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Hola Camp, Kenya (Report)

Part of LONDON COUNTY COUNCIL (GENERAL POWERS) BILL [Lords] (By Order) – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th July 1959.

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Photo of Mrs Barbara Castle Mrs Barbara Castle , Blackburn 12:00 am, 27th July 1959

I do not think the hon. Member can have heard the last three speeches by his colleagues. A more nauseating parade of complacency I have never heard, and I have been in the House for fifteen years. To hear hon. Members opposite speak of it one would imagine that this was an unfortunate, minor incident. We heard from the hon. Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) most perfunctory regrets about this tragedy. That took two seconds of his time, and for the rest he told us that we must not undermine confidence in the Kenya Civil Service. The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Armstrong), who spoke last, asked us to keep a "sense of perspective" about this matter. We are discussing in all seriousness the future of the British Commonwealth. I ask hon. Members opposite this: if in any prison in Britain twelve men had been beaten to death, would anyone on the benches opposite have said, "Keep a sense of perspective about this, in view of the fine record of Prison Administration"? Of course not. Public opinion in this country would not have permitted anyone to do so. The speeches to which we have listened to tonight are a reflection of the very basis of the problem which we face in our remaining Colonial Territories. Quite instictively, sincerely and genuinely, without even being aware of it, hon. Members opposite do not believe that an African life is as important as a white man's life.

If it had been eleven European prisoners who had been beaten to death, what would hon. Members opposite have said? Would they have said that no heads need roll except the head of the man lowest on the ladder? Would they have said that these were in any case criminals, so it did not matter? The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir R. Robinson) himself became a party to this argument. He asked us to remember that, after all, these were deperate, hard-core Mau Mau murderers. He gave us an example of a Mau Mau detainee who confessed to 35 murders.

The men whose fate we are discussing tonight are men who have not confessed. That is why they are dead. Simply because they had not confessed, simply because their guilt has not been established, they have been subjected to the Cowan Plan of being taken forcibly to a work site and put in such a situation that death inevitably resulted.

We face tonight something which is fundamental to the future of our colonial rule. Hon. Members opposite speak about the need to keep the confidence of the Colonial Civil Service in Kenya. If I were a civil servant, my confidence would not be greatly reinforced by the knowledge that, when something went wrong when I was carrying out Government policy, I should take the can back for my Minister. That is no way to keep the right sort of administration.

There is another kind of confidence which we must restore in Kenya, the confidence of the African in British justice. We shall never reach the end of the state of emergency in Kenya if we do not. We shall not lay the foundations for the multi-racial society in which we on this side believe, because we believe in the equality of men of every race and colour unless, on every challenge which comes to this House, we react as completely to any outrage against Africans as we would to any outrage against white men. That is what must be done, and that is one of the issues which we are discussing now.

Another issue concerns our individual responsibility for ensuring that justice is done. We cannot escape that responsibility because the Attorney-General of Kenya, with the backing of the Colonial Secretary, has told us that, although it has been indubitably established that these eleven men were murdered, no criminal charges can be brought against anybody. This makes it all the more imperative that administrative action should be taken, that the Disciplinary Inquiry should be complete and just. I echo and reinforce the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson), who said that, of course, this type of inquiry is the last type of inquiry, really, to ensure that impartial justice is done. But, having established this inquiry, each one of us has an obligation to take note of it and to remember that such an inquiry reports to this House, and that we are responsible for it. The decisions arising out of this inquiry are taken, as the Governor makes clear in his Despatches, after consultation with the Colonial Secretary. We cannot shuffle off our responsibility, because tonight we take the place of a court of law to decide where the responsibility should be placed, whether it is being placed fairly and whether the men who are being accused are getting the treatment they deserve.

Our case here tonight—I maintain this in all seriousness—is that if anybody carefully examines the evidence which has now come to light in the Report, taken in conjunction with the coroner's report at the inquest, there cannot be the slightest doubt that if the White Paper, with the recommendations in the two Despatches, is accepted by this House tonight, there will have been one of the gravest miscarriages of justice in British colonial history.

It is, of course, established by the Inquiry that Sullivan is guilty. It is established that he deliberately misled a succession of people. It is established that he failed to supervise properly the proceedings on the work site. It is clearly established that he was present and did not interfere when men under his command mercilessly beat helpless Africans to death.

