Horrors of Hola detention camp

Village elders walk to a detention camp to screen political detainees. Their word was law and a matter of life and death for the detainees.

In the third part of our series on the First Liberation, the Nation Investigation Team looks at how Mau Mau detainees were tortured and killed at the Hola detention camp, the events leading to the lifting of the Emergency Period and the Constitutional Conference in Lancaster House.

The final official despatch of British troops commander General Erskine, in April 1955, vividly demonstrated how blind he was to the poisoned chalice his strategy had bequeathed to Governor Baring. 

He felt the Emergency had definitely reached its last phase. Many of Mau Mau’s bravest leaders had been killed. He concluded: "There are still some determined leaders in the field, but I’m sure that the security forces will be able to eliminate the last terrorists from the forest in time. Meanwhile a large part of the colony will be able to return to peaceful development."

But Erskine’s strategy was already too far developed for his successor, Lieutenant General Sir Gerald Lathbury, to reverse or even amend.

"They" were all sequestered in villages and detention camps and there only the Administration’s dictatorial writ ran. The writ was that you could only move back from the camp to human society when you had confessed to taking a Mau Mau oath, whether you had or had not and whether what you confessed was true or a lie and whether they had to beat it out of you or not, and whether it made you more or less likely to want freedom and land. 

Lathbury must have been happy to be no part of this nonsense. Instead he was able to busy himself tinkering with tactics as his forces tried to locate and eliminate the scattered groups of fighters still surviving in the forest. 

One new tactic was to force the villagers to dig an enormous ditch right round the Aberdares and Mount Kenya and fill it with sharpened bamboo sticks to destroy any remaining links between the forest fighters and their supporters in the Reserves. 

Another tactic was to expand the ‘pseudo-gangs’ combing the forests for their elusive former comrades.

The bombing and strafing by RAF planes also continued but their damage, if any, was definitely more psychological than physical.

In October 1956, Dedan Kimathi, the acknowledged leader in the Aberdares, was wounded and captured. 

In November, the army withdrew from major operations and virtually declared ‘their’ war.

With the withdrawal of the army (and its direct link to the Secretary of State for War, in London) and the shifting of the battleground to the camps and the villages, the Colonial Secretary in the UK and the civil servants in the Colonial Office once more became totally and personally responsible for policies and their implementation in the colony.

At the end of July 1954, Winston Churchill appointed Alan Lennox-Boyd Secretary of State for the Colonies. In October 1959 after a British General Election, he was replaced in Harold Macmillan’s Cabinet by Iain Macleod. For over five years, therefore, Lennox-Boyd was thus directly and personally responsible for the conduct of the Emergency in Kenya. In particular he oversaw the effects of Operation Anvil in Nairobi, including the stuffing of ever more political detainees into already overcrowded concentration camps. 

He approved Gen Erskine’s departure from the colony in May 1955 with the decreasing importance of the military aspect of the war. He also watched the extraordinary growth in numbers and power of the Provincial Administration with the colony-wide initiation of the policy of closer administration.

In addition, the total village-isation of Kikuyuland came under his docket. He was also kept well-informed on the results of the carefully (and perhaps rather misguidedly) named rehabilitation programmes in the concentration camps. 

Papers in the British Public Record Office show that he was undoubtedly aware of the illegal move in 1956/7 towards a more aggressive and physical approach in these camps with the adoption of the scandalous 'dilution technique', hatched by District Officer TJF Gavaghan and Prisons Superintendent John Cowan at the Mwea camps in Embu.

What was Lennox-Boyd really like as a man? Friends and colleagues all emphasise that "he was very tall". 

What they seem to mean to imply by this is not mere height but that he was a man of grandiose dreams, remarkable drive and energy, very generous and, at least on the surface, kindly and charming. Macmillan described him as a "highly strong, sensitive and rather quixotic character". He was, for the record, actually 6ft 5in.

However, there were other factors in his past and in his general character make-up that could give one pause when considering his suitability for the post of Colonial Secretary in a world clamouring for self-government. Like most of the imperial ruling class he was educated at an English public school (Sherborne) and Oxford University. He could not therefore fail to have imbibed the imperial patriotic mythology so intimately connected in Britain at that time with that kind of education.

