The government has been challenged to explain its support for a Kenyan investigation that resulted in a death sentence being handed down based on flawed evidence and a ‘confession’ extracted under torture.
Legal charity Reprieve and law firm Leigh Day have launched legal action over the involvement of British authorities, including the Metropolitan Police and the Home Office, in the death sentence handed down to Ali Babitu Kololo, a father of two from a village in Lamu, Kenya. Mr Kololo was sentenced to death for robbery with violence by a Kenyan court in August 2013 after he was tortured by local police into ‘confessing’ to leading kidnappers to the camp where the 2011 kidnapping of British tourist Judith Tebbutt, and the murder of her husband David took place.
Despite serious flaws with the Kenyan investigation, including the use of torture, and the near-certainty that a conviction would result in a death sentence for Mr Kololo, the Metropolitan Police offered substantial support to the prosecution. British police officers also gave evidence during a flawed trial, conducted in a language Mr Kololo does not speak fluently, and without the presence of his lawyer during crucial hearings. Other than his ‘confession’, the main evidence presented linking Mr Kololo to the crime scene was a shoe that does not fit his foot.
Though they accused Mr Kololo of leading the kidnappers to the camp, Mr Kololo alleges that the police never interviewed him to ask about the other men they believed were involved, nor made any efforts to find and charge them with any crime. Instead, Mr Kololo, who is illiterate and from the marginalised Boni tribe in northern Kenya, was sentenced to death in July 2013.
Following the sentencing, British officials from the Metropolitan Police and Foreign Office praised the “great skill and tenacity” of the British police team, calling the outcome “welcome” and a “positive development”.
Reprieve and lawyers from Leigh Day have taken the first steps in launching a judicial review of the official UK support for the Kenyan investigation. A pre-action letter sent to Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, head of the Metropolitan Police, states: “The support provided by the British authorities to the prosecution in Mr Kololo’s case was unlawful […] The unfairness is particularly acute in a context where it entails a real risk to an individual’s life, as it did in the present case.”
The UK government’s Strategy for the Abolition of the Death Penalty lists Kenya as a ‘priority country’ with which the UK should work towards abolition and a reduction in executions.
Maya Foa, head of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said: “It is appalling that the British government chose to ignore its own human rights policies and support a flagrantly unfair trial that resulted in a death sentence.
“The case against Mr Kololo is so deeply flawed, resting as it does on unsound evidence including a ‘confession’ extracted under torture, that it is highly possible that an innocent man has been convicted."
She concluded: "The government should admit responsibility and take measures to right this wrong as soon as possible.”