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New pennies - and a life is brutally ended.

Byline: JOHN AVISON

ON this day in 1968, the first decimal coins went into circulation in the UK. The idea was to operate decimal and pre-decimal systems for a time to give people time to familiarise themselves with the new currency.

The decimal changeover day was February 15, 1971, when pounds, shillings and pence were no longer legal tender.

The five new pence and ten new pence coins operated alongside the shilling and the florin, and had the same value, size and weight - which in itself caused initial confusion to shoppers, many of whom refused to take them.

There was further misunderstanding over the value of a penny. Many thought the five new penny coin was worth five old pence - when it was in fact worth a shilling, or 12 old pence.

Others, though, took the new money in their stride.

One supermarket manager was optimistic about his customers' attitudes to the changeover. "I think they've more or less adjusted right away," he said. "I think, though, they tend to regard them as shilling and two-shilling pieces rather than five and ten pence at this time - I think this will take longer." He added that it would be another six months before price tags changed to reflect the new currency, warning of 'absolute chaos' if the change happened overnight. About 15million 10p coins and 20million 5p coins were issued to begin with - a small fraction of the number of shillings and florins in circulation. The conversion to decimal currency continued gradually over the next three years. The 50p coin was next to be released, replacing the ten shilling note in 1969.

On February 15, 1971 the centuries-old tradition of using 12 pence to the shilling, and 20 shillings to the pound, was replaced by the new system of 100 new pence to the pound. The term 'new penny' was dropped in 1982, on the grounds that the decimal pennies were not new any more.

If Britain stays in the EU it will have to face the possibility of adopting the euro.

So far the government has held back, although 12 other European countries adopted the currency on January 1, 2002. ? A POLICE officer's baton took the life of teacher Blair Peach this day in 1979 during an anti-National Front demonstration in Southall, London.

Mr Peach, 33, died from head injuries after a bloody battle broke out between police and demonstrators. The fighting began when thousands of protesters gathered to demonstrate against a National Front campaign meeting.

The extreme right-wing organisation had chosen Southall Town Hall to hold its St George's Day election meeting. The area has one of the country's biggest Asian communities. Police had sealed off the area, and anti-racism demonstrators trying to make their way to the town hall were blocked. In the confrontation that followed, more than 40 people, including 21 police, were injured, and 300 were arrested. Bricks and bottles were hurled at police. Among the demonstrators was Blair Peach, a New Zealand-born member of the Anti-Nazi League. A teacher for special needs children in east London, he was a committed anti-racism activist.

During an incident in a side street 100 yards from the town hall, he was seriously injured and collapsed, blood running down his face from serious head injuries. He died later in hospital.

Witnesses said his injuries were caused by police baton blows. Martin Gerrald, one of the protestors, was near Mr Peach at the time.

"Mr Peach was hit twice in the head with police truncheons and left unconscious," he said. "The police were wielding truncheons and riot shields. It was a case of the boot just going in - there was no attempt to arrest anybody."

Another witness, 24-year-old Parminder Atwal, took the injured teacher into his house and called an ambulance. He said: "I saw a policeman hit a man on the head as he sat on the pavement. The man tried to get up, fell back and then reeled across the road to my house." The Anti-Nazi League claimed Mr Peach bore the brunt of a 'brutal' and 'excessively violent' police baton charge.

No police officer has ever been charged with the attack on Blair Peach, although 11 eyewitnesses reported seeing him struck by police.

An internal Metropolitan Police inquiry began on the day after his death, headed by Commander John Cass, but was not made public at the time. The inquest recorded a verdict of death by misadventure. The verdict was greeted with dismay, and 79 MPs called for a public inquiry into the case. The request was turned down. The Peach family gained access to parts of the Cass report in 1986. It named six officers, and in 1989 the Metropolitan Police reached an out-of-court settlement with Mr Peach's brother.

Celia Stubbs, Mr Peach's partner at the time of the Southall riots, continued to campaign for a public investigation into his death.

In April 2010, the police finally released details of the Cass report. Although names of the officers involved were not revealed, it did confirm that an officer probably struck the fatal blow which killed Mr Peach. It also confirmed that no officers would face prosecution following advice from the Crown Prosecution Service.

CAPTION(S):

* GONE: Pre-decimal coinage that disappeared in 1971 * MISADVENTURE: Mourners carrying anti-racist New Zealander Blair Peach's coffin in Southall in 1979.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Apr 23, 2011
Words:888
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