Lawyers representing two Kenyan tribes started proceedings at the High Court against the British Army yesterday, claiming that discarded explosives had maimed and killed hundreds of people, many of them children.
In the landmark case, 150 members of the Masai and Samburu tribes are seeking almost £4m compensation for the alleged negligence of the Ministry of Defence on firing ranges.
The army has been using the Archer's Post and Dol Dol ranges in central Kenya for over 50 years. Many of the plaintiffs in this case are relatives of people who have been injured or killed by ammunition left behind on the ranges. They are seeking, on average, £250,000 each. Their solicitor, Martyn Day, of Leigh, Day and Co, said yesterday the number of claimants may rise to 250.
The Ministry of Defence maintains that it has always been for the Kenyan authorities to clear unexploded devices, although it assists in the operation, and was unaware that the Kenyans were failing to make the area safe until last year.
However, Mr Day said outside the court that it would be "remarkable" if the scale of alleged death and injury had not come to the attention of Britain.
He added that inquest records showed British Army officers had given evidence in relation to a number of deaths and injuries over many years.
"We found it hard to believe that the British Army could have any involvement in a range where so many people have died or been mutilated, never mind bear any direct responsibility. But after four months of investigations all the evidence points towards the British Army bearing the brunt of responsibility for this terrible saga," Mr Day said.
Archer's Post covers 1,500 square kilometres in an area where 20,000 Samburu tribespeople have their homes. They claim that there are four or five deaths in the area each year as a result of the unexploded shells. The claimants say it is the responsibility of Britain to ensure the range is cleared.
The British base is just a few hundred yards from the clinic where many of the alleged victims are treated, according to the plaintiffs. Mr Day said that in the last 18 months, despite two major clean-up operations by the British, "five children have been blown up and six have been seriously injured".
He alleged that just weeks after the clearance officers had left, an ordnance expert representing the claimants found five live bombs in the area. He added that the operation only covered 64 of the 1,500 square kilometres at Archer's Post.
A date for a hearing will be set in the near future.Reuse content