'Historic ruling' as judge rules Mau Mau can
sue Britain for colonial-era 'torture'

Government branded ‘morally repugnant’ after attempting to block Kenyans’ claims

Three Kenyans tortured at the hands of the British authorities during Kenya's Mau Mau rebellion have won the right to a High Court trial in a landmark ruling that paves the way for thousands of legal claims arising from brutality during the colonial era.

A judge today threw out the Government's claim that the beatings and assaults suffered by the now elderly Kenyans during the 1950s uprising took place too long ago for a fair trial, saying there was a substantial body of evidence - including thousands of secret documents - which made a full hearing possible.

In a judgment which lawyers described as "historic", Mr Justice McCombe criticised the Foreign Office for its failure to interview in depth surviving British witnesses about how far knowledge of the torture of thousands of prisoners had extended in the upper echelons of Whitehall and the Army.

The judge wrote: "A fair trial for the Kenyans does remain possible and the evidence on both sides does remain significantly cogent for the court to complete its task satisfactorily."

The three victims - Paolo Muoka Nzili, 85, Wambugu Wa Nyingi, 84, and 73-year-old Jane Muthoni Mara  - suffered what their lawyers described as "unspeakable acts of brutality", including forcible castration with pliers used on cattle, repeated beatings and sexual assault including rape with a bottle containing scalding water.

Kenyan campaigners called for the British government, which has already acknowledged and apologised for the torture suffered by the trio, to no longer contest the case and set up a compensation fund for the claimants and the estimated 2,000 other surviving former Mau Mau suspects imprisoned during the seven-year insurgency.

Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, Ditobu  Imanyara, a Kenyan MP and member of the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, said: "It does not serve any useful purpose for the British Government to further resist this claim - their case has no chance in heaven or hell. We would like them to take immediate steps to apologise and ensure the victims who are increasingly frail can live out what remains of their lives in comfort."

But the Foreign Office, which had previously lost a claim that responsibility for the case lay with the Kenyan authorities following independence in 1963, showed no sign of caving in, saying it was "disappointed" with the judgment and will appeal - a move which is likely to further delay a trial.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We have always said that we understand the pain and grievance felt by those, on all sides, who were involved in the divisive and bloody events of the emergency period in Kenya."

At the heart of the Whitehall deliberations is the potential for today's ruling, which came after a three-year legal battle, to open a path for claimants from around the globe who allege post-war atrocities committed by British colonial authorities.

The Mau Mau case is being watched in particular by former members of the Cypriot paramilitary group EOKA who allege torture during their 1950s insurgency, including the deaths in custody of two 17-year-olds.

Martyn Day, the solicitor who brought the Mau Mau claim, accused the Government of "morally repugnant" behaviour by hiding behind "technical defences" which had now been thrown out by the court.

He said: "Following this judgment, we can but hope that our government will at last do the honourable thing and sit down and resolve these claims. There will undoubtedly be victims of colonial torture from Malaya to the Yemen, from Cyprus to Palestine, who will be reading this judgment with great care."

Arising from longstanding tribal and social grievances, the Mau Mau rebellion was of the most violent of the colonial period with atrocities committed on both sides. About 70,000 suspected Mau Mau rebels were rounded up and imprisoned.

The response of Kenya's British administration, long a taboo subject in the country, has come under scrutiny in recent years and a previously secret cache of documents discovered in Britain has suggested that the illegal torture of detainees was effectively sanctioned by senior officials in London.

Mr Nyingi, who gave evidence in London earlier this year, described how he was arrested on Christmas Eve in 1952 and detained for nine years, during which time he was beaten unconscious in an incident at one camp - Hola - where 11 men were clubbed to death.

He said: "I feel I was robbed of my youth and that I did not get to do the things I should have done as a young man.  There is a saying in Gikuyu that old age lives off the years of youth but I have nothing to live off because my youth was taken from me."

The ruling, which could see a trial begin in 12 months, was greeted with jubilation in Kenya where about 150 veterans gathered outside the country's Human Rights Commission. A group broke into song and performed a celebration dance.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Games Developer - HTML5

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£26000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Product Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to on-going expansion, this leading provid...

Recruitment Genius: Shift Leaders - Front of House Staff - Full Time and Part Time

£6 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a family ...

Day In a Page

A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works