Kenyans tortured in colonial times can sue British government

Four Kenyans who claimed they were tortured at the hands of British colonial officials during the Mau Mau insurgency in the 1950s have won the right to sue the British government.

Without deciding whether there had been systematic torture of detainees, Judge Richard McCombe ruled that they had arguable cases in law to pursue claims for compensation.

The decision is a severe setback for the United Kingdom Foreign Office, which had argued that the UK government should not be answerable for any abuses committed by the former British colony and that liability had devolved to the present Kenyan government.

The judge described the UK authorities’ attempts to avoid responsibility as “dishonourable”, but accepted that, before a full trial, the issue of whether the injuries were sustained too long ago — and beyond any period of limitations — would have to be argued at a separate hearing.

Of the five original Kenyan claimants, one has already died. The remaining four are in their 80s. They allege that they suffered brutal treatment in detention camps at the hands of British colonial officials and soldiers, including castration and sexual assaults.


In a summary of the judgment, McCombe said: “I have decided that these five claimants have arguable cases in law and, on the facts as ­presently known, that there was such systematic torture and the UK government is so liable.”

Earlier in the judgment he declared: “There is ample evidence in the few papers that I have seen suggesting that there may have been systematic torture of detainees during the [Mau Mau] emergency.

“The [documents] evidencing the continuing abuses in the detention camps are substantial, as is evidence of the knowledge of both governments that they were happening and of the failure to take effective action to stop them.”

Welcoming the decision, Martyn Day of the lawyers Leigh Day and Co, who represented the Kenyan survivors, said: “It is an outrage that the British government is dealing with victims of torture so callously.” —

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Owen Bowcott
Owen Bowcott works from London. Owen is a correspondent for the Guardian based in London. He is formerly the Guardian's Ireland correspondent and also worked on the foreign newsdesk. Owen Bowcott has over 4364 followers on Twitter.

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