David Oluwale was born around 1930 in Lagos, Nigeria and died in Leeds, England, in 1969. He was a British citizen and a migrant. David lived his adult life in Leeds, and he died there, but he also spent some time in Hull, Bradford, Preston, Sheffield and London.
David came from Nigeria in the 1960s with hopes of becoming an engineer but died at the age of 38 after persistent harassment by West Yorkshire police officers. The subsequent court case made his name synonymous with institutional racism.
When he was not able to secure a place as a student, Oluwale worked as a tailor, foundry worker and slaughterhouse labourer before being sectioned and institutionalised for eight years. When he emerged he became destitute and homeless on the streets of Leeds, where he was regularly harassed by police officers and eventually his body was found in the River Aire in 1969 after witnesses saw him being chased by officers.
His case is one of the most notorious in the history of British policing and led to two police officers being found guilty of assault, a landmark ruling that is still held up by campaigners as the last time an officer was successfully convicted after a death in police custody. The judge had directed manslaughter charges to be dropped.
Subject is not recorded in this country.’ That was the reply when the police investigators in Leeds asked their colleagues in Nigeria in 1970 to tell them all they knew about David Oluwale. Like so many low-income people, David Oluwale was for a while invisible. To reverse this ‘un-recording’ is one of the aims of the RememberOluwale charity.
He was born in Lagos, Nigeria. We do not even know for sure what was the date of his birth. The records we have show, variously, 8th August 1926, 8th August 1929, 30th August 1930 and 8th September 1931.
Officials in Leeds think he was aged 38 when he died, so perhaps we can assume he was born in 1930 or 1931. Because Nigeria was a British colony in 1949, when he set sail for England, David was a British citizen.
He lived with his family at 4 Tokunbo Street in the heart of the Brazilian Quarter in Lagos. His mother was named Alice. His father worked in the fishing trade and is said to have died in 1937. His uncle might have owned the Ilojo bar in Tinubu Square.
Leeds’ psychiatric nurse David Odamo stated that he had helped David write letters from High Royds hospital to his father, whom he said was a chief at Ikole-Ekiti in Western Nigeria. David gave David Sature Oluwuala as his next of kin – perhaps that was his father’s name?
He left school at 14, after attending Christian Mission schools in Lagos. Leeds police records ascribe various religions to David: Church of England, Baptist, Methodist and Muslim. Among his meagre possessions at the time of his death was a set of Catholic rosary beads. He was buried in a pauper’s grave in Leeds in 1969 by a Catholic priest.
As a citizen, David was able to obtain a British Travel Certificate. He was 18 or 19 when he stowed away on the Motor Vessel Temple Bar, which left the Apapa Wharfe in Lagos on 16th August 1949.
He didn’t buy a ticket because he was too poor. Much later, his friend Gabriel Adams told Max Farrar that he and David earned a few pence picking up golf balls at the colonial golf club in Lagos. There was no work, and no prospect of work, Gabriel said. They left for England full of hope for a better future.
According to the prison record in England, in 1949 he was aged 19, 5 feet 3.5 inches high, between 9 and 10 stone in weight. Later records show him as 5’5” and muscular.
On 3rd September 1949 the MV Temple Bar docked in Hull, in east Yorkshire in the north of England. David disembarked and was arrested under the Merchant Shipping Act for stowing away. With three friends he had crept on board and hidden in the cargo hold. They were discovered a few days into the voyage.
His possession of a British Travel Certificate meant he and his fellow stowaways had to be allowed entry to Britain. (This rule was withdrawn in September of 1949.) He was sentenced by Magistrate J H Tarbitten at Hull Police Court to 28 days in Armley Jail, Leeds. He was treated for gonorrhoea.
September 1962 to March 1963: David was back in Hull in 1962, spending six months in Hull prison for malicious wounding of a police officer in Leeds.
Between 1949 and 1953, David was mainly living and working in Leeds. The exact dates of each job and residence aren’t known. He had lots of friends among the small number of West Africans in Leeds during this time. (Statistics show that there were 45 Black people from the continent of Africa in Leeds in 1951.)
Armley Jail, Leeds 12. David’s first stop in Leeds was Armley Jail. After a month in prison (because he hadn’t paid for a ticket on the MV Temple Bar) he emerged into the city on 3rd October 1949.
Well Close Place, Leeds 2. David’s first address was 2 Well Close Place (in Little London, Leeds).
Grove Terrace (no longer on the map, thought to be where the Merrion Centre is today). Then he moved to 12 Grove Terrace, with Abbey Sowe, Steve Oke, Speedy Acquaye (later in Georgie Fame’s band), Frank Morgan, ‘Widey’ Williams, Ademola Johnston and Sheila (sometimes Sheba) Savage. He had a close friend named Lucky Akanidere. He also became friendly with Christmas Ogbonson.
After six months in Bradford, David was back to Leeds, where he worked as a hod carrier on a building site and then at the Public Abattoir and Wholesale Meat Market (next to Kirkgate Market in the city centre).
