Prominent white Kenyan convicted of manslaughter

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The Independent Online

A court has convicted a descendant of Kenya's most famous white settlers of manslaughter in the shooting death of a black man on his vast estate, a case that has stirred simmering tensions over race and land in Kenya.

Thomas Cholmondely, 40, wearing a blue suit and red tie, looked down when the verdict was read; some of his family and friends started crying.

The 2006 shooting of 37-year-old Robert Njoya was the second time in just over a year that Cholmondeley had fatally shot a black man on the largely ungated farm in the Rift Valley. The lake-studded region was once dubbed "Happy Valley" because of the decadent lifestyles of its colonial settlers.

Judge Muga Apondi reduced the charge from murder to manslaughter, saying the shooting was without malice or intent. Cholmondeley has said he fired in self-defence, aiming at a pack of dogs, and that he did not see Njoya. The victim apparently was poaching animals from the ranch.

The sentence is expected to be announced on Tuesday. The maximum sentence for manslaughter is life in prison. Cholmondeley has already served three years since his arrest in 2006.

Cholmondeley was educated at Eton. He is the great-grandson of the third Baron Delamere, one of Kenya's first major white settlers more than a century ago. His father is the current holder of the title and Cholmondeley is his only heir.

The case has received intense media scrutiny because of Cholmondeley's aristocratic heritage and his grandfather's place in Kenyan lore. The fourth Baron Delamere was married to Diana Broughton, whose lover was shot in the head on the outskirts of Nairobi in the 1940s.

Broughton's first husband, Jock Broughton, was tried for murder and acquitted, an episode that inspired the book "White Mischief," which also was made into a 1987 film starring Charles Dance and Greta Scacchi. The book highlighted the free-spending, often alcoholic ways of some of the early colonialists in Kenya.

Charges in the earlier case against Cholmondeley were dropped amid high-level government intervention, enraging Kenyans who say he received special treatment because he is an heir to Britain's Lord Delamere.

Both cases have exposed deep tensions about the British presence in Kenya, with many citizens resentful that the best land was taken over by the British government during colonial times. After Kenya's independence in 1963, many departing settlers transferred land to Africans, with Britain underwriting some of the costs.

Some settlers, including Cholmondeley's family, kept their land and became Kenyan citizens. But now, an increasing number of Kenyans are saying the land simply doesn't belong to whites.

The farm, to which Cholmondeley is the only heir, is about 56,000 acres and prone to frequent intrusions. Many residents in the area carry rifles for safety.

Serah Njoya, the dead man's widow, said this week she had struggled to bring up their four children since the killing.

"I do not have a job. Life has become very hard for me," she said.