Reports of murder and ‘cover up’ involving the British Army in Kenya

24th Oct 2021

THE SUNDAY TIMES reports that an infantryman accused of murdering a 21-year-old in Kenya nine years ago has been named by army comrades. They reported him to officers at the time but the crime was ‘covered up’. Now a murder inquiry has been launched by the Royal Military Police.

The Sunday Times has today reported the murder of a vulnerable young woman, Agnes Wanjiru, in Kenya by a British Army infantryman in 2012.

The piece describes a confession to murder by the soldier that was widely known within his unit, including within his chain of command, according to one witness.  The killing followed a visit by this particular soldier (and others) to a local hotel where the soldiers would reportedly regularly use prostituted women. On this occasion it is alleged that the soldier either stabbed or choked Agnes to death, dumping her body in a septic tank – that he later showed to his colleagues.  His identity and what he had done was apparently an ‘open secret’ but, not long after the killing, the soldier and his colleagues were all transferred back to the UK.

According to the article, the Kenyan police opened an initial investigation into the death and sought, from the Ministry of Defence, information about the identities of the British soldiers at the hotel that night and DNA samples from them.  Three of the soldiers involved that have spoken to the Sunday Times claim they were never asked for this information. The MoD apparently denies receiving the request from the Kenyan police.

The Kenyan Attorney General was also said to have been in contact at one stage with the British High Commission in Kenya about the case.

In 2017, there was an inquest into the death in Kenya led by a judge. The Judge named the soldiers present at the hotel and called for the killing to properly investigated and for there to be an investigation into an apparent cover-up.

The MoD states, in response to the Times piece, that the Serious Investigations Branch of the military police (presumably the Royal Military Police) conducted some initial enquiries in 2012 but then received no further requests from the Kenyan police.  The MoD states that the Royal Military Police are now investigating.

Some very urgent issues arise:

If – and this needs to be clarified – it was the SIB of the Royal Military Police that conducted those initial enquiries in 2012, then they are surely tainted and should not be leading this investigation now. Any investigation from the British side now should be conducted by a different branch of the military police (either the RAF police or the Navy police), and a civilian police force should be invited to support, if not co-lead, the investigation. This is what happened with the overseas rape investigation concerning the late Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement in 2013 when the RAF Police, working closely with Bedfordshire Police, conducted a fresh rape investigation. There is a ‘tri-services’ military police protocol (link below) that governs how investigations are to be taken forward where the military police themselves are involved in sufficiently serious cases – if the RMP was anywhere near this case and declined to push for the fullest investigation possible, then even presentationally, they ought to be asked to step aside now. This is not a time for the military police to get territorial.

Although the death occurred outside of the UK’s jurisdiction, that does not mean that there was no obligation on the British authorities to investigate it. Human rights caselaw allows for independent investigations to be conducted in such circumstances where there are ‘special features’ to a case – it may be that this situation contained exactly the kind of special features to warrant a full investigation by the British authorities and that such an investigation was required by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).  It is striking that appears to have been no meaningful British investigation, regardless of what the Kenyan authorities decided to do.  And regardless of the ECHR position, soldiers take their system of service justice with them wherever they go in the world, when they are deployed. At the very least there should have been a military police investigation that went further than the ‘initial enquiries’ referred to by the MoD in its response to the Sunday Times.

Any criminal investigation must look at not only the original allegation of murder, but must investigate what was known about it and who was told about the allegation and what they did about it – this needs to include the soldiers that worked alongside the accused and anyone higher in rank that was made aware of the allegation.

Regardless of what happens in relation to any criminal investigations, there must be a wider public inquiry into the case that will investigate what was known, who was told, what the military police knew, what efforts were made by the Kenyan authorities and what response did they receive from the British authorities (both the Army and the British High Commission).

The Secretary of State may also wish to investigate the wider allegations contained in the article that suggests that the conduct of some of our soldiers overseas towards local vulnerable women is shocking, highly dangerous and needs to be addressed. This would seem to follow on logically from the Defence Inquiry on Women that reported earlier this year.

It might also be worth pointing out here that the Overseas Operations Act, passed earlier this year, would make it easier for a prosecutor to decline to prosecute in a case like this.  The Act is now in force, and five years have passed since the alleged killing.  A UK prosecutor eventually receiving a file on this case will now have to overcome the so-called ‘triple lock’ created by Parliament that was designed to make it harder to prosecute soldiers for alleged crimes overseas. While sexual offences and war crimes were excluded from the Act, murder was not.

(Tri services policing protocol here: Tri Services Investigations Policy)

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