It is not surprising that this verdict was reached. It was quite impossible for any other to be reached when we take into account the evidence of such impartial witnesses as the supervisor of the irrigation scheme, Mr. Peters. I want to read one short extract from what he said at the inquest: Whilst I looked, it was continuous beating on persons all of whom were sitting down, apparently to make them work and not to put down any form of disturbance that I saw … I thought it no place for me. It was not the sort of thing I like to watch. I did not agree with it, but thought it was nothing to do with me. I do not know to what extent the prisons authorities are allowed to go. That quotation from Mr. Peter's evidence is not reproduced in the Report of the Disciplinary Inquiry. The reason is clear. Having placed the blame on Sullivan, as the Inquiry inescapably had to do, it then turns round to build up a pyramid of mitigating circumstances. Even Sullivan is not to be brought properly to account. Even the man who allowed that continuous beating to go on under his very eyes is not to be given the treatment that any man who did that to Europeans would inevitably get. So the mitigating circumstances have to be established.

One of the mitigating circumstances is the testimonies to Mr. Sullivan's character. We are told that a certain Canon Webster had declared that Sullivan was not a cruel man. That is remarkable, because Mr. Sullivan watched, apparently unmoved, the sort of treatment of helpless detainees that turned the stomach of Mr. Peters, who said, "I did not like to watch it. I thought it was no place for me."

I say to hon. Members opposite that the Inquiry cannot have it both ways, yet from what we see it is trying to have it both ways, because in the end the "Old Pals' Act" has got to operate and somehow it has all got to come right in the end. What the Disciplinary Inquiry is trying to say is that Sullivan is not cruel; but if he is not personally cruel and acted as he did, he must have acted as he did because he thought that in doing so he was doing his duty and carrying out his orders. Either it was personal cruelty, in which case all the character testimonies fall, or he was a man honestly and conscientiously and without personal cruelty deciding he was doing his job properly. Indeed, the Inquiry is very tender towards him because it found that it was unfair to Sullivan to order him to carry out this operation without giving him specific and detailed instructions in writing and without proper assistance and supervision by senior and experienced officers. In his Despatch of 18th July, the Governor seized on these extenuating circumstances in order to say what should be the punishment for Mr. Sullivan under whose eye eleven men were beaten to death. The punishment is retirement without loss of gratuity.

I say to the Colonial Secretary quite advisedly that I have memories of similar punishments meted out in the past which did not in the end amount to a row of beans. I remember years ago taking up the Kamau Kichina case in Kenya. It was that which first got me interested in this Colony. I found that a helpless African prisoner, supposed to have been in the custody of a European district officer, Mr. Richmond, was somehow strung up out of doors for five days and nights and successively beaten, left without food, exposed at night naked. In the end, nobody is called properly to account. When he dies, it is not murder, and when he dies nobody pays the full penalty for that neglect. In this House I brought to the Colonial Secretary's attention the fact that the court proceedings repeatedly condemned the behaviour of the district officer. I was attacked for maliciously pursuing civil servants just doing a good job. Eventually the Colonial Secretary said there was to be a disciplinary inquiry into his conduct, and eventually he was sacked—and twelve months later we found out by accident that he had turned up again as African Affairs Officer to the Aberdare County Council in another part of Kenya.

So we are not impressed by the punishment meted out to Mr. Sullivan. I say it is an insult to Africans unparalleled in British colonial history for a man found guilty on three counts of "grave dereliction of duty" leading to eleven deaths to be retired from his job without a penny loss to himself. I challenge every hon. Member opposite: is he really prepared to sit here tonight and stomach that?

But it is impossible to "extenuate" Mr. Sullivan without implicating somebody else. One of the main excuses made for Mr. Sullivan, to justify this ludicrous penalty, is the fact that he had not been given a written copy of the Cowan report. The Disciplinary Inquiry says: In our opinion, this failure to send a copy of Cowan's proposals, which had been approved by his Minister, together with the failure to reply to the specific points raised by Sullivan in his situation report of 13th February, constituted one of the main causes of the tragedy which followed. In other words, somebody else should be brought to account. If words mean anything at all, this means that if Sullivan is allowed to be punished and those responsible for one of the main causes of the tragedy are allowed to go scot-free, our rôle of a court of justice is not being fulfilled.