In the autumn 1951 he returned to Leeds after a period in Sheffield. He worked at the Abattoir near Kirkgate Market in Leeds city centre.
Belle Vue Road, Leeds 3. He lived at 175 Belle Vue Road in the Hyde Park area of Leeds for some time. In 1952 David was living at 209 Belle Vue Rd – on the electoral roll his name is listed as Olu Davies. He lived there with Widey, Isiaka Harding (nicknamed Tex) and Sunday Daniel (both from Lagos).
Leeds City Centre. His social life circulated mainly around the Mecca Ballroom (now Reiss in the Victoria Quarter) and the King Edward Hotel (now the Halifax) in King Edward Street, in the city centre.
It is believed that he lived with a white woman called Gladys at 209 Belle Vue Rd, Hyde Park, and at 4 Springfield Place, Hunslet, but she has never been traced.
His friend Christmas Ogbonson told Kester Aspden that David was well liked, ‘A quiet man and he was always happy and smiling . . . not aggressive and would not harm anybody.’ His friend Abbey Sowe, from The Gambia remembered him as ‘A very happy individual and a good conversationalist, he was always making jokes and could be the life of the party’. Gayb Adams confirms this. He was not a big drinker, but he enjoyed cannabis. He loved American music and film. ‘He was always wanting to be like a Yank,’ said Gayb. His nickname was Yankee.
King Edward Street, city centre. On 25th April 1953, PC Maurice Roberts arrested David at 11.20pm in King Edward Street. He was charged with disorderly conduct, assault on police and damaging a police uniform. There had been an argument over a bill at the King Edward Hotel. His friends said he was hit by a policeman’s truncheon.
Armley Jail, Leeds 12. April to June 1953: David spent two months in Armley Jail.
St James’ Hospital, Leeds 9. On 6th June 1953, David was admitted to St James’ Hospital, Leeds, on a 14 day court order. Psychiatrist Michael Leahy recorded that David appeared ‘Apprehensive, noisy and frightened without cause’. Five days later he described him as loud, excitable and terrified. He said David was ‘Childish and wept when talking of his fears’.
Menston, Leeds 29. On 11th June 1953 David was taken to Menston Asylum, Leeds. He was diagnosed as schizophrenic and his treatment included electro-convulsive therapy and largactyl. He was incarcerated there for the next eight years.
Belle Vue Road In April 1961 David was released from Menston hospital and went back to live at 209 Belle Vue Road. He worked as a labourer at Storey, Evans & Co (possibly in Bradford).
West Yorkshire Foundry, Leeds 10. Then David got another labouring job, this time at West Yorkshire Foundry in Leeds. He was sacked soon afterwards for fighting with another worker.
In September 1962, David was back in Leeds after a spell in Sheffield and London. His African friends were married by then. Slim and Tex saw him from time to time and described him as nervous, twitchy, slow, shuffling, laughing for no reason – ‘gone simple’ because of the blow to his head by a police truncheon in King Edward, they said. The ECT and largactyl in Menston no doubt contributed to his plight.
North Street, Leeds 2. In the 1960s David was seen sleeping in the ‘Jews Park’, or ‘Sheeney Park’ or ‘Reubens Park’ on North Street, close to the city centre. It acquired these hostile titles because it was much used by the East European Jews who had been refugees in Leeds from the 1870s and had started working (and in some cases living) around North Street in the early 1900s. It is now called Lovell Park. It was first landscaped in 1888.
Albion Street, city centre. In September 1962 PC Dave Stanton found David sleeping in the doorway of Maple, Denby and Spinks’ Furniture shop on Albion Street. A few weeks later, asked why he wasn’t sleeping at St George’s Crypt, the shelter for the homeless in Leeds, he told PC Stanton that they gave him a hard time there because of his colour.
Woodhouse Moor, Leeds 2. On 21st September 1962 David was arrested by PC Harold Robinson on Woodhouse Moor after almost biting off the finger of the park ranger. He was sentenced to six months for malicious wounding. He was sent to Hull prison.
Chapeltown, Leeds 7. In 1963 he lived at 15 Mexborough Avenue, in Chapeltown, for several months.
St Alban’s Place, Leeds 2. Between 1964 and 1967 David squatted on and off at 12 St Alban’s Place (close to the Merrion Centre). His friend Abbey Sowe’s thriving ceramics business was nearby and Abbey did his best to support David.
Well Close Place, Leeds 2. Between June and October 1964 David was living in Faith Lodge, 2 Well Close Place (an address he’d used in 1949). This was a hostel for ex-alcoholics, ex-mental patients and ex-convicts, linked to St George’s Crypt. Donald Paterson, the warden, described him as ‘A timid little man who had language difficulties and was simple-minded’.
St Alban’s Place, Leeds 2. In October 1964 David was jailed for being drunk and disorderly. On discharge he went back to squat at 12 St Alban’s Place.
In November 1965 he was charged with malicious wounding of two policemen who caught him entering 12 St Alban’s Place.
