A blue plaque is to be unveiled today at a new bridge in Leeds in memory of a homeless Nigerian man more than fifty years after he was ‘hounded’ to death by racist police officers. The memorial follows a long campaign to recognise David Oluwale whose bruised and battered body was found drowned in the River Aire on May 4 1969. He was last seen two weeks earlier fleeing two police officers on 18 April 1969 and later found .
You can read about David Oluwale below. It comes from The First Miscarriage of Justice: the unreported and amazing case of Tony Stock (Waterside Press, 2014).
David Oluwale was born in Lagos in 1930, arrived in Hull as a stowaway on a cargo ship and was immediately sent to Armley Gaol for 28 days. He was sent to prison again for disorderly conduct where he suffered hallucinations and was labelled schizophrenic and transferred to the Pauper Lunatic Asylum at Menston near Otley, later called High Royds Hospital. He spent his final two years homeless in Leeds city centre, routinely mentally and physically abused by police officers Insp Geoffrey Ellerker and Sgt Kenneth Kitching. On the police charge sheets, in the nationality box, the word ‘British’ had been crossed out and replaced by ‘Wog’.
The hounding of David Oluwale
On May 4 1969, the body of a homeless Nigerian man was discovered bruised, battered and bloated in the river Aire, close to Leeds main sewage works. The coroner recorded a verdict of death by drowning. The loose change found in his pockets was put towards a cheap coffin and a pauper’s funeral. His body interred in a common grave shared with nine other vagrants.
Some 18 months later, the circumstances of that death became the focus of a criminal investigation. David Oluwale was only 19-years-of-age when he arrived in Hull in August 1949, a stowaway on a cargo ship called the Temple Star. The young man was soon to be disabused of any hopes of a better life. On his arrival, he was set to Armley Gaol for 28 days.
Leeds in the 1950s and 1970s was not the place to be if you were a young black immigrant, and David Oluwale was not well-equipped to deal with the hostility he faced. In 1953 he was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment for disorderly conduct and assaulting a police officer. In prison, it was reported that he suffered from hallucinations, was labelled schizophrenic and transferred to the Pauper Lunatic Asylum at Menston near Otley, later called High Royds Hospital. He was to spend eight years there. His hospital records were lost, but it was reported that Oluwale was heavily drugged and received electroconvulsive therapy. In 1961 Oluwale was released onto the streets a changed and damaged man with no job and no home. Seven years later and the police files record his first contact with Sergeant Kenneth Kitching and Inspector Geoffrey Ellerker of Leeds City Police.
In December 1970 his corpse was exhumed amidst allegations that two officers had effectively hounded him to his death. There was a 13 day trial in November 1971 presided over by Mr Justice Hinchcliffe, the same judge who heard the Tony Stock case. In his summing-up, the judge defended the role of the embattled Leeds City Police standing between the law-abiding people of West Yorkshire and the forces of ‘chaos’. ‘They do their best to enable people like you and me to sleep in our beds in safety,’ he told the court.
Hinchcliffe did nothing to hide his revulsion at the rough sleeping Nigerian and the ‘feelings of nausea [and] outrage at [his] shocking conduct’. The judge saw Oluwale as less than human, ‘a wild animal… a menace to society, a nuisance to the police, a frightening apparition to come across at night’.
The race relations campaigner Ron Phillips suspected from the off that the police were involved in Oluwale’s death. He spearheaded the campaign which led to the first conviction for a race hate crime. Phillips reported that, even after the jury convicted Inspector Ellerker of five charges of assault and Sergeant Kitching of four charges of assault on the dead Nigerian, the judge was more concerned ‘about the reputation of the police force despite the destruction of a human being’ (from ‘The Death of One Lame Darkie’, Ron Phillips in Race Today, January 1972). The most alarming feature of the case was that Ellerker and Kitching had (in the judge’s words) ‘brought disgrace on their wives and families and the police forces of this country’. ‘The verdict of the jury will add fuel to the fire of those who spend their time sneering at the police, and making rash criticisms of police officers,’ said Mr Justice Hinchcliffe.
Not everyone saw the Oluwale case that way.
A group of MPs led by Donald Kaberry, the Tory MP for Leeds North West, called on the Home Secretary to set up an inquiry. ‘Is Leeds city police force overripe for another Home Office investigation into its morale, discipline and efficiency?’ asked the Guardian.
The two Oluwale convictions brought the total of Leeds officers convicted to 12 in two years. By contrast, when the Home Secretary had an investigation into the force in 1954 ‘it was on the strength of only five convictions in the courts, three dismissals from the force and two forced resignations in two years.’