In this respect at Oxford, somewhat at the expense of his studies, he developed his right wing political inclinations in the Oxford Union (an elite debating society) and the Canning Club. He became President of the Union and also of the Oxford Carlton Club and even the University Conservative Association. All these societies were bastions of High Tory Conservative views, which in Oxford at this time (the 1920s) verged on an acceptance of fascism. 

Indeed Lennox-Boyd once wrote to the British Fascists, suggesting that "there was a chance of doing something for fascism in Oxford". Combined with this, he always retained a natural sympathy for ‘martial races’ and ‘traditional rulers’ whose position was threatened by the ‘clerks’ of the new nationalist movements. 

As he once said as late as the 1970s: "I felt strongly for the martial tribes and admired the fighting men of the Punjab more than the clerks of Bengal". 

There is little doubt to which category in his simplistic way he assigned the Kikuyu.

As far as his personal reaction to the unfolding of events in Kenya is concerned, he has revealed an astonishing sang-froid attitude to the constant stream of complaints of torture, brutality and even murder, which culminated in the 1959 carnage at Hola.

In the same remarkably candid interview quoted above, he recalled: "I went the week after I left the Colonial Office to stay with Alex Home at Dorneywood for the day and Iain Macleod (Lennox-Boyd’s successor as Colonial Secretary) was there. I brought out all the skeletons for Iain’s perusal, of people other than those concerned with the Hola thing, whose breaches of discipline I had tolerated on Evelyn’s (Baring’s) advice.

"So I said, "Now you will know all the cover-up operations that I have made." There were three or four others – unauthorised beatings under extreme provocation, and various crimes that people had made against others under the cover of the Emergency. I had the whole lot there and I gave them all to Iain. He was very shocked. I said, ‘Well if you can apply the canon (religious law) of the cloister to a battle in tribal Africa, good luck to you', or words to that effect."

Eliud Mutonyi, the chairman of the Mau Mau Central Committee, had been closely involved with the movement from its origins in the 1940s when it grew out of the Anake a 40. A Nairobi-based businessman originally from Murang’a, he managed to evade capture by the British until November 1953. Almost inevitably in 1958, he ended up at the Hola Camp. Before he died in 1975 from the beatings and tortures he received in the camps, he wrote an autobiography which, after many vicissitudes, is now awaiting publication. In the extract that follows, he vividly describes the events of March 3, 1959 as witnessed by him from the camp dispensary.

"In 1958, at the age of 41, I was transferred to Hola Detention Camp as a 'hard-core Mau Mau' detainee. I was among the 'blackest of the black'; I had refused for five years every attempt to bribe or beat me into 'rehabilitation' and cooperation with the British colonial government in Kenya.

According to our oppressors, I was doomed to live and die in a remote part of my country, 'unfit' to re-enter normal society.

"On the awful morning of March 3, 1959, the detainees at Hola were divided into three groups. The first was sent to the kitchen. The second, of which I was a member, was sent to the dispensary for treatment. The third, comprising 88 young and reasonably healthy men, was taken for a work assignment. Each man was given a spade, a basin and a hoe, and then ordered to dig the soil. We had refused all along to perform this task, and the young men refused on that morning as well, just as the authorities knew they would.

"Broken down into groups of five, the men were whipped and beaten up, whipped and whipped, until at least 11 of them died. None among the survivors escaped permanent injury.

"Inside the dispensary, we heard the most agonising and ghastly screams coming from these men. We had all heard screaming before, at Mariira and Mackinnon Road, at Manyani and Sayusi, at Athi River and Kajiado, at every concentration camp in Kenya. But never for as long, and with such awful intensity, as on that morning at Hola."

"The warders ordered us to squat and keep our heads down; those who tried to look outside to see what was happening were beaten. The wailing and the lamentations continued and continued, and we were not surprised when a guard came in to say that some men were dying from the vicious beatings they were receiving.