High Royds Hospital, Menston, Leeds 29. On 11th November 1965 he was detained under Sn. 60 of the Mental Health Act 1959 and placed in High Royds Hospital. (Menston Asylum had been re-named High Roads in 1963.) Dr. Carty said he soon settled down, becoming less aggressive and overactive, but remained elated, garrulous and ‘somewhat childish’. He was there for 18 months.
On 27 April 1967 he was discharged from High Royds. Dr. Carty said he was quiet and co-operative, his hallucinations had faded and his ‘persecutory ideas’ had mainly gone.
In city centre doorways. From 1967 to 1969 David slept in the doorway of John Peter’s shop in Lands Lane, the Bridal House on the Headrow, Eve Brown’s on Kirkgate, Peter’s ‘Sew and Save’ in Thornton’s Arcade, all in the city centre. Further locations are listed below.
Armley, Leeds 12 September 1967: David was back in Armley Prison, Leeds.
Calls. From 17th April to 4th July 1968, David was accommodated at the Church Army Hostel in the Calls, city centre.
Bramhope, Leeds 16.
On 7th August 1968 police Inspector Ellerker and Sergeant Kitching picked David up in the city centre and drove nearly six miles north, dumping him around 3am outside the Fox and Hounds pub in Bramhope. They told him to knock on the door and ask for a cup of tea.
Middleton Woods, Leeds 10.
On 11th August 1968, Ellerker and Kitching picked David up in the city centre and drove four miles south of the city centre, dumping him in Middleton Woods. They said he’d feel at home there, “in the jungle”.
But David always came back to the city centre.
A Leeds policeman called Alex Woolliams contacted novelist Caryl Phillips to say this:
“I saw him [David Oluwale] quite a lot. He never ran away from me. He wouldn’t enter into a conversation with a policeman, he wouldn’t talk. But he didn’t run away. Whereas, if he saw Ellerker and Kitching he would run, and he would shout. But he wouldn’t run from me.”
On 26 Jan 1969 David was arrested by Sgt Kitching in the city centre. He was sentenced to another 14 days in Armley prison.
Millgarth, city centre. When he was arrested, David was taken to the original Millgarth Police Station, in Millgath Street, off Eastgate, in the city centre. At the trial of Ellerker and Kitching, the two officers accused of his manslaughter, and of grievous and actually bodily harm on David, evidence was heard from various other police officers.
Here’s a sample of what was said:
“I have never seen a man crying so much and never utter a sound” as Kitching pushed his knee into David’s back at the charge counter. David, he said, was placid, far from violent; he was withdrawn and subdued.Phil Ratcliffe, Central Charge Officer
Hazel Ratcliffe, also a police officer, witnessed an attack on David on 26th January 1969.
He was punched to the ground and kicked so hard that he was “lifted a little”. “He was holding his private parts with both his hands and he was crying,”Hazel Ratcliffe, Police Officer
WPC Hazel Dolby, PC Ruddock and Sgt Frank Atkinson all described the brutal beating of David on several occasions by Ellerker and Kitching in Millgarth.
It was Police Cadet Gary Galvin who first suspected that Ellerker and Kitching were the instigators of David’s drowning in the River Aire. His fellow cadet Brian Topp had witnessed violence by Kitching against an arrested man and discussed this with Gary. Gary had heard rumours about David’s last encounter with Kitching and Ellerker (on 18.4.69). He told Sergeant MacLeod.
His son, Detective Inspector Carl Galvin, told Max Farrar that MacLeod told Gary to think it over before he took his suspicions any further. Gary thought it over, and told Inspector Jim Bass. Bass took it higher and enquiries by Detective Chief Inspector Len Shakeshaft then began. These are the honourable officers.
The British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare is creating a sculpture in memory of David Oluwale with the aim of cementing a “fitting legacy” for the Nigerian who drowned in the 1960s after harassment by police in Leeds.
Shonibare, who was nominated for the Turner prize in 2004 and is known for work that addresses identity and colonialism, said the sculpture would serve as a permanent “hopeful” memorial and a reminder of a dark chapter in the city’s history.
“It’s a fitting legacy to an ordinary man, who will no doubt leave an extraordinary legacy,” he said. “We have to honour him with this small event and hopefully, if people can learn about history, and the mistakes of history, they won’t repeat them.”
Shonibare said that after more than 40 years in the UK he found the unnecessary stopping and searching of young black men “relentless, annoying, and embarrassing”, and hoped the memorial would help remind people about where such treatment can lead.
“I think the memorial will keep that in people’s minds and remind people that we live in a multicultural society and diversity is important,” he said. “People are not actually asking for much: we’re asking for employment, and that you treat us equally. That’s all we’re asking for, I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
The sculpture is the latest project reflecting on the life of Oluwale, who was memorialised in a play created by Oladipo Agboluaje, performed at the Leeds Playhouse in 2009 and adapted from Kester Aspden’s book of the same name, The Hounding of David Oluwale.
The Shonibare piece is part of a development on a new park planned for Leeds city centre on the site of the former Tetley brewery. It will be unveiled in 2023 to coincide with Leeds’ wider city of culture year.
Source: the guardian.com, 5 January 2021