HC Deb 26 January 1954 vol 522 cc1610-22

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

64. Mr. Swingler: To ask the Secretary of State for War when he expects to receive the proceedings of the court of inquiry on the allegations made at the trial of Captain Griffiths.

66. Mr. A. Henderson: To ask the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the joint responsibility of the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Secretary of State for War for the operations being conducted against the Kikuyu, he will ensure that the full report of the recently-appointed court of inquiry covering the activities of both Departments, together with the evidence received, will be presented to Parliament.

72. Mr. Shinwell: To ask the Secretary of State for War whether he can now make a statement on the inquiry into recent incidents in Kenya.

76. Mr. Brockway: To ask the Secretary of State for War to state the conclusions reached by the court of inquiry into military actions in Kenya; and if he will publish the report of the court and the evidence submitted to it.

At the end of Questions

The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)

Mr. Speaker, I will with your permission and that of the House answer these Questions by making a statement about the court of inquiry held by Lieut.-General McLean in Kenya.

The court assembled on 15th December and completed its report on 31st December.

Evidence was taken from all commanding officers and from officers, other ranks, chaplains and medical officers of all formations and major units now in Africa which have been involved in the operations. Others concerned were invited to give evidence and amongst those who availed themselves of this opportunity was the director of a native civil hospital and a bishop. I am satisfied that the court, which took evidence from 147 military and civil witnesses, gave every opportunity to those concerned to appear before it.

I told the House that when the court of inquiry had been completed I would make available a full and frank report. This I have prepared and I can assure the House that I have omitted nothing of substance contained in the findings of the court of inquiry.

As my report to the House is of necessity rather long, I think it would be for the convenience of the House if I circulated it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

I think that hon. Members will agree with me when they have read it that the summary of the findings indicates that the troops in Kenya have shown a high sense of responsibility and application to duty. There do not appear to be any grounds for accusing them of indiscriminate shooting, irresponsible conduct or inhuman practices. There have, however, been allegations that in two instances serious misconduct occurred in the King's African Rifles. These cases are being fully investigated and disciplinary action will be taken if required in the light of these inquiries. As I have already told the House, both General Erskine and I are determined that such matters shall be brought to light and our intention, both in instituting the court of inquiry and in subsequent action, is for a clean-up, not a cover-up.

I consider that the court made a full and comprehensive inquiry and that all the facts have been placed before me. Subject to what I have said about the allegations of serious misconduct in two cases, nothing is disclosed which should in any way shake the confidence of the House in the high standard of behaviour of the British Army. As a result of reading the report and visiting Kenya, I am convinced that the British Army, under difficult and arduous circumstances, has shown that measure of restraint backed by good discipline which this country has traditionally expected.

Mr. A. Henderson

I am sure the whole House will welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement that, except for two instances in the King's African Rifles, this report discloses no ground for lessening the confidence of the House in the high standard of the behaviour of the British Army. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman what he means about these two isolated instances in the King's African Rifles? Does his statement mean that evidence was brought before the court of inquiry which established that there had been only two cases where money had been offered and paid to soldiers in that regiment out of all the forces taking part in the operations in Kenya—arising out of the suggestion that "five bob a nob "was being paid? Does the report establish that there were only two cases of soldiers being offered and paid money for killing these African tribesmen?

Mr. Head

No, Sir. When the right hon. Gentleman has read the report, he will see that the question of monetary awards is very fully dealt with in my Report which I am giving to the House. Those two particular incidents were not concerned with monetary awards but were of a more serious nature and they are outlined in the report. [Hon. Members: "More serious?"] I said of a more serious nature. The point is that, as the right hon. Gentleman will remember, there were three categories concerned, one of which was alleged ill-treatment or brutality. These particular incidents were discovered by the court and are now the subject of detailed investigation, and it would be wrong for me to say more until these detailed investigations are completed. I can assure the House that, if the evidence is there as a result of these investigations, disciplinary action will be taken.

Mr. Shinwell

Can the Minister explain to the House why he declines to publish the full report? If there is nothing to conceal, there is no disadvantage in hon. Members, and indeed the public, being made aware of all that happened during the inquiry. If, on the other hand, there is some reason why he does not wish to disclose all that was ascertained during the inquiry, does it not create suspicion in the minds of some people that there is something wrong, and would it not be justifiable in the interests of the Army, of the Government and of all concerned that he should publish the full report?

Mr. Head

I tried to explain before when this question was under discussion in the House that the proceedings of a court of inquiry, as written verbatim, are a privileged document. A great asset of these inquiries is that witnesses can give evidence quite freely without the fear of proceedings being taken. If it had been a civil court, then I could have published the findings, but at the same time I could have compelled nobody to give evidence, and there would have been no guarantee that proceedings would not be taken against them. It is always the case that in a court of inquiry the proceedings are a private document and by publishing them we should be breaking down the whole of that precedent, which would be embarrassing not only on this occasion but on all other occasions in the future.