"We were physically weak, those of us who were spared the torture. We could not fight, yet we wanted to rise up and stop the slaughter, all of it deliberately being carried out on the bodies of defenceless men, as part of the colonial government’s 'rehabilitation' policy; the murders were committed on the orders of 'civilised' men, the representatives of the British Crown in Kenya. 

"The sight of the battered bodies being brought in caused a young Red Cross doctor working in the dispensary to break down and cry. ‘I am not here to treat the dead', he said, and then carried on, with his brave nurse, to try to save the living. Without their efforts, many others would have died that day. May God bless those two, wherever they are.

"And may God bless them, too, for having had the courage to reveal the truth of Hola, after the Governor of Kenya at the time, Sir Evelyn Baring (later Lord Howick), and the entire Government of Kenya conspired to hide their treachery by telling the world that the 11 men had died from accidentally drinking poisoned water. 

"When the real story emerged, the story of official murder, the British Government was embarrassed and the public shocked. Debates were held in the House of Commons, official investigations were carried out and reports issued. Journalists and doctors flew to Hola Camp to investigate the treatment of 'Mau Mau' prisoners, and the brutality which had characterised prison life in Kenya began to subside.

"Even the name 'Hola' was wiped from the map of Kenya, and replaced by 'Galole'. But this can never erase the horrors of Hola from the memories of all who fought for Kenya’s freedom.

"Hola happened because men who believed in freedom refused to compromise their belief. The Kenya government’s 'rehabilitation' policy tried to make us admit, in word or in deed, what we had fought for was wrong. Some of us, the 'hard core' detainees, could not cooperate in any way with the colonial government. We had not cooperated outside of prison, when we had joined the movement to free Kenya; there was no reason why we should cooperate as political prisoners, simply to gain some small personal comforts. Yet many of my comrades paid with their lives for such 'stubbornness', and others among us suffered years of detention and torture, and life-long injury."

It was, however, another eminent right-wing Conservative, J. Enoch Powell, who in 1959 in the famous second debate of the summer on Hola in the House of Commons in July, ended his speech with the following decisive attack that went to the heart of the tragically botched and immoral Baring - Lennox-Boyd stewardship of Kenya. 

Powell concluded: "We cannot say, ‘We will have African standards in Africa, Asian standards in Asia and perhaps British standards here at home’... It is a fearful doctrine, which must recoil on the heads of those who pronounce it, to stand in judgement on a fellow being and to say, 'Because he was such-and-such, therefore the consequences which would otherwise flow from his death shall not flow'... We cannot, we dare not, in Africa of all places, fall below our own highest standards in the acceptance of responsibility".

The political atmosphere in London in the hot pre-Election summer of 1959 was frenzied. It really seemed that the combination of the 1956 Suez debacle – when the Americans put a sharp brake on Sir Antony Eden’s last mismanaged imperialist conspiracy – could be linked with the sleaze of Baring’s desperate conspiratorial water cart deceit at Hola and result in an October election triumph for Hugh Gaitskell’s Labour Party. 

Gaitskell, Macmillan said, had "an intellectual dislike of and contempt for British settlers". This dismal prospect duly horrified the vast majority of both the European Settlers and the Provincial Administration in Kenya.

The two leading members of Macmillan’s Cabinet most concerned about the ethical revelations of the Hola disaster were Iain Macleod, then the Minister of Labour and Lord Hailsham, the Conservative party chairman. 

When the inquest on the 11 camp deaths held by the senior resident magistrate in Mombasa uncovered the appalling truth, there was a serious danger of a Cabinet split centred around these two. Somehow Macmillan avoided this, though he could not prevent the first full-scale debate on Hola in the House of Commons on June 16, deteriorating into a massive personal onslaught on Lennox-Boyd both from his own side and also from Labour, led by the former Attorney-General Sir Frank Soskice.

Lennox-Boyd, who had not wanted to speak and had offered to resign, was persuaded by Macmillan to answer the motion of censure and to stay in office. He frankly admitted muddle, confusion and scandals. Macmillan commented in his diary: "Naturally it seems terrible that 11 people should die in this way and no prosecutions or resignations. The Colonial Secretary had been supported by the Cabinet after, at one time, I feared a split. So he owes us something. I feel there must be a ‘reshuffle’ in the Kenya Administration".