Who was to blame for having provided one of the main causes of the tragedy? First and foremost, of course, the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Lewis. It is really incredible that he is not even censured in the Report. It is not only that he is not punished. It is not only that that he is asked to kindly carry on until the job has been filled from which he was going to retire anyway, but he is heaped with thanks for being kind enough to go a few days earlier than his proper time.

Can we expect confidence to be restored by behaviour of that kind? Would hon. Members have confidence if this is what we did when eleven of their own people had been killed? But, of course, Lewis should be brought to account. He is the man who, in the high and responsible position of Commissioner of Prisons, admitted at the inquest that he knew there were differences between the plan Sullivan intended to carry out and the scheme Cowan originally outlined. He admitted on cross-examination in the inquest proceedings that he realised that to parade 85 men at a time instead of 66 in groups of 20" … constituted a different plan … "He never put in a word of warning or caution to Sullivan about it. He never intervened to stop this different plan being put into operation.

Here we come to another incident, to which reference has already been made, but I ask hon. Members to study its implication. This is the situation report that Sullivan sent on 13th February. I raised this matter in the previous debate on Hola Camp on 16th June. This document, most mysteriously, was not printed among the exhibits attached to the report of the inquest proceedings. I happened to notice that in the proceedings there was a reference to this report by Mr. Sullivan on 13th February. I wondered, with this suspicious nature of mine, why it was not being brought to light. I asked the Colonial Secretary to place a copy in the Library and I got it a few minutes before the debate began.

It then became quite clear that on 13th February Sullivan sent out an S.O.S. He said in effect, "The situation in my camp has deteriorated so much that the Cowan Plan cannot be carried out." He said, "I have men falling sick." What is more, he said that he had explained to Mr. Fulgate, the man in charge of the irrigation scheme, what the Cowan Plan meant. Mr. Fulgate expressed himself as wishing "to be dissociated entirely from any such undertaking." Moreover, it was Mr. Fulgate who pointed out that it was an essential part of the Cowan Plan that tools should not be used. That was obvious if so much care was to be taken that it should not result in violence, if all that was to be done was to take a couple of warders and put one on each side of a detainee and make him go through the motions of pulling up weeds just to break his Mau Mau oath. Was that not obviously very different from allowing desperate men to be turned out on to a work site with tools in their hands with which, presumably, they might have struck the warders?

It was an essential part of the Cowan Plan that the men should not be put to work on which tools had to be used. Yet, Mr. Fulgate is reported in Sullivan's situation report of 13 th February, as saying: "I have no work at Hola to which the men can be put without tools." Mr. Sullivan therefore was asking Mr. Lewis "Does this mean that you want to alter your mind about the operation of the Cowan Plan?" Never more clearly in Civil Service history has a subordinate officer asked for instructions because of his secret doubts about the advisability of the official policy.

What is more, Mr. Sullivan said in this report, "If I am to go ahead, will you please send the Senior Superintendent of Prisons with powers of summary punishment to be present when the scheme is carried out?" Do hon. Members know what the Disciplinary Inquiry says about that? It is fantastic. It had to prove that there was never anything punitive about the Cowan Plan, because that would be to give the whole game away. It says, "The situation report of 13th February showed that Sullivan had not grasped all the principles of the plan put to him by Cowan."

What did Lewis do? Faced with a situation in which he was telling a man to put eighty-five desperate hard-core Mau Mau detainees to work against their will, and faced with the report of 13th February which, according to the triumvirate, showed that Sullivan had not begun to grasp the essentials of the plan, did Lewis intervene? Not a word of it. He did not even bother to send Sullivan a written copy of the Cowan Plan. Can hon. Members let these proceedings go through without censuring a man like that for sheer downright incompetence? I am not accusing anybody tonight of sadism. I am accusing them of incompetence so overwhelming as to amount to criminal negligence. That goes all the way up the line.

