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Today in London’s murderous policing history: Wayne Douglas dies in Brixton police station, 1995.

Brixton’s long history of police harassment and violence against its black residents has included several deaths in custody, or police murders if you prefer. Amidst the constant litany of beatings, fit-ups, hospitalisations from the 1960s onwards, at any time you can focus on one individual… however it remains systematic.

On December 5th 1995, Wayne Douglas, 25, died in Brixton police station, after being picked up for suspected burglary.

Douglas, a resident of a homeless hostel, was found unconscious in his cell at Brixton police station at about 3:30 a.m. He was dead on arrival at the hospital. The Metropolitan police claimed he died of a heart attack.

But witnesses described a different story. One eyewitness told the Caribbean Times how Douglas threw down a knife he was carrying when confronted by the cops. “As soon as he did it, they all jumped on him,” said the unnamed bystander. “They dragged him to the park and beat the shit out of him. They murdered him. I could hear the guy screaming…. They were jumping on him, kicking him, hitting him with their batons.”

Another said that “you could hear the sound of their batons on his bones.” Two witnesses gave statements to a local lawyer detailing the police assault.

In November 1996, the inquest into the death of Wayne Douglas was told by eye-witnesses that a police officer knelt on his head while he was handcuffed and held face down on the ground by at least four other officers. The jury found that his death was “accidentally” caused by stress, exhaustion and positional asphyxia. (Doesn’t this last mean that he couldn’t breathe due to the position he was in – ie being sat on? Who put him in that position?)

This was only few months after Brian Douglas (no relation) had died after being stopped searched and beaten up in Clapham by Kennington cops; protests had filled the summer months.

In response to Wayne Douglas’ death a demo was called for the following week at Brixton Copshop… This demo became a riot, smaller than many previous one in Brixton’s history, but no less angry. As well as attacking the police, rioters attacked the increasing symbols of gentrification that had begun to transform the area from the working class, mainly black neighbourhood, into the trendy playground for white poshos that large parts of it has become. So the Dogstar, recently opened by white trendies (backed by he police and the council) to replace the much harassed and raided black pub, the Atlantic, was trashed; among other targets.

In July 1997 Wayne’s family sought to quash the verdict of accidental death given after an inquest in December 1996. The jury found that Wayne had died of `left ventricular failure due to stress and exhaustion and positional asphyxia….following a chase and a series of restraints, in prone position, face down, as used in current police methods’.

On four occasions, Wayne had been held face down with his hands cuffed behind his back by officers. Despite the jury accepting his death was caused by police restraint, they found that the heart failure was an accident.

The lawyers acting for the family argued that the coroner made errors in summing up to the jury when instructing what they needed to find before coming to a verdict of unlawful killing reflecting gross negligence or manslaughter.

In July 1998, Wayne’s family were told that another inquest would not be held. The Court of Appeal upheld the initial ruling of accidental death as it was unlikely that the new inquest would reach any other verdict.

Lord Woolf, while accepting that there may have been ‘just enough sufficient evidence’ for unlawful manslaughter to be a possible verdict, he commented that the first inquest that was carried out in an exemplary manner. Woolf also said ‘…little more could be achieved by subjecting all concerned to the considerable expense and stress of a further inquest.’ He however denied the possibility of gross negligence.

The family said they had been ‘denied justice’. In particular Lisa Douglas Williams, Wayne’s Sister, said her family were particularly upset by Woolf’s comments on the expense of holding another inquest. She said, “A proper verdict on my brother’s death is far more important than money.”

No-one ever faced any charges for Wayne’s death. Because that’s the way it generally goes with the police, they can kill you and get away with it. And even if an outcry does force the powers that be to bring someone to court, the cop inevitably gets off, witness the acquittal of the shooter of Cherry Grice in Brixton in 1985. In 2008 Sean Rigg dies in Brixton police station in very similar circumstances to Wayne Douglass – held down in a prone position by several cops for eight minutes. In September this year the Crown Prosecution Service, after years of inaction, ruled there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any officer over his death. There’s always ‘insufficient evidence’. You’d really think they’d think up some new fucking excuses.

Contact: United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC)

Sean Rigg Campaign

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s radical history: Police kill Blair Peach during anti-fascist demo, Southall, 1979.

A long post: we make no apologies for that…
Never forget.

Southall and the death of Blair Peach

In April 1979, the events of the general election were overshadowed by fighting between the police and the largely-Asian population of Southall near Heathrow in West London. The background to the events lay with the decision of the far-right National Front to hold an election meeting in Southall.

