HC Deb 13 June 1956 vol 554 cc564-8
21. Mr. Dugdale

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies how many children under the age of 14 years have been sentenced to terms of imprisonment in Kenya for activities connected with Mau Mau.

58. Mr. Fenner Brockway

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies why the official records at Kamiti Prison, Kenya, showed that a girl prisoner No. 13222/J, admitted 21st September, 1954, sentenced to seven years' hard labour, was 11 years of age, and girl prisoners No. 127950, admitted 20th August, 1954, and No. 7966/J, admitted 12th June, 1954, sentenced to Governor's pleasure, maximum security, were 12 years of age, when under Kenya legislation no child under the age of 14 years may be sentenced to imprisonment; and what investigation was made prior to their imprisonment that they were in fact 14 years of age.

61. Mrs. Castle

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will make a further statement on the errors in the prison records in Kenya relating to the imprisonment of girls stated in the records to be under 14 years of age.

63. Mr. Paget

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will make a further statement as to how girls came to be recorded in the Kenya prison records as being under the age of 14 years.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)

Under Kenya legislation no child under the age of 14 may be sentenced to imprisonment. A person under 18 who is convicted by a court on a capital charge must be sentenced to detention during the Governor's pleasure and such detention may be in prison. Where it appears to a court that an accused person may be a child or a young person, the court has to satisfy itself as to the age of the accused, if necessary by calling evidence including medical evidence.

The ages of some girls at Kamiti prison are shown in the records as being under 14. In all cases, the courts which convicted had to satisfy themselves that the accused were of or over that age. The prisoners' ages are not shown on commitment warrants which indicate, however, whether the prisoner has been sentenced as a juvenile, between the ages of 14 and 18, or as an adult.

The prison record-sheets are made out on the admission of prisoners by an African clerk from the commitment warrants and from the answers of the prisoners. In some cases, it has been found that the ages shown in the record-sheets have been subsequently altered in different ink, to show a lower age, as in the case of 13222/J where the figure 18 was altered to 11. It is not known by whom, when or for what purpose these alterations were made, but no responsible officer authorised them.

The ages of persons can only be determined, in the absence of any system of registration of their births, by reference to their physical development, and, in Africa, to their tribal age groups. Examination of all female juvenile prisoners now at Kamiti by a panel of three Kikuyu women of equivalent standing to tribal elders has confirmed that all were of or over the age of 14 and of adult tribal age groups when sentenced.

Mr. Dugdale

Is this not a most disturbing statement? What guarantee can the right hon. Gentleman give that the ages of these and other children, which he has now given us, are the correct ages? Will he have a complete investigation made into the ages of all people who may possibly be under the age of 14?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

As I have said, the ages are the result of medical examination, of expert examination. However, in view of the apparent differences between the particulars of prisoners published by Miss Fletcher and the original prison records, at my invitation Miss Fletcher agreed to come to the Colonial Office this morning with her copies of the prison records, to discuss these differences with officers of my Department and with the Attorney-General of Kenya, whom I had asked to come home to England, bringing those originals with him. The age given on the first original record examined, prisoner 13222/J, a married Kikuyu woman, showed an alteration from 18 to 11. Miss Fletcher said that there were no alterations in the ages shown on the original records when she copied details from them, and she offered no comment on the fact that the age she ascribed to this prisoner, 11, was the same as the altered age on the original records. She then declined to give any further assistance in arriving at the truth of this or other anomalies without legal advice. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Certainly. Hon. Gentlemen might let me finish my Answer. I have no quarrel with that whatever. In fairness to her, I must say that she did not withdraw any allegations, but wished to have time to prepare her case with legal advice.

Mr. Brockway

While appreciating the action of the right hon. Gentleman in summoning the Attorney-General of Kenya to this country, so that there might be a thorough investigation of the charges which have been made, may I ask him whether his reply to the House today does not indicate that these prison records have included the ages of children under 14 years of age? Is it not the case that when Miss Fletcher met the Attorney-General of Kenya at the Colonial Office this morning she not only stood by every statement which she had made, but also indicated that she was prepared to make a legal deposition to that effect as soon as Mr. Dingle Foot had returned to this country, Mr. Foot being her legal adviser?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I do not think that anything I have said is broadly in conflict with what the hon. Member has said. Miss Fletcher declined to go further into this matter this morning, and none of my officers, nor the Attorney-General of Kenya thought that that was unreasonable, in the absence of legal advice. When she has had legal advice, which will be available very soon, I hope that she will do so. She does not withdraw her charges, but I must make absolutely plain that, having examined all the records concerned with great care—and I have the record of the first case here with the original figure in red ink altered in blue ink to 11 by some person unknown—I also stand by everything that I said during the debate and today.

Mrs. Castle

Is the right hon. Gentleman now telling the House that on the prison records every one of these ages to which reference has been made has been altered, or is it the fact that, despite the alterations in certain cases, there were still cases in which an entry was made and not later altered, to the effect that a child under 14 had been in prison?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Where in fact there had been alterations, the alterations have had the result of bringing the age down below the level at which a child could have been sentenced to imprisonment.

Mr. Paget

In view of the fact that there is admirable approved school accommodation for boys, but none for girls, is it really contrary to the safety of the Colony to release girl juveniles who are now held for Mau Mau offences? Can we not let out these young girls under 18 without any real danger to our safety?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

That is another matter. In the debate I dealt with the particular facilities available for juvenile girls. I join with the hon. and learned Member in wishing that there were the same facilities for juvenile girls as there is for juvenile boys of approved school kind, but in fact I am assured—and I am convinced that this is so—that the particular facilities available for the girls have the attributes of approved schools, and that they are segregated from the main part of the women's prison.

Mr. Bevan

There is still one point which is rather obscure. The right hon. Gentleman read a very long Answer and the point may not have been clear. I do not complain. Is it the fact that the prison authorities signed the list showing the child to be under the legal age?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

No, Sir. That is not so. The ages were entered by an African clerk, and they have in fact been altered. It was on how they came to be altered that I and my officers were anxious to have a discussion this morning with Miss Fletecher, but it seems difficult to carry this matter further until she has had that outside and legal assistance which, I readily acknowledge, I have myself.

Mr. Bevan

That was not my question. The question I asked was whether it was a fact that the list which the right hon. Gentleman has seen and the list provided by Miss Fletcher contained the signature of the prison authorities. That list showed a child in prison under the legal age. Was the list altered after the signature of the prison authorities, or before?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

In fact the age has been altered from 18 to 11 in an ink of a colour different from that on the original statement. [Interruption.] I should be very interested to know when, and by whom. When the original statement was made, it included the officer's and all other relevant signatures and the age of this particular prisoner. I am deliberately concentrating on the age of this particular prisoner, the first on the list of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway), which was put down as 18.

Back to
Forward to