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The tragic life and death of Riliwanu Balogan

A BRIEF LIFE: Riliwanu Balogan, born May 7, 1990 - died on May 16, 2011

HE WAS rejected by the state that raised him. Orphan Riliwanu Balogan was dumped on the doorstep of Southwark Council social services in 1998 by a “dubiously-named” aunt who disappeared into the ether leaving him a cultural nomad with no roots.

At the tender of age of eight, he became a ward of the state, left at the mercy of social workers, carers and solicitors who decided his every move until his tragic death.

On May 8, a day after his 21st birthday, Riliwanu attempted to hang himself in his cell at the Glen Parva detention centre, in Leicestershire, and died in hospital a week later. He had been on suicide watch.

The vulnerable young man who had mental health problems was facing deportation to his birthplace of Nigeria – a country he barely remembered bar a few painful memories that included his mother’s death.

He had lived in Britain for nearly 13 years, but after falling foul of the law, the Home Office started to plan his deportation. They could not have picked an easier target: he had no family or friends to fight his corner on medical grounds and dyslexic Riliwanu lacked the confidence to speak up for himself.

His is an all-too familiar tale of someone who was failed by the very institutions that were supposed to protect him. He was not without flaws, far from it – Rilly, as he was known to his friends, had a troubled past as a minor that helped fuel the Home Office’s case against him.

His life was a reflection of the shocking figures that reveal children in care are twice as likely to turn to crime and represent nearly half of those in youth offending institutions.

The Home Office has refused to comment on the reasons for Rilly’s deportation, but an adult conviction for ABH in 2010 may have sealed his fate.

One must wonder how it came to such a decision considering Rilly’s background. Rilly had not been raised in a stable home with loving parents. Instead he had been bounced between children’s homes across the country.

He was once placed in a home in Newcastle, in the north east of England, which a friend claimed was a “cultural disaster” for him.

As an adult, Southwark’s social services team found housing for him in Grove Park, which neighbours Eltham in south London, where Stephen Lawrence was murdered in a racist attack in 1993.

Before the Home Office decided this young man was so unfit to remain a British citizen, they should have pointed the finger firmly back at the Government agencies who were essentially his parents. Had they made the right choices by him?

“Someone needs to be held responsible for what happened to him”, said Reverend Joy Barnard whose family had grown close to Rilly when he moved to their area. Her son, Harry, became his closest friend.

The Barnard family’s heart had gone out to the naïve young man after spotting Rilly wandering aimlessly unable to find his way home in a his new neighbourhood. He had no money in his pocket, no credit on his phone, and so the family spent hours helping him find his flat.

It is Harry who has taken on the role of his next of kin. Who else could have filled the devastatingly empty role?
Rev Barnard said: “My son is in bits. He said he didn’t see the point in fighting for answers, because nothing will bring Rilly back.

“But I said if this brings to light that the Prison Service is not doing its job properly and if it forces them to review their policies or how they treat people in detention centres, it could save some other young lad’s life.

“To do nothing, would have meant his life was wasted, that he lived in vain.”

A lot can be said for timing. The day before Rilly’s birthday, Harry had been denied a visitor’s pass to see him although he alleged he gave the required 24 hours notice.

“Were they punishing Rilly for something?” asked Rev Barnard. “Perhaps if Harry had been there, he might not have done what he went on to do.”

She added: “Rilly never wanted to talk about anything from his past. He mentioned his mum a few times and he was very eaten up about her death.

“He spoke only about his future and want he wanted to achieve. He loved his music and played the guitar beautifully. He was a talented kid. It’s such a waste.

Read the full story in this week's issue of The Voice on sale today (July 14)

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