(What if Lennox-Boyd had resigned and the British Labour party had won that election in October 1959? One of the more interesting ‘ifs’ of Kenya’s history.)

Where Lennox-Boyd was tall, Macleod was small. He was also extremely intelligent, ambitious and an excellent speaker. He was a top class bridge player and contributed a weekly bridge column to the Sunday Times for many years. He was physically disadvantaged, having suffered from spondylitis, a progressive and incurable arthritic condition of the back and neck. He had no previous contact with Britain’s African colonies, but Macmillan knew what to expect when he appointed him.

Macleod was a radical in the party and likely to move more rapidly than slowly towards independence. Macmillan himself would be making his famous ‘Wind of Change’ speech in1960 in South Africa. However, to the High Tories, with their connections with the European communities in Africa, Macleod was (as Lord Salisbury damagingly put it in the House of Lords) Ð "too clever by half". Macleod wasted no time. Hola had lifted the scales from his eyes as well as those of many others. With immediate effect, 2,500 detainees were to be released whether or not they had confessed to taking the Mau Mau oath. 

Camps were being closed as fast as possible under a totally new regime, increasingly staffed by administrative officers not linked with, or compromised by, the ‘dilution technique’. 

Its author, Gavaghan, was abruptly removed from the plum post of District Commissioner, Kiambu, and gingerly exited to the backwaters of the secretariat. He had become too hot to handle.

The State of Emergency was eventually lifted on January 12, 1960. Macleod announced that a pilot scheme would be started that would make possible some African ownership of property in the (now former) White Highlands. 

Finally a Constitutional Conference would assemble in Lancaster House, London on January 18, 1960. 

So there was progress on both Freedom and Land – the twin pillars of the Fight for Freedom – as a direct result of the battlefield of Hola.

Group Captain Briggs, leader of the right wing Europeans, acknowledged this when he said of Macleod’s plan at Lancaster House: "This is a victory for Mau Mau, a death blow to the European community".

Mr Michael Blundell said, more diplomatically: "The proposals will completely change the political scene in Kenya".

The Provincial Administration and the Settlers were now in full retreat. The myth that had been invented by them, in conjunction with local ‘experts’ such as Dr Louis Leakey, the palaeontologist, and Dr JC Carothers (the psychiatrist at Mathari Mental Hospital), and labelled Mau Mau was vaporising before their very eyes.

Dr Leakey’s attempt to deceive the outside world that the Mau Mau movement had no political origins or purposes but was some sort of misdirected cult had failed. 'Rehabilitation' became a dead concept.

How do you 'rehabilitate' someone asking for their freedom and their land? As Hola showed, only by illegal force.

Macleod visited Kenya before the Lancaster House Conference. A district officer told him that there would be no peace in Kikuyuland until Jomo Kenyatta was released and asked when would that be.

Macleod answered: "One thing at a time". But Oginga Odinga after Lancaster House openly warned Lord Perth, the Minister of State, "You will have to deal with Kenyatta".

The Provincial Administration, however, was to hold on a little longer before they could accept they had been fighting for a lie. Had there really been no justification for all the shooting and the killing, all the atrocities and torture, the village-isation and the rapes, the starvation and the hunger? 

The last straw came when Jomo Kenyatta, instead of proving to be Lucifer rampant, turned out to be a moderate non-racist, tolerant leader and much more inclined to capitalism than communism. But all that is another story.

On March 3 1959, Baring was relaxing with his family on the portico of Government House. They were recovering from a a "highly successful" but nonetheless exhausting two-week long visit to Kenya by the Queen Mother. The sun was shining and the rose garden was at its colourful best, definitely one of Baring’s few Kenya days of peaceful bliss.

Suddenly he was called urgently into his office to take a call from the Ministry of Defence. A message had just come in over the prison radio network that five detainees had died at Hola. Just that, no explanation, no more details.

