Channel 4 has just broadcast a documentary entitled “A Very British Way of Torture”. It justified a pre-broadcast claim that it would address the
full, shocking story of how Britain secretly used torture in its war against the Kenyan anti-colonialist Mau Mau movement in the 1950s – including murder, rape and forced castrations.
The documentary is available on Channel 4’s ‘catch up’ service. It can also be accessed by those with a Skybox.
1. Torture, mutilation and murder.
Esther Muthoni described how she was beaten by rifle butts, her leg was broken and she was gang raped by British soldiers and their Home Guard subordinates. Her siblings suffered a similar fate. The cameras showed the deep scars on Muthoni’s leg where the soldiers had smashed her bones. She was not a suspected Mau Mau, merely someone the British suspected knew the whereabouts of the rebels. Rape was used as an instrument of terror by the British Army during the war against the Mau Mau.
Many Kenyans were rounded up and sent to concentration camps where they were starved, tortured, raped and beaten up. Prisoners were stripped naked and beaten so badly, some lost their eyesight. Pliers were used to cut the testicles from men who refused to confess to being in the Mau Mau. Fingers were removed too. More than 1,200 prisoners who confessed or were found guilty of rebellion were hanged.
2. The guilty.
One of the largest torture centres was run by Terence Gavaghan. The accounts provided by witnesses to Channel 4 about his behaviour could have been made by victims of a sadistic SS officer at a Nazi concentration camp.
Gavaghan and other camp administrators forced their prisoners to engage in hard labour. Those who refused to co-operate were beaten. Eleven men were beaten to death and 72 hospitalised in 1959 for refusing to work at the Hola ‘detention centre’.
Further details about Gavaghan can be found at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terence_Gavaghan
3. Sir Arthur Young.
The Channel 4 broadcast also featured an account of the bitter experience of Sir Arthur Young, a senior police officer who was sent to Kenya as Commissioner of Police. He resigned and returned home disgusted at what he discovered was taking place in the colony. One might criticise Young for not having done enough to curb the violence. Surely there was a lot more he could have achieved. Or was there? Was he a realist who knew that the British government, MI5 and British Army were fully supportive of the brutal regime in Kenya? MI5 officers were directing the campaign against the Mau Mau. (MI5 was responsible for the security of the UK and Her Majesty’s overseas colonies.) Young did not attempt to brief the British media, either officially in secret. This is hardly surprising as the Fleet Street press barons and their compliant editors had already demonised the people of Kenya as savages.
In late 1969 Young was sent to Northern Ireland to bring the Royal Ulster Constabulary to heel by the Labour government of Harold Wilson. Wilson, it should be stressed, had not been in power during the abuse of the Kenyan population. Wilson was concerned about the behaviour of important elements of the RUC and B-Specials who shared the same mindset as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and other Loyalist terror groups. Young immediately reached out the hand of reassurance and friendship to the Nationalist/Catholic community. He developed a particularly close relationship with the leadership of the Citizens Defence Committees.
4. Applying colonial tactics to Ireland.
In June 1970, Harold Wilson was replaced by Ted Heath of the Conservative party. He sent another veteran of Kenya to Belfast, Brigadier (later General Sir) Frank Kitson. Unlike Young, Kitson had embraced the counter-insurgency tactics of the British administration in Kenya. He not only thrived but, in 1960, wrote a book, “Gangs and Counter-gangs” about his experience in the colony. He returned to the topic in 1977 in another book, “Bunch of Five”. Nowhere, anywhere, in either volume, is there any hint of the ruthless behaviour that featured in the Channel 4 documentary. On the contrary, he argued that the British Army might have enjoyed more success if it had not behaved in a restrained and honourable manner. He blamed the uprising on a people who were controlled by witch doctors, not a desire to reclaim their land from white settlers. Lies, deceit and deception were the hallmarks of Kitson’s career right from the start. He committed perjury on an industrial scale at the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday, Derry 30 January 1972. Hence, there is every reason to believe that he knew full well what was afoot in Kenya.
In his 1977 offering, he revealed that most British soldiers in Kenya:
saw evidence of revolting Mau-Mau brutality from time to time, and probably regarded the finding and disposing of gang members in the same way as they would regard the hunting of a dangerous wild animal.
I devoted two full chapters to Kitson’s colonial experiences in a book I published about him last year, “Kitson’s Irish War: Mastermind of the Dirty War in Ireland”. It includes an account of the torture and mutilation of the people of Kenya by the British Army. This was important to bring home the fact that the British counter-insurgency specialists who served in the colonies before they were sent to Ireland were perfectly capable of deplorable behaviour in the North. The MRF death squads, the ‘hooded men’ torture chambers and collusion with Loyalist terror gangs came straight from the British Army’s colonial playbook. To Kitson and his colleagues in MI5, MI6, the RUC Special Branch, the UVF and UDA, Catholics were ‘half breeds’ too.
My book on Kitson was reviewed by Ned Costello, a soldier who had served in the British Army in Northern Ireland. He made the following comment about the chapter on Kenya:
[Burke] might also have mentioned that the vast majority of the security forces fighting Mau Man were black Kenyans serving in the Police and Kikuyu Guard force…
I am puzzled as to why Mr Costello feels the colour of the skin of the soldiers involved in the atrocities committed by the British army and police in Kenya is relevant to the issue of the abuse of human rights. I assume he is not suggesting that the “black” soldiers in the Home Guard were less civilised than their white European colleagues, and/or carried out these atrocities behind the backs of their “white” superiors. One thing the devastating Channel 4 documentary has made abundantly clear is that the worst atrocities were perpetrated by men with white skin. They were the camp commandants. The Home Guard were acting on their orders.
