I am sure all this Gestapo stuff never got anyone anywhere

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I am sure all this Gestapo stuff never got anyone anywhere”:

Control and command: the imposition of discipline and the fight against Mau Mau, 1953-4.

ABSTRACT – An important part of a successful counter-insurgency campaign is the conduct of the security forces. It is essential that a strict observation of the rule of law is maintained; it is the responsibility of senior officers and politicians to ensure that this is the case. Strong leadership – both morally, and practically, must be provided on the ground, both by leading through example and making examples of those who refuse to follow this leadership. Any failure to do this effectively gives carte blanche to those soldiers and police who consistently overstep the mark and practise acts of repression and brutality against a civilian population. By reference primarily to the Colonial Office and War Office Archives at the Public Record Offices in Kew, this paper will compare the different approaches taken to maintaining discipline by the military and civil authorities in Kenya in 1953, the first full year of the Mau Mau Emergency, and compare their relative success.


Bn Battalion

CIGS Chief of the Imperial General Staff

CO Colonial Office

Coy Company

EAC East Africa Command

GHQ General Headquarters

KAR King’s African Rifles

KG Kikuyu Guard

KPR Kenya Police Reserve

KR Kenya Regiment

LegCo Kenya Legislative Council

PRO Public Record Office, Kew, London

2IC Second-in-command

SB Special Branch

VCIGS Vice Chief of the Imperial General Staff

WO War Office



Counter-insurgency and the rule of law

The maintenance of discipline

“There may be a tendency to cry “Don’t be too beastly to the MAU MAU” which we must resist”

The Administration’s failure: Keats, Ruben and the KPR

Neglecting to investigate allegations: Keats, Ruben and Tony Cross

Different approaches: Baring`s and Erskine`s directives

The Army’s Success: Griffiths

The Administration’s Failure (2): Hayward



I am sure all this Gestapo stuff never got anyone anywhere”1:

Control and Command: the imposition of discipline and the fight against Mau Mau, 1953-42


General Erskine’s assessment on his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of East African Command in June 1953 was that the continued presence of 5 (Kenya) Battalion, King’s African Rifles (KAR), due to leave for Malaya, was necessary to “hold the line”. It seems his forces were spread dangerously thin.3 His counterpart in Malaya, Templer, agreed. B Company, 5 KAR remained in Kenya at Nanyuki as Brigade Reserve for 70 East African Brigade, forming the backbone of an anti-Mau Mau strike force. 5 Battalion’s war diary is somewhat reticent as to the company’s activities during this period; it ends on March 27th, 1953, and resumes only in April 1954.4 This twelve month gap is unfortunate, although in many ways understandable; it allows the Battalion to avoid mention of two serious court-martials and a court of Inquiry which cast an extremely unflattering light on some of its members` actions.

In the morning of June 11th 1953, on the road between Nyeri and Mweiga, three African forestry workers on their way to work in the forest were detained by a stop-barrier manned by two askari from 7 KAR. The soldiers had been temporarily put under the command of (acting) Major G.S.L.Griffiths, B Coy’s commander, on a sweep in a Prohibited Area. Shortly after Griffith’s arrival at the checkpoint, the oldest of the three had been dismissed and sent home, apparently told that he was too old to be killed. The other two were either dead or dying, shot in the back at close range by Griffiths with three to four bursts of Bren gun fire.5 Three days later, Griffiths was active once again, now commanding two B Coy platoons at the start of another sweep. Having made camp at the forest edge, the first of two detained Mau Mau suspects handed over to him by the police to act as guides was tortured. His left ear was cut off, and he was then shot – the well practised mantra – “trying to escape”. The next day, on June 15th, the second of the detainees was also tortured. A hole was bored in his ear with a bayonet, and a length of signal wire threaded through the hole to allow soldiers to lead him through the forest. Three days later, he, too, attempted and failed to escape.6 Court-martialled for murder for his actions on June 11th, Griffiths was acquitted. Tried a second time in regard to his third and fourth victims, he was found guilty of disgraceful conduct on five charges of a cruel kind and inflicting grievous bodily harm with intent.

