'rape victims' win legal aid to sue MoD
A group of Kenyan women, who claim they were raped by British soldiers on exercise in their country, have been granted legal aid to sue the Ministry of Defence in a UK court.
Some 650 women are taking part in the suit, which alleges that the MoD did nothing to stop systematic rape by soldiers despite complaints dating back for 30 years.
The case could cost the MoD millions of pounds if it is shown that officers failed to control their men during the exercises, which take place in remote areas of Kenya each year.
The women's solicitor, Martyn Day, said there was documentary evidence that their complaints had been brought to the attention of British commanding officers in Kenya, but little sign that anything was done.
Some of the women allege that they were subjected to gang-rape by groups of soldiers who treated the attacks virtually as a leisure activity.
Dozens say they have given birth to mixed-race children, who have faced stigmatisation from other tribespeople.
Mr Day told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "When the women first came to see me about six months ago, I couldn't believe it could be true.
"But the more we went to police stations, clinics, hospitals and local government offices, the more we were able to find contemporaneous documentary evidence to show the women had been complaining about the rapes over a 30-year period.
"What really worries us is that, despite the fact that this was reported for the first time in 1977 to the British commanding officers at the time, no attempt was ever made, so far as we can ascertain, to try to stop this happening."
Mr Day said that many of the 650 women had come forward after news of a possible court case became public and acknowledged that some of them may be motivated by a desire for compensation money.
But he said that the stigma of admitting to being a rape victim was so great in Kenya that the women had a lot to lose by joining the action - with some even being thrown out of their homes by husbands as a result.
Mr Day said it would be difficult to take legal action against individual soldiers at this stage.
"One of the big issues is going to be finding the individual soldiers who carried out these terrible atrocities," he said.
"After so many years, it's going to be very, very difficult.
"The Royal Military Police is investigating some of these matters, but it is very difficult for them when the evidence has gone so cold, so for us the primary case is against the British Army.
"The fact that they failed systematically to ever take steps to stop this happening is the primary source of our case for civil compensation."
Defence Minister Adam Ingram said it would be "inappropriate" for him to discuss the cases at this point.
In a statement to the BBC, he said: "The allegations are the subject of a continuing investigation by the Special Investigation Branch of the Royal Military Police.
"It is being conducted in co-operation with the Kenyan authorities and they are asking anybody with information to pass it on," he said.
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