Kenyan murder trial reopens old colonial wounds

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The Independent Online

Tom Cholmondeley, the heir to one of Kenya's most famous British settler families, went on trial in Nairobi yesterday accused of murdering a black stonemason out of "revenge".

As an impassive Mr Cholmondeley looked on, Kenya's director of public prosecutions, Keriako Tobiko, said Robert Njoya was running away when he was shot. He also accused Mr Cholmondeley, Lord Delamere's son and heir, of tampering with evidence at the scene.

Mr Tobiko told the packed courtroom that at the time of the killing, Mr Cholmondeley "was not under any attack or threat from the deceased or any of his companions". He went on to accuse the old Etonian of shooting Mr Njoya, 37, in "retaliation or revenge for trespassing and poaching on his land".

Mr Cholmondeley has admitted shooting Mr Njoya in May, but claimed the married father of four and his friends had set their dogs on him. The men were trespassing on the Delameres' 100,000-acre estate in the Rift Valley, and were carrying a dead gazelle.

Mr Cholmondeley, who is pleading not guilty, told police that he shot at the dogs and had not meant to hit Mr Njoya. After Mr Njoya was hit in the pelvis, he drove him to the nearby Nakuru hospital but Mr Njoya was dead on arrival. The Delamere heir then handed himself in to the police.

The trial is the most eagerly awaited in Kenya since the last time Mr Cholmondeley was accused of murder. He was acquitted of murdering an undercover Masai game warden, Samson Ole Sisina, last year. Mr Cholmondeley had claimed he had acted in self-defence, mistaking the warden for an armed robber.

The acquittal prompted some Kenyan politicians and rights groups to claim the descendants of white settlers were treated differently from black Kenyans. It also led to protests in Nairobi and by Masai in the Nakuru district. They lay claim to the land which the Delamere estate owns after it was taken from them by British colonial rulers at the start of the 20th century.

The killing has reopened old wounds in the former British colony concerning race and land ownership. Human rights groups in Kenya fear similar protests if Mr Cholmondeley is found not guilty.

Peter Gichuhi, 28, a casual labourer who was with Mr Njoya at the time of his death, told the court how they and another friend, Joseph Kamal, had entered the Delamere farm looking for wild game. They had placed wire snares on the estate two days earlier.

After finding a dead Thomson's gazelle, Mr Njoya carried the carcass towards a tree where they planned to leave it while checking other snares. It was then, according to Mr Gichuhi, that shots rang out.

"After the first gunshot I started running," he said. He and Mr Kamal made it to the edge of the estate. "But I could not see Njoya," he said.

Lord Delamere, whose stepmother was at the centre of Kenya's White Mischief murder trial in 1941, watched the proceedings alongside his wife, Ann. Both left during the lunch break, but Mr Cholmondeley's girlfriend, Sally Dudmesh, stayed throughout the proceedings. Three rows behind Mr Cholmondeley's friends and family sat Mr Njoya's widow, Sarah. She made no eye contact with Mr Cholmondeley or his family in her cross-examination.

The widow, 28, admitted her husband often entered the Delamere estate, which is a few hundred yards from their modest homestead, in order to poach. The trial is expected to end on Friday.