To be court-martialled once may be a misfortune; to be the subject of two, on such charges, smacks of something rather more than carelessness. In the register of court-martials Griffiths stands out as the only soldier prosecuted for anything other than the usual litany of military misdemeanours – rape, theft, fraud, insubordination and the like – throughout the whole of the Emergency period.7 Clearly Griffiths was no ordinary soldier. And his treatment was, by contemporary Kenyan standards, unduly harsh. Jenkin`s ear once precipitated Britain into war; the ears of Njeru and Kavenji got Griffiths cashiered, and five years in Wormwood Scrubs.

In contrast, the crime and punishment of Sgt. Ruben and Patrol Officer Keates of the KPR was far more typical. On a patrol five days after the Ruck murders in January 1953, Elijah Njeru was identified to them by an informer as a Mau Mau supporter with knowledge of both an arms cache and a gang hideout. Njeru died shortly after a severe beating, conducted by Keates, probably by Rubens, and askari under their command. Their case only came to trial after an attempted cover-up by the examining magistrate who had conducted the inquest into the death, and months of prevarication by the Kenyan Administration. Neither man received a custodial sentence.8

Tony Cross, the British policeman serving in Kenya whose letter to his colleagues in Streatham CID provides the title for this dissertation, was not himself found guilty of any crime. The story of the Kenya Administration’s enquiry into what was originally nothing more than a number of indiscreet comments which were noticed by a stringer for a local paper in London is noteworthy through its demonstration of a failure to seriously investigate extremely worrying allegations.9 Brian Hayward`s torture of a number of Kikuyu he was screening in Northern Tanganyika marked him in turn as representative of many of the more proactive settlers to be found in the KR. His prison sentence of three months was served helping a cartographer in a hotel, his fine of £100 paid by a Tanganyikan lady settler.10 More energy seems to have been expended in this particular case by the Kenyan government in trying to shift the blame on to the Tanganyikan authorities than in addressing the worrying issues, which, like Hayward, floated to the surface.

Simple, uncritical tales of individual excess, and the general leniency with which they were treated were hardly revelatory forty years ago. Griffith’s case in particular has become somewhat notorious. It received wide press coverage at the time in Britain and Kenya, and has subsequently been cited in a number of works.11 European accounts of the Emergency throw up numerous examples that point towards abuses of power as being prevalent in Kenya in the early 1950s.12 It is hard to avoid them. The substantial body of African literature on the Emergency understandably places great emphasis on alleged brutalities; there is clearly more than a grain of truth in the repeated assertions.13 Some early European accounts of the Emergency issued blanket denials of any sort of wrongdoing by settlers or the security forces.14 This evolved over time into a slightly more sophisticated apologia seeking generally to justify, explain and excuse such events by resorting to a standard formula – common to a number of wars – which amounted to a collective denial: “I didn’t know what was going on. These things happen in war. `I was only following orders . . . our leaders were wrong. The victims were members of an inferior race.`15

In Kenya, beyond certain sensationalised accounts most members of the security forces were understandably coy about such events, denying any personal knowledge of, let alone involvement in beating up or torturing prisoners.16 Where such `rare` occurrences could no longer be denied, particularly convenient conventions were followed. An excess of patriotism was not enough reason; it was also the rapidity of expansion of the police force in the early Emergency period and the pressure to prevent further atrocities. The KPR nearly tripled in size, from just under three thousand members, between October 1952 and December 1953.17 While many of its African recruits came originally from the regular police or from the armed forces, most of the Europeans had little or no experience of police work, and received almost no training. Even the regular forces’ training was cut in half, to only 12 weeks.18 There was little time for an ethos of community policing to be built up, and the police assumed a largely paramilitary role. Muller, Inspector-General of Colonial Police had suggested rather optimistically that the police should be referred to separately from the army in the Directive for Erskine as incoming CinC due to the need to preserve and foster the civil character of the police role.19 At this stage of the Emergency this was little more than wishful thinking.

