The CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction

Prize: £2000, sponsor: Owatonna Media

Kester Aspden

Kester Aspden has won the 2008 Crime Writers Association Non-Fiction Dagger with Nationality: Wog - The Hounding of David Oluwale, published by Jonathan Cape (Random House).

This award is sponsored by Owatonna Media, who have recently acquired the Eric Ambler estate. Kester Aspden was presented with his dagger and a cheque for £2000 by their managing director, Simon Clegg.

This year as last, the CWA and Duncan Lawrie Dagger Awards were presented at a black tie dinner at the elegant Four Seasons Hotel on Park Lane in London, in the presence of the guest of honour Gyles Brandreth. The event began with a drinks reception at 6:30pm, followed by dinner in the ballroom at 7:45pm, before the winners were announced.

In awarding the prize, the judges said this was ‘... an excellently well-written and engaging account of the brutal treatment of a Nigerian by two Leeds police officers. The book gives a new and important insight into the recent history of British policing, with many powerful and disturbing implications for our society.’

Synopsis: When the body of David Oluwale, a rough sleeper with a criminal record and a history of mental illness, was pulled out of the River Aire near Leeds in May 1969, nobody asked too many questions about the circumstances of his death. A police charge sheet from three months before had ‘UK’ scored out, and his nationality replaced with a handwritten ‘WOG’. This ‘social nuisance’ went unmourned to a pauper’s grave. A year and a half later, rumours that the Nigerian man had been subject to a lengthy campaign of abuse from two police officers led to the opening of the grave and a difficult criminal investigation. Drawing on original archival material only just released into the public domain, and interviews with police officers and lawyers involved in the eventual prosecution of two Leeds City Police officers, Kester Aspden’s chilling book revisits one of the most notorious racist crimes in British history.

Nationality: Wog

David Oluwale came to Britain as a stowaway in 1949. He also came as a British subject and citizen with a belief that ‘the Mother Country’ was a place of fairness and liberty and law. ‘Nationality: Wog’ is not just the forensic examination of a crime; in his imaginative reconstruction of the life and death of this obscure man Kester Aspden exposes Britain’s belligerent and painful response to the fact that black people were part of the national story. It raises questions as relevant today as they were at the end of the 1960s.

Kester Aspden was born in Toronto in 1968, and raised in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, and York. He has a doctorate in history from Cambridge University, and taught history of crime at Leeds University whilst researching this book. He now lives in Istanbul.

Overall judges’ comments

‘In a large field of entries – twice as many submissions as we expected – we found the standard to be very high. The wide range of topics covered meant that a variety of criteria had to be applied to each book, with such considerations as the contribution made to non-fiction crime literature, and the likely response of a general reader. Through many hours of dedicated reading, the judges did not disagree widely on the titles that met the requirements of the award.

‘The shortlist is extremely strong – all six books are very well written indeed, and each has great merit. We appreciate that those authors not selected will be disappointed, but we wish to stress that nearly all the submissions were well written and eminently readable. We are only sorry that we cannot recognise more than the six on the shortlist.’

The other five books on the shortlist were:

Francisco GoldmanThe Art of Political Murder: Who Killed Bishop GerardiAtlantic Books
David RoseViolationHarperPress
Duncan StaffThe Lost BoyBantam Press
Kate SummerscaleThe Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill HouseBloomsbury
Peter ZimonjicInto the DarknessVintage Books (Random House)

Follow the link for more details about those shortlisted books, and why the judges chose them.


Brian Innes (Chair): a regular non-fiction author on forensic matters

Lesley Grant-Adamson: writes crime fiction and non-fiction and author of Writing Crime and Suspense Fiction

Jean McConnell: dramatist writing about crime for television, radio and the stage; short stories; and non fiction books

Andrew Cresswell: Former Chief Crown Prosecutor for the CPS in Devon and Cornwall

Professor Allan Jamieson: Director of the Forensic Institute