Mr. Strachey

Does the Secretary of State realise that no one, I am sure, in any part of the House doubts his efforts or those of General Erskine or of General McLean to clear up this matter or doubts the restraint which the Army has attempted to show in terribly difficult circumstances? The anxiety which has been expressed on this side of the House is that the circumstances of the work which the Army is being asked to do in Kenya today must inevitably produce, in the long run, the deplorable incidents which were shown in the Griffiths case and other cases. That is the anxiety which we have.

Mr. Head

I do not share the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety. I think that the British soldiers in Kenya and their officers are operating with great restraint and understanding in very difficult circumstances. I, personally, have confidence that they will continue so to do. Without trying to be too didactic, I would say that the incidents that have occurred have been cases where officers have failed in their duty in that respect and there are other reasons for thinking that those particular officers, perhaps, were not well-trained for the job they had to do. By and large, I do not think that this difficult situation is one with which the British Army cannot deal while retaining its high standards.

Mr. Swingler

No doubt the Secretary of State read the transcript of the court-martial proceedings on Captain Griffiths. Will he say, in view of the clear evidence in that case of the offering of bribes for the indiscriminate shooting of Africans, what charges are being preferred against those people about whom evidence was given? As a result of his court of inquiry, and in view of the sensational publicity given to the court-martial of Captain Griffiths, would it not be better to publish in full the proceedings of this court of inquiry so as to clear up all doubts that were cast and allegations that were made in the case of Captain Griffiths?

Mr. Head

I think that the hon. Gentleman had much better await the report, which will answer fully the questions put to me. The latter part of his supplementary question I have already answered.

Mr. Fenner Brockway

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on this side of the House we do not take the view that brutality was general in the Regular troops, and that the gravest charges are against the Kenya Regiment, the police and the Home Guard? Does the report cover those Forces as well as the Regular troops from this country?

Mr. Head

No, Sir. The Forces which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned do not come under my Department or the Army. The Court of Inquiry did, however, cover the actions of the Kenya Regiment and Home Guard when they were taking part in operations under the command of the Army; otherwise these forces are not covered.

Mr. Wyatt

Can the Secretary of State say whether any further proceedings are now to be taken against Captain Griffiths, and what further action is to be taken in the case of this officer in the future?

Mr. Head

I have already said that the particular cases now under investigation are awaiting the completion of that investigation before any final decision is made about either disciplinary or legal proceedings. I cannot answer that question until these investigations are completed.

Mr. Wyatt

How long will that be?

Mr. Dugdale

If it is not possible—which I can understand—to deal with troops who do not come under his command, will the right hon. Gentleman consult the Colonial Secretary to see whether a suitable inquiry may be made into the allegations against people in the Home Guard and police and others not in the Army?

Mr. Head

I know that my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary has this matter very much in mind.

Following is the summary of the report by the McLean Court of Inquiry into allegations made during the trial of Captain G. S. L. Griffiths, D.L.I., against conduct of the British Security Forces in Kenya


1. Captain G. S. L. Griffiths, D.L.I., was tried by General Court Martial on 25th–27th November on a charge of murder of an African, and was acquitted. In the course of this trial certain allegations were made against the conduct of the British Security Forces in Kenya.

A Court of Inquiry was assembled by G.O.C.-in-C, East Africa, on 15th December, 1953, to enquire into and report on these allegations.

The President of the Court was Lieut.-General Sir Kenneth McLean, K.B.E., C.B., and members—Colonel G. Barret, O.B.E., Deputy Director, Army Legal Services, War Office and Colonel G. A. Rimbault, D.S.O., M.C., Deputy Chief of Staff, East Africa Command.

Terms of Reference

2. The Court were instructed to enquire into and report on the allegations made at the G.C.M. on Captain Griffiths in respect of:

  1. (a) the offering to soldiers of monetary rewards for Mau Mau killings;
  2. (b) the keeping and exhibition of score boards recording official and un official kills and other activities against Mau Mau;
  3. (c) the fostering of a competitive spirit amongst units in regard to kills in anti-Mau Mau operations.

3. In addition, the Court were instructed to enquire into any other actions which might come to their notice which reflected discredit on the Army and, in particular, into:

  1. (a) any other inhuman practices such as the cutting off of hands from Africans killed during the course of anti-Mau Mau operations;
  2. (b) any other matters which reflected on the honour of the Army.

They were, however, instructed that, with the exception of inquiring into the operations of 39 Infantry Brigade from their arrival in East Africa, and in particular into the specific allegations that a £5 reward had been offered for the first "kill" by one of its battalions, they would confine their inquiries to matters which occurred after 1st June, 1953.


