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Voice35 Years: Third black person dies in police cell

RELIEF: The front page highlighted the plight of a woman who was allowed to stay in Britain after Labour councillors intervened

THE death of a Ghanaian man while in police custody was the headline story for The Voice when it published its 37th edition on May 28, 1983 and it was also noted by the newspaper that he was the third black person to have died in a police cell that year.

The front page story written by Asif Zubairy said the victim, Nichlas Ofusu, was arrested when police were called to reports of a disturbance in a flat inside Proctor House, Avondale Square, south London, in which a woman described as Mr Ofusu’s niece was found locked in the bathroom. Mr Ofusu was hand-cuffed and taken in a police van to Rotherhithe police station.

However, when he arrived at the station, Mr Ofusu was found to have vomited and he was taken directly to Guy’s Hospital and sometime afterwards pronounced dead.

A post-mortem found that he had died because of asphyxiation from choking on his own vomit.

The article further revealed that Mr Ofusu was on some form of medication and was prone to fits of melancholia and it was suggested that it was during one of these
attacks that the disturbance in the flat took place.

There were a number of questions that remained unanswered and The Voice reported the police were mounting an internal investigation as to what led to Mr Ofusu’s death.

The inquest into the death was adjourned at Southwark Coroner’s Court – the notorious scene of the ‘stalemate’ inquests into the New Cross Fire and the death of amateur boxer Paul Worrell who died in Brixton prison.

The main picture on the front page was that of Afia Begum, a 19-year-old woman who was allowed to stay in Britain after a last-minute intervention by Labour Councillors, GLC members and Labour Peer Lord Wedderburn forced the Home Office to postpone her deportation to Dacca.

Under the headline ‘Deportation deferred’, the article said Afia had gone into hiding with her one-year-old daughter Asma and supporters are hoping that the Home Office will allow her to stay in Britain permanently.

Afia came to Britain to join her husband, but the Home Office invalidated her entry permit because her husband died in a fire in east London before she arrived.

On page two, the lead story carried the headline ‘Post office suspends delivery to filthy estate’ and reported that residents of Malacca House in Ocean Estate, Stepney, east London, would have to collect their mail at the district office in Whitechapel because of the unhealthy conditions.

A Post Office spokesman told The Voice: “There is rubbish all over the place, broken glass, bottles, urine and filth in the hallways. It came to a point where the postmen delivering letters said that they could not risk their health.”

The story also said that Malacca House is just one of four blocks on the estate and the other three, Bothnia, Tunis and Bengal had also been affected. Under a new scheme that was to be implemented, GLC-owned properties were to be handed over to the local authority, in this Hamlets, but responsibility for the blocks rested with the GLC and no one from there came forward with a comment on the unhealthy conditions affecting Malacca House.

Turning over to page three, two stories dominated the page. The lead story headline was ‘Promotion company exploits girl’ which revealed that the mother of Alison Williams, the winner of the Miss Black and Beautiful Teenager 1982, had publicly accused the organisers Albert Promotions of case Tower misleading and exploiting her daughter.

The complaint from Pearl Williams was that the promised prize money and a trip to Paris and Jamaica were never delivered and Alison was left disappointed.

However, a spokesperson for Albert Promotions hit back by saying that the prize money claimed was not accurate and the promised trip to Paris was cancelled at the last minute by the airline.

The other major story on the page carried the headline ‘Black shows Blacked’ and reported that Channel 4, which was set up to cater for minority groups, was planning to withdraw two black programmes during the General Election that year.

The two programmes affected were ‘Black on Black’ and ‘Eastern Eye’. The story quoted Sanhana Ghose of the Black Media Workers Association: “This is a plot to keep out the black point of view during the General Election.

“Both programmes only have one hour each week to present their point of view, now this is taken away from us. Don’t black people have the right to participate in the democratic process?”

Trevor Phillips, editor of the Black on Black programme, said: “We were prepared to do a General Election programme and we regard it as most important to do so but scheduling is in the hands of Channel 4.”

The lead story on page four with the headline ‘Hackney Blacks Deprived’ revealed that local resident and campaigner, Roy Evans, had issued a challenge to black people and organisations to become involved in race relations after a government report had highlighted the London borough as the most deprived in the country.

Mr Evans said: “The time has come for black people to have real political representation and not to accept so called progress of textbook slogan slingers.

“The days of pent up anger should be over and we must make use of the full political and legal processes at our disposal to put our point across.”

The Voice is celebrating its 35th birthday this year. Share your Voice memories, comments and birthday wishes on social media, using the following hashtag: #Voice35Years. Each week we will be digging into The Voice archive and publish a front cover from its first year of publication as we look back over 35 years.

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