11 Kenyans were beaten to death in Hola prison camp

Kenyans who were tortured by British troops, outside the High Court in London
Kenyans who were tortured by British troops, outside the High Court in London

FOREIGN Office documents made public by the National Archives after more than 50 years give the fullest account yet of a massacre which took place in1958 during the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya.

They confirm that eleven Kenyans were beaten to death by prison warders at the Hola detention camp, near Garissa, eastern Kenya, where Mau Mau suspects were being held. Dozens more were injured.

There were no prosecutions after the Hola massacre. Survivor Wambugu Wa Nyingi is one of three Kenyans currently suing the UK government for alleged torture.

The newly declassified documents reveal that Hola camp detainees complained of being treated ‘like slaves’ while carrying out enforced work on an irrigation scheme. Another grievance was over their diet, which they claimed was responsible for many diseases.

On 3rd March, 1959, 11 Kenyans died at Hola. Initial public statements suggested the men had been poisoned by contaminated water.

But three days later, Kenya’s governor, Evelyn Baring, wrote to the secretary of state for the colonies, Alan Lennox-Boyd, saying preliminary reports had been ‘misleading’.

‘(The) result of first three autopsies is that in each case, death was due to violence’, said Baring’s telegram to London.

In another telegram, on 9th March, he told London: ‘The injuries are reported to be consistent with being caused by heavy sticks or batons and/or boots.’

An inquest was held in Nairobi in March 1959. Summing up the magistrate’s findings, Baring told London: ‘Broadly, death was caused by shock and haemorrhage due to multiple bruising caused by violence.’

He added: ‘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, the colonial secretary wrote again to Baring: ‘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.’