The British Army reportedly did not investigate five bush fires caused by its soldiers in Kenya weeks before the troops sparked a blaze in March that burned down 12,000 acres of a prized wildlife sanctuary and led to one death.
Over the month-long period prior to the inferno breaking out in the Lolldaiga Conservancy on March 23, soldiers belonging to the British Army Training Unit Kenya had ignited as many as five smaller fires during military exercises in the grassland, according to Declassified UK.
Citing a Freedom of Information response from the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), the investigative news outlet reported that these smaller fires were not investigated. The army has also admitted to causing a further two fires in the country in 2019 that “did not meet the threshold for investigation”.
The MoD’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation told the outlet it was “only required to investigate significant fires when a loss of equipment, injury or significant environmental damage has occurred.”
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On Monday, the MoD is expected to defend itself against a class-action suit seeking compensation in a Kenyan court. Brought by 1,400 people, the suit blames British troops for the blaze, which is said to have burned for at least four days in the wildlife reserve, which is favoured by tourists.
The African Centre for Corrective and Preventive Action, a lobby group that is part of the lawsuit, told Declassified UK it believed the British government would attempt to use the “state immunity” argument to “silence” it in court. The outlet reported that UK government lawyers are trying to stop a Kenyan judge from hearing the case.
One man, Linus Murangiri, was reportedly crushed to death by a vehicle as locals rushed to help put out the blaze. According to the BBC, his death was acknowledged by British authorities only months later, despite the fire being widely reported.
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The public broadcaster reported that a British soldier in Kenya had posted on Snapchat at the time about having caused the fire: “Two months in Kenya later and we’ve only got eight days left. Been good, caused a fire, killed an elephant and feel terrible about it, but hey-ho, when in Rome…”
The MoD press office told Declassified UK that the army had conducted an “internal investigation” into the Lolldaiga Conservancy fire, but said it would be “inappropriate to comment any further” since this was “part of an ongoing court case”.
In the immediate aftermath of the March fire, UK High Commissioner in Nairobi Jane Marriott told Kenyan media that “accidents do happen”. Claiming not to have had knowledge of any previous fires, Marriott suggested “volatile conditions”, with delayed rains, “high winds” and “combustible grass” made the area a “tinderbox”.
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