Masai tribesmen mutilated by bombs win legal aid to sue MoD

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The Independent Online

A group of Kenyan tribespeople has won legal aid to sue the Ministry of Defence for about £10m after allegedly suffering horrific injuries from bombs left behind by the British Army.

A group of Kenyan tribespeople has won legal aid to sue the Ministry of Defence for about £10m after allegedly suffering horrific injuries from bombs left behind by the British Army.

In the first case of its kind, London-based lawyers, representing 50 members of the Masai and Samburu tribes ­ most of them children ­ have been granted funds to fly to Africa this weekend to investigate the claims.

Martyn Day, senior partner in a firm of solicitors specialising in personal injury compensation, alleged yesterday that the tribespeople were still suffering "terrible injuries and mutilations" after coming into contact with the bombs.

He described how one 12-year-old boy who was maimed, and his two friends killed in the same explosion, had to fight off hyenas and then watch one of his friends "eaten down to his skeleton" by the animals.

An estimated four Kenyans a year are accidentally killed or mutilated by discarded military ordnance. In the past year, there had been seven victims, Mr Day said.

The British Army has been doing manoeuvres in central Kenya for more than 50 years and still has a base in Nairobi. It concentrates its exercises in two areas known as Archers Post, near the Shaba Game Reserve, and Dol Dol, close to the town of Nanyuki, and in the shadow of Mount Kenya.

Mr Day said those were places where the Masai and Samburu lived, played and grazed their flocks. He said the Army had consistently used heavy artillery, which included the firing of bombs, mortars and rockets, as well as smaller ordnance such as hand grenades.

A spokesman for the MoD confirmed the Army had used the areas for training but said: "We are careful to patrol them and remove any ordnance."

Mr Day, whose firm, Leigh, Day & Co, recently brought a case against the British tobacco industry on behalf of lung-cancer sufferers, said that although the training areas were also used by the Kenyan and US armies, evidence suggested the British Army had "by far" played the most significant role.

He said his firm had been asked by Action Aid, an international organisation that funds a small group in Kenya called Osiligi, to investigate the plight of the tribespeople with a view to suing the MoD.

Mr Day said: "If one of these had occurred on Salisbury Plain there would have been an almighty uproar.

"And yet the Army here is attempting to act as if this has nothing to do with them. I am pleased the Legal Services Commission has recognised the significance of this issue by agreeing to fund the fact-finding mission."

The MoD spokesman said: "It is yet to be demonstrated that the claimants have been injured by any of the ordnance ... [but] we will pay any compensation claims on the basis of liability if it is demonstrated."

The Legal Services Commission confirmed it had granted legal aid to the Kenyans. It said the aid was being administered by its special cases unit set up to deal with expensive or complex cases. A spokesman said the initial funding did not include taking the case to court.