The paper listed the following roll-call of shame:
- February 1969: sergeant acting as coroner’s officer, given
suspended sentence of two years’ imprisonment for stealing from
bodies awaiting inquest;
- October 1969: Constable fined £25 for theft from supermarket;
- April 1970: Constable sent to prison for nine months for burglary;
- July 1970: Constable fined £50 for stealing from handbag of
policewoman at a police station;
- August 1970: five officers on charges arising from theft of car
accessories. Sergeant sent to prison for three years, one constable for 27 months, and another given a suspended sentence and fined £100. Two officers acquitted;
- August 1970: Constable sent to prison for nine months’ for indecent assaults on two boys and one girl;
- November 1970: Inspector Ellerker and a sergeant sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment for conspiracy to pervert justice;
- October 1971: Constable fined £50 for attempted bribery;
- November 1971: Ex-Inspector Ellerker sent to prison for three years and Sergeant Kitching 27 months for assaults on David Oluwale.
‘Any investigation ordered into the affairs of Leeds city police would need to look very closely into the morale and discipline at Millgrath Police Station,’ the Guardian concluded (‘Force with a record’, Guardian, November 25 1971). A year before the Oluwale trial, Ellerker was imprisoned for nine months at Leeds Assize. On Christmas Eve 1969 a 72-year-old woman called Minnie Wein had been mown down by an unmarked police car. Ellerker was one of two officers accused of covering up for a Superintendent Derek Holmes, known as ‘Big Red’.
The charges of misconduct against Ellerker and his brother officer related to them failing to administer a breath test to Big Red and failing to have properly checked the car to establish the position of the woman’s body. Ellerker claimed that the woman who died of her injuries had smelt of drink. Minnie Wein was a lifelong teetotaller.
According to Mr Justice Mocatta, the two young traffic police officers who were first on the scene were ‘so sickened’ by the shielding of Big Red that they spoke out to the Leeds coroner. ‘It is tragic that through a misguided sense of loyalty to another police officer you should have misconducted yourself as you did,’ Mocatta said, when sentencing. ‘I am well aware of your impeccable record.’
As a result of the growing scandal around Oluwale, the then Home Secretary Reginald Maudling set up an enquiry in the face of considerable local opposition. ‘I do not agree with the gaggle of politicians who are screaming for an inquiry even before the Oluwale trial ended,’ said Leeds Chief Constable, James Angus. ‘Let me assure you. I am perfectly satisfied that the morale of the forces has never been higher.’
Maudling received the report in 1972. A couple of days later the Yorkshire Evening Post castigated MPs for making political capital from the misadventures of two bad apples in a story about the Liberal Party claiming to be ‘extremely anxious to help the city police force get over it is undesirable image’.
In an editorial, the paper paid tribute to the Leeds police who had been ‘at pains to end their problems in public with commendable frankness’. ‘The Liberals are being unhelpful and even irresponsible to drag the police into the arena of a municipal election.’
History has shown that there was nothing commendable or frank about the behaviour of the Leeds police in relation to the Oluwale case. In fact it was soon to become a national scandal. This was largely as a result of a radio play Smiling David in 1974 by Jeremy Sandford who wrote Cathy Come Home and co-wrote Up the Junction.
The shocking details of the Oluwale case resonate over the years.
The case is revisited in detail by Kester Aspden in Nationality: Wog, The Hounding of David Oluwale (Jonathan Cape, 2007)which draws on police paperwork detailing the case declassified under the 30-year rule. The title is a reference to the 1969 police charge sheets where, in the nationality box, the word ‘British’ had been crossed out and replaced by ‘Wog’.
‘You won’t find anyone over the age of 45 who doesn’t remember it and they all speak of being absolutely chilled by it. Scared. Alarm bells ringing. An awful lot of people thought: “Oh hell, life in Britain”. Black activists in Chapeltown and one or two white supporters insured that David’s death was investigated and they attended the trial of Kitching and Ellerker. In the early 1970s the words ‘Remember Oluwale’ were painted on the wall on Chapeltown Road in huge white letters. I noticed every time I walked past. I’m sure David’s death and the trial had some impact not just on black people and white radicals, but on the city as a whole. The police were forced to think again, at least at senior levels. But it wasn’t till after the 1981 violent urban protests in Harehills and Chapeltown that things noticeably changed.’
Max Farrar, Chapel Town resident and campaigner – quoted in Nationality: Wog.
The David Oluwale Memorial Association was founded in 2012 with its aim ‘to educate the city of Leeds in coming to terms with its past, improving its care for those who remain marginalised, and to promote equality, diversity and racial harmony for our people’.
The Oluwale case provides an insight into the kind of police practices that were going on at Millgarth. ‘The only way these two [officers] would have been able to sustain this brutal campaign against Oluwale over a period of years was by the wholesale fixing of notebooks and station records which involved the complicity of other policemen,’ wrote Barry Cox in 1975. This ‘collusion was one of the most sinister features of the affair’, though he added that it should be remembered that it was one of the police’s own who blew the whistle.
Extract from The First Miscarriage of Justice: the unreported and amazing case of Tony Stock by Jon Robins (Waterside Press, 2014)