The police’s assumption of such an overtly militarised role was perhaps unfortunate in view of the fact that professional soldiers generally appear to be more interested in observing the rules of law than temporary citizen soldiers or police reservists, self-restraint in armed forces being facilitated by both training and a culture of disciplined behaviour.20 Such a lack of training may help to explain individual acts of brutality, but it does not go far towards explaining how they become endemic. Perhaps most important in this regard was the ‘myth’ of the Mau Mau “other” that was created, with its focus on the movement’s savagery and barbarity.21 Such a presentation of Mau Mau may indeed have failed to take account of the largely controlled nature of its violence, but it helped to justify the use of an excessive state response in fighting the insurgency.22

Counter-insurgency and the rule of law

It was in a nineteenth century colonial context that armies initially began to evolve coherent conter-insurgency doctrines. There was, at first, little attempt to accompany this with well-defined rules of law relating to the treatment of insurgents, and the German schutztruppe in South West Africa and the US Army in the Philippines were both particularly brutal in their repression of popular uprisings.23 It is, of course, impossible to avoid some flagrant excesses committed by units or individuals who temporarily leave the command (and disciplinary) structure. In societies where the use of violence has become commonplace it should come as no surprise that the response of the state’s agents occasionally breaches accepted rules and guidelines. Clearly the use of some force to defeat an insurgency is unavoidable but there was a developing awareness that the response of the state must necessarily be constrained by a strict observation of the rule of law.24 Insurgents can only become truly isolated from their supporters if there is a popular acceptance of the validity of the government’s (and security force’s) case. This acceptance will not come when the security forces themselves are responsible for much, or even the majority of the violence occurring. Repression can temporarily succeed in cowing a civilian population into a resentful, `cringing submission`. 25 As a long-term solution to defeating a popularly supported insurgency, however, it is entirely ineffective.

The phenomenon of a counter-insurgency campaign spiralling out of control – when brutality, torture and murder become commonplace, even officially sanctioned – is not restricted to 1950s Kenya. Amirror image is to be found in contemporary Indochina, French North Africa and British colonies in Asia and Southern Africa in the following two decades. In all of these examples the harshest repression has tended to come from petit blanc European settlers with ties to the land and lifestyle they enjoy. A strong emotional response was not just restricted to members of the KR and KPR, however. On their arrival in Kenya, British troops were given handouts that described some of the more extreme oathing ceremonies to explain the nature of Mau Mau to them. In the aftermath of the Lari massacre Government pamphlets containing graphic photographs of many of the victims were circulated to British and African soldiers.26 Members of Mau Mau were progressively dehumanised and depoliticised, turned from freedom fighters, with a cause that might possibly have been able to gain some sympathy, into mere criminals and bandits. Officials` social interests were reflected in a sporting terminology where their opponents were “flushed” and “bagged” in sweeps. Units kept scoreboards of these “bags”, recording numbers of killed and wounded. And officers gave their men cash rewards for kills. When a recruiting drive was started in Britain to enlarge the police force, advertisements placed in newspapers made no mention of Mau Mau at all, although they stressed the “excellent social and sporting opportunities amenities” to be fond in Kenya. The closest reference to Mau Mau was the note that “excellent shooting is obtainable in many parts of the territory”.27


Any developing tendency by British troops to run amok was quickly stamped down on with Erskine’s arrival in June 1953. Senior administrative, police and military figures knew that discipline had in many cases broken down in Kenya in early 1953 despite numerous protestations of a lack of solid evidence of wrongdoing. Erskine was well aware of these soon after his arrival, explicitly linking them to the aftermath of the Lari massacre28. He was quick to issue a despatch to the security forces that succinctly and explicitly stated the high standards he expected – demanded – from them, condemning previous failures.29 He also wrote a separate letter to CIGS specifically on the disciplinary problems of the security forces.30