4. The Court assembled on 14th December, 1953, and completed its report on 31st December, 1953.

During this period it took evidence from all formations and major units (Lieut.-Colonels' Commands) now in Africa which had been involved in anti-Mau Mau operations.

5. A representative cross section of witnesses was heard from each major unit, ranging from the Commanding Officer to other ranks and including, where possible, the chaplain and medical officer.

In addition all units published orders giving details of the subjects being investigated by the Court and inviting any person wishing to do so to give evidence.

The Court heard evidence from 147 witnesses and these included six Army chaplains and four regimental Medical Officers, the Director of a native civil hospital and a Roman Catholic Bishop. The Christian Council of Kenya were invited to put forward any specific allegations against the conduct of the Army of which they were aware, but replied that they had no such matters to put forward.


6. The area in which the Army in Kenya is operating comprises:

(a) The Prohibited Areas

Areas consisting largely of forest and mountain, gazetted as prohibited by the Kenya Government, into which no persons other than members of the Security Forces or a small number holding a special permit are allowed to enter. Under Kenya Emergency Regulations, Security Forces have the right, if necessary, to shoot on sight.

(b) The Special Areas

These are areas, gazetted as such, in which certain special rules regarding the use of fire-arms apply. Any person in a special area who fails to halt after being challenged is liable to be shot. The special areas include the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru Land Units, commonly called "The Reserve," and also parts of the Kenya Highlands in the Central and Rift Valley Provinces in which lie the farms and ranches of European settlers, commonly called "The Settled Area."


The offering to soldiers of monetary awards for Man Mau killings

7. The Court found one instance where a reward was offered to a unit for getting a specific, criminal. The battalion had been warned that a notorious Mau Mau leader, for whom the Government had offered a reward of five thousand shillings, was in the vicinity and that they were to undertake operations against him. Two of the Company Commanders, with the approval of the Commanding Officer, offered one hundred shillings to the unit which killed or captured him. This amount was to be laid out in kind for the benefit of the successful unit or sub-unit and was not to be paid to any individual. The Court considered that this offer, though mistaken, was explicable in the circumstances obtaining at the time.

There was also one instance which has already been publicised where a Commanding Officer offered £5 to the first sub-unit to kill a terrorist, as an encouragement to the troops when the battalion first went into action in anti-Mau Mau operations. The battalion was going into operations in the prohibited area (an area of thick forest) where no one other than the Security Forces had the right to be. The Court came to the same conclusion, as in the previous case, bearing in mind that it could not possibly recur because the G.O.C.-in-C. has since expressly forbidden the offering of monetary awards of any kind.

An instance also occurred where a Commanding Officer had given discretion to his Company Commanders to give rewards in the form of money, leave or other privileges to individuals or sub-units who put up an exceptionally good performance in operations. The assessment of a very good performance was not expressly related to kills. Monetary awards of this type will not recur.

Apart from the instances mentioned above and the rewards offered by Captain Griffiths as admitted in his evidence at his court martial, there is no other evidence of the practice of offering soldiers monetary or other rewards for killing Mau Mau in any of the units which they investigated.

The keeping and exhibition of score-boards recording unofficial kills and other activities in operations against Mau Mau

8. The Court understood the term "Scoreboard" to be used in a derogatory sense and to refer to a visual record kept and displayed solely or mainly to foster unhealthy and irresponsible competition in killings between units and sub-units.

It is necessary for all formations, units and sub-units to collect and consolidate information recording all incidents in order to complete the periodical situation reports required by higher formations, and to show clearly to Commanders at all levels the progress of operations. The incidents so recorded include casualties to Mau Mau and to our own troops, prisoners captured, arms captured or lost, contacts with gangs, cattle stolen, etc.

The Court found that in platoons such information was kept in notebooks or memorised. In companies it was normally kept in notebooks or on pro-form as in files. In some Company, Battalion and Brigade Headquarters, these incidents were consolidated graphically in the form of wall charts for the greater convenience of Commanders.

All these forms of Charts were considered perfectly legitimate and reasonable. There was no evidence that they were used for any improper purpose. Moreover it was clear that without exception they were kept in offices to which access was severely restricted. There was no evidence of records of unofficial killings whether this phrase is used in the sense of Mau Mau wounded and believed killed or in the sense of Africans other than the established Mau Mau who have been killed.

The Courts finding was that allegations of the exhibition of "scoreboards" recording official and unofficial kills and other activities in operations against Mau Mau were unfounded. Nothing more appeared to have been kept than Charts recording official incidents consolidated from Situation Reports, which were kept in offices to which access was severely restricted.

