The shocking death of Nigerian student in Durham Prison and the search for the truth

A Nigerian student, Boniface Umale, has died at Durham prison, shortly after his arrest. His death was only discovered when his visiting solicitor arrived at the jail to find arrangements being made for his cremation, according to Nigerian Watch.

A Nigerian student, Boniface Umale, has died at Durham prison, shortly after his arrest. His death was only discovered when his visiting solicitor arrived at the jail to find arrangements being made for his cremation, according to Nigerian Watch.

The 24 year old international student completed his first degree in 2008 at Northumbria University, Newcastle, and then embarked on a Master’s Degree in engineering. He was arrested on 24 March and held in Durham prison. The circumstances surrounding his arrest and death are unknown to his family, and it is unclear whether he had been charged with any offence or was a remand prisoner.

More worryingly is the fact that arrangements were apparently made to cremate him without consulting his family, or the Nigerian High Commission, which has now been notified. Cremation is deemed to be culturally unacceptable and would add to the great distress to his family and community if conducted.

Prison death rates

This case highlights the need for a review of the care and treatment of prisoners at high risk of death in prisons, and a review of the safety issues in the management of foreign prisoners. The rates of prison deaths, for all prisoners in England and Wales, are unacceptably high.

Deaths in prisons

Data Source: National Offender Management Service Deaths in Prison Custody/Ministry of Justice Safety in Custody (April 2013).

The situation for foreign inmates in prisons in England and Wales worsens as their population grows to the rate of 13 per cent in 2012. The ethnicity of foreign prisoners is crucially important, as 62 per cent foreign prisoners in jails in England and Wales are from an ethnic minority group.

Home secretary Theresa May has set an aggressive policy stance towards foreign prisoners in her determination to secure an unsympathetic stance towards them. Are they treated equally and with fairness in prison, compared with others? It is unlikely. Public opinion on the management of offenders is very conservative, shunning the idea of votes for prisoners, strongly supporting the deportation of Abu Qatada irrespective of human rights legislation, and in favour of a repatriation of rights from the European Court.

Ministry of Justice statistics recording the percentage of all deaths in prison by ethnicity show high rates for black and ethnic minority prisoners, peaking at 18.5 per cent in 2007.

BME deaths in costody

Source:  Ministry of Justice Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System 2010

Family Appeal

Family spokesman and friend of Boniface, Daniel Okpla, has issued an open letter setting out concerns and unanswered questions in the case.

The facts of this case are yet to emerge. It is to be hoped that the family and friends of Boniface Umale will not only learn the truth, but will be treated with respect and dignity in the future handling of the case, which has been disturbingly lacking to date. More broadly, a review of the care and treatment of vulnerable foreign prisoners, particularly those from ethnic minority backgrounds, is warranted.

4 Responses to “The shocking death of Nigerian student in Durham Prison and the search for the truth”

  1. SadButMadLad

    Isn’t this using an individual’s case for political purposes. I thought such acts were anathema to the left and only done by the right.

  2. GS

    I don’t think there is anything particularly left wing about being honest with statistics. However, if you read the article above it clearly places Boniface Umale’s death in the wider context of prison deaths across the UK. What’s wrong with using an individual case study provided you don’t use it to distort the overall picture?

  3. SadButMadLad

    No, you’re right. It’s not a particularly left wing about being honest with stats. The right wing do the same thing. However you are wrong about the honesty bit. Both sides are far from honest about their stats. They always use it to push their argument.

    As to individual cases. They always distort the overall picture. Why? Because they are individual cases. If there was a common pattern and something that was happening frequently then it wouldn’t be an individual case any more. But since an individual case is being used then it must be by definition something that is not common or frequent.

    Be it individual cases like Mike Philpott’s being used to tar the whole social security system or the case of Boniface Umale being used to counter the process of removing foreign prisoners from our jails, all individual cases lead to bad decisions and bad law. The phrase “hard cases makes for bad law” exists for a reason.

    As for distorting. The story above mixes foreign prisoners with BME prisoners distorting the picture.

  4. Keira Martins

    Thanks for sharing, It was nice reading this blog.

    Jail search

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