Leading article: Atrocities that we cannot hide away from

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The Independent Online

The terrible events that led to a court judgment against the British Government yesterday took place so long ago that it was before most of us were born. The Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya was one of the last violent dramas of the British Empire. The four Kenyans who were granted leave yesterday to sue the Government were young then but are in their seventies or eighties now.

Some might ask what is the point of dragging up a story from the distant past, in a courtroom more than 4,000 miles away from where it all happened. That argument would be stronger if what these people suffered had been less horrific. Two men were castrated, one was clubbed unconscious during an incident in which 11 men died from their beatings, and the woman among them endured appalling sexual abuse.

The ruling does not establish that the UK Government was responsible, although the people who perpetrated these acts were British. The Foreign Office will contest the case, and no doubt the Government's lawyers will argue that those responsible were working for a colonial administration that no longer exists. That would be a very legalistic point.

A generation ago there was a long debate in Parliament over whether four elderly suspected Nazi war criminals living in Britain should stand trial for crimes that were more than 40 years old. The Commons voted overwhelmingly that they should, with both Margaret Thatcher and the then Labour leader Neil Kinnock voting in favour.

If Parliament decided that the passing of so many years did not give immunity to Nazi camp guards, it is only right that the same principle should apply to British personnel charged with such appalling conduct, whatever the urge to avoid confronting it. Yesterday's judgment is to be applauded.