Court ruling deals blow to Solai dam tragedy victims

Survivors of the Solai dam tragedy outside Naivasha law courts yesterday. The court acquitted nine people accused of causing the deaths of 48 people in May 2018. [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 on May 9, 2018, were acquitted after Chief Magistrate Kennedy Bidali ruled there was lack of "willingness" and support from the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) 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," the magistrate ruled.

Manslaughter charges

In the case, Perry Manusukh Kanasagara- the farm's owner and eight others were charged with 48 counts of manslaughter 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.

While acquitting the nine, the magistrate lay the blame squarely on the office of the DPP noting that months since the case started, little progress had been made amid numerous adjournments.

In his ruling, Bidali 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 12 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 kicked off, the office of the DPP had failed to produce a single witness or witness statement.

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

No report

Bidali noted that the office of the DPP 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 defence team, advocate F.I Mburu said justice had been done after months of suffering for the nine.

“In the period, the nine suspects have not missed any single day in court,” he said.

After the ruling, State Counsel Catherine Mwaniki said she would be heading to court to appeal.

“There was a petition by the victims of the tragedy to be enjoined in the case and we were waiting for that before kicking off this case,” she said.

Outside the court, survivors of the tragedy blamed the office of the DPP for their continued suffering.

“We have continued to suffer while seeking justice, now the case we had hopes in has been thrown out,” said John Ngugi who lost his wife to the tragedy

Another survivor, Veronica Wanjiku, said the ruling caught them by surprise. Lawyer Benson Balongo for the victims also said they would be appealing against the ruling in the High Court.

“We had sought to be enjoined in this case, but the ruling by the magistrate did not address this,” he said.

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