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David Oluwale plaque: hate crime investigation launched into theft of Leeds plaque hours after it was unveiled

The plaque in memory of David Oluwale disappeared just hours after it was unveiled in Leeds

A hate crime investigation has been launched after a plaque which was put up to commemorate the life of a Nigerian man who was harassed by police before his death in 1969 was stolen hours after being unveiled.

Community groups have expressed their anger and upset over the theft of the blue plaque which was put up in Leeds to honour the life and legacy of David Oluwale, who was found dead in 1969 after being chased towards the River Aire by two police officers.

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Around 200 people gathered yesterday (25 April) as the blue plaque, commissioned by Leeds Civic Trust, was unveiled by author and academic, Caryl Philips.

The plaque had been placed next to Leeds Bridge, and near to the still-under-construction David Oluwale bridge, which connects Sovereign Street and Water Lane across the River Aire.

Mr Philips, whose words are quoted on the plaque, is a founding patron of the David Oluwale Memorial Association (DOMA).

The inscription on the plaque reads: “David Oluwale. A British citizen, he came to Leeds from Nigeria in 1949 in search of a better life.”

“Hounded to his death near Leeds Bridge, two policemen were imprisoned for their crimes.

“‘The river tried to carry you away, but you remain with us in Leeds’ Caryl Philips.”

Both the bridge and plaque honouring Mr Oluwale came about through years of persistent campaigning by DOMA and others who were determined not to allow the city to ignore a dark episode in its past.

Those who were there described it as a moving event, with speeches, poetry and music, which brought the people of the city together.

However, police believe that by 10.30pm, within a few hours of the event finishing, vandals had set about removing the blue plaque, in what is being treated as a hate crime.

According to Leeds Civic Trust, 186 plaques just like the one which bore David Oluwale’s name have been put up over the last 35 years - this is the first one to be removed in this way.

‘Shame on our city’

The community has responded with anger and shock, but also resilience to the incident.

The Leeds Civic Trust described the crime as “abhorrent and cowardly”, adding that those responsible “bring shame on our city”, but said that they “will not be deterred from commemorating David’s life and legacy”.

Responding to news of the theft on Twitter, DOMA wrote: “It’s appalling, but it demonstrates their weakness. Racist graffiti, theft, and criminal damage are the tools of people with no following, no solutions, motivated only by malice.”

Police say that the timing of the crime, so soon after the plaque was unveiled, suggests this was a “deliberately targeted act”.

Leeds District Commander, Chief Superintendent Damien Miller, said the force is treating the incident “very seriously” and confirmed that detectives from Leeds District CID are carrying out “extensive enquiries” to identify “who is responsible and to locate and recover the plaque”.

He said: “Leeds Bridge is in a busy area in the heart of the city centre and we would urge anyone who witnessed any suspicious activity or who has any information that could assist the investigation to contact us immediately.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact Leeds District CID via 101 quoting crime reference 13220222118 or online via www.westyorkshire.police.uk/101livechat

NationalWorld has spoken to staff at a number of premises near to the site where the plaque was stolen from.

Police have received CCTV footage from at least one premises nearby, although at midday today (26 April) they had not yet contacted staff at a local bar which remained open until around 1am.

Some of the apparent CCTV cameras in the immediate vicinity of the incident are in fact ‘dud’ cameras, NationalWorld has established.

Who was David Oluwale?

David Oluwale arrived in the UK as a citizen of the British Empire, travelling as a stowaway on a ship from Lagos, Nigeria, which arrived in Hull in 1949.

In April 1969, after prolonged troubles with the police, Mr Oluwale was attacked by two officers and beaten in a busy area of Leeds city centre.

Two witnesses separately saw two officers chasing a man toward the River Aire, with one of them reporting seeing two police officers beat the man viciously before pushing his body into the river.

The following month Mr Oluwale’s body was recovered from the River Aire.

These officers, Inspector Geoffrey Ellerker and Sergeant Kenneth Kitching, would eventually be found guilty of a number of assaults on Mr Oluwale in a 1971 trial which came about as a result of concerns raised by other officers.

However, a judge who was reported to have links with one of the officers in question, found them not guilty of manslaughter.