Economy & Politics

Mau Mau UK lawyers to be paid Sh780 million

Some of the Mau Mau veterans who attended the Hilton Hotel conference where the UK government payout was announced. Photo/Jeniffer Muiruri
Some of the Mau Mau veterans who attended the Hilton Hotel conference where the UK government payout was announced on June 6, 2013. Photo/JENIFFER MUIRURI NATION MEDIA GROUP

Mau Mau lawyers are the biggest beneficiaries of the British out-of-court compensation to the former freedom fighters.

They are set to pocket a third of the £19.9 million (Sh2.6 billion) paid out by Whitehall. The 5,200 Mau Mau claimants are set to share £13.9 million (Sh1.8 billion) while the British law firm, Leigh Day, will pocket £6 million (Sh780 million).

Paul Muite, one of the local lawyers involved in the case said Kenyan lawyers had not charged for their services in the Mau Mau case.

“The local lawyers have not asked for a single cent and we have not been paid a single cent,” said Mr Muite. The local lawyers were George Morara, Gitobu Imanyara, and Mr Muite.

The out-of court settlement marked the British government’s official admission that its troops had committed atrocities in Kenya from 1953 as the crackdown on freedom fighters began following the declaration of a State of Emergency.

For years, London had refused to accept responsibilities over its colonial atrocities in Kenya and dismissed the freedom fighters as terrorists.

The UK legal team sought to justify the amount it would be paid, stating that they had deployed huge resources in researching and presenting the case in courts.

“We have fought a rigorous battle of four years, we have employed a huge team to the case and also research work. That is why the cost is a bit high,” said Martin Day, the lawyer who kick-started the compensation case.

Part of this included the discovery of thousands of documents on Mau Mau that had been hidden in a London vault and which directly incriminated the British civil servants.

On Thursday the UK government announced that they were abandoning an appeal they had lodged and agreed to pay compensation of £2,600 (Sh338,000) per claimant.

(Read: Britain agrees compensation deal for Kenya torture victims)

In the settlement document, the UK government agreed “to pay the legal costs of the case to ensure the claimants received all the agreed monies.”

Mr Day was also involved in the 2002 suit by Maasai and Samburu pastoralists who had been injured by bombs left in the Laikipia plains by British troops training in Kenya.

Thursday marked yet another victory for Mr Day’s law firm. The excitement in the Hilton Hotel room was palpable as British High Commissioner Christian Turner expressed regrets over his government’s actions to the Mau Mau members.

“The court did not find the government as liable, but in spite of that, there is this deep expression of regret and acknowledgement that wrongs were committed” he said.

The UK government agreed to make an out- of- court settlement with the group after its efforts to have the case ruled as stale were dismissed.

“We have accepted what the British government has given. Is it sufficient? It can’t be sufficient. I was locked up for seven years with my dad. But one in the hand is better than 10 in the bush. That statement (of acknowledging that a wrong was done and sincere regret) alone is sufficient even without the money,” said former Juja MP Gitu Wa Kahengeri and one of the Mau Mau veterans.

Earlier in London, the British cabinet secretary William Hague had told Parliament about the government’s “regrets”

Mzee Kahengeri said the Mau Mau had factored the period that it would take to settle the case in court and opted to have the out- of -court settlement to ensure that they enjoyed the compensation while they were still alive.

Though the members filed the case in 2009 they were yet to appear in court indicating how the case would have stretched if they followed the court process.

The settlement is likely to open a fray of other cases in other British colonies and from other Kenyan groups, which felt locked out in the settlement.

“This is for those who were tortured and are alive. There are those who died, there are those whose land was taken. The next step is to engage the British government on these,” said Mr Muite.

Britons are also accused of carrying out acts of torture in Cyprus, Malaysia, and Aden during their colonial period.

The compensation is also expected to cause excitement among the elderly with more of them coming out to claim a stake of the compensation. Yesterday, some had to be turned back for not being members of the group receiving the award.

“They have chased me out. If I am not a Mau Mau then who is a Mau Mau,” said 86- year- old Kimari Maina who had travelled from Muranga to be part of the historic moment.

He claimed to have been among the prisoners who cleared the Kisumu Airport, Embakasi Airport and was detained at Manyani.

In July 2002 the British Ministry of Defence paid out £4.5 million to 228 Samburus who had been maimed by live ammunitions left by the training officers.

The amount, however, proved to be a curse to many as they took up to wild living on assumption that the lump sum would last a lifetime. Individual compensation ranged from £8,000 (Sh1 million) to £270,000 (Sh35 million).

“This money will be paid straight to the claimants and you can’t tell a grown up how to spend their money. If they want to drink it is up to them,” said Mr Muite.

The British government also agreed to finance the construction of a memorial in the country to the victims of the colonial era torture.

gngigi@ke.nationmedia.com