Southall was one of the most racially diverse areas in London: in five wards surveyed in 1976, 46 per cent of the population had been born in the New Commonwealth. The National Front’s candidate, John Fairhurst, had stood in nearby Hayes and Harlington in the two 1974 elections. He wasn’t standing in Southall in the hope of securing a high vote, but because the NF thought putting up a candidate there would get them publicity. On 23 April, 2875 police officers were deployed (including 94 on horseback) to protect the NF’s right of assembly, 700 protesters were arrested, 345 of whom would be charged, 97 police officers and 64 members of the public were reported to have been injured, and one demonstrator, Blair Peach, was killed.

Three years earlier a National Front-inspired gang had stabbed Gurdip Singh Chaggar in Southall. After the killing, Kingsley Read of the National Party was quoted as having remarked, ‘One down – a million to go’. Chaggar’s killers were never convicted. The failure of the state to take action gave the later events at Southall their edge. Prominent local anti-racist activist Balwindar Rana remembers reading about the NF meeting in the Ealing Gazette, ‘The news spread like wildfire. People felt very angry and insulted.’

On 18 April, residents met with the Home Secretary Merlyn Rees to ask him to ban the Front’s meeting. Rees declined. Instead, the Metropolitan police was instructed to keep the NF meeting open. On Sunday April 22, the day before the planned NF meeting, five thousand people marched to Ealing Town Hall to protest against the Front, handing in a petition signed by 10,000 residents. Local workplaces also agreed to strike in protest against the Front, including Ford Langley, SunBlest bakery, Walls pie factory and Quaker Oats.

Monday April 23 was St. George’s Day. Local shops, factories and transport closed at 1pm, as the demonstrators had requested and several local factories with mixed or majority white workforces voted to strike. Anti-fascist demonstrators aimed to hold a sit-down protest on the roads around the town hall and there were rumours that the police aimed to get round it by smuggling National Front members into the building long before their 7.30 meeting, even before the sit-down began at 5 p.m. According to one young Asian interviewed by the BBC, ‘We had to do something, the young people – we don’t want a situation like the East End where our brothers and sisters are being attacked every day.’

By one or two o’clock, ‘There were young people milling around. A bus went past, with skinheads on, making v-signs. Some of the young Asians started to fight the skinheads, and the police responded by fighting the Asians. Soon they were charging down the streets.’

By 3.30 in the afternoon, the entire town centre was closed, and the police declared it a ‘sterile’ area, meaning that it was free of anti-racists. Heavy rain began to fall. Large numbers of people found themselves on the wrong side of police barricades. The tension rose, reaching its peak at around 6pm.

‘The police used horses, they drove vans into the crowd, fast to push us back. They used snatch squads. People rushed back with bricks, or whatever they could pick up.’ The whole area was now in chaos. The links between the protesters had broken down: individuals ran into the park to hide from the cops, or took shelter in local homes.

The police decided to close down the ‘Peoples Unite’ building, which anti-racist demonstrators were using as their headquarters. Those inside were given ten minutes to leave. Police officers, formed up along the stairs, and beat people as they tried to escape. Tariq Ali was in the building, bleeding from his head. Clarence Baker, the pacifist manger of reggae band Misty and the Roots, was hurt so badly that he went into a coma. The building itself was so badly damaged by the police action, it had to be pulled down. Officers with batons smashed medical equipment, a sound system, printing and other items.

At least three protesters suffered fractured skulls. Others were beaten until they lost consciousness. Caroline, then an active member of the Anti-Nazi League in Ealing, spent the night driving between Southall and Heathrow: ‘Many of the Asian kids that the police arrested, they beat them up for a bit, and then they took them out of London. They dropped them in the middle of nowhere, on the side of motorways, nowhere near telephones or anything. These young kids were confused, crying. The police just wanted to humiliate them.’

Perminder Dhillon describes her memories of the day. ‘Around ten, many of us gathered to watch the news at a restaurant where Rock Against Racism and Indian music had been blaring out all evening, drowning out the National Front speakers inside the town hall. Their heads still bleeding, people saw the Commissioner of Police, the Home Secretary, and other “experts” on the black community condemning the people of Southall for their unprovoked attack on the police! As usual, only pictures of injured policemen were shown – nothing of the pregnant women being attacked and the countless other police assaults.’

