Widow in 'Happy Valley' shooting seeks justice

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The Independent Online

Sarah Njoya walked through a 6ft gap in the hedge and looked out across the rolling hills of Kenya's picturesque Rift Valley. "Now we are trespassing," she said with a laugh. The land she had entered is the 100,000-acre ranch owned by the fifth Baron Delamere, Kenya's most famous white-settler family.

Just four months ago Mrs Njoya's husband, Robert, walked through the same gap with four friends. He never came back.

Tom Cholmondeley, Lord Delamere's son and heir, spotted Mr Njoya and his friends. One of them carried a dead impala on his back. Mr Cholmondeley claims the men set their dogs on him and he fired at the dogs in retaliation. What is not in doubt is that one of the bullets struck Mr Njoya in the pelvis. He died on the way to hospital.

Mr Cholmondeley, who took Mr Njoya to hospital, handed himself in to the local police station. Since then, the old Etonian has been held in remand at Kamiti maximum-security prison in Nairobi.

The murder trial, which starts in the capital on Monday, threatens to reopen old wounds in Kenya over race and land. It is not the first time the 38-year-old Mr Cholmondeley has killed a black Kenyan. He was acquitted of murder last year after shooting a Masai game warden he thought was a robber.

His release provoked angry protests in Nakuru where Masai lay claim to the Delamere land; they say it was taken from them using deceit, by the British colonial authorities more than a century ago. They have mounted a non-violent campaign to reclaim it.

There were more pro-tests in May after the second killing and some fear that if Mr Cholmondeley is acquitted again, it could lead to more violence.

The trials of Tom Cholmondeley are not the first time the Delameres have found themselves involved in an explosive Kenyan court case. Mr Cholmondeley's grandfather was one of the elite and wealthy colonialists whose activities gave Rift Valley the name "Happy Valley".

Their hedonistic drink- and drug-fuelled exploits during the first half of the century were exposed in the 1941 murder trial of Sir Jock Delves Broughton and later featured in the novel White Mischief by James Fox.

Sir Jock was accused of murdering his wife's lover, the 22nd Earl of Erroll. He was acquitted, but later killed himself. His widow, Diana - who was played by Greta Scacchi in the film version of White Mischief - married the fourth Baron Delamere.

The difference between the two families - Delamere and Njoya - could not be more stark. As well as the farm, the Delameres own land across Kenya and have their own dairy business. Robert Njoya was a stonemason and farmer.

His widow now does odd jobs when she can find them just to be able to feed her children. She cannot even afford the 500-shilling (£4) daily bus fare to get to Nairobi next week for the trial.

"My husband was the breadwinner of the family," she said. "I don't have much work, small things here and there. I am waiting for my God to help me." The Njoya family, Sarah and four boys, the oldest of whom is nine, live just off the main road linking Nairobi to Nakuru, some 100 miles from the capital. Their small plot of land pales into insignificance when compared to the 100,000 acres owned by the Delameres just 200 metres down the track.

The day Mr Njoya was killed, he left the family home with his friends at about four o'clock. "At seven, his friends came back to tell me they had heard a gunshot," Mrs Njoya said. "They didn't know what had happened to Njoya. I thought he had been arrested for trespassing."

The next morning Mrs Njoya and her husband's brother, Philip Mbugua, went to Nakuru police station to see if he was there. When they arrived police officers told them her husband had been shot dead. Standing in the corridor, in handcuffs, was Mr Cholmondeley. "I didn't talk to Tom," she said. "I couldn't."

Her life has been turned upside down with the death of her husband, but Mrs Njoya said she was ready to forgive Mr Cholmondeley. The feelings of anger she had towards the Delamere heir have gone, she said. "I am a Christian. The Bible says we should forgive others. If Tom confesses then I can forgive him. I just want justice."