THE British government accepts that colonial forces in Kenya tortured and abused detainees during the Mau Mau rebellion, the High Court has heard.
Three elderly Kenyans who are suing the government for damages were told it did not dispute that ‘terrible things’ had happened to them, including castration.
Their lawyers say it is the first ever official acknowledgement by the UK that Mau Mau prisoners were tortured, beaten and up to 20,000 hung.
The revolt against British rule in Kenya in the 1950s and 1960s was marked by atrocities, with thousands killed.
The British government argues that too much time has passed for a fair trial to be conducted.
Before starting cross-examination of witnesses at the trial, the QC for the British government, Guy Mansfield, said he did not want to dispute that civilians had suffered torture and ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration.
He then spoke directly to one of the witnesses, telling him that he did ‘not want to dispute the fact that terrible things happened to you’.
Papers in the test case were first served on the UK in 2009.
In 2011, a High Court judge ruled the claimants – Paulo Muoka Nzili, Wambuga Wa Nyingi and Jane Muthoni Mara – did have an arguable case.
In his ruling, Mr Justice McCombe emphasised that he had not found there was systematic torture in the Kenyan camps nor that, if there was, the UK government was liable for what happened.
The claimants’ lawyers allege that Mr Nzili was castrated, Mr Nyingi severely beaten and Mrs Mara subjected to appalling sexual abuse in detention camps during the rebellion.
A fourth claimant, Ndiku Mutwiwa Mutua, has died since the High Court ruling that the test case could go ahead.
Lawyers Leigh Day have said they represent hundreds of Kenyans who were victims of brutality in the 1950s and 1960s.
The hearing will have access to an archive of 8,000 secret files that were sent back to Britain after Kenya gained its independence in 1963.
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has written to Prime Minister David Cameron accusing Britain of neglecting its human rights duties over the case.
The hearing continues.