TODAY, it seems unthinkable that an extreme right-wing organisation would choose to hold a meeting in an area as racially-diverse as Southall.

But on St George's Day, 1979, that is exactly what happened when the National Front selected Southall Town Hall as the venue for a campaign meeting.

Predictably enough, the event did not pass peacefully.

Thousands of people gathered to protest , but police had sealed off the area, and anti-racism demonstrators trying to make their way to the town hall, found their way blocked.

In the confrontation that followed, more than 40 people were injured, and 300 were arrested.

Bricks and bottles were hurled at police.

Most tragic of all, however, was the death of New Zealand-born school teacher Blair Peach, a 33-year-old activist for the Anti-Nazi League, who was fatally injured after an alleged attack by officers.

He sustained massive head injuries and a coroner recorded a verdict of death by misadventure.

Witnesses said his injuries were caused by police baton blows.

No officer has ever been charged with the alleged attack on Blair Peach and an internal inquiry by the Metropolitan Police into his death was never made public.

The violence was unlike anything that the community had ever seen before, and marked a water-shed moment in race relations in Southall.

Virendra Sharma, now the MP for Ealing Southall, was one of the people who gathered outside the Town Hall to protest.

He said: "They were not race riots, as that implies two communities fighting against each other.

"It was certainly a protest against the police.

"There was a meeting of the National Front and and local people objected to that.

"People believed that a group like the National Front should not be holding an election meeting in the local area so a lot of people gathered in Southall and protested against them."

He continued: "It was a peaceful protest which then became some kind of confrontation with the police.

"People were attacked and Blair Peach then died.

"There was two schools of thought, one that people should confront the meeting inside.

"Then there were people like me saying we should protest peacefully and show our opposition to the National Front.

"When the trouble started there were people all around.

"The police arrested quite a lot of people at that time.

"I remember I put a statement in the Ealing Gazette as, at the time, I was a local activist for the Labour party."

Mr Sharma claimed the protests helped to unite the community and encouraged them to protest in the future, and also made people take a greater part in the political process.

"Blair Peach was killed, so that indicates just how serious an attack it was by the police, and no individual was caught.

"We were all shocked. No-one recorded it, whereas now a lot of people carry cameras and mobile phones with them so they can record such incidents, but as far as Blair Peach, nobody knows who did it. "We still feel that it is unfair noone was held accountable for his

He added: "There was a clear protectionist approach inside the police, rather than bringing individuals to justice.

"It's a sad part of the development of Southall."

The Gazette contacted the Metropolitan Police for a comment this week, but at the time of going to press, there was no response.