Lord Monson tells of rage and love that drove nine-year battle

Lord Monson tells of rage and love that drove nine-year battle

11/12/2021

‘At last I’ll look into the eyes of the policemen I’m sure killed my son’: Lord Monson tells of the rage and love that drove his nine-year battle to prove his boy was beaten to death in a Kenyan cell… as he awaits judge’s verdict

On the streets of Mombasa, the mercury will touch 32c (90f). Inside the modern law chambers the air-con will be working overtime — but the atmosphere will be as oppressive.

For nine torturous years, following the death of his son Alexander in police custody, Lord (Nicholas) Monson of Burton has fought to bring his alleged murderers to justice, without ever seeing them in the flesh.

In Court No.1 at 9am on Monday, however, the 66-year-old aristocrat will at last turn his gaze on Sergeant Naftali Chege, retired Chief Inspector Charles Wangombe Munyiri and constables John Pamba and Ishmael Baraka Bulima, as they file into the dock for the denouement of a stop-start trial that has dragged on agonisingly since 2018. 

By the end of the day, Lord Monson should not only know whether one or more of these men — who have remained free on bail and, for a long time, continued to serve in the Kenyan Police — are guilty of bludgeoning Alexander to death after his arrest for a minor drug offence. 

Should they be convicted he could hear the judge, Justice Eric Ogola — a fiercely independent figure — sentence them to hang. As this scion of one of England’s oldest noble families told me in an exclusive interview this week, it will be a moment that stirs seismic feelings.

A moment he was repeatedly warned he would never see during a long and dangerous struggle against one of the world’s most ruthless and corrupt police forces. ‘I expect the sheer emotion and drama of just seeing these b******s’ face to face will be quite extraordinary,’ he says, the anticipation glinting in his eyes.

For nine torturous years, following the death of his son Alexander in police custody, Lord (Nicholas) Monson of Burton (left) has fought to bring his alleged murderers to justice, without ever seeing them in the flesh

‘Many told me I was wasting my time, taking on the Kenyan police in their own country. It has taken a heavy toll on my health [doctors say his heart has weakened and he suffers bouts of depression] and it has cost me tens of thousands.

‘But I wasn’t about to give up and see the men who did this to Alexander walk away.’

With a lineage dating back to the Hundred Years War, his privileged upbringing and Eton education, Lord Monson does not fit the stereotypical mould of a justice campaigner pitted against the forces of law and order. Many might also imagine him to have huge financial resources and friends in high places.

But titles can be deceptive. In truth, by dint of family differences, he is a man of limited means.

Not having inherited the Lincolnshire lands left by his late father, the 11th Baron Monson, he and third wife Silvana, live largely off income from a boutique guesthouse in Stratford-upon-Avon and reside in a one-bedroom flat above a printer’s shop, in South-West London.

Nor does he sit in the House of Lords, for the Monson seat, conferred in 1728, fell victim to Tony Blair’s cull of hereditary peerages during the late 1990s.

Alexander (pictured) went to a school for dyslexics (a condition inherited from his father) before going to Marlborough College

Indeed when, in desperation, he sought the British Establishment’s help in bringing Alexander’s alleged killers to account, he got short shrift. He claims one well-known former government minister sneered: ‘What do you expect us to do? Send gunboats to Mombasa?’ The advice from the British High Commission in Nairobi was that he should take a ‘softly-softly’ approach. ‘I replied, “No, I’ll go in bloody hard”.’

He expected support from Kenya’s Independent Policing Oversight Authority — set up ten years ago and funded with British overseas aid — for investigating Alexander’s death was its very first task, and regarded as a litmus test of its effectiveness.

Yet all it did was protect the accused officers and perpetuate the myth they promulgated: that a drugs overdose killed Alexander. It is ironic that, though his campaign has fallen on deaf ears in Britain, it has made Lord Monson a hero to many ordinary Kenyans in their struggle against police corruption and brutality.

They will express their admiration volubly when the man they affectionately call ‘Mister Lordy Monson’ steps off the plane at Mombasa airport, at lunchtime today.

Banner-waving human rights activists plan to form a guard of honour in the terminal. For in Kenya, the 100,000-strong police service is despised and feared in equal measure; a paramilitary force, many of whose members extort, subjugate, torture and kill with impunity.

The 54 million population live in fear of being hauled off the streets and forced to pay bribes. Statistics reveal the fate of those who resist: last year, 167 people were killed or ‘disappeared’ in police custody.

However, according to Francis Auma, a human rights campaigner in Mombasa, matters have improved — if only ‘slightly’ — in recent years; and by showing that the police can be brought to account, Lord Monson has made a significant contribution to the clean-up. ‘The whole country will be watching out for his case, because it will show how far we have come,’ Mr Auma told me.

Yet as Lord Monson watches proceedings, flanked by ex-wife Hilary — who settled in a beach resort near Mombasa after they divorced 30 years ago and with whom Alexander was staying when he died — he may reflect on the events that led him to this drab, post-colonial courthouse, 4,500 miles from London.

At the time of Alexander’s birth in 1987, he was working irregular hours as a journalist on The Times, so spent a lot of time looking after him. They developed a tremendous bond, strained only briefly during his son’s turbulent adolescence.

Alexander went to a school for dyslexics (a condition inherited from his father) before going to Marlborough College. Like his great-grandfather, who was commissioned to paint the young Queen Elizabeth’s portrait, he was a talented artist and won a scholarship at Chelsea Art College. Lord Monson hoped he might make this his career, but Alexander drifted through his 20s and, months before his death, decamped to Kenya, where his sister Isabella, 35, an advertising copywriter, also lived.

His mother gave him some land and he planned to cultivate a commercial bamboo plantation. While many British ex-pats keep to their own circle in Kenya, he fell in with a group of local friends.

As his father says: ‘He didn’t have any kind of snobbish element about him. In fact, he abhorred the idea of privilege. He was immensely personable and likeable and he had enough savoir faire to mix easily in any milieu.’

He was out socialising with these friends at a beach-front restaurant when he was arrested, in the early hours of Saturday, May 19, 2012. Later that morning Lord Monson, who was staying on the Costa del Sol, received a phone call as he played Scrabble with his Brazilian third wife and friends. His son had died, apparently from a drug overdose, he was told.

In the dock: The four police officers accused of killing Alexander Monson

He suspected this to be untrue from the outset. For, as Alexander’s friends confirmed, though he smoked pot, he was not a hard-drug user. After scrambling a flight to Kenya 48 hours later, he began piecing together the real story.

Owing to Kenya’s laborious justice system, and the climate of fear and secrecy that protects rogue Kenyan police officers, it has yet to be told openly in full.

But with the help of an inside source and the painstaking work of British experts — among them a barrister and a leading forensic physician — Lord Monson believes he has a good idea of what happened.

His campaign has taken him to Kenya several times and the authorities have not welcomed his vocal presence. He was once arrested at gunpoint for simply taking a photo of the police station where Alexander died; he has been followed by a shadowy figure and warned to leave the country because the police ‘had plans’ for him if he continued to make waves.

There have been other disquieting occurrences. An outside police officer deployed to investigate the episode died in a car crash, for instance, just hours after beginning his assignment.

Then there was the deeply suspicious death of Kenya’s deputy president and security minister, George Saitoti.

He was killed while travelling in a police helicopter which blew up in mid-air and crashed into the mountains. Just ten days earlier, he had met Lord Monson in his Nairobi office and pledged to prosecute Alexander’s killers and purge the police of corruption.Coincidences? Perhaps, but Lord Monson is not so sure.

He points out the infamous case of a Kenyan human rights lawyer representing a man who claimed to have been shot by the police. In 2016, both the lawyer and his client were killed and flung into a crocodile-infested river.

Five years later, the four officers accused of murdering them still await trial. ‘We are entering a universe to which you and I are not privy, but the facts are there,’ he says grimly.

‘Tangling with the Kenyan police is like Mississippi Burning, but ten times worse. They are like the Mafia. Mombasa is the biggest port on the East African coast for heroin and cocaine smuggling and the police take their cut. They don’t take kindly to people trying to clean up their corruption.’

Marijuana use is commonplace in Kenya, so even if Alexander was smoking a joint that night, his arrest was unusual. He was picked up with a friend who was freed after apparently being bailed out by his father. But Alexander was held in the cells.

The following morning, when a family friend arrived, he found the young man slumped unconscious beneath the charge desk. Nobody seemed very bothered. His credit card and phone were missing.

Claiming he had taken an overdose, the accused officers reluctantly agreed to take him — still handcuffed — to hospital. There he was shackled to the bed. Had the medical staff turned him over, they would have seen the major wound on the back of his head. He died hours later, with his mother clutching his manacled hand.

An autopsy confirmed that his death was caused by a ‘blunt force trauma’, a view backed up in 2018 at a belated inquest, elicited after unremitting pressure from Lord Monson and Alexander’s mother (who has also campaigned tirelessly on his behalf).

His testicles were so badly bruised they had turned black. Ludicrously, one police witness suggested this might have been caused by Alexander having ‘vigorous’ sex. He also had a wound to his left arm, presumed to have been inflicted as he tried vainly to protect himself.

When Kenyan police officers extort money from uncooperative victims, Lord Monson has discovered, the standard procedure is to kick them in the groin so that they bend over double, then beat them over the head with a rifle butt or heavy truncheon.

The four officers were charged with murder on the recommendation of Richard Odenyo, the magistrate who presided over the inquest. He said they were the ‘prime suspects’ and there was sufficient evidence to try them.

‘There were attempts from several witnesses herein to obfuscate the facts surrounding the death,’ Odenyo observed, adding that Alexander had been in good health when he was booked into the police station at 2.30am and that his life was ‘cut short by the unlawful actions of others while in the custody of police’.

Criminal proceedings in Kenya go through three stages. Firstly, the prosecution must prove there is a reasonable case to answer. Secondly, the defence evidence is heard. Thirdly the judge, who sits without a jury, reads his verdict and sentence. Since an attempt by the four police officers’ lawyers to have the case thrown out has failed, the third and final stage has at last been reached.

So, on Monday, Lord Monson should hear precisely how, and by whom, his son’s fatal injuries were inflicted. Painful as that will be, however, if the officers are found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang, he will appeal for their lives to be spared.

Though the death penalty has not been carried out in Kenya since 1987 (when two coup plotters were sent to the gallows for treason) it remains on the statute books and it is not unusual for it to be handed down.

However, Lord Monson, whose younger son Rupert, 21, committed suicide five years ago during a psychotic episode evidently induced by his addiction to skunk cannabis, explains his rationale. The two young constables — who served as Alexander’s cell guards — deserve clemency, he avers, as they would have faced severe reprisals for failing to carry out their orders.

As for the two superior officers, he would sooner they spent the rest of their days rotting in one of Kenya’s notorious prisons. ‘I think of death as eternal peace. Why should those brutes in uniform have that?

‘After what they did to Alexander, I would rather they lived and suffered,’ he says — readying himself for that moment, nine long years in the making, when he can look them squarely in the eyes.

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