The Nation (Nairobi)

16 July 2006

Kenya: Unveiling Secrets of Kenya's

(Page 4 of 4)

Having so far kept matters out of the public gaze, Erskine next set about disciplining those concerned.

All of the soldiers involved in the Chuka patrols were placed under open arrest at Nairobi's Buller Camp, but Erskine decided not to prosecute them. Instead, he would make an example of their commanding officer, Major Griffiths.

And, rather than risk bringing publicity to the Chuka affair, Erskine was able to obtain evidence to have Griffiths charged with the murder of two other suspects in a separate incident that had taken place a few weeks before the Chuka massacre.

This ruse went badly wrong, however, when the 5th KAR soldiers giving evidence at the courts martial in November 1953 refused to speak frankly against Griffiths. He was acquitted of the charge.

One of the British soldiers later admitted that he had lied, deliberately committing perjury. Erskine was furious. And so was the British Conservative government in London, where rumours of "army atrocities" had leaked to the press.

When the Cabinet met, an inquiry into the conduct of the army in Kenya was ordered. The inquiry was to be chaired by Lieutenant-General K. McLean, who arrived in Nairobi in December 1953.

All this gave the appearance that the army had resolved to clear its name by thorough, honest examination of uncomfortable issues: But Erskine knew only too well that an investigation of events before June 1953 would have revealed things much worse than Chuka.

In a letter to the War Office, in December 1953, to be found in the British archives, Erskine made this candid admission: "There is no doubt that in the early days, i.e. from Oct 1952 until last June there was a great deal of indiscriminate shooting by Army and Police. I am quite certain prisoners were beaten to extract information."

To avoid a scandal, McLean's inquiry, therefore, drew a veil of official secrecy over the first eight months of the emergency.

Though McLean went carefully into the details of the Chuka affair, his final report was a whitewash. He concluded that, whilst there may have been some irregularities in procedures by some units, the conduct of the British army in Kenya "under difficult and arduous circumstances, showed that measure of restraint backed by good discipline which this country has traditionally expected".

Satisfied by this, and with fresh evidence on Chuka obtained through McLean's inquiry, Erskine now ordered that Major Griffiths be subjected to a second courts martial. This time he was charged with the murder of the first "guide" in Chuka, and the evidence of the soldiers under his command now turned against him.

When the trial concluded, on March 11, 1954, Griffiths was found guilty, and sentenced to seven years imprisonment. The two British junior officers who led the patrols in Chuka, Innes-Walker and Howard, were never prosecuted for the murders of the villagers.

Nor did the 10 African soldiers who were present ever stand trial, all of them Kenyans.

It is difficult to avoid the thought that these 12 men were allowed to go free in return for their participation in the conviction of their commanding officer, even though each one of them - British and Kenyan alike - must surely have been liable to prosecution for war crimes.

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