HL Deb 26 January 1954 vol 185 cc435-44

3.43 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the proceedings of the House for a few moments in order to make a statement, similar to that made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War, about the Court of Inquiry held by General McLean in Kenya. The statement reads as follows:

"The Court assembled on December 15 and completed its report on December 31. 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 circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

"I think that honourable 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 and 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."

Following is a summary of the report made by the Court of Inquiry into allegations made during the trial of Captain G. S. L. Griffiths, D.L.I., against the 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 inquire 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 inquire 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 unofficial 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 inquire 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 bards 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 Fast 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 firearms 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."


7. The offering to soldiers of monetary awards for Mau Mau killings

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.

8. The keeping and exhibition of scoreboards recording unofficial kills and other activities in operations against Mau Mau.

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 formas 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 Court's 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.

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

The Court found that it was widely recognised amongst all ranks that the number of kills obtained by units depended 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 finger-prints 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.

11. Inhuman practices—the torture and beating up of African prisoners and the illegal killing of Africans.

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 cart 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.

12. Inhuman practices in K.A.R. battalions.

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 base 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 towards Africans on the part of the Army.

15. Conclusion.

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 aid 13 above, though deplorable, are rare aid isolated. Allegations that such practices are or ever were widespread in the British Army are without foundation. Its conduct, under difficult and arduous circumstances, showed that measure of restraint backed by good discipline which this country has traditionally expected.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble and gallant Earl, the Minister of Defence, for having submitted to the House, this statement, which I understand is an exact replica of that submitted in another place. It is not possible to make any special comment upon the matter until all Members of your Lordships' House have had a chance of studying the summary of the report which it is intended to circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I should like, therefore, to reserve the position of my noble friends on this side of the House, because we may desire to raise the matter again when we have had an opportunity of conferring upon the results shown.

We are happy to learn from the statement made by the Minister that the findings of this Court of Inquiry indicate that there have not been widespread instances of the kind of conduct which was complained of, for example, in the Griffiths case. I am quite sure that will be the desire of the noble Earl who has just submitted the statement to this House, with all his great reputation in general service and in the leadership of the Forces, that the position of honour amongst all the forces of the world which the British Forces have pre-eminently maintained in the past., shall be kept untouched, and that therefore all proper steps will be taken. On the other hand, I am in a rather difficult position. My noble Leader is out of the country and will be for some weeks. But when the first announcement of the Inquiry was made he did raise a specific issue which he put to the House, which was that he thought the proper form of the Inquiry should be a public inquiry.


I do not think he put it quite as strongly as that.


I thought it was fairly strong, and I have refreshed my memory by reading the OFFICIAL REPORT. Can the Minister tell me whether it is intended to publish the full report, and not merely the summary which is to be circulated with the OFFICIAL REPORT of the House, so that if we come to the happy solution that, in general, any widespread charge has been disproved, that will be known to the public as a whole in detail, or whether the Government are going to confine themselves to this particular statement. I hope that as the public inquiry procedure has not been adopted, the fullest report will be issued, with, if possible, a report of the evidence. The two Houses of Parliament have had made available to them the minutes of evidence in the court-martial case, and those of your Lordships and Members of another place who have had an opportunity of seeing the kind of evidence there produced must have some disturbance of mind until we can be sure from the fullest evidence of this particular Inquiry that the matter has been—to use the Minister's own words—"cleaned up and not covered up." I simply say that I am much obliged to the Minister for making the statement, but I should like to know whether the full report will be circulated.


This summary, which is a full summary, is going to be circulated for the convenience of your Lordships and of honourable Members in another place. We felt it would be better than publishing the complete proceedings of the Court of Inquiry. But if noble Lords feel they would like to see the complete findings of the Court of Inquiry I will look into the matter.


I am very much obliged to the noble and gallant Earl. As I have said, I have had no opportunity of conferring with my colleagues on the matter, and I should like to do so. There is one other point on which I should be glad to have a reply, though not necessarily today. I should be glad to know whether the Minister can at some time make some statement as to the steps, if any, which are to be taken to prevent the selection of undesirable officers for native regiments, such as the King's African Rifles, with a view to the prevention of a possible repetition of such incidents as have occurred. I will say no more than that at the moment, but I feel that it is vital that there should be extraordinarily careful selection of officers for these native regiments.