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David Oluwale

First recorded Black death in police custody

visit websiteCourtesy of Blaqfair - written by John Leider
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Born in Lagos, Nigeria, on 8th September 1930, David Oluwale is the first of 1000′s of Black people to die in police custody in Britain.  On 16th August 1949, David stows away on board the Temple Star from Nigeria en route to Britain. He is discovered during the voyage.

On arrival in Britain, he spends 28 days in prison, “the price of a ticket from Lagos.”  David is a Yoruba. An ambitious young man, he aims to study engineering once he is settled in Britain.

David settles in Leeds, a northern English industrial city. He experiences the usual difficulties Black immigrants to Britain have in finding accommodation.  He finds work at West Yorkshire Foundries, a local brickworks.

At work he is noted for reading “educated” newspapers.  David is at home in the local Black community. He goes to dances. He settles down with Gladys and the couple has two children.

The police are the chief source of hassle for Blacks in Leeds. Until its repeal in 1981, section 4 of The Vagrancy Act 1824, empowers the police to stop anyone they suspect (sus) of committing an offence. The “sus” law is the weapon of choice used by police to harass Blacks. They stop David regularly.

In 1953, David is arrested during a police raid on a nightclub. The police charge him with assaulting and obstructing an officer. They tell him if he pleas guilty to the charges he will get bail. Otherwise he will be remanded in custody until his trial. He agrees.  At his trial in April, the magistrate sentences David to three months in prison.

In June, David is discharged from prison to a psychiatric hospital where he is to stay for the next 8 years. He is 22 years old.  Friends are confused about what happened to David in prison to drive him insane. How can a man be sane enough to stand trial in April and be insane in June?

In 1959, David is released from hospital. By this time the relationship with Gladys is finished.  David is a vagrant.  The police and local racist thugs beat him often.  Two policemen in particular, inspector Geoffrey Ellerker and Sergeant Kenneth Kitching, make it their to business to beat and abuse David. They would often charge him with wounding and obstructing for which he receives prison sentences.

Within a month of being released from prison, David is arrested, charged and convicted of maliciously wounding a police officer. The magistrate sentences him to three months in prison. David is sent to prison repeatedly over the years.  In 1965, David is committed to a psychiatric hospital.

On his release, Ellerker and Kitching intensify their harassment of him. On one occasion, after having repeatedly kicked him in his testicle, they take him to a remote pub and left him there at 4.40 a.m.

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