On the 23rd of June 2009, Leigh Day issued a claim for compensation for alleged torture against the British Government on behalf of five elderly Kenyans who had been detained and tortured by the British colonial administration in Kenya during the Kenya Emergency
These claims were launched as test cases and it was anticipated that, if successful, they would result in redress for the wider community of Kenyan victims of colonial era torture.
In October 2012, the claimants won a historic legal victory
when the High Court rejected the British Government’s attempt to strike out the claims of British colonial torture by the test claimants, on the grounds that the claims were time barred.
The previous year, in July 2011
, the test claimants had won another legal victory when the High Court rejected the British Government’s attempt to strike out the claims of Kenyan victims of British Colonial torture on the grounds that it was the Kenyan Government who were liable for the abuses of the British colony.
After issuing these test cases, Leigh Day continued its investigations with the Kenya Human Rights Commission and identified over 5,000 further victims of colonial era torture in Kenya who subsequently became clients of the firm.
Importantly, the victims of colonial era torture often had little or nothing to do with the Mau Mau but were detained without trial if they thought to have any connection with the insurgency.
They are men and women from different Kenyan communities who have each suffered unspeakable abuses, including castrations and severe sexual assaults which in many cases has left them with lifelong physical and mental scars.
Detailed summaries of the remaining three lead test claimants’ testimony can be found below. Further information about their experiences can be found in their witness statements.
Paulo (left) was born in 1927 at Mulumine in Makueni District, and is now 86 years old. He was forced to join the Mau Mau in March 1957 but decided to abandon the movement about six months later.
As he was travelling home in August 1957, he came across three armed African Policemen who demanded that he surrender to them. They arrested him and took him to the Embakasi Detention Camp.
A few days after arriving at the camp, Paulo was forced to strip naked and squat with his hands between his legs. He was then violently forced to the ground and his legs were held astride.
Paulo was then castrated with pliers. After being castrated Paulo’s genitals became heavily swollen and he was taken to the King George Hospital.
Paulo stayed in hospital for two weeks before being taken to Manyani Detention Camp. At Manyani Detention Camp Paulo witnessed detainees being beaten with sticks on a daily basis, the beatings were so brutal that some detainees died as a result.
After almost a year in detention he was released without charge. At no point was he brought before a court of law. Paulo has never been able to have children following his castration.
Paulo describes his ordeal in his own words in his witness statement, an extract of which is below:
“I was taken to an open area in the camp where Luvai (a British Colonial officer) stripped me of my clothes in front of all the other detainees.
"Kwatanehi was told to pin me to the ground. He was a very strong man. He pulled my right arm violently from behind me, through my legs which caused me to somersault over onto my back.
"They tied both of my legs with chains and Kwatanehi pinned down both of my hands. Luvai then approached me with a large pair of pliers which were more than a foot long and castrated me.
"Both the veins of my testicles were completely cut but the testicles themselves are still in place. As a result, my testicles have completely shrivelled up. I forgive him for what he has done to me. There is nothing I can do, the only thing I can do is to forgive.
"You cannot repay a sin with a sin. That will not give me back what was taken away from me…. However, I do want to ask the British Government to recognize the wrong that was done to me.
"I was injured permanently when I was tortured by the Colonial Administration and my life has been very bitter as a result. I would like to receive an apology for what happened.”
Wambugu Wa Nyingi
Wambugu (left) was born in 1928 in Nyeri District, Central Province, and is now 85 years old. Prior to his arrest he worked as a tractor driver and was a member of the Kenya African Union (KAU), a political party which advocated freedom, independence and land rights for Kenyans.
At no point did he take the Mau Mau oath.
On 24 December 1952, Wambugu was arrested at his home by a group of seven white officers from the Kenya Regiment at about 1:00am.
He was taken to Kia Riua Screening Camp in Aguthi where he was detained for about six to eight months. He was never charged with an offence, nor was he brought before a court during the subsequent 9 years he was detained. At that camp he witnessed a particular incident where 16 detainees had their names called out.
They were all then beaten and 14 were killed by the assistant chiefs with the help of the Home Guards. Wambugu was transferred from camp to camp around Kenya where he was subjected to forced labour and beaten daily with canes and sticks.
On one occasion, he was beaten senseless by the prison wardens.
