Remembering Oluwale

Max Farrar (@maxfarrar) attends REMEMBERING OLUWALE

23rd January 2013 …

In sub-zero temperature next to the River Aire in the centre of Leeds, an awe-inspiring, open-air event commemorated David Oluwale, the Nigerian immigrant found drowned in that River in 1969 [on 23rd January]. Conceived and directed by Sue Ball, the independent arts producer, about 80 participants were led onto the site by Chijioke John Ojukwu, of the Nigerian Community Leeds.

Amongst them appeared the Baggage Handlers, a group of writers living with mental health distress, who performed their poem-play ‘Aire – A spoken word memorial to David Oluwale’, complete with police cordon tape, sirens and flashing blue lights. Co-facilitated by Rommi Smith, the poet and writer, the Baggage Handlers reminded us of the capacity people have to survive and create, despite the odds.

Two Leeds police officers were acquitted of killing David Oluwale, but imprisoned for assaulting him, at a trial in Leeds in 1971 which became a cause celebre among people of African descent and their white supporters. Books by Caryl Phillips and Kester Aspden published in 2007 inspired the formation of the David Oluwale Memorial Association.

An indication of the change of heart among police in Leeds since those days was the presence of Assistant Chief Constable Mark Milson, who has backed the Association from the start, at the event. Poignantly, Sergeant Carl Galvin was also there. It was his father Gary, who as a 19 year old police cadet based at the notorious Milgarth station in the centre of Leeds, blew the whistle when Oluwale’s body was found in the River Aire. Risking – and receiving – massive hostility from fellow officers, Gary Galvin reported the attacks on David he had witnessed, and heard about, by Inspector Ellerker and Sergeant Kitching.

Corinne Silva’s film responding to David’s life and death, ‘Wandering Abroad’, was projected onto the gable-end of the site on Water Lane which will become the Memorial garden for David. The film meditated on the river itself, with shots of both de-industrialised Leeds – the monumental empty buildings beside the river downstream – and the shiny new Leeds of offices and restaurants now lining the river in the city centre. Interspersed with interviews which said more about David, and about the improvements the city has achieved, the film spoke hauntingly to the Baggage Handlers’ performance.

After a short the interval when Nigerian food was handed out, the event continued with a collective work by the astonishing Leeds Young Authors, led by Khadijah Ibrahiim, whose grandfather was among those who protested after David’s death. About 15 young people of all ethnicities, ranging from about 12 to 16 years old, recited their own poetic response to David’s story.

Cllr Anne Castle, Lord Mayor of Leeds, told the audience that she worked in the very building used as a screen for the film at the time of David’s death and had often wondered if she had failed to notice David as he tramped the city’s streets and slept in its doorways. “It’s a blot on the city’s history,” she said, as she urged everyone to help in the efforts to support those who remain marginalised and excluded in the city.

As Athaliah Durrant said after the event, “Yes, it was really cold, but it was all the better for that – it made you think of what it must be like for the people still sleeping rough or searching for shelter today in the centre of Leeds. Being by the river close to where David died, listening to those words and seeing the film really brought these issues home to me in the most powerful way.”

More of the David Oluwale Memorial Association here rememberoluwale


  1. Why remember David Oluwale? Neither this article nor the website says why this particular sad and unfortunate case from over 40 years ago should be brought back into public consciousness now. What specifically are we meant to be reminded of?

    1. Hi Paul – well, the idea is that people who are interested will go to the rememberoluwale website and work out for themselves what is important about this story. The quotes from the Lord Mayor and Athaliah Durrant in my article above give some hints of why this tragedy raises important issues for us to think about today in Leeds. People might even think that the references to the police – those who hounded David, the young man who blew the whistle, his son and his boss attending our event last week also give us something to think about policing the city today, and yesterday. This is the idea behind the David Oluwale Memorial Association: let us think about our history, and let’s think about what can be done today to make Leeds a safe and welcoming place for all, regardless of status. Thanks for asking the question yourself! Best wishes, Max

    2. Hi Paul,

      I think that it is important to remember the Oluwale case for two immediate reasons:

      – the first is that brutality by the police, including deaths at police hands or in police custody remain a concern in the contemporary UK (see:

      > The second, and related point, is that the Oluwale case reminds us of the history of institutional racism in the police force which, as evidenced by the Macpherson report (
      and, more recently, by a spate of complaints against the Met and other forces – including the accusation that the fact stop and search is overwhelming targeted at young black men suggests racsim on the part of the police – is not yet consigned to history. (see for example:,

      Of course we should be talking about these things, and the long shadow of their existence (of which the Oluwale case is part), if we are interested in reflecting on our society and addressing the root causes of injsutices past and present.

  2. Paul, having seen both the play, The Hounding of David Oluwale, and read the book on which its based, I think there’s a lot to remember. His treatment speaks volumes about our city in the 60/70s – about immigration, race, mental health, the police and justice. Quite apart from the poignancy of remembering a lost, unloved soul who was rejected and abused by the city to which he came, it acts as a reminder of how far we have come on all these issues – and how far we have yet to go.

    1. So basically the death of someone from over 40 years ago is being used as a guilt tripping and awareness raising exercise aimed at the entire city of Leeds.

      1. I appreciate that as the deliberate provacateur of Leeds Salon, Paul you like to get people thinking about how/what they communicate. On this occasion I would suggest that those who don’t know you, and the interesting events you put on, or the way you conduct them, may not perceive your spirit on inquiry in your comments/questions. I don’t think this is a guilt tripping memorial, and does make you consider the stories not told. The stuff that we airbrush. The uncomfortable truths, the myths, the silences.

        I may not even visit the site, but I’d like to consider respectfully why it matters to those who wanted to commemorate David.

        If your intent is to get people talking, perhaps you should consider the way in which you frame your response. Unless you want to turn this conversation into something about your point of view.

  3. Emma

    Thank you for your advice, but I always carefully consider the way I frame my responses, which in this case was designed to be critical of comments suggesting that ‘the city’ of Leeds had ‘rejected’ and ‘abused’ this individual, implying some collective guilt for his death.

    Funny enough, my comments also represents my point of view, as everyone else’s represent theirs. And my comments are clearly about the campaign and what’s been written. It seems that in your use of the term ‘deliberate provocateur’ and your last line that’s it’s you who ‘want to turn this conversation into something about [my] point of view’. My comments are always directed to the issue.

    As for how people perceive what I say, well that’s up to them and doesn’t need you to explain that to them.


  4. Paul, I believe that, in a way, the city did collectively reject Oluwale and his problems back then. I don’t think that implies collective guilt, nor should it. But it does give us cause to reflect on how and why Oluwale was let down.

    The novelist David Peace argues that crimes and our collective response to them are a mirror on the values of the time and place. He was talking about the Yorkshire Ripper and the flawed manhunt for Sutcliffe. But that argument can also be made about the David Oluwale story.

    I don’t quite understand what your argument with the Oluwale memorial is. You say ‘awareness raising exercise’ like you think that’s a bad thing or some sort of political correctness exercise. Is that what you’re implying this is? Because I think it’s quite the opposite. I think it’s thoughtful, humane and relevant and it makes us think about our city and our history.

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