David Oluwale – 40 years on

David Oluwale – 40 years on


Written by: Harmit Athwal

This week marks the fortieth anniversary of the death of David Oluwale at the hands of police officers in Leeds.

Forty years ago, the body of David Oluwale was pulled from the River Aire in Leeds on 4 May 1969, after a sustained campaign by two police officers, who were convicted two years later for a series of assaults on David.

His death is significant for those who have been affected by a death in custody, as it is the only Black death in custody[1] where there has been a successful prosecution.

Interest in David Oluwale has been re-ignited following the publication of a book by Kester Aspden and more recently a play based on the book. The book was written from material released in the National Archive and the original title, Nationality: Wog, was taken from police charge sheets at the time, where David’s nationality had been scrubbed out and the insult ‘wog’ inserted instead.

Unfortunately, David has probably received more attention in death than life. But the nature of his cruel death at the hands of police officers is indicative of an enduring callousness. His death, in 1969, may seem a long time ago and we assume things have changed, but have they? The recent death of Ian Tomlinson and subsequent video footage and pictures released of the police manhandling (at best) or violent assault (at worst) may have opened many people’s eyes to the violence of police today. Tomlinson’s death is not an isolated incident. You only have to examine the circumstances surrounding Black deaths in custody in the last 20 years to realise that violent deaths at the hands of the police are not uncommon.

Not allowing us to forget outrages like the death of David Oluwale is part and parcel of holding the state to account and showing the need to guard against the guardians.

Related links

Other Black deaths in custody

Injustice – a film by Migrant Media



Read a review of the The Hounding of David Oluwale by Kester Aspden

David Oluwale – memorial appeal

Read a review of the play on David Oluwale

A nice judge on a good day: immigration bail and the right to liberty, Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID), July 2010. If you would like hard copy of the report please email: biduk.adeline@googlemail.com, otherwise download a pdf from the link below.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

2 thoughts on “David Oluwale – 40 years on

  1. Just wanted to say thankyou to Frances and keep writing on these issues because the minute I see your name I know I am in for an informative read! I always read your posts wit much interest, Many Thanks Jacqui

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