Erskine had both reason and precedent for issuing such a despatch. In February 1953, Governor Baring had found himself forced to respond to widespread allegations of police brutality, although the directive he issued was weak, and full o qualifications. While the armed forces were implicated in a small number of excesses, it seemed apparent that he police force was riddled with those who regularly breached guidelines. There is a vast difference between isolated events that are generally unavoidable, and a situation where the use of extra-legal violence is tolerated and accepted. The regularity and magnitude of such occasions is directly related to the regularity of the security forces` conduct, and central to this conduct is the successful maintenance of discipline. Expecting security forces to obey the laws of war (and civil law, if they are operating in support of the civil power), or to obey the rules of engagement imposed upon them, presumes both a willingness and ability of superior officers to enforce their observation, and an acceptance by lower ranks of their validity. At a tactical level it is the task of junior officers present on the ground to ensure that regulations are upheld; this, however, is unlikely to occur if senior officers are believed to be aware o f and conniving, actively or passively, in brutality.31 The Government not only has to claim to obey the rule of law – it has to be seen to obey it. The security forces in Malaya before Templer’s arrival were largely out of control, and the Malayan Government were well aware of this.32 Rather than attempt to address the situation, (which had a number of similarities to be found in Kenya – poorly trained police, many of whom had come with experience from Palestine, and settlers calling for stronger government responses) High Commissioner Gurney was not worried by the fact that at `the present time the police and army are breaking the law every day`. There was a need to fight fear with fear. Above all, it was `most important that the police and soldiers, who are not saints, should not get the impression that every small mistake is going to be the subject of a public enquiry or that it is better to do nothing at all than to do the wrong thing quickly.`33 This could perhaps be compared with Cooke`s statement in LegCo that there it was “Better a speedy denial of justice than justice long delayed.”34

Such a statement is unacceptable. It is the duty of senior officers and politicians to stamp out such events if they are aware of them. To fail to do so makes them equally guilty. A victim of assault or torture would probably, and rightly, fail to see any difference between sins of commission and sins of omission. Perhaps the most brutal counter-insurgency campaign in modern history was that fought by the French in Algeria during the 1950s. Even before 1954 the French authorities were aware that some torture of detainees was occurring, although it was not at the scale it later reached. In 1949 Governor General Naegelen issued an official circulation prohibiting its use, and Mendés-France issued a similar pronouncement in 1955, demonstrating the level to which awareness of these practices had risen. Such declarations had little force when it was apparent that no action would be taken against perpetrators. In 1957 the distinguished soldier General Bollardière and Paul Teitgre, secretary-general to Governor-General Lacoste resigned over Lacoste’s failure to address the problem of torture which by then had become endemic. Although Lacoste claimed to have punished 480 officers, it was noted that none of their careers had suffered.35 Their statements of intent were rightly treated with contempt as there was clearly no willingness to back them up with realistic actions.

Hence the court-martial of Captain Griffiths is central to understanding and evaluating the relative success of the army in maintaining good behaviour. And the other cases cited above – Keates and Ruben, and Hayward – demonstrate much more than mere settler brutality. They show that command and control structures in the army worked; when Griffiths` case came to the notice of the military authorities they were prepared to act. His conviction marked both a personal success for Erskine in his determination to stamp out these lapses, and a major deterrent to any army personnel tempted to behave similarly in the future. Soldiers in Kenya were well aware of Griffiths` fate. The military, however, were unable to impose discipline on the police force apart from those cases where they actually stumbled on incidents of brutality. In contrast to the army, everything in the KPR fell apart – and the administrative centre, and Police Reserve hierarchy, failed to hold. It was rare enough for Police Reservists` activities to be exposed, rarer still for them to be brought to trial, and such trials were little more than judicial farces. It is not even the benefit of hindsight that makes Leakey’s proclamation of Kenyan justice as the equal of anywhere in the world seem rather hollow.36 An insignificant fine that was often paid by supportive European settlers, the general failure to impose any custodial sentence (let alone one that would act as a deterrent) – but above all, the open equivocation of the administration and its personnel in their treatment of such thugs, served only to create an impression of tolerance.

