1950-1959 | Kenya | Torture

General warns against inquiry into British crimes in Kenya

British troops arrest a suspect Mau Mau insurgent –
© IWM (MAU 554)
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10 December 1953

On 10 December 1953, in a letter to the War Office, General George Erskine, commanding British forces in Kenya, admitted that he was aware that the police and army in the colony frequently resorted to summary executions and torture against suspect Mau Mau insurgents. ‘There is no doubt’, he confessed to Whitehall officials, ‘that in the early days, i.e. from October 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. It is a short step from beating to torture and I am now sure, although it has taken me some time to realise it, that torture was a feature of many police posts.’1

The general also acknowledged that settlers were ‘operating a private army,’ donning police uniforms to massacre those Kenyans they suspected of having any link to the Mau Mau insurgency.’2 Nevertheless, he strongly recommended that the British government  should not initiate any independent inquiry into crimes committed against the Kenyan population. The reason he gave was that he felt that its report would be too shocking.

‘I very much hope it will not be necessary for HMG to send out an independent inquiry. If they did they would have to investigate everything from the beginning of the Emergency and I think the revelation would be shattering.’3

FOOTNOTES

  1. Cited in ‘Witness Statement of Huw Charles Bennett,’ in Ndiku Mutua and Others V Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Claim no: HQ09X02666 p29 https://www.leighday.co.uk/LeighDay/media/LeighDay/documents/Mau%20Mau/Historian%20witness%20statements/Dr-Bennett-3rd-statement-FINAL.pdf?ext=.pdf
  2. ‘Army Tortured Mau Mau Rebels in the 1950s,’ The Guardian, 5 February 2005, https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2005/feb/05/kenya.freedomofinformation
  3. Cited in ‘Witness Statement of Huw Charles Bennett,’ in Ndiku Mutua and Others V Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Claim no: HQ09X02666 p29 https://www.leighday.co.uk/LeighDay/media/LeighDay/documents/Mau%20Mau/Historian%20witness%20statements/Dr-Bennett-3rd-statement-FINAL.pdf?ext=.pdf

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