59 years late - but Mau Mau accept an almost apology

Elderly survivors of brutal colonial torture express satisfaction with Hague’s statement of regret – and sorrow at its cause


Fifty-nine years after he was tortured in a concentration camp run by British colonial authorities in Kenya, Wamutwe Ngau received a statement of “regret” and the promise of a cheque for £2,658 yesterday.

The 82-year-old is one of 5,228 veterans of the Mau Mau uprising against British rule who will share £13.9m in an out-of-court settlement with the British government, which will also pay £6m to the law firm Leigh Day, which represented the victims, and fund the construction of a memorial to victims of colonial-era torture in Kenya.

The statement from the British Foreign Secretary William Hague was relayed to about 100 of the octogenarians at a hotel in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Mr Ngau remembered how he had been beaten with rifle butts and had his testicles crushed with a pair of pliers during his three-year internment. His left leg is largely numb and he lifted a worn-out shirt to reveal the scar from a bullet hole on his hip.

His greatest pain, he said, was that he was unable to have children.

“A man without children is worthless, but in my culture if someone says sorry you have to accept it,” he said. “It’s what we have been waiting for.”

Like many of the veterans who travelled to Nairobi from the old battlegrounds in the forests of central Kenya, he said the apology was worth more than the “little money” which they said would not alleviate the poverty in which most of them live.

The Mau Mau, which took up arms against the colonisers in 1952, was the first resistance movement of its kind in the British empire. It was violently put down with as many as 90,000 Kenyans tortured, maimed or executed.

The statement from Mr Hague in the House of Commons came after a four-year legal battle in which the Government tried and failed to argue that it was not responsible for the actions of the colonial administration. That stance was rejected by the High Court in 2011 when it ruled that four Kenyan torture victims had a case arguable in law.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office then claimed that there were “irredeemable difficulties” in retrieving documents and witnesses from the period. This argument was thrown out last October and the way cleared for a trial. In the process reams of archive documents that emerged helped to prove the scope of abuse of thousands of Kenyans interned in camps during the emergency period.

Yesterday’s admission of “torture and ill-treatment” should correct the view the British empire was more benign than those of other European powers, said Professor Caroline Elkins, the author of Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya. An expert witness during the legal battle, she pored through “absolutely horrific” testimony of violence meted out to Kenyans by British colonial officers. “People were beaten to death, raped, sodomised with foreign objects, and in some cases tied to the back of Land Rovers and dragged to their deaths.”

All this was done with the “full knowledge” of the colonial office in London.

“These crimes were committed by British colonial officials and have gone unrecognised and unpunished for decades,” said Daniel Leader, a partner at Leigh Day.

There is mounting concern the relatively modest compensation could be diverted from claimants. Since Leigh Day’s legal effort first began 10 years ago, numerous rival organisations claiming to represent the Mau Mau veterans have sprung up.

Bryan Cox QC from another British outfit, Tandem Law, said that his firm has signed up more than 8,000 Kenyan veterans and the “matter was far from over”. A Kenyan group calling itself Mau Mau Harambee Jamhuri Ya Kenya that claims to have 3,427 members has refused to recognise yesterday’s settlement.

Mr Hague, who did not offer an apology to the Kenyan victims in his statement following legal advice, insisted the payment did not mean the UK accepted liability for the mistreatment of detainees and did not set a precedent for future cases.

The Foreign Secretary said: “We will continue to exercise our own rights to defend claims brought against the Government and we do not believe that this settlement establishes a precedent in relation to any other former British colonial administration.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power