Erskine was committed to the defeat of Mau Mau, but he expressly forbade any use of illegal means. He had no desire to handicap his soldiers from effective action, and promised them his full support if they committed mistakes in good faith. He also held, and upheld, the view that intimidation and violence were counter-productive. The administration and the majority of its servants paid only lip service to that view; de facto they clearly shared the opinion of most settlers that Mau Mau could only be beaten by abandoning Queensbury rules.37 At the same time that a largely successful `hearts and minds` campaign was being developed in Malaya, it appeared that many in Kenya (literally) followed the adage that “once you’ve got them by the balls, the hearts and minds will follow”.

There may be a tendency to cry “Don’t be too beastly to the MAU MAU” which we must resist”38

Baring’s declaration of a State of Emergency in October 1952 had done little to slow the steady deterioration of the security situation. Numbers of Mau Mau crimes continued to rise, the settler population becoming increasingly agitated. Even before the Ruck murders at the end of January LegCo members had been calling for police powers to be increased and stronger counter-measures adopted.39 The KPR played its own part in the hysterical outbursts of settler anger that followed the murders. Members out of uniform stopped motorists in the morning of the march on Government House, and directed them towards the demonstration where disturbing scenes ensued; their conduct was “not quite in the best tradition of police impartiality”.40

The Administration’s Failure: Keats, Rubens and the KPR

Worse was to come. Days after the protest, Sgt. Ruben of the KR (attached to the KPR) and PO Keates, a hotelier serving in the KPR were taking part in a joint KAR/ KR/ KRP sweep near Embu, searching for a Mau Mau gang and stolen weapons thought to be located somewhere in the forest. A detained suspect, Muchera pointed out Elijah Njeru as a leading Mau Mau supporter. He was then tied to a tree, and beaten with both rifle butts and kibokos, suffering multiple injuries. Bren gun fire was then heard in another part of the forest, and the beating stopped while it was investigated. Elijah was then untied, and shortly afterwards he died from shock.

The inquest into the killing, conducted by the Magistrate at Embu the next day was a rather perfunctory affair. Recording that it had been unanimously agreed by the Europeans present that Elijah should be beaten, he noted that this decision had been wrong. But one should consider the circumstances; times were not normal, it was only a few days after the Ruck murders which had horrified the country. Mau Mau outrages were a daily occurrence, and Keates and Ruben had reason to believe the weapons would be used on innocent people in the very near future were they not found quickly. Keates and Ruben, and all those involved in the affair were “horrified with the ending of the matter” and had “quite obviously suffered considerable punishment in the form of worry and remorse.” It would not be in the public interest – which as always meant European settler interests – to take further action against them.41

It seemed that this would indeed be the case, and that nothing more would be heard. Baring wrote on February 11th that he felt it likely that the police “from time to time” used excessive force, but that he had been unable to obtain reliable confirmation.42 This ignored his inability to gather unbiased information that might have provided him with such confirmation; the Attorney General had no independent information sources, relying on the police and District Administrations. The police in turn had only a small investigative unit headed by one European officer.43 Perhaps Baring was not looking hard enough. The day before Elijah was killed, Canon Bewes of the Church Missionary Society had written Baring a long letter detailing numerous allegations of police brutality. Bewes had talked to large numbers of people in hospital who all had injuries consistent with their claims of torture, and European policemen had described to him methods used in interrogation. These assertions, Bewes said, came from such wide and varied sources that they warranted further investigation.44