Lewis has an excuse clearly spelt out in this Report. What was his excuse? Reading the situation report of 13th February from Sullivan, Lewis thought, "My God, this is not so hot. I had better get instructions from higher up." It was for that reason, to cover himself up, that on 17th February Commissioner Lewis proceeded to minute the Minister responsible for his activities. To the Minister of Defence on 17th February went Mr. Lewis's appeal. What Mr. Lewis said—and he spelt it out so that anyone from a kindergarten ought to have got it clear—was, "The plans Mr. Cowan worked out could be undertaken by us, but it would mean the use of a certain degree of force in which operation someone might get hurt or even killed."

Here is a clear indication that, before the Cowan Plan was put into operation in Hola, it had been made clear by the Commissioner of Prisons that it would not be a plan merely to frog-march men to the site and make them go through a few harmless motions of working. It would be a plan carried out in circumstances which involved a certain degree of physical force, beatings, the use of batons, and all the things that we are told were never to be associated with the Cowan Plan.

Lewis had the sense to suggest to his Minister that so serious was the deterioration of the situation in Hola from the one ideally visualised in the Cowan Plan that the whole matter ought to be brought before the Security Council. He asked that it should be. I want to read a vital piece of evidence so that the House will know who is being sheltered tonight. Lewis wrote: I think this situation should be brought to the notice of the Security Council and a direction given on what policy should be adopted with these recalcitrant or unmanageable detainees. We must either let them stew and risk the contamination of the convicts and the open camp detainees, or take such action as planned with the risk of someone getting hurt or killed. That was the clearest request for a direction, and he was passing the responsibility where it lay, on to the sholders of the Minister.

Lewis did not get a reply to that request. If we say, as we do, that Commissioner Lewis was unfit for his job, how much more must we say that his Minister was unfit for his, because Mr. Cusack did not refer this new situation to the Security Council. According to the evidence that the Minister gave to Inquiry, he did not do so because he did not think it involved any new matter of Government policy. The fact that the implementation of the Cowan Plan would involve a certain degree of force that might lead to somebody being hurt or even killed did not, in Mr. Cusack's view, involve any change in Government policy.

Where is all the paraphernalia of excuses, that nobody was going to be punitive in the Cowan Plan and that they were all going to be armchair psychiatrists merely analysing these poor unfortunate Mau Mau detainees?

Secondly, both direct to Lewis and in a minute to the Minister for African Affairs, Mr. Cusack said that he did not agree that the operation was "delicate or dangerous." Sullivan said it was. Fulgate said that he did not want to be associated with it in any way. Lewis had expressed his doubts, and yet the Minister of Defence said that he did not believe that the operation was delicate or dangerous. It turned out to be both, and the man who ought to take the can back is the Minister who said that it was not.

It appears that complacency can go to almost impossible lengths in the Kenya Administration. The Minister also told the Inquiry that he felt no real apprehension in view of the strength of the Prisons staff. On 23rd February the Minister's Permanent Secretary dropped a little minute to the Permanent Secretary to the Minister of African Affairs asking him what he thought about the deteriorating situation in Hola Camp. We do not know whether the Minister for African Affairs saw the situation report of 13th February or Lewis's own minute to the Minister of Defence. If he did, he is equally guilty, but it is quite probable that he acted in ignorance of these documents.

On 24th February back came this minute from the Permanent Secretary to the Minister of Defence to the Deputy Commissioner of Prisons: The Minister considers that Mr. Cowan's recommendations should now be implemented. The Minister has asked me to emphasise the importance of ensuring that you have sufficient staff of all ranks at Hola to deal with the situation should trouble in fact occur. In other words, they were prepared to go ahead expecting that trouble would occur. At no stage has the Minister of Defence, with his much-vaunted concern for seeing that violence was avoided, said, "You may go ahead if you are satisfied that you have the staff not merely to deal with trouble when it arises but to stop it ever arising; that you have the staff, in fact, to frogmarch men to the site without violence and make them go through the motions of working." So we have Mr. Cusack passing the buck to Mr. Lewis. What did Lewis do? He sent a signal to Mr. Sullivan saying, "You go ahead if you think you have sufficient staff." There was no answer to Sullivan's questions, or his request that the Senior Superintendent of Prisons should be there. None of the points he raised in his minute of 13th February was replied to. There was just the message, "You can go ahead if you are satisfied you have enough staff to deal with any trouble that may arise." That was passing the buck to the chap at the bottom, who could not pass it any further down.