Blair Peach, a 33-year-old teacher, was somewhere in this crowd on the Broadway. After the bus had passed, the police made concentrated efforts to clear the area, bringing in more officers, including Special Patrol Group officers in vans. Some protesters tried to escape by heading down side streets. Most of these led the demonstrators away from trouble, but Beachcroft Avenue, a narrow residential road, just led onto another road, Orchard Avenue, which returned to the main road near the town hall and the heaviest concentration of police numbers. At about 7.45 Peach and the four friends who’d gone with him to the demonstration decided to leave the Broadway and turned into Beachcroft Avenue, which was not blocked by the police. Peach and Amanda Leon, who had agreed to stick together, were behind the others. Leon told the inquest that she heard police sirens and saw a row of police officers with shields and truncheons. She then saw a police officer hit Peach on the head from behind with a truncheon. She too was hit on the head but by a different officer. The papers released with the Cass Report show that, according to the police, six demonstrators received head injuries on 23 April, three of them (Peach, Leon and an unnamed Asian man) on Beachcroft or Orchard Avenue.

A local resident, Balwant Atwal, told the inquest that at about 7.30-8 p.m. she saw blue vans coming down Beachcroft Avenue: ‘They were coming very fast − as they came round Beachcroft Avenue, they stopped. I saw policemen with shields come out − people started running and the police tried to disperse them. I saw police hitting. I saw a white man standing there … The police were hitting everybody. People started running, some in the alley, some in my house … I saw Peach, I then saw the policeman with the shield attack Peach.’

In her account, which was accepted by Cass, Peach was just turning the corner from Beachcroft to Orchard Avenue when a police officer with a shield in his left hand and a truncheon in his right hit him. She then saw Peach sit down, and a police constable, later identified as James Scottow, go over to him. Peach was leaning against a wall and Scottow, who said he thought Peach was hiding from the police charge, shouted at him to move on. (A police internal investigation found that, given the ‘confusion and general tension’, Scottow had not neglected his duty towards Peach.) Peach was taken into 71 Orchard Avenue by the Atwal family, who let him lie on their sofa and gave him water. An ambulance was called at 8.12 p.m. Peach was admitted to intensive care with a fractured skull, and, despite surgery, died just after midnight.

Anna’s daughter Miriam was attacked on the same road:

‘They were going home. The streets were covered in glass. Then they heard a siren. Someone shouted “run”. They ran into a side alley, then into this garden. They’d already seen what the SPG was up to. Six officers with truncheons got Miriam in a corner and hit her. She’d never known anything like that. When they stopped, they said, “We’ll be back for you later.” She had blood everywhere. One local Asian family took her in, and offered her sugary tea. Later she went to the St. John’s Ambulance. She still gets pains from where they hit her.’

In the aftermath of Southall, the papers swung overwhelmingly behind the police. The Daily Express, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph all covered the story as their front-page lead. The headlines included, ‘BATTLE OF HATE. Election Riot: Police Hurt, 300 arrested’, ‘RACE RIOTERS BATTLE WITH POLICE ARMY’, ‘300 HELD IN RIOT AT NF DEMO’, and ‘300 ARRESTED AT POLL RIOT’. One edition of the Daily Mail went furthest in deliberately confusing the racists and the anti-racists, proclaiming, ‘RACE RIOTERS BATTLE WITH POLICE ARMY’. The press depicted a mix race group of young anti-racists as violent, aggressive thugs – as much a threat to society as the real criminals of the National Front.

But for the vast majority of Southall residents, and thousands in communities increasingly under attack from the police and racists, the murder of Blair Peach became a symbol of the unjustified use of police violence. Fifteen thousand people marched the following Saturday, in honour of Blair Peach, with Ken Gill speaking, from the TUC. Workers at SunBlest bakery raised £800 for Peach’s widow.

For the next week, protesters were everywhere, flyposting, speaking, organising, discussing the lessons of the police riot. The police were around, in very large numbers, but they did not dare to stop people from organising. It was almost as if the police were shamed by the enormity of what they had done.

Rock Against Racism brought out a special leaflet, Southall Kids are Innocent, ‘Southall is special. There have been police killings before … But on April 23rd the police behaved like never before … The police were trying to kill our people. They were trying to get even with our culture … What free speech needs martial law? What public meeting requires 5,000 people to keep the public out?’

For eight weeks, Peach’s body was left unburied, while people paid their respects. Queues formed outside the Dominion Theatre, where his body remained. According to one source, Peach’s death had ‘particular reverence for the predominantly Sikh Punjabi community, both as a white man who chose to assist them and thereby defend their right to reside in the country, and as an enemy of tyrannous oppressors whose struggles with the Sikhs are still talked of and remembered in popular bazaar calendar art.’ 10,000 people attended his funeral.