That this further investigation failed to materialise is unsurprising. Baring made his views on Elijah Njeru’s death clear in his response to a request for information in answer to a parliamentary question tabled by the indefatigable Fenner Brockway, who had been contacted by Bewes about the case.45 Baring felt that there was every reason to believe that Elijah was a Mau Mau beaten to gain information vital to the public interest. There had been provocation for the beating, as “reliable information” showed that Flijah had been supplying a Mau Mau gang with food, and knew the hiding place of six rifles and three pistols. The events had taken place after the Ruck murders when feelings were high, and the person(s) responsible for the beating felt that it was vitally important to locate the weapons.46 While not going so far as the magistrate to condone the beatings, Baring’s telegram clearly failed to issue any condemnation. Baring presumably remained unaware that this information was an unverified identification made by a single witness under duress. The Administration’s real intentions were seen with their treatment of Peter Evans. A prominent left-wing lawyer, he had built up dossiers on over 30 cases of police brutality that had in many cases resulted in death. Declared a prohibited immigrant, he was first deported from Kenya, then from Tanganyika as well, following pressure on the Tanganyikan administration from Kenya.

After over three months silence Baring informed Lyttelton that two of the Europeans involved were to be prosecuted for manslaughter. Another parliamentary question wanted to know why no charges had been laid for nearly five months after the killings. It had apparently proven difficult to get witnesses and the pressure of cases had prevented a quick resolution. At a time when it was possible to arrest an African, charge, try and sentence them in under two days it took nearly eight months to bring Keates and Rubens to trial.

The mills of Kenyan justice may have ground exceeding slow; they did not grind exceeding small. The prosecution relied on evidence from the KAR and KPR askari present, some of whom had helped administer the beating; the defence entirely on testimony from the Europeans. It emerged that the only denunciation of Njeru had come from the informant Muchera, who had himself earlier been beaten so severely that he was unable to speak. Both Rubens, and Sutton (the Agricultural Officer at Kiambu, a serving lieutenant in the KR who had also been present for some of Njeru’s beating) were aware that Muchera had been beaten while at the police station at Embu. Neither, of course, had any idea who might have carried this out.47

The prosecution witnesses claimed that after arresting Njeru, Keates had him tied to a tree. Following some unproductive questioning, Keates ordered the assault. This went on for twenty minutes while Ruben continued the interrogation. Both Ruben and Lt Sutton had actively participated. When gunfire was heard, Ruben, Sutton and some askari walked back towards the road, pausing when they came to two huts where they found a number of Africans. Rubens supposedly hit one, and ordered an askari to hit another who had been slow in producing their papers. When they returned Njeru was asking for water. He was untied, and Ruben and an askari brought some. Njeru, who had been left weakened by severe tuberculosis, died minutes later.

The defence argued that Keates and Ruben had neither ordered nor administered the beating, and tried to stop it when they became aware of it. The claim that beatings were administered by askari against the expressed instructions of their European officers was a common one, but in this case it is particularly hard to accept. Keates admitted that he had authorised three strokes, but stopped the beating after that as it made him sick.48 Rubens, meanwhile, demonstrated unusual reticence for a KR sergeant by maintaining that he did not have the authority to prevent the askari beating Njeru.49

In his summing up, the judge told the jury that there had been no intention to kill Njeru, and that if the law had been broken it was not with bad intent. Njeru, of course, should not have been beaten, but Keates and Ruben had done what they thought best. Although this was an aspect that should not concern the jury, they could put a ryder on the verdict to accommodate it if necessary.50 The jury retired for surprisingly long – 50 minutes – before returning to find both not guilty of the charges of manslaughter but guilty of assault causing actual bodily harm. The ryder was a strong recommendation for mercy having regard to the full circumstances of the Emergency and the consequent heavy responsibility put on the KPR, which in January had maintained the only police presence in Embu. The judge clearly felt very much the same way, noting the lack of training of police reservists and the atrocities being committed by Mau Mau both served to mitigate the circumstances. He did not feel that “any useful purpose” could be served by the imposition of custodial sentences. Keates was fined £100, Ruben £50; even had they been convicted of manslaughter the judge said their sentence would not have been much greater.51

