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.” —

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

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.

Related stories

Charles Taylor’s sentence upheld at war crimes tribunal

Former Liberian president Charles Taylor's 50-year prison sentence has been upheld, making it likely that he'll spend the rest of his life in jail.

Britain to compensate for colonial-era torture

Britain has agreed on a $31-million compensation package for Kenyans tortured during the Mau Mau uprising against colonial rule in the 1950s.

Thousands of Kenyans to sue Britain over Mau Mau treatment

More than 8 000 Kenyans are seeking millions in compensation from ex-colonial ruler Britain, claiming mistreatment during the 1950s Mau Mau uprising.

Britain in talks with Kenya’s Mau Mau victims over settlement

Payments to thousands of Kenyans who were tortured during the 1950s insurgency could open the door for other victims of British colonial rule.

Muthoni, the dread of the empire

The legendary hero of Kenya's Mau Mau uprising, Muthoni wa Kirima continues to fight injustice in her country.

Brutal warlord ‘deserves’ life in jail

Charles Taylor's 50-year sentence for war crimes shows that no man is above the law, writes Owen Bowcott.

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

Finance probe into the Ingonyama Trust Board goes ahead

The threat of legal action from ITB chairperson Jerome Ngwenya fails to halt forensic audit ordered by the land reform minister

Ailing Far East Rand hospital purchases ‘vanity’ furniture

Dr Zacharia Mathaba, who purchased the furniture, is a suspected overtime fraudster and was appointed as Gauteng hospital chief executive despite facing serious disciplinary charges

Eusebius McKaiser: Reject the dichotomy of political horrors

Senekal shows us that we must make a stand against the loud voice of the populist EFF and racist rightwingers

Seals abort pups in mass die-off

There are a number of factors — a pollutant, virus or bacteria or malnutrition — may have caused the 12 000 deaths on Namibia’s coast

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday