The children of the Happy Valley
In 1956 Leo Hoyle, of the royal Irish Fusiliers, become the first European in Kenya to be sentenced to death for raping and murdering an African woman to ostensibly “ end her agony” of being kicked out of her house.
The decision was, however, reversed by the court of appeal which declared him “legally insane” and reduced the sentence to a few months in jail.
Lots of Kenyans are wondering why there is seething outrage over the light sentence recently passed on Tom Cholmondeley. It is because the history of justice in Kenya appears to have been tilted in pre-post independent Kenya. The recent case of Tom Gilbert Cholmondeley and the eight months he got should not come as a shock. It joins a long list of such cases that have escaped the attention of Kenyans.
August 18, 1960 remains an important date because that was the date when a small crowd of about 300 people gathered outside Nairobi Prison to witness the hanging of Peter Harold Poole—the first and only white to be hanged in both colonial and independent Kenya — for killing an African, Kamame Musunga for throwing stones at his dogs. The case had actually torn the nation down the middle and had to be decided by the Governor who actually refused to intervene and Mr Poole was hanged at 8am in Nairobi prison. Today, his papers signed by Prison Superintendent J. A Mkinney and Nairobi medical officer, Dr D.H Mackay lie in our archives as part of our history.
White settlers had tried to push Tom Mboya, then Kanu secretary for Nairobi, to organise Africans to petition the governor to exercise the prerogative of mercy on Mr Poole, but Mr Mboya knew the political dangers of such an attempt.
Hanging those days was supposed to be a statement and dramatic too. That is why two hours after Mr Poole was hanged a notice was posted at the prison gates reading: “The sentence to death passed on Peter Poole by the Supreme Court has been carried out at 8 O’clock.” That was history. Mr Poole had entered the annals of Kenya history by becoming the first white to be hanged for killing a black man.
Nothing indicates the level of different thoughts going through the white and black communities than two comments made that morning and captured by the newspaper journalists who covered the drama: “May courage be rewarded in Heaven!, shouted one white man. “Justice has been done!” shouted a black man who was promptly arrested by the prison wardens. But Poole was just unlucky! Others who had committed macabre murders had gotten away with light sentences. “Happy Valley” has always had its tales. It was in the Soysambu Farm that Third Baron Delamere threatened to shoot any trespasser— including government surveyors —who set foot on the property. In 1908, he had also led a protest to Government House to demand the resignation of Governor James Hayes Sander for “being pro-native”.
Look at the case of Col Ewart Grogan. He was charged with murder of two African rickshaw riders whom he flogged to death in front of a magistrate. He even chased Police Superintendent, a major Smith, as he tried to intervene. Despite this, the murder charge was reduced to “assault” and he got two months of hard labour which he spent sitting in a “prison” opposite the Norfolk Hotel. There was also the case of a settler named Harris who flogged a farm labourer to death in 1943 poured kerosene on him and torched him. Smith was released on a bail by a High Court judge and later fined Sh600.
There was also the case of Walter Wilkin was on February 13, 1964 charged with murdering 33-year-old butcher Mwangi Kamau by locking him in a box and suffocating him to death. Wilkin got away with a light sentence of six years passed by the Chief Justice Sir John Ainsley. Wilkin had in 1955 also shot dead a Mr Wallace Gitagia, but the state entered a nolle prosequi.In 1980, Kenyans watched as an US sailor Frank Sandstrom walked away to freedom after paying a bond of Sh500 to keep peace after he admitted killing Monica Njeri, a Mombasa prostitute.
The case caused an outrage in parliament as the Attorney General, James Karugu, said he was not satisfied with the verdict. By that time Sandstrom had bolted to freedom.
And now Kenyans have watched yet another man get a light sentence. The White Highlands may be no more, but the Happy Valley is for real.