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Heir takes on 'Flash' in Kenya murder trial

The killing of a poacher has split the white elite – and reawakened colonial tensions

For more than two years the Rt€Hon Thomas Cholmondeley, son and sole heir to the fifth Baron Delamere, has been languishing in Nairobi's Kamiti maximum-security prison, sharing a damp and squalid cell with the odd rat.

Accused of shooting and killing a poacher trespassing on his family's 56,000-acre Rift Valley estate, he has been waiting for the moment when he could give his version of events. Last week he finally got his chance – and his evidence pointed the finger at another high-profile member of Kenya's white elite, Carl Tundo, a rally driver known as "Flash". A trial that threatens to reopen Kenya's still-raw colonial wounds has seen members of the country's white community turn on each other.

Cholmondeley had originally admitted to shooting Robert Njoya, a 37-year-old stonemason, whom the two men had found poaching on his land. But in court the Old Etonian changed his story. Both he and Tundo had been carrying guns, Cholmondeley alleged, when they discovered Njoya and his friends on the estate. Cholmondeley admitted shooting at the poachers' dogs but said he wasn't the one who shot Njoya. Instead, he suggested, it could have been Tundo.

The rally driver's friends call the allegation "ludicrous". They have become increasingly frustrated at the allegations made against him in court and in the media. Cholmondeley and his girlfriend, Sally Dudmesh, have been the subject of a succession of soft-focus features in the British and American press suggesting that "Flash" is the guilty party.

The two men were acquaintances rather than friends, something which Tundo's allies have said makes a nonsense of Cholmondeley's claim that he only admitted to shooting Njoya to cover for his companion. "Tom didn't even know Flash that well – why would he take the fall for him?" said a friend.

Both men have supporters among Kenya's 30,000-strong white population, but most just want the whole thing to end quickly and quietly. While few white families still own large tracts of land, they retain a life of relative luxury. The younger generation are known as "Kenya cowboys" and have a reputation for raucous parties, champagne-fuelled safaris and drunken weekends at luxury Indian Ocean mansions.

Cholmondeley is the scion of the most famous white settler, the third Lord Delamere, the man who "discovered" Kenya in 1901. More than a century on, the Delamere family are still the largest white landowners in the country. Many Masai in the Rift Valley, whose ancestors once inhabited the Delamere domain, want their land back, and the last thing the settler class needs is another reminder of the bad old days.

The infamous Happy Valley trial of 1941 revealed the gin-drinking, wife-swapping lives of Kenya's whites. Sir Jock Delves Broughton was acquitted of murdering his wife's lover, the 22nd Earl of Erroll, but later killed himself. His widow, Diana, then married the fourth Baron Delamere, Cholmondeley's grandfather. The trial was immortalised in the James Fox novel White Mischief, which later became a film, reinforcing Kenya's image as a playground for aristocratic wastrels.

Of greater consequence for Cholmondeley, though, is that this is not the first time he has been accused of murder. In 2005 he was held on suspicion of having killed an undercover game warden, Samson Ole Sisina. Although charges were withdrawn due to lack of evidence, this sparked demonstrations and unrest in Nairobi and the Rift Valley. There is more at stake in his latest trial than simple fodder for the gossip columns.