There is not a word of criticism in the Governor's Despatch of the Minister of Defence; not a word of criticism in the Despatch drawn up, as the Governor says, "in consultation with you"—that is, the Colonial Secretary. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he thinks that no blame attaches to the Minister of Defence. If it is to be argued, as it may be, "But this man gave wonderful service in the past, and anyway he is going at the end of the month," I would ask hon. Members to draw a contrast between what is being done in this case and what was done only a week or two ago in Kenya when another civil servant made a slip-up. He was the chairman of the European Agricultural Settlement Board—Mr. J. F. Lipscombe—and he made a most unfortunate speech, a really shocking speech, which simply could not be tolerated. He said that European investors were losing confidence in Kenya because of conditions there. Of course, if a person discourages foreign investment coming into the territory it is treason. So, in the Kenya Newsletter, we have the Kenya Government's boast that they took prompt steps to rebut implications of lack of confidence in the Colony by potential investors … ". What were the prompt steps? The man was forced to resign within 24 hours, although the European Agricultural Settlement Board itself placed on record its appreciation of the eight years invaluable service he gave to it. It took 24 hours to sack a man who undermined the confidence of the European investors, but for a Minister who undermined the confidence in British justice of the Africans throughout the whole of the African continent, there is not the slightest condemnation.

There are so many others on whom responsibility must be laid. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) has referred to Mr. Campbell. Campbell was Assistant Commissioner of Prisons, the man sent to Hola by the Governor to make his inquiries. I would remind hon. Members that it is clearly established in the reports that Campbell lied. There is no other word for it. The notes, or whatever the Colonial Secretary likes to call them, that Campbell submitted to the Governor said that it was the opinion of all with whom we spoke that the compelling exercise was in no way connected with the cause of death. His lie is proved out of the mouth of the District Commissioner, Mr. Thompson. In his evidence at the inquest, on being shown Campbell's report to Government House, Thompson said; I cannot agree to this statement at all. Although the deaths occurred after water, we all knew in our own minds that the events were linked. I think we all understood that compelling people to march to site, compelling them to work, the use of batons, flinging themselves to the ground and such things all had their effect. I cannot agree that so far as I was concerned I had indicated that 'the compelling exercise was in no way connected with the cause of death' ". That is the District Commissioner calling Campbell a liar, and yet there is not a word of condemnation of Campbell before us tonight.

Let me come to the Medical Officer at Hola, Dr. Moyes. Here is a man who when ten men have died gives his opinion as to the cause of death as aspiration pneumonia. I am no medical person, but I have consulted my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. B. Stross) and, as I understand it, aspiration pneumonia is caused when men inhale water into the lungs as happens in drowning; and nobody at Hola had had a bath. What was really happening was that dying men were vomiting water that they had drunk, and any person fit to hold the office of medical officer in charge of detainees ought to have enough medical knowledge to be aware of that fact.

Of course, perhaps he did, but perhaps like everybody else he was "covering up". The most significant words of all in this business were spoken by Mr. Marsden, the District Officer, at the inquest. He said: There was a general attitude amongst all Europeans not to say anything ". This is our indictment. Yet we have here a whole network of responsibility and a picture of administrative callousness which shocks us, whatever it may do to right hon. and hon. Members opposite.

We have also here the violation of the constitutional principle which I should have thought this House would have gone a long way to defend; and that is that if orders are given to subordinates and things go wrong the men who give those orders should have the decency to say that the responsibility is theirs.

The right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary stands in the dock just as much as the Minister of Defence, the Governor of Kenya, or anybody else associated in any way with this shocking affair, because he has been asked in this House time and again if he approved of the Cowan plan and whether it was being operated anywhere else. We were told in the last debate we had that it would all be all right in future because the Governor was drawing up new directives as to the use of force. All I can say is that there must then have been something wrong with the present ones. This promise was given six weeks ago, and we were told that, when the new directives were ready, a copy would be put in the Library of the House. Yet I have been asking all afternoon if anything is yet available and it is not. After all this time, after eleven men have died, the new instructions are not available. At that rate, Mr. Lipson would be in his job for life. When this terrible shame comes upon the Colonial Secretary, whether he willed it or not, and he does not act, he shows he does not deserve to hold his office.