Arthur Young left Northern Ireland in 1970. By 1972 men such as Kitson, General Robert Ford, and Colonel Derek Wilford of the Parachute Regiment; not to mention lethal thugs such as David Cleary (Soldier F) and Ron Cook (Soldier G) had arrived. A murderous and toxic atmosphere now prevailed in Northern Ireland. Cleary, Cook and their colleagues in 1 Para were permitted to murder people in Derry and snatch people from the streets of Belfast and subject them to vicious beatings and torture involving electrocution. They were never disciplined. A corrupt Chief Justice, Lord Widgery, covered up their Bloody Sunday crimes.
Some of the most extreme measures, however, were perpetrated by former British soldiers who infiltrated Loyalist terror groups on behalf of British intelligence agencies.
They included Brian Nelson and Albert Baker who murdered snd tortured their victims.
Jimmy Miller, a former paratrooper, became the UDA’s Director of Intelligence in the early to mid-1970s. He arranged UDA murders.
John McKeague (who was not a former soldier) was another British agent who tortured and murdered random Catholics.
Tommy Lyttle of the UDA’s Inner Council was an MI5 agent who ordered assassinations.
A brief overview of some instances of torture, mutilation and the murder of random Catholics in so-called “romper rooms” in Belfast can be found on this website at: Bloody Sunday murderers operated a mobile torture chamber. By David Burke.
In addition, an array of RUC Special Branch/MI5 agents such as Robin Jackson bombed Dublin and Monaghan killing 33 people in 1974. Jackson and other Loyalist terrorists were allowed to murder Catholics at will. The British government gave £1,400,000 to the victims of the Miami Showband massacre earlier this year. Jackson, a former UDR soldier, was one of those responsible for that atrocity.
As the 1970s dragged on, the atmosphere worsened. Michael Asher, a former paratrooper and author of ‘Shoot to Kill’ has described how the paratroopers came to despise the Nationalist community:
During house searches they vented their anger on their victims, smashing down doors and breaking up furniture, kicking and rifle-butting anyone who resisted, making lewd suggestions to the women of the house and threatening the children. Some of them tormented the quiet Pakistani in the [regimental] shop until he threw a chip-pan of boiling fat at them. They battered to death a stray cat that wandered past the OP and held up its mangled corpse to the children who came looking for it. [Asher (2003), p.119–20.]
Asher knew paratroopers who were truly scraped from the very bottom of the barrel:
Several of them boasted of dragging a mentally deficient girl into the OP [observation post] and forcing her to perform oral sex. They said she enjoyed it. [Asher (2003), p.119–20.]
5. No admission of guilt
The Channel 4 broadcast has also made it clear that the House of Commons was misled by Foreign Secretary William Hague in 2013. Hague denied that London had been aware of what had taken place in Kenya. He tried to place the blame on the colonial administration in Kenya thereby exculpating those in power in London. Yet, the contradictory assertions made by Channel 4 are confirmed by declassified files once held at a base which hid MI5, MI6 and GCHQ records.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) is demonstrably an organisation guilty of institutional racism. Its seems deep rooted, if not embedded in the DNA of the department. The politician who oversees its work at present is Liz Truss. It will be interesting to see if she will be questioned about the Channel 4 broadcast as she campaigns to become prime minister of the UK. Even if she is not asked, will she nonetheless volunteer a proper apology after all the decades of white supremacy, disdain and contempt?
MI5 is another organisation that owes Kenya – not to mention Ireland – an apology. If MI5 ever hopes to shake off its Gestapo image, it should say sorry to its victims, and do so sooner rather than later. In the meantime, it will continue to encounter the recruitment difficulties about which its senior officers complain. Ideally, an apology could be followed by a rebranding of MI5. A new organisation, or series of organisations, could then be established and led by people with integrity; people in the mould of Sir John Stevens. A higher calibre of recruit might then be tempted to sign up. Sadly for Britain, the Tories and the mandarins of Whitehall are more concerned about covering up Britain’s crimes than in providing the very best protection for the people of the UK.
Channel 4 is the most courageous and outspoken TV broadcaster in the UK. Unfortunately, the Tory government is trying to sell the station to the private sector where it will be neutered. Nadine Dorres, the Tory Culture Secretary (who once appeared on ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’) is pushing this initative. It is more likely that the Tories will succeed in destroying C4 than that Liz Truss et al will apologise for the atrocities the station exposed on ‘A Very British Way of Torture‘.
David Burke is the author of ‘Kitson’s Irish War, Mastermind of the Dirty War in Ireland’ which examines the role of counter-insurgency dirty tricks in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s and the template it set for the Troubles. It can be purchased here:
OTHER STORIES ABOUT BLOODY SUNDAY, THE BALLYMURPHY MASSACRE, BRIGADIER FRANK KITSON AND COLONEL DEREK WILFORD ON THIS WEBSITE:
Lying like a trooper. Internment, murder and vilification. Did Brigadier Kitson instigate the Ballymurphy massacre smear campaign? Where was Soldier F and his ‘gallant’ death squad during it?
Soldier F and Brigadier Kitson’s elite ‘EFGH’ death squad: a murderous dirty-tricks pattern is emerging which links Ballymurphy with Bloody Sunday. A second soldier involved in both events was ‘mentioned in despatches’ at the behest of Kitson for his alleged bravery in the face of the enemy.
Mission accomplished. The unscrupulous judge who covered-up the Bloody Sunday murders. Soldier F and other paratroopers have been protected by the British State for five decades. None of them now face prosecution. This perversion of justice began with the connivance of the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, John Widgery, a former British Army brigadier, Freemason and oath-breaker.
The McGurk’s Bar cover-up. Heath’s Faustian pact. How a British prime minister covered up a UVF massacre in the hope of acquiring Unionist votes to enable the UK join the European Economic Community, the forerunner of the EU.