Father takes court to scene of Ward murder

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STANDING IN Sand River Camp where his daughter, Julie, was last seen alive, John Ward exercised characteristic restraint as he described where she pitched her tent by a bend in the river more than 10 years ago.

Mr Ward led the group of lawyers and secretaries, and the Land Rover carrying the judge and the court clerk, down to the river bank - "watch out for snakes" - then gave his evidence with little prompting.

He is an expert witness in so many ways - a father, a member of the search party, a collector of evidence, a special investigator - so that often he looks and sounds as if he were simply dictating a well-told story. His many roles are seen as a weakness by the defence, and a strength by the prosecution.

Later, when pointing out the site where Julie's partially burnt remains were found - the lower leg, a jaw bone and a lock of hair - the amount of control required proves more difficult. He glares at the man accused of killing his daughter, Simon Makalla, former chief warden at the Masai Mara game park. There is a lot he wants to say, but the prosecution is limited to pointing out the sites and distances rather than narrating events.

But before leaving for the Masai Mara, Mr Ward described to the court in Nairobi how he found the remains on 13 September 1988 in a remote, bushy area - "I was taken a few paces to where a lower left leg was lying in the grass, badly burnt. The sole showed no sign of burning, the top of the leg had been separated from the upper leg."

He used a bottle to demonstrate the injuries. His normally authoritative voice wavered, he gripped the side of the witness box and fought rare tears. "I was in shock, it was a horror scene I had witnessed, and at first I could form no impression of the events. Shortly after, I did."

Convening the High Court at the site of a murder is "very unusual", concedes Salim Dhanji, for the prosecution, but he insists it is necessary for the judge and the assessors - who have a role similar to a jury - to appreciate the vast distances.

The improbability of Mr Makallah finding Julie Ward's remains so quickly and so accurately in rough and remote terrain is the basis of a prosecution case that depends on circumstantial evidence.

"My lord, can we keep our hats on?" asks the prosecution lawyer in the searing heat, as the court gathers awkwardly around the judge on a precipitous gully, where Julie's Suzuki vehicle was found.

Vultures above complete the scene - but protocol is studiously adhered to, though the wigs and robes are left behind in favour of safari suits and straw trilbies.

Disabled from birth and reliant on crutches, Judge Aganyanya has made a huge effort to oblige. He was flown to the site in a military helicopter and holds court through the passenger window of a white government Land Rover at the various sites.

Simon Makallah - who writes copious notes - takes advantage of the trip to his home land, pacing out the gully crossings and consulting his lawyer, Pravin Bowry.

A Masai himself, the park was Mr Makallah's kingdom as chief warden. The Masai community has rallied to pay his defence, treating the accusation as a collective insult.