Friends fear Crystal Palace director was assassinated

Ron Noades

Son Chuka Umunna

First published in News Streatham Guardian: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

Friends of a former Crystal Palace FC director fear his death 20 years ago was the result of an assassination, not an accident.

Bennett Umunna, known as Ben to his friends, was killed in Nigeria on April 1, 1992, after his car ploughed into a truck carrying logs.

Ron Noades, who was the chairman at Crystal Palace while Mr Umunna was a director, said his death would have been investigated if it happened in England.

The former Palace chairman said he knew Mr Umunna for about five years when he joined the board in the late 1980s and both families were close as they had children of similar ages.

Mr Umunna, the father of Streatham MP Chuka Umunna, had put himself forward to be the governor of Anambra, a state in south-eastern Nigeria, only a few weeks before he died.

But the businessman lost the vote.

Mr Noades, 75, of Purley, said Mr Umunna was not acting normally the day he died, which is why he suspects his death was not an accident.

He said: “No one will ever be able to prove what happened. I knew Ben pretty well and from what I heard he drew money out of the bank, he had never travelled in Nigeria with cash before.

“He didn’t have his usual driver and he wasn’t travelling by day either. There were so many things that were out of character.

“Then I was told he drove into the back of a lorry. If that happened over here there would be an investigation and the coroner would have given a verdict and everything else.

“Ben was doing well in his political career in Nigeria, but he was also one of those that wouldn’t have taken bribes as he was an honest bloke.

“My view is somebody saw him as a threat and my suspicion is he was assassinated.”

Mr Noades’ wife, Novello, said she agreed about the suspicious circumstances of Mr Umunna’s death.

She said: “I remember the day he died. The circumstances were very odd. My own opinion is that it was highly probable his death was suspicious. Ben was not somebody who took risks.”

A spokesman for Chukka Umunna, Streatham MP and Labour’s shadow Business Secretary, said Mr Umunna would not comment on speculation surrounding his father’s death.

He said: “As Chuka has made clear previously, the circumstances surrounding his father's death are a private matter and not something he comments on, painful as they are to Chuka and his family.”

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