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Summary
Mau Mau
  • The files shed more light on the March 3, 1959 deaths during
    the Mau Mau uprising, which were initially blamed on contaminated water, though
    autopsies found the men were severely beaten. No prosecutions were ever brought
  • Wambugu Wa Nyingi, one of three elderly Kenyans who last
    month won a High Court ruling allowing them to sue the British government for
    damages over torture in detention, claims he was beaten unconscious during the
    Hola incident
  • At least 10,000 people died during the bloody 1952-1960 Mau
    Mau uprising against British colonial rule, with some sources giving far higher
    estimates

LONDON
Secret documents released on Friday showed how British colonial
authorities in Kenya tried to hush up the 1959 Hola detention camp massacre, in
which 11 men were beaten to death.

The files shed more light on the March 3, 1959 deaths during
the Mau Mau uprising, which were initially blamed on contaminated water, though
autopsies found the men were severely beaten. No prosecutions were ever
brought.
The papers revealed that prison camp staff made no attempt
to tell the truth about what happened, while the government minister for
Britain’s colonies wanted the incident to “drop out of sight”,
according to the files.
Many more Kenyans were injured in the incident.
The testimony of a Kenyan colonial official that the camp
commandant knew “perfectly well what was going on” was discounted by
the attorney-general due to suspicions over his connections with a Kenyan
nationalist politician.
The declassified Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)
documents have been released by the National Archives.
Wambugu Wa Nyingi, one of three elderly Kenyans who last
month won a High Court ruling allowing them to sue the British government for
damages over torture in detention, claims he was beaten unconscious during the
Hola incident.
“I suffered physical violence on my head, on my legs, I
still have the scars today because of the beatings from the colonial
administrators,” Nyingi told AFP in an interview last year.
Britain is appealing against the judgement, arguing it is
not liable and a fair trial would be impossible more than 50 years after the
event.
Lawyers for the three veterans said that in light of the
documents released Friday, Britain now “had nowhere to go other than to
sit round a table and agree a settlement for the Mau Mau survivors”.
Early public statements suggested the 11 men had died after
being poisoned by a contaminated water cart.
But three days later Evelyn Baring, Britain’s colonial
governor in Kenya, wrote to Alan Lennox-Boyd, Britain’s colonies secretary in
London, to say such reports had been misleading.
“Result of first three autopsies is that in each case,
death was due to violence,” said his telegram to London.
On March 9, Baring sent another telegram, reading: “The
injuries are reported to be consistent with being caused by heavy sticks or
batons and/or boots.”
As inquests into the deaths began, Baring told London in
another telegram: “Government chemist told of examination water from cart
and stomach contents. Both negative, no poisonous substances found.”
Summing up the magistrate’s findings, Baring said:
“Broadly, death was caused by shock and haemorrhage due to multiple
bruising caused by violence.
“Evidence as a whole so conflicting and unreliable that
impossible to be certain of exact happenings on March 3 when things got out of
control of one man.
“Not a single witness of Hola prison staff, warders or
detainees made any real attempt to tell truth.”
In May 1959, Lennox-Boyd wrote to the colonial governor:
“Public opinion is extremely sensitive on Hola problem.
“I am sure you will agree we should try to let this
unhappy incident drop out of sight as soon as possible.”
It was for the attorney general Eric Griffith-Jones to
consider bringing charges. He wanted to do so over the “shocking and
disturbing” incident but said any criminal prosecution would fail due to a
lack of proof.
A secret letter he sent said it was impossible to ascertain
which guards had inflicted which blows.
An FCO spokesman told AFP: “These files are an
important part of our history.
“It is not for us to comment on the detail of the
papers released today, particularly given the ongoing court case brought on
behalf of Mau Mau veterans.”
At least 10,000 people died during the bloody 1952-1960 Mau
Mau uprising against British colonial rule, with some sources giving far higher
estimates.
Tens of thousands were detained, including US President
Barack Obama’s grandfather.
Source: Daily Nation

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