General Fowkes, Inspector General of the KPR had earlier claimed that members of the force who used unnecessary force would be dealt with strictly and severely;52 he made no comment on whether he felt this punishment reflected his statement. Only after further telegrams were exchanged between the Colonial Office and Government House in Nairobi on the matter was it belatedly announced that both Keates and Ruben had been dismissed from government service. The laxity of punishment was not lost in Britain. A memo noted that Erskine, Whyatt and the Commissioner of Police had all told the Police Commission then compiling a report that it was “practically impossible to get a white jury in Kenya to convict a European accused of such a serious crime. Mr Whyatt said “there is a long history of perverse verdicts in this country”.53

Neglecting to investigate Allegations: Keats, Ruben and Tony Cross

This perversity did not end with the convictions. Both defendants had alleged in court that they had been advised by the magistrate to give false statements to ‘hush the matter up’ – and had obviously lied under oath at the Inquest.54 Much of the evidence they now gave contradicted what had previously been said at the inquest in January. Rubens had then said that at one point he told the askari to give Njeru six more lashes, and, above all, Keates, Ruben and Scott had agreed that there had been a unanimous decision to use “strong measures” to get information from Njeru. The verdict of the jury somehow meant this point had been rejected. No further action was deemed necessary by the Kenyan administration to resolve this apparent dilemma.55 Again the opportunity to launch both a serious investigation into abuses and to make clear the limits of acceptability was ignored.

But on one occasion when an enquiry was launched it wa apparent that there was a real desire to investigate allegations of torture and murder. Tony Cross had been a detective in Streatham before joining the Kenya police in January 1953. A letter written to his colleagues describing his new job, six weeks after taking up his post near Nyeri, was noticed by a Miss Meyers, a reporter for the South London Press. Some of the more quotable sections found their way into the Notes and Comments section a few days later. Under the title “A Policeman looks at Kenya”, readers were treated to descriptions of strong-arm methods, including the death of prisoners in police custody.56 Over the next month, increasingly senior figures – ending up with Baring – uniformly dismissed Cross’s letter as facetious, full of exaggeration and based on hearsay.

Some pressure must have been maintained on the administration, however, as an enquiry took place in Nyeri, starting at the end of June. Cross, representatives of the local administration, a headman who was also the local Kikuyu Guard leader and members of the police force were all questioned by E.M.Risley, the local magistrate. Hughes, the DC in Nyeri commented that he had been impressed by the behaviour of police on local operations, “and particularly I have noticed that constables when they might have been justified in using their firearms have refrained from doing so, arrests being achieved”. Ezekiel, the KG leader admitted that at first the KG did hit some people when arresting them. “This was done with light sticks like a cane and no-one was ever seriously injured. Very few people indeed were hit”, and certainly no-one had ever been killed. Marshall, one of the KR men who had been serving at the post before Cross’s arrival emphatically denied having seen or heard anything.

Unsurprisingly Risley had seen no signs of anything amiss while conducting enquiries, and his findings about Marshall in particular are difficult to accept. He fully believed Marshall’s denial of ill-treating prisoners, stating that he would have been more surprised if such a man had allowed the beating up, or even threatening of prisoners. “It does not take a long police training for a young man of character to know that prisoners are not to be ill-treated, it is instinctive”.57 Baring told Lyttelton that “It is clear Mr. Risley has taken considerable trouble with this enquiry”.58 Anyone with background knowledge of the behaviour then prevailing among the KPR in Kenya would find such a conclusion problematic at best.

With the civil authorities appearing to take such a laissez-faire approach to ensuring good conduct among the police, it was unfortunate that the KPR in particular remained outside the military chain of command and discipline. With only operational control over there, there was nothing Erskine could do to enforce discipline among the police, even though he realised tge extent of the problem; `far too many of them have the South African outlook to the African problem`.59 Although Whyatt, the Attorney General, and some senior police figures attempted to have miscreants prosecuted the Administration clearly viewed the issue differently. A serving police officer noted that the KPR in Kiambu as late as 1954 “seemed to do as they pleased . . . and did their own interrogations often in a very questionable way.” With their own headquarters, and full-time officers, and autonomy in initiating operatins there was little that could be done to control an organisation headed by an abundance of retired senior military officers, who “all know the Governor, of course.”60

