The year is 2012 and a British soldier, Soldier X, allegedly confesses to his colleagues that he murdered Agnes Wanjiru in central Kenya. Soldier X is then said to have led his colleagues to a septic tank, where he had dumped her body.
The body was discovered in a septic tank by a hotel worker, two months after the victim was stabbed to death. To anyone who knew about Wanjiru’s death, the feelings of the victim’s family appeared to be of little concern.
Most troubling are the reports of Soldier Y, who said they had tried to report Soldier X. Soldier Y “told everyone” at the base what had happened, including senior officers.
Despite Wanjiru’s death occurring in 2012, no one has yet been held responsible. Attempts have clearly been made by Kenyan authorities to get some justice for Wanjiru, with a Kenyan inquest reportedly concluding in 2019 that the victim was murdered by one or two British soldiers. However, no one has been prosecuted.
My colleague John Healey, the shadow defence secretary, has pressured the government for action on this and I echo his calls for full cooperation from the MoD and an inquiry. The defence secretary, Ben Wallace, is said to be speaking directly to Kenyan authorities but it is clear the public need more transparency. That is why I tabled a written question to the minister, in the hope that he will use it as an opportunity to lift the veil of secrecy from around this awful case.
Wallace has said he is waiting on a request from Kenya for assistance in finding Wanjiru’s killer; meanwhile the head of the army, General Mark Carleton-Smith, has said he is “appalled” by allegations and that he is determined to work with the authorities to establish the facts in the killing.
Finding the facts, and prosecuting those responsible is important, but the real problem is ideological. This Tory government has seen fit to incorporate a “no questions asked” defence of overseas military personnel into its culture war strategy. Rather than acknowledging the sensitivity of these matters, the government has chosen an extremist stance. They frame the debate around military around “vexatious prosecutions” and forget about victims left without justice.
With the Overseas Operations Bill, I believe the government is providing implicit support for British forces to act without fear of consequence, alongside greater legal obstacles to prosecuting crimes committed by overseas soldiers.
This feeds into a culture that Soldier Y warns us about, a culture where the truth is hidden and justice is denied.
Diane Abbott is the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington