The first recorded black death in the UK following police contact
adapted from an original article by Blaqfair
Updates listed at the foot of this item
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Born in Lagos, Nigeria, it is believed on 8th September 1930, David Oluwale is the first of 1000’s of Black people to die following contact with the police 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 under the Merchant Shipping Act for stowing away , and was released in October 1949.
After spending some six months in Bradford David returned to Leeds where he worked as a hod carrier on a building site and then at the Public Abattoir and Wholesale Meat Market. He was also known to have spent some time working in Sheffield.
David finally settles in Leeds, a northern English industrial city. There he experiences the usual difficulties that black immigrants to Britain had in finding accommodation, but was in the most part liked by those that got to know him.
Over time David became friendly with Christmas Ogbonson who said; “David was well liked. A quiet man and he was always happy and smiling . . . not aggressive and would not harm anybody.” Abbey Sowe remembered him as “a very happy individual and a good conversationalist, he was always making jokes and could be the life of the party”.
Others said David was not a big drinker, but enjoyed cannabis. In his book Aspden writes “He couldn’t stand to be pushed around or ordered about. When provoked he was capable of violence, but those who knew him also testified to his eagerness to avoid trouble.”
Many claimed the police were the chief source of harassment for black people in Leeds. Until its repeal in 1981, section 4 of The Vagrancy Act 1824, empowered the police to stop anyone they suspect (sus) of committing an offence. The “sus” law was said to be the weapon of choice used by police to harass black and other immigrant communities. They stop David regularly.
In April 1953, David is arrested in King Edward Street, charged with disorderly conduct, assault on police and damaging a police uniform. He is jailed for two months. African friends said that an argument started over an unpaid bill at a café in or near King Edward Hotel. In the scuffle, David banged his head and was never the same again. A friend, Gayb says that he was hit with a police truncheon, and that blow “deranged him”.
In June, David is discharged from prison to Menston Asylum psychiatric hospital where he is to stay for the next 8 years. Friends were 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 November 1965 David is arrested, charged and convicted of maliciously wounding a police officer. The magistrate sentences him to three months in prison. During this term David was assessed by a doctor who found him to be ‘overactive, garrulous, aggressive, very paranoid about the police, and hearing threatening voices’. He was subsequently detained under Section 60 of the Mental Health Act 1959 at the High Royds Hospital.
In 1967, David is released from hospital. By this time the relationship with his partner, Gladys, is over and he is living as 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 business to beat and abuse David.
Kitching saw himself as a street cleaner, obsessed with removing rough sleepers from his sub-division – searching them out and giving them a kicking. Described by Sgt Dougie Carter as ‘hard and ruthless and untiring’ at harassing rough sleepers.
On one occasion they take him to a remote pub and left him there at 4.40am, on another David is put in a dustbin and rolled down one of the shopping arcades. On another occasion they take the injured David to Middleton Woods and abandoned him there at 3.30am. Witnesses testify to having seen Ellerker and Kitching urinating on David while he slept in the doorway of the Bridal House shop where he often sheltered.
April 16, 1969, is the last time David is seen alive. He is in the company of Ellerker and Kitching. They find him asleep in the doorway of the Bridal House shop at about 3am. Ellerker and Kitching allegedly attack him with their truncheons.