Songs, sadness and inspiration at Killingbeck Cemetery as Leeds remembers David Oluwale

Five decades after his body was pulled from the River Aire, the life and desperately sad death of David Oluwale remains a stain on the good name of Leeds.

Thursday, 18th April 2019, 4:53 pm
Updated Thursday, 18th April 2019, 4:59 pm
David Oluwale.

David had moved to England from his native Nigeria in search of a better existence, but instead ended up homeless and beset by mental illness, a target for a sustained campaign of brutal treatment by officers from Leeds City Police.

He was just 38 when he was found dead in the Aire at Knostrop Cut, near the city centre, on May 4, 1969, having last been seen on April 18 being chased by the police towards the river.

David Oluwale.

Now, in a sign of how the city has moved on from those dark days, a programme of cultural and memorial events is taking place to mark the 50th anniversary of David's death.

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And today, many of Leeds's great and good came together for a remembrance ceremony at his grave in Killingbeck Cemetery, 50 years to the day since that fateful last sighting near the Aire.

The event was led by former Leeds West MP John Battle, chair of the David Oluwale Memorial Association (DOMA), who told those gathered to pay their respects that David had been a victim of a "toxic triad" of mental illness, homelessness and racism.

He said: "David's life should inspire us, not to mourn, but to [take] action personally, socially, culturally and politically and build a Leeds, our city, in which every person is respected and included."

David Oluwale's grave in Killingbeck Cemetery.

Today's event also featured a number of songs from internationally-acclaimed musician Juwon Ogungbe and Esther Leigh-Solaru, from the Nigerian Community Leeds (NCL) charity.

NCL chair Victoria Ajayi was among the speakers, telling her fellow attendees: "No one, due to their unfortunate circumstances, should end up in destitution, incarceration or [suffer] untimely death.

"We have come a long way from the 1960s, but we still have some way to go to ensure that the issues that led to the untimely and tragic death of Mr Oluwale never go unchallenged again."

A poem called He Remains was read by Chérie Taylor Battiste, while the gathering also heard from Chief Supt Steve Cotter, West Yorkshire Police's district commander for Leeds.

Attendees at the David Oluwale commemoration event.

He was joined by Carl Galvin, a detective superintendent with West Yorkshire Police who joined the force after deciding to follow the same career as his late father, Gary.

As a young police cadet, Gary bravely risked alienation from his colleagues when, following David's death, he told senior officers how the Nigerian had suffered a campaign of violence and intimidation at the hands of Insp Geoffrey Ellerker and Sgt Kenneth Kitching.

His whistle-blowing prompted a full investigation and Ellerker and Kitching were eventually charged with manslaughter, perjury and grievous bodily harm.

They were cleared of those charges in 1971 but convicted of assaulting David, with Ellerker being jailed for three years and Kitching for 27 months.

A poem is read at today's David Oluwale memorial event.

Det Supt Galvin was one of the speakers at today's graveside commemoration and, before the event, told the YEP: "I am immensely proud of what my father did.

"It was something that I didn't find out about until I was in the police and my father, who passed away in 2002, was in the last few months of his life when he told me about what had happened in the late Sixties and early Seventies and what he had done.

"He actually had a scrapbook for me of all of the newspaper cuttings and all of the letters of support he had got from all over the world.

"Today is about remembering and thinking how far forward the city has come in terms of its inclusion and its communities.

"What I am absolutely convinced about is that with the services and partnerships that are in place, and the way in which all the communities integrate in Leeds, it would be very, very difficult for something like this to happen again because we are far more cohesive and in a far better place than we were then."

Speaking afterwards, DOMA secretary Dr Max Farrar told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "This has been a profound event and I feel deeply moved.

David Oluwale Memorial Association chair and former Leeds West MP John Battle.

"It was extraordinarily poignant to commemorate David in this way, in this place.

"The priest alone was at his burial, but here we have 40 or 50 people from all over Leeds and beyond who have come specially to remember this man.

"Every one of the words that were expressed by the various speakers was of such significance and such importance for helping Leeds move forward.

"Leeds has changed, it continues to change, we are here to make Leeds a better place."

Other events marking the 50th anniversary of David's death include a screening of three short films at Leeds Beckett University next Tuesday evening and an exhibition entitled For Oluwale II that is running at Leeds's Tetley arts venue until June 2.

Esther Leigh-Solaru sings at today's memorial event.
West Yorkshire Police's Det Supt Carl Galvin.