The inquest into Peach’s death was a masterpiece of whitewashing even for the relatively authoritarian approach of the era. The coroner, John Burton, was determined to close off lines of inquiry that would be implicitly critical of the police. He regularly interrupted lawyers acting for Peach’s family, sowing confusion everywhere and acting as if his primary business was to divert attention from the only credible explanation for Peach’s killing: that he had been hit on the head, whether accidentally or deliberately, by a member of the Special Patrol Group, the only police officers on Orchard Avenue at the time. He refused the request of Peach’s family to have the case heard by a jury (though this was reversed by the Court of Appeal)

Burton also refused to let the jury or Peach’s family see the Cass Report into the events, which had already been completed. At the same time as seeking a jury, the family sought a judicial review of the coroner’s refusal to disclose all the statements and interview notes that underpinned the Cass Report. This application failed, on the grounds that the statements were the property of the police, and natural justice could not help Peach’s family to obtain them since he was accused of nothing, and justice could only succeed in protecting him from allegations, not in helping to identify how he had died.

Burton also tried to muddy the waters by suggesting that there were two alternate theories of Peach’s death – that a left-wing ‘fanatic’ had struck Peach on the head in order to create a ‘martyr’ (a regular practice of us lefties everywhere, you’ll find); or that he had been killed by the police. Burton failed to mention that this was the central finding of the investigation into Peach’s killing carried out by the police themselves.

No-one else had suggested that anyone else had killed Peach. Ten people had seen police hit him over the head. One distinguished pathologist Professor Mant, commented on the damage done to Blair Peach’s skull, with an instrument that had not pierced his skin. He concluded that the murder weapon was probably not a truncheon, but more likely a cosh, or possibly a police radio.There was also a considerable weight of circumstantial evidence, including a raid in June 1979 on the lockers of the SPG officers who had been at Southall which found a number of offensive weapons, including a leather-covered stick, two knives, a very large truncheon, a crowbar, a metal cosh and a whip. Since the medical evidence seemed to suggest that Peach had been struck by a weapon other than a baton the raid was relevant – it was relied on by Peach’s family in their application for a jury.

There was no rational basis on which to deny that Peach had been killed by a police officer. The only matter which should have been in dispute was whether the killing had been lawful; in other words, whether the officer who killed Peach had had a lawful reason for striking him – namely, self-defence or to restore order. The theory the coroner was pressing on the jury was that the violence of other demonstrators elsewhere in Southall was so outrageous that it justified any degree of retaliatory force. But not a single police witness had suggested that Peach or the people around him had done anything to justify the officers’ charge.

On 27 May the following year, the inquest jury reached a verdict in Peach’s case of death by misadventure. This was a huge blow to Blair’s family and his partner Celia Stubbs. But the jurors had not been given access to all the relevant information. Soon after Peach’s death, Commander John Cass, chief of the Metropolitan Police’s Complaints Investigation Bureau, carried out an internal inquiry into the killing. It was a substantial piece of work: Cass was assisted by thirty police officers, the inquiry took 31,000 hours of police time, and, including interview transcripts, the complete report was 2500 pages long. It found that Peach’s killer was one of six police officers, with one clear principal suspect, and that three of the six should be prosecuted for attempting to frustrate the investigation. Counsel for the police and the coroner both had access to the report but went out of their way to conceal its findings from everyone else involved in the inquest. The Cass Report was suppressed; the coroner dismissed the idea that police had killed Blair before the inquest was over, and fired off racist and right-wing attacks on any witnesses who said they had seen officers hit him. The Home Office also suppressed some of his letters with regard to the inquest on the grounds that if anyone read them, it would bring the office of corner into disrepute.

Two papers, the Sunday Times and the Leveller, published leaks naming the officers that had travelled in the van that held Peach’s killer. They were Police Constables Murray, White, Lake, Freestone, Scottow and Richardson. When the lockers of their unit were searched in June 1979, one officer Greville Bint was discovered to have in his lockers Nazi regalia, bayonets and leather covered sticks. Another constable Raymond White attempted to hide a cosh. No officer was ever prosecuted.

On 13 June 1979, Peach was buried. Ten thousand people joined the procession. Another ten thousand marched through Southall again in memory of Blair Peach the following year. A school was named after him and further memorials have been organised since.