The fostering of a competitive spirit amongst units in regard to kills in anti-Mau Mau operations

9. The Court found that it was widely recognised amongst all ranks that the number of kills obtained by units de pended largely on opportunity and that a captured Mau Mau who might possibly give valuable information was better than a dead one. Units' and sub-units' capabilities appear to have been judged not by their total of kills but by the number of successful operations they carried out, including the capture of prisoners. When battalions were operating solely in a prohibited area, the capture of arms and prisoners was rare due to the conditions prevailing in those areas and the number of kills therefore acquired a greater prominence.

Due to very wide dispersion the rivalry between battalions appears to be negligible. Members of different battalions seldom met and in no cases did the Court find that witnesses knew the total kills in neighbouring battalions. There was somewhat more rivalry between companies within a battalion and still more between platoons in a company. The Court satisfied themselves that the competitive spirit did not go beyond the natural rivalry to be found between sub-units in all good regiments in the British Army.

The Court found that allegations that the competitive spirit was being deliberately fostered amongst units in regard to kills in anti-Mau Mau operations were unjustified.

Identification of Mau Mau killed in operations

10. The Court also investigated whether the practice existed in the Army of cutting off the hands of Africans killed in operations and bringing these hands back as a means of identification.

The normal practice when an African is killed by troops during operations in the Special Areas is for the body to be brought back to the nearest police post where it is handed over to the police.

In the Prohibited Areas the normal practice is for the body to be brought back by a patrol if this is possible. If this is impossible due to distance, terrain, or for operational reasons, identification papers, if any, are removed from the body. When no papers are found fingerprints are taken with pads and ink specially issued to patrols and particulars of the corpse are recorded. If operational considerations permit, the body is then buried. The papers and finger prints are handed over to the police on completion of the operation.

It appears that in the early phases of anti-Mau Mau operations and in the Prohibited Areas it was an accepted—although not a universal practice—to cut off either one or both hands from a body where the body could not be brought in and there was no other means of identification. The hand was brought back in order that finger prints could be taken from it. This practice was dictated by the necessity of reporting all Mau Mau casualties to the police. This practice started to decrease with the wide issue of finger printing equipment to units and has now been specifically forbidden, even if it means the loss of an identification.

It appears that in six instances (one of which was in the Special Areas) involving three battalions, hands had been brought back as proof of identification of Africans killed since 1st August, 1953. In each case this mutilation was carried out in good faith, on the instructions of a European officer or N.C.O. in view of the lack of other means of identification and was explicable in the operational circumstances. G.H.Q., East Africa, issued a further order on 1st January, 1954, accepting the loss of an identification if other methods were not available.

Inhuman practicesthe torture and beating up of African prisoners and the illegal killing of Africans

11. Normally prisoners when captured are immediately questioned by members of the sub-unit which captured them (assisted where necessary by personnel of the Kenya Regiment, Police or Home Guard to act as interpreters) in order to obtain information as to who they are and whether they can guide the unit to a Mau Mau hideout. On conclusion of operations those retained as suspects are normally brought back to unit headquarters and handed over as soon as possible to the police—in some cases after further interrogation by the battalion Intelligence Officer.

The Court found no evidence whatever of African prisoners having been severely beaten or tortured by Army units for the purpose of forcing them to give information or for any other purpose, except in certain specific instances in two Kings African Rifles (K.A.R.) Battalions which are discussed in paragraphs 12 and 13 below. In fact, in British battalions the troops were, as always, most sympathetic to their prisoners, offering them tea and cigarettes. As one witness put it to the Court, "The prisoners put on weight whilst they are with us." Nor did the Court find any evidence of the illegal killing of Africans, except in certain specific cases which are discussed below.

Inhuman practices in K.A.R. Battalions

12. During June, 1953, one Company of a K.A.R. Battalion acted as Mobile Reserve to 70 (East Africa) Infantry Brigade and was detached for some weeks from its parent battalion. Apart from the incidents on 11th June which gave rise to the trial by court martial of Captain Griffiths, at which he was acquitted, there were certain other specific allegations against officers and men of this Company. These allegations are still under investigation.

13. Certain specific allegations have also been made that certain African prisoners have been ill-treated in another K.A.R. Battalion. A full investigation is now being made.

Honour of the Army

14. Other than the allegations in relation to the two K.A.R. Battalions referred to above, which are now under separate investigation, there is no evidence of any inhuman conduct to wards Africans on the part of the Army.


15. The above is a full and frank summary of the findings of the Court. It is my opinion, after reading the findings of the Court, that the incidents referred to in paragraphs 12 and 13 above, though deplorable, are rare and isolated. Allegations that such practices are or ever were widespread in the British Army are with out foundation. Its conduct, under difficult and arduous circumstances, showed that measure of restraint backed by good discipline which this country has traditionally expected.