Attempts by British colonial authorities to cover-up the killings of 11 prisoners during the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya have been laid bare in previously secret Government documents.
No one has ever been prosecuted for the deaths even though evidence showed the detainees at Hola detention camp were clubbed to death by prison warders after they refused to work. But attempts by British officials to blame their deaths on “drinking too much water” rather than violence, and refusals to identify individuals involved, are revealed in the documents.
The prison camp was one of many in which suspected rebels were detained by British colonial forces, often in dire conditions, according to the Foreign Office files released by the National Archives.
Shortly before the Hola deaths, a plan had been drawn up by colonial authorities allowing prison staff to use force to make detainees work if they refused, the files showed.
But one prison officer, Walter Coutts, told the inquest into the Hola deaths that the detainees either “willed themselves to death or had died because they drank too much water”. Another colonial official, Johannes Ezekiel, said he saw the camp commandant Michael Sullivan moving between groups of prison warders, and could “see perfectly well what was going on”.
But this was discounted by the Attorney General as it was “strongly suspected” that the official, who was Kenyan, met a prominent opposition nationalist politician in Nairobi shortly after the deaths.
The deaths signalled the beginning of the end of Britain’s clampdown on the Mau Mau uprising.