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Court acquits nine Solai dam suspects of 48 manslaughter charges

Victims of the Solai dam tragedy at the Naivasha law courts. [Antony Gitonga/Standard]

A Naivasha court has acquitted nine suspects charged with causing the deaths of 48 people following the Solai dam tragedy two years ago.

After 18 months of adjournments, the suspects who were brought before the court in a dramatic way amid tight security on May 9, 2018, walked free after Chief Magistrate Kennedy Bidali ruled that there was lack of "willingness" and support from the Directorate of Public Prosecution office in prosecuting the case.

"It appears to the court that a case is not made out against the accused person sufficiently to require him to make a defence, the court shall dismiss the case and shall forthwith acquit him."

What started as a highly publicised case ended with State officials walking out of court in shame and a few victims of the tragedy who had turned up in court shedding tears of pain.

In the case, Perry Manusukh Kanasagara- the farm owner and eight others were charged with 48 counts of manslaughter on May 9, 2018, in Solai, Nakuru and failing to prepare an environmental impact assessment report.

The other eight are Vinoj Jaya Kumar, Johnson Njuguna, Luka Kipyegen, Winnie Muthoni, Jacinta Were, Tomkin Odo Odhiambo, Williec Omondi and Lynette Cheruiyot.

Mr. Badali lay the blame squarely on the office of the State Counsels noting that months since the case started, little progress had been made with adjournments being the order of the day.

In his ruling, he accused the prosecution of holding the court hostage by failing to appear in court on several occasions.

He noted that the nine accused deserved fair trial which could not be given due to various adjournments by the prosecution.

“The court has on various occasions set aside twelve days for the case to be heard only for the prosecution to miss out without giving a proper explanation,” he said.

While acquitting the suspects, the magistrate noted that 18 months since the case took off, the office of the DPP had failed to produce a single witness or even a witness statement.

“No court should be held ransom by the office of the DPP and the accused have the right to fair and speedy trial but the prosecution has time and again proved it was not ready to handle this case,” he said.

Bidali noted that the ODPP had last year indicated that it was seeking a plea bargain with the owner of the farm but no report had been made to the court in relation to this.

Addressing the court on behalf of the defense team, advocate F.I Mburu said that justice had been done after months of suffering for the nine.

“In the period the nine suspects have not missed any single day and we are asking the court to discharge the sureties of the accused,” he said.

Soon after, State counsel Catherine Mwaniki said that they would be heading to court to appeal the ruling.

Outside the court, some of the victims led by John Ngugi who lost his wife during the tragedy blamed the DPP for the continued suffering. “At the grounds, we have continued to suffer while seeking justice and now the case we had hopes in has been thrown out,” he said.