The Ethiopian athlete who fled torture only to die in poverty

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The Independent Online

Dereji Kebede-Tulu saw his father's murder and suffered routine torture as a child in Ethiopia before seeking refuge in Britain.

In spite of his traumatic experiences, he became an elite runner and was determined to run for Great Britain in the Olympics.

He had run for the gold medal-winning Ethiopian team in the 2001 World Championships in Bristol and was widely considered to be one of the best long-distance runners in Britain.

But his ambitions were not to be realised. This week, an inquest heard that the athlete, aged 25, was found dead in his one-bedroom flat in north London in June last year. His body was partly decomposed after being left for days before its discovery.

St Pancras Coroner's Court recorded an open verdict into his death. While investigators were unable to determine the exact cause of death, the coroner, Andrew Reid, said it could have been a heart problem, epilepsy or sudden adult death syndrome.

Yesterday, his friends and trainers paid a heartfelt tribute to his courage and his talent for running, for which he was tipped to be a medallist in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Mr Kebede-Tulu had originally sought asylum in 2001 and bore scars from his torture, including cigarette stub marks, marks from rifle butts and injuries to his head and leg. For the next few years, he continued to train hard, in spite of living on only £25 a week and being prohibited from finding paid work. But three months before his death, he had been given indefinite leave to remain in the country, and been accepted on to a course to become a personal trainer.

Dr Michael Korzinski, director of the Helen Bamber Foundation, which works with survivors of human rights violations, said Mr Kebede-Tulu was determined to succeed.

Dr Korzinski said:"He was an extraordinary man who was immensely gifted and he so wanted to give to the community. It was his dream to represent Great Britain. He was an elite athlete, requiring special nutrition and training and running at altitude who was trying to survive on £25 a week and winning records on a diet that most of us would find difficult to get up for work upon. To survive what he had survived and continue to compete was amazing."

A member of the Helen Bamber Foundation discovered Mr Kebede-Tulu's in his flat on 5 June, after he failed to meet a friend.

Roehampton University's Sports Performance and Rehabilitation Centre, which supported Mr Kebede-Tulu, helped raise funds to transport his body back to Ethiopia where he will be buried alongside his father.