Police say the theft of a blue plaque commemorating a black man who drowned after being hounded by officers is a hate crime.
The memorial to David Oluwale was taken from Leeds Bridge hours after it was unveiled in the city centre, close to the spot where he died in the River Aire in 1969.
The plaque read: “A British citizen, he came to Leeds from Nigeria in 1949 in search of a better life.
“Hounded to his death near Leeds Bridge, two policemen were imprisoned for their crimes.”
West Yorkshire Police have launched a hate crime investigation.
An unveiling ceremony took place at 5pm on Monday and ended two hours later, with the plaque thought to have been stolen between 9.30-10pm.
David Oluwale, who was found dead in a river in April 1969 (PA)
Chief Superintendent Damien Miller said: “It is truly appalling that someone would remove the plaque commemorating the life of David Oluwale, and we recognise 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 enquiries to identify who is responsible and to locate and recover the plaque.”
Leeds Civic Trust, which organised the plaque, called the theft abhorrent and cowardly.
It tweeted: “The people responsible bring shame on our city and we will not be deterred from commemorating David’s life and legacy.”
The Remember Oluwale group, which campaigns to keep his memory alive, tweeted: “It’s appalling, but it demonstrates their weakness.
“Racist graffiti, theft, & criminal damage are the tools of people with no following, no solutions, motivated only by malice.
“They are the past. We are the open, welcoming, dialogue & inclusive future!”
West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin and Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime Alison Lowe said they were “really saddened and disappointed” by the theft but that the work to remember Mr Oluwale would go on.
They said: “David’s plaque was and is a continued reminder of our collective responsibilities in calling out racism and promoting diversity.
“That has only been highlighted even further with this appalling action by thoughtless individuals trying to destroy something that represents everything good about our city.
“We will not let that happen as we both place David’s legacy at the heart of our approach, ensuring that we all learn from the traumas of the past.
“Equality and inclusion is at the heart of all we do and that will continue.
“The shadow thrown by this theft will not dim the light of hope created by the plaque that has brought communities together to tackle racism in all its forms.
“That vital work continues.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact Leeds District CID on 101, online via www.westyorkshire.police.uk/101livechat or by calling Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
First published in Daily Mail (UK)