The Cass Report wouldn’t be published until 2010, a year after Ian Tomlinson died, having wandered into the protests against the G20 summit and been struck on the leg and pushed to the ground by a police officer. Tomlinson’s death encouraged Peach’s family to ask again for the Cass Report to be released. Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, agreed to do so. The inquest into Tomlinson’s death resulted in a verdict of unlawful killing, which made possible the criminal prosecution for manslaughter of PC Simon Harwood. (He was acquitted.) The finding of death by misadventure in Peach’s case made any prosecution impossible, despite there being a strong argument for a second inquest. The High Court can order one, as it did on the Hillsborough disaster. Of that case Lord Judge, then lord chief justice, held that ‘it seems to us elementary that the emergence of fresh evidence which may reasonably lead to the conclusion that the substantial truth about how an individual met his death was not revealed at the first inquest, will normally make it both desirable and necessary in the interests of justice for a fresh inquest to be ordered.’ This statement is clearly applicable to Peach’s case.

As of December 2009, the Crown Prosecution Service was reviewing the internal report and said it would advise police as to whether further action should be taken. Here the sound of people holding their breath in West London? Me neither.

The reports into the death of Blair Peach were published on the Metropolitan Police website on 27 April 2010. The conclusion was that Blair Peach was killed by a police officer, but that the other police officers in the same unit had refused to cooperate with the inquiry by lying to investigators, making it impossible to identify the actual killer.

The Metropolitan Police report stated that an SPG policeman, identified as Officer E, was “almost certainly” the one whose assault killed Peach. Alan Murray, at the time an inspector in charge of SPG Unit One and now a lecturer in Accounting and Corporate Responsibility at Sheffield University, has admitted that he believes himself to be Officer E, but has denied killing Peach. Murray was described as “young and forceful” by the report, lied to investigators, and refused to participate in identity parades; to this day he wears the beard which it is suspected he originally grew to impede identification in case he were compelled to do so.

Thirty-five years later it might seem that things haven’t changed much. There have been many further deaths: Ian Tomlinson died after being struck by a member of the Territorial Support Group, the successor to the SPG. More than 750 people died in police custody between 1994 and 2013, but there have been barely a dozen inquest verdicts of unlawful killing and just eight prosecutions, some of multiple officers – none succeeded. The rules about the use of truncheons are looser now than in 1979: then they were to be used only in ‘extreme’ cases, and were not to be aimed at the head; now the Association of Chief Police Officers says batons may be used to ‘protect officers, demonstrate that force is about to be/may be used, [or] facilitate dispersal and/or arrest … The level of force should be reasonable and proportionate’ (although some forces have published local guidance which is more prescriptive). Alfie Meadows was hit on the head with a truncheon in 2010 during demonstrations against student tuition fees and had to have emergency surgery. Police bloggers claimed, as the coroner had in Peach’s case, that Meadows had been hurt by another protester, not a police officer. Meadows was charged with public order offences and, following a first trial which ended in a hung jury and a second trial which was aborted after repeated delays, was acquitted at a third trial two and half years after the original incident.

Some of this post is stolen from an article by David Renton

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s history: Police kill Ian Tomlinson during anti- G20 demo, City, 2009.

In April 2009, the G20 group, the leaders of 20 of the most economically powerful nations met in London. On April 1st, the day before the summit proper began, protestors gathered around the Bank of England to demonstrate. For a decade and more the various summits of these leading nations had been the focus of protests, demos, lobbies and so, on by groups varying from anti-capitalist movement to campaigners around developing world poverty. Several thousand came to demonstrate; both protestors and police knew that some folk would try to escalate a demonstration into a riot. Some police always also have the same interests…

On the day, pretty much as soon as most of the various marches converging on the Bank of England area arrived, police kettled us all in; barring the way to anyone wanting to get in – or out. This tactic was a favourite of large-scale public order ‘incidents’ at least since Mayday 2001 (though under other names, the tactic had been in vogue at other times). From the police viewpoint hemming everyone in limits people’s ability to move around, disrupt possible targets, and if kept up for hours, wears angry defiance down into hungry passivity.
The disadvantage for police in Public Relations terms is that you not only piss off the demonstrators still under the impression the boys and girls in blue should be helping them across the road, but that you also often kettle passers-by and random non-demonstrators.

On April 1st the police kettling was to lead to death. Murder, if you like. Newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson collapsed and died in the City of London after being hit from behind by PC Simon Harwood, while being pushed through the area kettle by police, as they were moving people away from certain areas and forcing them into the main group.

