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45 Years: The Southall Race Riots

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Authored by Nishah Malik
Published on 23rd April, 2024 5 min read

45 Years: The Southall Race Riots

Today (23/04/2024) marks 45 years since the Southall Race Riots. On 23 April 1979, a demonstration against the National Front began in a peaceful manner. It ended in the killing of anti-racist campaigner and school teacher, Blair Peach, by the police. 

In the run up to the 1979 general election political parties were using public halls to host their election meetings. The National Front announced that they would hold a meeting at Southall Town Hall on 23 April, an area of London with a large South Asian population. Hoping to gain more publicity for their campaign, the far-right group had been organising meetings in areas that were ethnically diverse. For example, they had also held meetings in Islington and Leicester.

The decision to organise a far-right meeting in Southall was especially provocative. Southall was, and still is, known for having a large number of migrants, particularly from the Punjab region of India. For South Asians, many of whom had faced discrimination and hostility since arriving in Britain, the thought of a far-right gathering in the midst of their community was unsettling. Tensions in the area were therefore rising. 

In the run up to the National Front meeting, a petition, signed by 10,000 Southall residents, was submitted to Ealing Council. It called for the meeting to be cancelled. Owing to the Representation of the People Act (1969), however, the National Front was allowed to proceed. To deal with potential backlash, nearly 3,000 police officers were drafted in, 94 of whom were on horseback.

Traders, residents, workers, and the youth of Southall joined forces as a community to protest against the meeting. Councillor Jasbir Anand, who currently represents Southall Green ward, and who is also a member of the council’s cabinet, has stated  how this peaceful protest was an inspirational example of “a community of different cultures and its allies saying that there was no place for the National Front’s hatred in our town.”1 

In fact, the protesters were not only marching against the election meeting—they were also protesting against damage that the National Front had caused previously. The protestors were particularly concerned about racist attacks on people of colour that had been committed by members of the movement, such as the stabbing of 18 year old Gurdip Singh Chaggar on Southall High Street in 1976. 

The protest quickly escalated into chaos. The police began using force and arrested nearly 345 protestors. In the midst of this chaos, one of the protestors, Blair Peach, a teacher and a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Anti-Nazi League (ANL), was killed. He was hit on the head by a police officer. This was witnessed by 14 people, yet no one has ever been held accountable for his death.

Gareth Peirce, the lawyer who defended those arrested on 23 April 1979, observed how a

“man was killed, wholly innocent people were convicted and evidence against them fabricated. The police went out to deliberately inflict injuries on innocent people and were being provocative and racist. An onslaught of violence was unleashed on the Southall community and other protesters.”2

The tragic killing created further mistrust between the Southall community, the police, and the government. Peach’s murder filled the whole community with tremendous sadness— during the ensuing days, 10,000 people marched past the site  of his death. Jasbir Anand has also stated that the

“killing…of anti-racism campaigner Blair Peach exemplified to local people that many in authority were not on our side and that this wouldn’t simply be a case of defeating the open bigotry of the National Front, but also securing institutional change locally and across Britain.”3 

The bloody events that occurred in Southall four decades ago saw a display of state violence, institutional racism, and disregard for human life—the police knowingly protected a racist gathering in an area with a large South Asian community. 

The protests against the killings of Peach and Chaggar brought the whole community together so as to stand up against injustice. In 1979 Southall became a symbol of resistance. Today, on the anniversary of the tragic event, we reflect on the legacy of the Southall Race Riots. The resilience and strength of those who stood up against injustice, and who lost their lives in doing so, need to be remembered. 


  1. "Southall riots: A Personal Reflection," Around Ealing, available at
  2. "Forty years on, Southall demands justice for killing of Blair Peach," The Guardian, available at
  3. "Southall riots: A Personal Reflection," Around Ealing, available at

Authored by Nishah Malik

Nishah Malik

Nishah Malik is Collections Editor at British Online Archives. Nishah gained a Masters in History from the University of Derby in 2020. Her research interests centre around South Asian culture and heritage, as well as the history and experiences of the South Asian diaspora. She also has a keen interest in women's history.

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The British Online Archives Notable Days diary is a platform intended to mark key dates and events throughout the year. The posts draw attention to historical events and figures, as well as recurring cultural traditions and international awareness days, in both religious and secular contexts.

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