In 1969, the body of David Oluwale, a Nigerian immigrant, was pulled from the River Aire in Leeds. The event attracted little attention at the time, but Kester Aspden’s attempt to trace the circumstances behind Oluwale’s death reveals a tale of brutal racism.
Oluwale arrived from Lagos in 1949 and fell into a life of vagrancy, punctuated by bouts of mental illness and run-ins with the law. His death was put under the spotlight when a young officer in Leeds police force found evidence of a concerted campaign against Oluwale by two senior officers. On official charge sheets, Oluwale’s nationality was simply denoted as “wog”. A Scotland Yard investigator sent to look into the case concluded that the policemen had hounded Oluwale, eventually chasing him to the river and his death. The pair were convicted of assault.
The book tracks Oluwale’s life, before concentrating on the events that led directly to his death. Although the tight focus on Leeds can alienate readers unfamiliar with the city, and the detail can be overbearing, Aspden’s meticulous work does justice to a largely forgotten case. He avoids being overly sentimental, carefully examining the context of immigration, British attitudes and police culture at the time.