On 1 April 2009 there were dealing with six protests in London: a security operation at ExCeL London, a Stop the War march, a Free Tibet protest outside the Chinese Embassy, a People & Planet protest, a Climate Camp protest, and a protest outside the Bank of England. Some 4,000–5,000 protesters were at the Climate Camp in Bishopsgate, and the same number at the Bank of England. Over 5,500 Metropolitan police officers were deployed on 1 April and 2,800 on 2 April, The G20 Bank of England protest was kettled from 12.30 pm until 7.00 pm. At 7 pm police began to disperse the protesters around the bank, and senior officers made a decision that “reasonable force” could be used. Between 7:10 and 7:40 pm the crowd surged toward the police, missiles were thrown, and police responded by using their shields to push the crowd back. Scuffles broke out and arrests were made.

Ian Tomlinson hadn’t been on the protest, he’d finished work and was trying to get back to the homeless hostel where he was living. but wasn’t being allowed to get through any police cordons. Video footage which emerged later showed him in various places around the City, being pushed or forced to move on several times by police, nudged by a police van; at one point a police dog was wet on him and bit his hand.

A week after the incident, the Guardian newspaper was passed footage shot by an investment fund manager from New York who was in London on business. The video shows a group of officers who had already hassled him several times, and were following him down the street, approach Tomlinson at the southern end of Royal Exchange Passage, near the junction with Cornhill. Tomlinson was walking slowly with his hands in his pockets. An eyewitness said Tomlinson was saying that he was trying to get home. No footage showed no provocation on Tomlinson’s part – however, he had a long history of alcoholism and homelessness; automatically bracketing him in one of the groups that police enjoy targeting regardless of whether they get involved in any aggro at a particular time.

The footage showed one officer lunge at Tomlinson from behind, then strike him across the legs with a baton the officer was holding in his left hand. The same officer pushed Tomlinson’s back, causing him to fall. On 8 April Channel 4 News released their own footage of the scene, which showed the officer’s arm swing back to head height before bringing it down to hit Tomlinson on the legs with the baton. A different video obtained by The Guardian on 21 April showed Tomlinson standing by a bicycle rack, hands in his pockets, appearing to offer no resistance, when the police approach him. After he is hit, he can be seen scraping along the ground on the right side of his forehead; eyewitnesses spoke of hearing a noise as his head hit the ground.

In the Guardian video, Tomlinson could be seen briefly remonstrating with police as he sat on the ground. None of the officers tried to help him. After being helped to his feet by a protester, Tomlinson walked 200 feet (60 m) along Cornhill, where he collapsed at around 7:25 pm outside 77 Cornhill. Witnesses say he appeared dazed, eyes rolling, skin grey. They also said he smelled of alcohol. An ITV News photographer tried to give medical aid, but was forced away by police, as was a medical student. Police medics attended to Tomlinson, who was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital.
The first autopsy had concluded that Tomlinson died of natural causes after suffering a heart attack. His death became controversial a week later when The Guardian published video that showed Harwood striking Tomlinson on the leg with a baton, then pushing him to the ground. Second and third autopsies concluded the push to the ground had caused internal bleeding to his liver, which had killed him. Later, Fredy Patel, the Home Office pathologist who at first exonerated the police violence of having caused Ian’s death was struck off the medical register; he had a long history of ballsing up or covering up evidence, this being only the latest.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) began a criminal inquiry, and further autopsies indicated that Tomlinson had died from internal bleeding caused by blunt force trauma to the abdomen, in association with cirrhosis of the liver. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not to charge Harwood, because the disagreement between the first and later pathologists meant they could not show a causal link between the death and alleged assault.

After an inquest in 2011 found that he had been unlawfully killed by the officer, Simon Harwood, a constable with London’s Metropolitan Police Service, the CPS suffered one its about-turns (sometimes known as BPRD, or Bad Publicity Reversal Decisions) and charged Harwood with manslaughter. On the day of the incident, he appeared to have removed his shoulder number and had covered the bottom of his face with his balaclava: a tactic favoured when officers want to conceal their identity. For completely legit reasons. Harwood had a blurry history with some allegations of using unnecessary force in the past; he later lied about having been knocked over during the G20 protest and ‘feared for his life’. He was seen getting heavy with protestors and press on the day before he attacked Ian Tomlinson.
He was found not guilty in 2012, but was dismissed from the police service for gross misconduct, in September 2012 after a disciplinary hearing found that he had acted with “gross misconduct” in his actions towards Tomlinson. Slight understatement. Tomlinson’s family filed a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police, which paid the family an undisclosed sum in August 2013. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Maxine de Brunner also issued a formal apology for “Simon Harwood’s use of excessive and unlawful force, which caused Mr Tomlinson’s death, and for the suffering and distress caused to his family as a result.”

