23 December 1954
Duncan McPherson, Assistant Commissioner of Kenya’s colonial police, was a rare exception to the norm of complete British indifference to the suffering of ordinary Kenyans. Britain was then engaged in a brutal campaign to crush the Mau Mau insurgency, which aimed to bring an end to colonial rule. Thousands were detained in prison and hundreds of thousands forcibly interned in virtual concentration camps.
The Labour MP Barbara Castle called MacPherson the ‘prototype of the British policeman at his best – a sturdy Scot, frank, open and direct.’1 On 23 December 1954, he wrote to Colonel Sir Arthur Young, who as Commissioner headed the force, listing graphic examples of violence and rape against suspect rebels and their families held in detention and expressing his frustration that there was little or no willingness to investigate such cases.
McPherson listed details of multiple cases of abuse and torture of detainees at Home Guard posts and during the screening of villagers for suspect Mau Mau members and sympathisers. He also detailed cases of summary shootings and prisoners battered to death. He regretted the lack of any ‘helpful attitude’ during such inquiries. ‘On the contrary,’ he observed, ‘there is an ever present air of nuisance value and a more than necessary endeavour to “white-wash” the culprits and to infer that the allegations are the produce of fertile minds directed against the Government.’2 He also cited dozens of cases in which colonial officials had taken active measures to cover up such crimes, including the exhuming of corpses which had then been dumped in the forests.3
- Barbara Castle cited in Caroline Elkins, Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya, The Bodley Head, London, 2014, p. 283.
- Witness Statement of Caroline Macy Elkins in the High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, Ndiku Mutua and 4 others and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 25 May 2012, p22. https://www.leighday.co.uk/LeighDay/media/LeighDay/documents/Mau%20Mau/Historian%20witness%20statements/Prof-Elkins-3rd-statement-FINAL.pdf?ext=.pdf
- Caroline Elkins, op. cit., p. 283.
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