Different approaches: Baring and Erskine’s directives

The beating to death of Elijah Njeru had occurred at a time when concern was already growing in the Colonial Office over the conduct of the security forces, particularly in regard to the number of incidents where Africans had been shot following challenges. Some such events were clearly inevitable, but their frequency was causing a degree of worry.61 Fortunately for both the Kenyan Government and the security forces, a large proportion of those shot in prohibited areas were subsequently identified as “persons wanted for murder or other serious Mau Mau crimes”.62 Even so, Baring was unable to ignore all the reports of excesses reaching him, and on February 11th 1953 issued a directive on the treatment of the Kikuyu, (described as “The Governor’s Directive on Beating Up”).63 Responding to allegations of brutality, he noted that while the whole country admired the way the security forces undertook a difficult and trying task, there was a need to avoid alienating lawful Kikuyu. This directive had little or no effect, and the KPR in particular continued to operate well outside the law – not that the legal system had proved itself capable of responding to their actions. All levels of the state were implicated in these excesses; as in the Dutch East Indies, where violence was also happening on a structural level, no single arm was able to separate itself enough to be able to bring in an unbiased approach.64

Liberal discontent eventually found its expression in a strongly worded editorial in the European-owned Swahili language newspaper Baraza in March. Baraza and its owner, The East African Standard, were both usually supportive of the security forces.65 This particular editorial, however. Talked of reprisals committed by both the army and the police force, although the police were worse; “amongst this organisation are groups of men of whom undisciplined sadists is not an unfair description”.66

The Kenyan administration took over one month to respond to these charges, and did so with a reply anodyne in the extreme. A press office handout noted that unlawful and rough action on the part of the security forces was utterly condemned and would not be tolerated; strong action would be taken where needed. But unsubstantiated reports were dangerous, and “occasional errors of judgement” were to be expected on the part of junior leaders and the rank and file who lacked sufficient training.67

The East Africa Standard responded immediately. In editorial it noted that reports and allegations of brutality were widespread, and the government cold not pretend that these had no basis. Ther was “no reasonable doubt” that methods had been used which could neither be condoned nor accepted in a British colony. Furthermore, the government statement implied that junior officers were to blame – but senior officers were equally responsible for maintaining discipline and correct behaviour.68 In effect, command structures were either unwilling to, or incapable of, imposing discipline. Muller, Inspector General of the Colonial Police who discussed the matter with Baring while in Kenya, noted that although it was fairly common knowledge that the auxiliary forces in particular had been very rough, even brutal during the early stages of the Emergency. KPR officers had released prisoners to the KG after the Lari massacre who were taken into the bush and shot, but the Governor’s directive appeared to have solved things.69 He had clearly failed to rigorously examine the evidence before him.

There is an obvious emphasis between Baring`s directive – most of which was taken up with attempts to excuse rather than condemn misbehaviour – and Erskine’s, issued two months later. Erskine had no desire to prevent an effective prosecution of the campaign and wished for a military solution that often clashed with the Administration’s political sensibilities. Erskine may not have wished to make the security forces fight ‘with one hand tied behind their backs’ although that is certainly how some perceived his ordinance. Kison reflects one strand of thought with his tacit approval of those who either bent or broke regulations – although noting that however popular such actions were they remained rare. “Certainly this sort of conduct saved countless loyalist lives and shortened the Emergency. All the same it was wrong because the good name of Britain was being lost for the sake of saving a few thousand Africans and a few million pounds of the taxpayers money”.70

Such views notwithstanding, Erskine’s directive was a statement of intent that codes of conduct would now have to be observed. Where mistakes were committed in good faith he would back his men up. But it was also stated that he would not tolerate any breaches of this.71 He would soon get a chance to enforce his guidelines: only days before the decree had been issued Major Griffiths had been active in the woods.

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