At Mageta Island Detention Camp in Lake Victoria he was denied food for twelve days.
From Mageta Island Wambugu was transferred back to Athi River Camp, where he was detained for about three months. Whilst at Athi River Camp, Wambugu was tied upside down by his feet and beaten whilst cold water was poured on him.
Wambugu still has black marks around his ankles as a result. At the same time Wambugu was interrogated and told to confess to having taken the Mau Mau oath.
He was transferred to Mwea Camp which was presided over by an English officer named Terrance Gavaghan. Wambugu was personally interrogated by Gavaghan, whilst being beaten by his officers.
On one occasion Wambugu was beaten with 72 strokes of a cane whilst Gavaghan watched. Wambugu was then transferred to Hola Camp.
He was involved in the infamous Hola massacre where eleven detainees were beaten to death after they refused to dig their own graves.
In this incident Wambugu was severely injured and beaten unconscious and left for days with the dead corpses.
He was finally released from detention in January 1961. In total he spent 9 years in detention without charge.
Wambugu describes his ordeal in his own words in his witness statement, an extract of which is below:
“I was battered on the back of my head and around my neck repeatedly with a club. I believe that the beating went on for up to 20 minutes.
"I saw one detainee very badly injured and his insides were exposed. All of a sudden another crushing blow hit the back of my head. I saw red and I passed out.
"All the 11 were killed with clubs and no firearms were used. I lost my friends, Migwe Ndegwa and a Turkana detainee.
"I lay unconscious with the 11 corpses for two days in a room where the corpses had been placed awaiting burial. The people who put me there thought I was also dead but I was in fact unconscious.
"A European doctor came to check on the bodies. As he was checking the bodies he noticed that I was alive and I was taken to a hospital outside the camp.
"I have brought this case because I want the world to know about the years I have lost and what was taken from a generation of Kenyans.
"If I could speak to the Queen I would say that Britain did many good things in Kenya but that they also did many bad things. The settlers took our land, they killed our people and they burnt down our houses.
"In the years before independence people were beaten, their land was stolen, women were raped, men were castrated and their children were killed. I do not hold her personally responsible but I would like the wrongs which were done to me and other Kenyans to be recognised by the British Government so that I can die in peace.”
Jane Muthoni Mara
Jane (left) was born around 1939 at Nguguini in the Embu District, and is now 74 years old.
In 1954, when she was about 15 years old, Jane was taken from her home, accused of being a Mau Mau sympathiser and arrested.
She was transported to Gatithi Screening Camp. Jane was then taken to a tent and interrogated and interrogators forcefully inserted a glass bottle full of hot water into her vagina.
This abuse was supervised by a white officer and was administered to many women. She knew of several women who were seriously injured as a result of the abuse.
Jane was then transferred from camp to camp where she was systematically beaten with whips and sticks and deprived of food and water.
Jane knew of many people who died in the camps because of the abuse they received. Jane was finally released in 1957.
Jane describes her ordeal in her own words in her witness statement, an extract of which is below:
“Suddenly there were four guards hovering around me. I was then pinned down to the floor by one man when held my shoulders.
"Two other men held each arm and one man prised open and held my thighs apart. Edward was sitting on a chair directly in front of my spread legs and was pressing on my bare feet with his spiky army boots.
"I was screaming and resisting and trying to wriggle and free myself from the men who were holding me down. Suddenly Edward produced a glass soda bottle. Waikanja told him to push the bottle into my vagina which he did. I felt excruciating pain and then realised that the glass bottle contained very hot water.
"Edward literally forced the bottle into me with the sole of his foot while Waikanja was looking on and directing him.
"I was in so much pain and I could not stop crying and screaming. I felt completely and utterly violated by this sexual torture, but I continued to insist that I had not taken an oath.
"This lasted for about 30 minutes and was very painful. When I was in the tent, I saw this being done to the other three women. I had never seen anything so brutal and terrifying in all my life.
"The abuse has affected my whole life and I relive the events I lived through on a regular basis. I do not understand why I was treated with such brutality for simply having provided food to the Mau Mau.
I killed no one, I harmed no one, all I wanted to do was to help those who were fighting for the dignity and freedom of our people. I want the British citizens of today to know what their forefathers did to me and to so many others. These crimes cannot go unpunished and forgotten.”