UK defence minister faces call for inquiry into 2012 killing of Kenyan woman

John Healey, the shadow defence secretary, described the 2012 killing of Agnes Wanjiru, a sex worker, as “dreadful” and called for Wallace to “take this more seriously”.

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The UK defence secretary, Ben Wallace, is facing calls to launch an investigation into a possible cover-up after no one was held responsible for the alleged killing of a 21-year old Kenyan woman by one or more off-duty British soldiers.

John Healey, the shadow defence secretary, described the 2012 killing of Agnes Wanjiru, a sex worker, as “dreadful” and called for Wallace to “take this more seriously”.

It happened at the Lions Court hotel in Nanyuki, central Kenya, where British soldiers were reportedly drinking and having sex with sex workers, according to the Sunday Times.

The identity of Wanjiru’s killer was “an open secret” as he had confessed to colleagues in a panic at the time, the paper reported. But the main suspect, who has not been named, said he had never been questioned. He denies involvement and now lives in England.

On Sunday, Jane Marriott, the British high commissioner in Nairobi, said senior military officials from the UK would be in Kenya in the coming weeks and “will be discussing Ms Wanjiru’s murder and UK support to the Kenyan investigation”.

A spokesperson for Wallace said he was “impatient with the pace” of a Kenyan investigation into the killing and “has directed full cooperation”.

“He is working with the military and Kenyan police to ensure their investigation is not impeded,” they said. However, there is no investigation into the killing ongoing by the Royal Military Police and the former military leaders Gen Lord Dannatt, the former head of the British army, and Gen Lord Richards of Hertsmonceux, the former head of the armed forces, told the Sunday Times the allegations should be investigated.

A 2019 inquest in Kenya concluded Wanjiru “was murdered by British soldiers” and despite Kenyan police investigations and inquiries by Ministry of Defence (MoD) investigators no one has been brought to justice.

The alleged killer is said by colleagues to have shown them Wanjiru’s body in a septic tank at the hotel. She had been stabbed, Kenyan investigators later concluded. Her daughter is now 10 and her sister Rose told the Sunday Times: “We are poor, but we will not be silent. I know British soldiers killed her. All I can do now is pray they will be caught.”

“The details of this young Kenyan woman’s death are dreadful, yet there’s still no action from defence ministers on reports of grave failings by the British military exposed in this case,” Healey said. “There’s been no MoD-led investigation of the soldiers involved and no inquiry into why the MoD failed to respond when Kenyan detectives asked for help. Nine years on, justice must now be done for Agnes and her family.”

He continued: “The defence secretary … should pledge the fullest cooperation to Kenyan detectives and launch an inquiry into any possible cover-up from commanding officers, military police or the MoD. When our forces serve overseas they stand up for British values and these allegations, if proven, would profoundly betray those values.”

The MoD said its special investigation branch carried out initial inquiries in Kenya in 2012, “including providing information about British personnel to the Kenyan police”.

They said: “Following the conclusion of a Kenyan inquest in 2019, we are aware that the Kenyan authorities are looking into this incident. The jurisdiction for this investigation rests with the Kenyan police, and we are currently in discussions with the Kenyan authorities to determine what support is needed.”

According to the Sunday Times, a Kenyan judge presiding over the 2019 inquest concluded: “I have formed the opinion that Agnes was murdered by British soldiers. It may have been one or two. But what is certain is that it was British soldiers because they were dressed in their uniform.”

The judge said a broken mirror and blood were found in a room at the Lions Court hotel and there may have been a “cover-up”.

The newspaper reported that a soldier, known as Soldier Y, who was in the hotel that night said the alleged killer came into the bar where soldiers were drinking “crying, saying: ‘Help me, help me’’.

“I said: ‘What do you mean?’” Soldier Y reportedly told the paper. “[He said:] ‘I’ve killed her.’ [I said:] ‘What do you mean, you’ve killed her? Show me.”

He said the suspected killer led him and other soldiers to a septic tank behind one of the lodges at the hotel and showed them the woman inside.

The alleged killer told the paper his involvement was a “rumour” put about by colleagues and said “there’s no real truth in it”.

On Sunday Marriott tweeted: “I share the concern about the tragic death of Agnes Wanjiru in 2012 – my thoughts are with her family and the community. I can assure Kenyans that the UK is fully cooperating with the investigation and will help in any way we can. The conduct of the UK military here is incredibly important to us. They do a lot of good in Nanyuki, for the economy and the community. But where there are issues, we have and will address them.”

She added that “senior military visitors from the UK” would be in Kenya in the coming weeks and “will be discussing Ms Wanjiru’s murder and UK support to the Kenyan investigation”.