Secret British files show Kenya massacre cover-up
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.