From the first, police had obstructed the family in their attempt to find out what had happened, lied to them and to the press about the sequence of events; the Independent Police Complaints Commission (a kind of bumbling glove puppet which is supposed to examine possible police malpractice, but ends up usually parroting cop lies and making ineffectual rulings) lurched between incompetence and misleading the family. The zig-zagging by the Crown Prosecution Service just added icing to the cake of general mis-justice.

Harwood’s acquittal left Ian Tomlinson’s family where all other relatives of victims of police violence and deaths in custody (or out of it) usually end up. Ie, with everything left unresolved and a sense that the so-called justice system is not really there to work for them.

One day, you would hope, there will be a day of reckoning.

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s history: Ibrahima Sey unlawfully killed by Ilford police, 1996

Ibrahima Sey, a Gambian asylum seeker, died in the early hours of Saturday 16th March 1996, after having been taken from his home to Ilford Police Station in East London.

He was suffering from a mental illness, the effects of which have been described variously by the labels “excited delirium” or “acute exhaustive mania”. The police arrived at the his home in response to a call for help from Amie as a result of his strange behaviour which had alarmed her to the extent that she had jumped out of a window, leaving the two infant children behind with him.

He eventually came out of the house to be conveyed to Ilford Police Station without any struggle on his part, primarily because his friend, Mr Pa Ebou Ndimbalan, who had arrived at the scene in response to a prior call for help from Amie, was allowed to accompany him.

However, upon their arrival in the rear yard of the police station, the arresting officers refused to allow Mr Ndimbalan to accompany Mr Sey into the police station. Evidence from Mr Ndimbalan as well as some of the officers themselves has described the events that followed : while Mr Sey was still pleading that Mr Ndimbalan should be allowed to stay with him, he was set upon by six to eight officers, one of whom grabbed him in a bear hug from behind while others grabbed his arms and legs so that he was brought down to the ground, and he was then rolled onto his stomach for his hands to be cuffed behind his back.

Mr Ndimbalan did not see anything further, because he was ushered away from the scene. However, the evidence from the officers themselves suggests that the sequence of the subsequent events was as follows:

On two successive attempts to raise Mr Sey to his feet, his legs seemed to buckle and give way, so that he ended up face down on the ground where he seemed to go limp on each occasion while officers continued to hold him down.

On the third attempt to raise him, he was still on his knees, with his hands still cuffed behind his back, when one of the officers sprayed him with CS which hit him in a stream around his nose and mouth, and he was seen to lick off the solvent as it dripped down his nose.

Once he was on his feet, his head was pushed down towards his knees so that he was doubled over, with his hands still cuffed behind his back, and in that posture he was walked backwards into the police station until he collapsed in a corridor.

He was then carried face down and feet first for the rest of the distance into the custody suite where he was placed face down on the floor with his hands still cuffed behind his back. Some four to six officers continued to hold him down by his head, arms and legs – including two officers with their feet on his legs – for the next 15 minutes or more. It was while he was still restrained in this position that he suddenly became relaxed and, after being checked, was found not to be breathing.

In consequence, an ambulance was called, and the ambulance crew have described their surprise and shock to find Mr Sey still on the floor of the custody area with his hands were still cuffed behind his back when he was showing no signs of life whatsoever. They took him to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The purported reason for Mr Sey’s arrest is said to be suspicion of threats to kill and assault on Amie. She later explained to the jury at the inquest into her husband’s death, that there was no prior history of violence in the marital relationship, and even on the day such violence was minimal: the purported reasons for the arrest were founded upon her account to the officers she called to the scene, describing Mr Sey’s strange behaviour that evening, insofar as he had been talking and chanting in a bizarre manner, throwing things about the house including items that went in her direction, and her fear that he might harm himself, herself or her children in his unpredictable state of mind. She explained that the deceased had a history of some kind of mental instability which went back some 3 or 4 years, including a breakdown in Sweden in 1992 and a further breakdown in his native Gambia in 1994, but there had been no similar episode since his arrival in this country in May 1995. The officers who answered her call for help were specifically informed about the mental history, and indeed it was on this account that Mr Ndimbalan was allowed to accompany him in the van to the police station. Their later decision to separate Mr Ndimbalan from the deceased was the spark but for which the death might not have occurred.

A post mortem examination took place on the evening of Saturday 16th March, conducted by Dr Michael Heath on behalf of the Coroner, in the presence of Dr Robert Chapman and Dr David Rouse for the Commissioner and the Police Federation respectively. The provisional cause of death upon that examination, pending the results of more detailed pathological and toxicological tests, was said by Dr Heath to be that “the deceased collapsed following a period of exertion and was suffering hypertensive heart disease”, and that “there was no evidence that the CS spray contributed in any way to the death”. Toxicology tests showed that no drugs or alcohol were found to be present in the deceased’s body.

