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by Bethany Rielly
SEVERAL spycops attended the funeral of a protester killed by police in the 1970s and used the event to gather intelligence on mourners, a public inquiry heard today.
Blair Peach, a teacher and anti-racism campaigner, died after being struck on the head by a police baton during a demonstration against the National Front in west London in 1979.
Following his death, his partner Celia Stubbs launched a justice campaign, which was infiltrated by officers serving in the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), a secret police unit accused of serial abuses over decades.
Speaking on behalf of Ms Stubbs, Matthew Ryder QC told the Undercover Policing Inquiry that the killing of Blair Peach and the subsequent “cover-up” was one of the “most notorious events in the history of British policing.”
Mr Ryder said that the campaign for police accountability became a “focus” for the spycops, adding that this was a “vivid illustration” of “inappropriate undercover policing” of those seeking justice.
The lawyer said that a “source of significant distress” for Ms Stubbs was the presence of undercover officers at Mr Peach’s funeral. Documents disclosed to the inquiry reveal that officers compiled a list of people who attended and even took photographs of individuals.
“The attendance at the funeral was obviously an intelligence-gathering exercise” said Mr Ryder, disputing statements by one officer that he was only present to protect his cover.
SDS reporting on the campaign continued for another 20 years, the inquiry heard, with a document dated to 1998 recording a protest on the anniversary of Mr Peach’s death.
Fourteen witnesses saw him being struck by an officer at the demonstration, but no-one was ever charged over his death. Mr Ryder said that this was because of a “concerted and co-ordinated cover up” by police.
A Metropolitan Police investigation launched shortly after the death but only published in 2010, found that he was “almost certainly” killed by one of six riot police.
In 2019, the force finally apologised for its role in his death.
Family justice campaigns became a common SDS target over the coming decades, including the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, who was killed by racists.
The inquiry, headed by retired judge Sir John Mitting, is examining the conduct of about 139 officers who infiltrated more than 1,000 political groups over 40 years.
On Wednesday, the inquiry heard how the unit’s targets from 1973 and 1982 were exclusively left-wing, including many anti-racism groups. This was despite a surge in far-right activity at the time.
In an opening statement earlier today, a woman known only as “Madeleine” accused some officers who infiltrated anti-racism groups of having “sympathies” with the far right.
She also told the inquiry that she had been left feeling “nauseous and revolted” after being informed that, during her time in the Socialist Workers Party, her then partner had been a police spy.
“I felt degraded and abused and continue to feel a real sense of violation,” she said.
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