A Kenyan judge on Friday ordered a prominent white rancher to await trial on a capital murder charge in a maximum-security prison, rejecting a defence request for the British aristocrat to be held in less austere confines.
In the latest development in the case that has shaken central Kenya’s Rift Valley, the judge said Thomas Cholmondeley, son of the fifth Baron Delamere, should be treated the same as others accused of murder and remanded him to the Naivasha Maximum-Security prison.
”Cholmondeley should not be treated in a special manner but like any other murder suspect,” Nakuru High Court Justice Muga Apondi said in dismissing a defence request that the accused remain in the custody of the Naivasha police pending his trial.
Apondi also set a May 17 hearing to fix a trial date for Cholmondeley, who is accused of murdering an undercover Kenya Wildlife Service officer at the vast Delamere ranch on April 19.
Cholomondeley, who has told police he shot the warden, Simon Ole Sasina, in self-defence believing he was an armed intruder, pleaded not guilty to the murder charge on April 28, and had been held in the Naivasha police station.
If found guilty, Cholmondeley (37) could be sentenced to death by hanging, and suspects accused of capital charges in Kenya are normally held in heavily guarded prisons until their trials.
But defence lawyer Fred Ojiambo unsuccessfully argued that his client should not be transferred to a prison as it would be easier to release him from a police station in the event prosecutors decide to dismiss the murder charge.
Apondi said keeping him in police custody would violate Kenya’s penal code. Immediately after the ruling, officers handed the pensive, blue-suited Cholmondeley to prison wardens for the transfer.
The accused is heir to the massive Soysambu farm put together between the Rift Valley lakes of Naivasha and Nakuru by his great-grandfather, one of Kenya’s earliest and most prominent British settlers.
The case has sent has sent shockwaves through the Rift Valley centred around Naivasha, 90km north-west of Nairobi, highlighting the security fears of the European community and exposing festering colonial-era resentments.
White farmers in the region have been increasingly targeted by violent criminals, and two of them — a Briton and a Dutchman — have been killed in recent armed robberies, the latest in March.
But largely landless locals have complained that Sisina’s killing is representative of the poor treatment they endure at the hands of the farmers, many of whom are descendants of colonial-era settlers.
The 40 470ha Delamere ranch was one of the first British farms in the region later dubbed the ”white highlands” and ”Happy Valley” for the excesses of its expatriate residents.
Cholmondeley’s grandfather achieved notoriety in 1955 when he married Diana Broughton, the central figure in the murder of her lover, the 22nd Earl of Errol, on the outskirts of Nairobi in 1941.
Diana’s first husband, Jock Broughton, was tried for the murder but acquitted. The saga was recounted by James Fox in his book White Mischief, which was later filmed by Michael Radford with Greta Scacchi, Joss Ackland, Charles Dance and Hugh Grant. — Sapa-AFP