Baring was immediately alert. Only a few days before there had been a damaging debate in the House of Commons in which Labour MPs had vehemently castigated Lennox-Boyd, the Colonial Secretary, and the Kenya Government for the continuing reports of brutality and torture in Kenya’s detention camps.

Baring immediately decided to send to Hola three senior officers from the Prisons, Defence and African Affairs departments. They left early the next morning. Shortly afterwards Baring was told the death count had reached 10. He decided to postpone issuing any statement until the return of the three officials, scheduled for that evening.

In fact the three senior officers returned to Nairobi at mid-day. In the subsequent inquiry into the Hola catastrophe it turned out that the three officials concerned (known ever after as the Three Blind Mice) had carried out a remarkably casual inspection of the camp, spending only three hours there and really had no explanation of how 10 men had already died.

In addition while they were there not one of the three spoke to any warders or to any detainees. They did not see any of the dead bodies or the injured people in the hospital. They had simply listened to the version of the Hola commandant and his deputy. The prison doctor told them that a quarter of those in the hospital were putting on an act. He also mentioned that one of the dead men had two broken teeth, bruises on his face and had possibly died of "aspiration pneumonia" caused by inhaling regurgitated vomit.

However, there was one other factor which had been related to them by the prison deputy commandant. He had seen a detainee collapse near a water cart from which he had been drinking .

This really left only two options. Either the prison officers and the doctor were deliberately hiding what must have been a major atrocity or else these officers really did believe that the water cart might have had something to do with not only the deaths but also (how, how, how?) the injuries. Baring called a round table conference at Government House for 4pm. Present were the three officials back from Hola, the chief government doctor, three ministers (Griffith-Jones, A.G., Cusack, Defence, Johnston, African Affairs) and Lewis, the Commissioner of Prisons. The majority of those present knew all about the Cowan Plan and had indeed known all about it since early 1957. They also knew only too well that a revised version, checked by Cowan himself, had been specially sent for implementation at Hola. 

They talked about violence at some length, as was in the circumstances inevitable. The three officials, however, were of the opinion that violence had not been the cause of death. Incredibly, they supported the idea that drinking large quantities of water in the extreme heat could have been the cause. One cannot help feeling that Agatha Christie would have dismissed that one much earlier. It begged too many questions. What about the injuries? What about the prison staff who apparently suffered no problems from drinking from the same water cart? 

However, as a result of this meeting Baring authorised a statement about the deaths, which stated the men had died after drinking from a water cart. It was very carefully and ambiguously worded so that the reader could either deduce that the water killed them or merely that there was a water cart fortuitously around from which they drank and so what? There was no mention anywhere that there had been any disturbance.

The time has come to look very closely at Sir Evelyn Baring in the context of this document. Baring wrote on June 25, 1957 to Lennox-Boyd, requesting that the so called 'dilution technique' be approved by Lennox-Boyd. Baring, while acknowledging that "risks are unavoidable" explains that the technique "is giving very hopeful results indeed and is in fact the only way of dealing with the more dyed-in-the-wool Mau Mau men who will be our problem in the future".

His letter encloses an 11-page memorandum by Eric Griffiths-Jones, minister for Legal Affairs which is entitled : 'Dilution' Detention Camps – Use of Illegal Force in Enforcing Discipline.' 

This describes a very recent visit to Kandongu Camp in the Mwea by himself, Mr C.M. (Monkey) Johnston,minister for African Affairs and Community Development, and Mr J.H. Lewis, acting Secretary for Defence and the Commissioner of Prisons.

They were conducted round by Mr T.J.F Gavaghan, the District Officer in charge of Rehabilitation, Mwea Camps who "conducted the visiting party and explained the operation as it proceeded, and also himself participated in the proceedings and maintained in conjunction with the senior prison officers, direct personal control over the proceedings".

What is clear from this document is that the illegal procedures it describes and which evolved in discussions between Gavaghan and Cowan (of the Prisons Department) were put in action several months before June 1957, which is itself 21 months before Hola in March 1959. 

