Detectives have launched a hate crime investigation after a blue plaque commemorating David Oluwale, a British-Nigerian man who died in 1969 after being harassed by police, was stolen within hours after being unveiled on Leeds Bridge.
An event to mark the installation of the plaque, attended by the leader of Leeds city council, was held between 5pm and 7pm on Monday and by 10pm it had been taken. The theft followed racist graffiti being daubed on the office of Leeds Civic Trust – which installs blue plaques in the city – on Sunday night.
The site of the plaque was chosen because it was close to where Oluwale was last seen alive, being chased by Sgt Kenneth Kitching and Insp Geoffrey Ellerker. His body was found two weeks later about a mile away in the River Aire, which flows under the bridge.
Kitching, who described Oluwale as “a wild animal, not a human being”, and Ellerker were later convicted of assault by a jury, in the first successful prosecution of British police officers for involvement in the death of a black person.
In a joint statement, the Remember Oluwale trust, which had campaigned for and raised funds for the plaque, and Leeds Civic Trust, described the theft as “shocking”.
They said: “These are cowardly acts from people who are unwilling to debate their views in public.
“The successful unveiling of the plaque shows how far we have come as a city to combat racism. Its theft shows how much more we need to do.”
The trust’s director, Martin Hamilton, said the plaque would be replaced if the original was not recovered.
West Yorkshire police believe the plaque was stolen some time between 9.30pm and 10pm on Monday. The force appealed for anyone with any information about the theft to contact Leeds district CID.
Ch Supt Damien Miller, Leeds district commander, said: “It is truly appallingly that someone would remove the plaque commemorating the life of David Oluwale, and we recognize the significant impact that this act will have had on all those involved in keeping David’s memory alive and on the wider community.
“The timing clearly suggests that this has been a deliberately targeted act and we are classing this as a hate crime.
“We are treating this incident very seriously and have detectives from Leeds district CID carrying out extensive inquiries to identify who is responsible and to locate and recover the plaque.”