Kenya drops murder charges against white rancher

Kenya on Tuesday dropped murder charges against a prominent white rancher over the killing of a game warden for lack of sufficient evidence, the country’s top prosecutor said, as officials blamed police for rushing a flimsy case to court.

Director of Public Prosecution Philip Murgor told Justice Muga Apondi, sitting in Nakuru, a provincial town north-west of the capital, Nairobi, that the state wanted to terminate the charge against Thomas Cholmondeley, son of the fifth Baron Delamere, in order to open a public inquest.

”After reviewing the evidence, we concluded that it is not enough to sustain the murder charges,” Murgor said after dropping the high-profile charge that has rekindled deep colonial-era resentment.

”This case can be perfectly handled by a public inquest,” he added.

Murgor explained that Cholmondeley remains detained in a maximum-security prison in Naivasha, 90km north-west of Nairobi, in the central Rift Valley until Apondi gives orders for his release on Wednesday.

Cholmondeley, accused of murdering Kenyan wildlife officer Simon Ole Sasina at the vast Delamere ranch on April 19, had pleaded not guilty to the charge, arguing he thought the victim was an armed robber.

According the evidence, Sasina and two other wardens were in an undercover operation to investigate allegations that the Cholmondeleys’ sprawling Soysambu ranch of about 40 400ha was involved in illegal bush-meat trade.

They arrived there in a private Toyota Corolla vehicle with fake number plates, parked it in the wrong place and tried to buy meat.

After failing to get the meat — which was to be used as evidence — the wardens decided to target men who were slaughtering an animal in the abattoir.

The evidence further states that there was an exchange of fire between the slain warden and the white rancher, who had been alerted that his ranch was being invaded by robbers.

”About 80% to 90% of the evidence indicates that Tom was acting in self-defence and that he honestly believed that the wardens — who had not identified themselves until after the shooting — were armed robbers,” said the official, who went through the evidence files.

Officials said police rushed the case to court to cope with public pressure to charge Cholmondeley, an honorary game warden, who is resented in the central Rift Valley region for his alleged abrasive tendencies.

They added police investigators ”ambushed” the Rift Valley provincial state prosecutor and charged the white rancher, who had actually accepted that he shot and killed a warden, last month without reviewing the weight of the evidence.

”Tom actually regrets the death of the warden,” said one of the officials, who preferred anonymity.

The case has sent has sent shockwaves through the Rift Valley, 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. — Sapa-AFP

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