Lennox-Boyd is being asked to approve something which has been in operation for months and which all present knew to be illegal and contrary to conventions signed by Britain on behalf of itself and all its colonies.

What this means is that at the 4pm meeting on March 4, 1959, the following knew all about the Cowan Plan: Eric Griffith Jones, C.M. Johnston, J.H. Lewis and Sir Evelyn Baring.

It is at the very least highly probable that the minister for Defence (Cusack) had also been fully informed about the 1957 Mwea trip.

Is it really credible that the issue of violence was not uppermost in the minds of these four men?

Baring himself in 1957 had written to Lennox-Boyd that "risks are unavoidable." What is most likely is that at this meeting a shameless conspiracy was hatched to blame it all on the water cart, issue a Press release to cover up the truth and hope for the best. They could all see that the alternative was too awful to contemplate and they were all capable of seeing what the political fall-out in the UK would be.

Shortly after the Hola scandal was exposed, Baring called a meeting at Nyeri of all the administrative officers in the Province. Gavaghan was present. In his address the governor stated that he had no knowledge of any brutality in the camps. Had he known, he insisted, he would have stamped on it immediately and firmly. A district officer who was there then asked Baring to confirm this again which he did. Gavaghan of the Mwea Camps informed the D.O concerned that Baring was brazenly lying, which the 1957 document verifies.

It was a leak from this meeting that led to the formal statement that "Sir Evelyn Baring had never been consulted about the Cowan Plan".

Mr Alistair Matheson was appointed a press officer in the Kenya Government in 1953. He describes an unusual occasion as follows:

"During March1959 I received a telephone call from an official at Government House alerting me that a draft press release was on its way to my office for urgent distribution to the media. By this time I was outranked at the Press Office by a chief press officer. He was Robert Lindsay, a fellow Scot I had worked with at Associated Press in London.

"I found the urgent release to be a bold announcement that 11 Mau Mau detainees had died after drinking water. I suspected at once that there was something very fishy about the story. After pondering over it for a little I rang Government House asking for more details to enlarge on this extraordinary announcement.

"I soon became aware there was acute embarrassment over this affair at a very high level. Then prison officers I managed to contact tried their best to convince me that in a very hot climate people who drank water if exhausted by hard work, could possibly die.

"At this point I dug my heels in and said I wouldn’t be responsible for putting out what I believed to be a half-truth, if not an outright falsehood. After this I was excluded from any further dealings with that press release, but Lindsay went to see the Governor and on his return he issued that controversial release to the world’s press."

The Hola scandal, however, became too big, too quickly for any cover-up to succeed. Garnering together the results of the police autopsies, the coroner’s inquest on March 18, the findings of the Hola District Commissioner, the two Command Papers (Nos. 778 and 816) which made available the Documents relating to the deaths of 11 Mau Mau detainees at Hola Camp in Kenya, and the Record of Proceedings and Evidence in the Inquiry into the Deaths of 11 Mau Mau Detainees at Hola Camp in Kenya, it is possible to reconstruct the ‘official’ picture of what actually happened on that terrible day.

About 200 ‘hard core’ detainees were taken to the irrigation ditch under the supervision of 90 warders, armed with rifles and batons, whose orders were to force the prisoners to work, i.e. to weed. On two occasions on the way the prisoners had given what was described as a ‘Mau Mau howl’, whereupon the warders had beaten them until they were quiet. After they had drunk water from a water cart, 10 (later 11) had died and 22 more were taken to the hospital with injuries. 

The police pathologist told the inquest that the men had died either from lung congestion or from shock and haemorrhage following multiple bruising and other injuries.

The commandant was only legally entitled to use physical force to suppress violent resistance. The Cowan Plan ordered him to instruct the warders to "manhandle the detainees to the place of work and force them to carry out their tasks".

In addition the warders were told to respond to any noise or movement by striking the detainees on the legs below the knee. 

The coroner was clear – force was justifiable in answer to violence or attempts to escape: force to compel detainees to work was unjustified and illegal. 

