by Rachel Barnett
A Nigerian student has died suddenly whilst being held in police custody at HMP Durham.
Boniface Umale, 38, was studying for an MSc in Pipeline Engineering at Northumbria University.
He was arrested and remanded in police custody but was found unconscious in his cell by prison staff at around 5am on Sunday 24 March. Despite attempts by paramedics to resuscitate him, Mr Umale was pronounced dead an hour later.
Reports have suggested that he was being held on suspicion of rape and three counts of sexual assault.
An international student who was part of the Nigerian Idoma community, Boniface Umale was allegedly studying for a second postgraduate course, after completing an MSc degree in Project Management in 2008.
In line with standard procedure in cases of unexplained deaths in police custody, the Independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman will carry out an investigation. Meanwhile, his friends and family in the UK have requested that the Nigerian High Commission also assess the incident.
However, according to Nigerian Watch – a media outlet focusing on stories of Nigerians living in the UK – Boniface Uleme’s family
were unaware that he had been arrested until his death.
Moreover, in an open letter to ‘The Multicultural Politic’, Daniel Okpla, a friend of the student has asked for answers to several questions about the events surrounding his death.
The most serious of these questions refer to the lack of supervision and care that Mr Uleme received whilst being detained, as well as reports that Durham Prison intended to cremate his body without the consent of his family.
An inquest into Boniface Uleme’s death has been opened and adjourned, a full hearing will commence soon.