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Troubling answers from the Met over Blair Peach

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Guy Smith | 13:37 UK time, Tuesday, 27 April 2010

"I'm sorry".

Those simple words can so often be the hardest to say. But Britain's top police officer did utter them at a press conference at Scotland Yard this morning.

Sir Paul Stephenson said Commander Cass's report into the death of anti-racist campaigner Blair Peach made "uncomfortable reading" and that it was "deeply disturbing" for the British police service.

Protests outside Scotland Yard over Blair Peach's death

Why? Well, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner reeled off a list of reasons.

After 31 years, there were still no definitive answers for Mr Peach's family and partner Celia Stubbs.

The New Zealand-born teacher died from a fractured skull at 12.10am on the 24th April, 1979. He'd been assaulted by a police officer during a demonstration against the National Front in Southall.

The Commissioner said the report also made "uncomfortable reading" because none of the officers identified at the scene voluntarily came forward to provide information. Worse still, some had lied when questioned afterwards into what happened.

We don't know exactly what Mr Peach was hit with or who struck him. Although the report, which has been kept secret for three decades, notes officer "E" as the mostly likely suspect. (The Met says all names of the officers and witnesses in the report were edited for legal reasons).

The Cass report describes this particular young officer as having a "forceful personality".

And it was later discovered the driver of the police carrier, known as officer "F", had a "lead cosh and other truncheon type weapons" in his locker. He gave investigators two contradictory explanations as to how he had obtained them.

Firstly, he'd got it (lead cosh) in America when on a visit. Secondly, he'd found it at a road block.

Commander John Cass summed it up: "Whilst it can reasonably be concluded that a police officer struck the fatal blow, and that that officer came from carrier U.11, I am sure that it will be agreed that the present situation is far from satisfactory and disturbing. The attitude and untruthfulness of some of the officers involved is a contributory factor."

"It is understandable that because of the events of the day officers were confused, or made mistakes, but one would expect a better recall of events by trained police officers, " he added.

"However, there are cases where the evidence shows that certain officers have clearly not told the truth."

To date, no officer has been prosecuted for perverting the course of justice. And the Crown Prosecution Service has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to charge any officer with murder or manslaughter.

Today's publication includes 3,000 pages of material from four reports and a review of them in 1999. Undoubtably, it was a thorough investigation with some 500 witnesses, 770 statements taken and numerous ID parades of officers.

Watch my report from June 2009, when Sir Paul Stephenson announced that Scotland Yard would be finally publishing its secret report. I also managed to speak to Celia Stubbs outside City Hall.

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You can't fault the Met for finally coming clean. But what raises more than an eyebrow is why it's taken so long to publish. Sir Paul Stephenson is the seventh Commisioner since Mr Peach died.

This will indeed make uncomfortable reading for Mr Peach's brothers and partner.

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