By late 1996, however, the official opinion as to the cause of death had been revised to be expressed as “acute exhaustive mania” by Dr Heath on the basis of consultations with Dr Henry Kennedy, consultant forensic psychiatrist at Chase Farm Hospital. Both of them gave evidence suggesting that Mr Sey suffered some kind of a “sudden death” purely as a result of his mental illness. As for the supposed hypertensive heart disease, Dr Heath was forced to concede that there was no basis for the diagnosis in the first place, and the Coroner directed the jury that Mr Sey did not suffer from any abnormality of the heart whatsoever.

These findings and opinions were disputed from the outset; an examination and analysis carried out on behalf of the deceased’s family by Professor Bernard Knight and Dr Nathaniel Cary, consultant forensic pathologists at the Cardiff Royal Infirmary and Papworth Hospital respectively, and Dr Maurice Lipsedge, consultant psychiatrist at Guy’s Hospital. In general terms, they gave evidence that the role of the CS spray in the cause of death could not be dismissed out of hand, given that it is said to be effective as a control agent precisely because it is designed to cause respiratory problems; that the most likely mode of death in this case is positional (or restraint) asphyxia, with the effects of CS or exhaustion due to mental illness as contributory factors rather than causes of death in themselves; and that the suggestion that the mental illness might somehow lead to “sudden death” without any other intervening factor such as the restraint is simply not borne out by experience or reported literature.

Similarly, both Dr Rouse and Dr Chapman confirmed their opinions that the restraint was a significant contributory factor in the death, as has Dr James Cairns, the Deputy Chief Coroner for Ontario in Canada who was called to speak about the experience of similar cases in North America.

On the wider context of this case, the evidence heard by the jury confirmed and touched upon the now widespread recognition of the potentially fatal dangers of restraint in the face down position within the Metropolitan Police as well as other forces throughout the country.

Following the deaths of Richard O’Brien in April 1994 and Wayne Douglas in December 1995, both of whom were found to have died as a result of positional or restraint asphyxia, officers throughout the Metropolitan Police, including those involved in Mr Sey’s death, had received warnings and guidance which leave no room for doubt that ignorance of the relevant issues could not be pleaded on behalf of the officers in this case.

Another relevant consideration is the fact that at the time of Mr Sey’s death the use of CS spray was on a six-month trial which commenced on 1 March 1996 – only some two weeks before the incident – involving 2,300 officers in 16 police forces throughout England and Wales. The Home Secretary and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) have since approved the general issue of CS spray, despite grave concern and reservations expressed in many quarters within the police forces as well as amongst the public at large about the safety of the device. Two forces – Surrey and Hertfordshire – withdrew from the trials because of safety fears, and a third force – Northamptonshire – banned any training on the use of the device for similar reasons… According to news reports, a leaked ACPO document, circulated to police forces on 4 January 1996, acknowledged the health risks involved in the use of CS spray, and noted the fact that the research carried out on the it has been far from comprehensive. It would appear that ACPO and the Home Office chose nevertheless to press ahead with the trials and the subsequent general issue of CS spray – in full knowledge of the identified health risks – on the grounds that they were not prepared to wait for the development of a safer alternative.

Ibrahima Sey left a widow, Amie Sey, and two infant daughters, Maimuna and Ramatulay

The inquest into the death of Ibrahima Sey at Ilford Police Station on 16th March 1996 concluded on Thursday 2nd October 1997. The jury sitting with the Walthamstow Coroner at Snaresbrook Crown Court from 1st September heard extremely disturbing evidence about the treatment of this mentally ill man by police officers. The inquest raised serious concerns about the role of the police station as a place of safety and the nature of the restraint used on him, including the then newly issued CS spray.

The consensus amongst the numerous and eminent pathologists who have given evidence is that the restraint in the prone face down position would have impaired breathing sufficiently to cause death. The jury decided that the nature and the extent of the force used in the restraint was so unreasonable and unnecessary in the circumstances so as to render the death an Unlawful Killing.

On 1st October 1998 the Crown Prosecution Service announced that no officers would be charged over the death of Ibrahima Sey, despite the unanimous verdict returned (to a standard of criminal proof) by the inquest jury.

Lifted from the website of Inquest, the organisation which campaigns around deaths in custody.

 

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online