Therefore The Cowan Plan, which apparently had governmental (Baring’s) approval and backing gave intentionally or unintentionally carte blanche in ‘forcing detainees to carry out the task’. 

If criminal offences were committed which were clearly illegal, the defence of superior orders would be of no avail . . .

However, the coroner himself did not see how anyone could be charged as there was no way of telling who killed whom, with which blow and with what intent. So 11 men had been publicly beaten to death and there were to be no prosecutions, it appeared. Was that the end of it?

It did not quite end there. As a result of disciplinary proceedings the Hola commandant Sullivan was retired from the service without loss of gratuity. The charges against Coutts, his deputy, were dismissed. Lewis, the Commissioner of Prisons, announced that he was retiring as soon as a successor was named. The Minister of Defence, who was anyway due to retire, in fact left even before the coroner’s findings were out. 

Incredibly Cowan, who had hatched the first version of his infamous Plan with T.J.F Gavaghan in the Mwea Camps two years before, was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

C.M. Johnston, the special commissioner who fatally recruited Gavaghan for the Mwea Camps and who became the real power behind the development of the 'dilution technique’ also faded from the scene. Johnston disappeared anonymously into the Government Communications (GCHQ) at Cheltenham, Britain’s most important listening spy centre. Everyone involved was extra careful to commit as little as possible to paper from beginning to end of the plan.

Baring continued dishonestly to maintain the unmaintainable – that he had known nothing about the 'dilution technique', that the Cowan Plan had not been submitted to or approved by the Governor’s Council. There was no doubt that there was a common agreement or conspiracy to use illegal force.

Sir Reginald Manningham Buller, the British Attorney-General, definitely felt the same. With hindsight and the documents we have today the following should in his view have been convicted of criminal offences: Baring, Griffith-Jones, C.M Johnston, J. Cusack, J.H. Lewis, J. Cowan and T.J.F. Gavaghan. 

This would, however, have led to a chain reaction in the British Cabinet and Macmillan would have had to have called a General Election. This would have been fought on colonial issues and almost certainly the Conservatives would have lost. Oral history is not enough. It needs to be backed up by documents, whenever and wherever possible. This is a major difficulty for students of the period of Kenya’s State of Emergency. This is because one negative result of the Hola scandal was that the Colonial Government took sudden fright at the looming spectre of rapidly approaching independence under African rule. Secret instructions were sent out to the Provincial Administration in the affected areas to destroy all the documents that had any connection with Mau Mau and the Emergency.

Mr. Musila Musembi, the present director of the Kenya National Archives, has written about this wanton vandalism in his book, Archives Management. The Colonial Government had hoped to carry out this operation without arousing the attention of the media or the African politicians. They did not succeed. On September 7, 1961, the first inkling of what was happening appeared in the press, as follows:

"Many classified documents including reports compiled during the Emergency have been burnt during the last month. Some historians have expressed dismay at the destruction of these documents partly on the grounds that the only writer to have access to the documents, Mr. F.D Corfield for his survey Origins and Growth of Mau Mau, has not made the best historical use of them. Mr. T. Neil, the Administrative Secretary in the Chief Secretary’s Office has said that the Government is aware of the need to preserve historical documents."

Tom Neil then embellished his case a little. The destruction of documents "was a standing exercise because of the problem of storage space". "There was no intrinsic or historical value in the documents destroyed. In any case copies of all documents would survive in London where they would be subject to the 50-year publication rule."

There were immediate protests in Kenya and the United Kingdom, led by Margery Perham of Nuffield College, Oxford, the doyen of British colonial historians. But they were to no avail. The destruction simply went steadily and comprehensively on.

Neil had become adept at stalling the academics and laying a smoke screen over what was happening as far as the press and the public were concerned. In 1962 he informed Baring personally that he and (now Sir) Geoffrey Ellerton had completed the destruction of all materials which "we did not wish to be available to political ministers."

This reckless obliteration of vital information is unforgivable. We in Kenya are only fortunate that Mr. Musila Musembi has managed to preserve so much for us. In spite of their desperate efforts, the paper trail is there, faint still in certain subjects but strong now in many others.