Military police say Kenyan claims of gang rape are being taken seriously

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The Independent Online

Claims that British troops gang raped scores of African tribeswomen while serving in Kenya were given fresh credibility by the Army yesterday.

A senior officer in the military police confirmed the allegations against British soldiers were being taken seriously, despite recent attempts to undermine the testimony of their "victims".

Last month, the British High Commission in Nairobi announced, after a forensic examination, that all police records alleging rape of about 600 women by troops in the 1980s and 1990s were forgeries. But a letter from Brigadier Maurice Nugent, of the military police, confirmed that, although a "large proportion" of files had been "altered", there were numerous cases "where we are confident the evidence has not been fabricated".

A team of 40 investigators from the British military police, Kenyan police and civil service has recently completed initial checks on police files of rape claims by women from the Masai and Samburu tribes. As many as 100 cases are likely to be pursued.

Police have proceeded to interview 37 women in the Dol Dol area and are continuing investigations in Archers Post and Womba - areas in northern Kenya where the British Army has trained since Kenya gained independence from Britain in 1963 - now they are satisfied the claims have not been forged.

In the letter to the women's solicitor, Martyn Day, dated 6 October, Brigadier Nugent adds: "We should be able to link an incident with a particular unit since we have records detailing who was in Kenya training during any given period. However, identifying potential suspects is likely to be protracted. Investigations into the assertion that members of the Army failed to act on reports are also under investigation."

The rape allegations surfaced after Mr Day's firm, Leigh, Day and Co, won an action against the Ministry of Defence in Britain on behalf of 233 Kenyan victims of unexploded ordnance left behind by British troops. In July 2002, Britain agreed to pay £4.5m on a "limited liability basis" to the victims.

Mr Day said: "This all suggests there is a significant number of cases that have passed through the first filter process of genuine police records. This contradicts what the British High Commission said last month. It has either been a total muck-up or an attempt to get the investigation stopped. There were a lot of forged cases but maybe this was an attempt to encourage the idea that the military police pulled out of the investigation. We were meant to wonder why the British taxpayer was being made to pay for an expensive investigation into baseless claims."

A spokeswoman for the MoD said: "The Ministry of Defence has never claimed that there is no evidence. We hope this letter reflects our strong resolve to ensure that the allegations are dealt with."

Mr Day said he had a "very sceptical" eye in relation to the claims, after having acted for claimants in cases of unexploded ordnance. Out of 5,500 initial claims, his firm had only accepted 1,100, or 20 per cent, as genuine. "I come to this with a very sceptical eye but I think it is less likely the rape women are telling falsehoods, as they have more to lose," he said.