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Page last updated at 21:34 GMT, Thursday, 7 May 2009 22:34 UK

Shock and relief at Kenya conviction

By Adam Mynott
BBC News, Nairobi

Thomas Cholmondeley (C), son of the fifth Baron Delamere and great-grandson of Kenya's most prominent early settler, arrives in Nairobi High Court on Thursday
The aristocrat remained impassive as the verdict was read out

Tom Cholmondeley returned to Kamiti Jail on the outskirts of Kenya after being convicted of the manslaughter of Robert Njoya, a stonemason.

Hours earlier he had been driven in a prison van with other inmates to Nairobi High Court, hoping that he was about to make his final appearance in Court No 1.

The courtroom was packed with lawyers, prison officers, reporters, cameramen, and Cholmondeley's friends and family.

His parents, Lord and Lady Delamere, sat in the seats they have occupied for many days in the past two-and-half years. Behind them more than 20 of Cholmondeley's friends, with sun-bleached hair and deep Kenyan tans, sat and waited nervously.

Near them sat a diminutive figure who has attended almost every day of the lengthy trial: Serah Njoya, the widow of Robert Njoya, the man killed on the Delamere Estate on 10 May 2006.

Detail by detail

The judge Muga Apondi dealt with half a dozen other cases before launching into his judgement.

Sarah Njoya, the widow of Robert Njoya
Serah Njoya has been left with four children, no job, and no husband

In the course of the past 30 months the prosecution has called 38 witnesses and the defence nine.

Mr Justice Apondi started working through a summary of all the evidence the court has heard. Two-and-a-half hours later he was still reading from his files.

He moved into the final passage of his judgement, but not before one woman standing at the side of the court had fainted, overcome by the heat. As he started to explain how he had reached his judgement, every ear in the room strained to catch every word.

Supporters and friends of Tom Cholmondeley had approached this final day apprehensive, but advised that the case the state had made had not been strong.

This is not a total surprise, we were ready in a way for this
Friend of Tom Cholmondeley

They were also encouraged by the verdict returned in the case by two assessors - people who act as a jury to assist the judge, and provide him with a non-binding decision. The assessors had found that Tom Cholmondeley was innocent of the charges against.

But Mr Justice Apondi said he was setting aside the assessors' opinions. He ruled that Tom Cholmondeley had not acted with premeditated "malice aforethought" when he fired his rifle three years ago.

But Cholmondeley had, in the opinion of the judge, been the man who had killed Robert Njoya and had therefore committed manslaughter.

Tears

As he delivered the verdict the accused - now the guilty man - stood erect and impassive.

The partner of Thomas Cholmondeley, Sally Dudmesh, is comforted by friends after a judge found Cholmondeley guilty of manslaughter, in Nairobi's high court on Thursday
Cholmondeley's partner Sally Dudmesh broke down

Shock swept across the massed ranks of Cholmondeley's friends and family. Lord Delamere, his father, appeared very shaken.

The shock felt by many was tempered by a certain anticipation of the unexpected. One senior Nairobi lawyer, a friend of the convicted man, said: "This is not a total surprise, we were ready in a way for this."

Cholmondeley's girlfriend, Sally Dudmesh, wept, and others wiped tears from their eyes.

Serah Njoya looked inscrutable and told me she took no pleasure from the verdict, but "that man", she said, "killed my husband".

She has four children, no job, and no husband.

Appeal

Tom Cholmondeley's defence counsel, Fred Ojiambo, was unrestrained in his response.

"Appalling… unbelievable, I am stunned," he said.

He said they would be appealing the verdict, which he said was unjust and wrong.

"How", he asked, "can the judge base his findings on the testimony of one man [Carl Tundo] whose evidence is full of holes?"

The case was a success for the lead prosecution barrister, Keriako Tobiko, Kenya's director of public prosecutions.

There were times when his very detailed questioning of prosecution witnesses appeared to be gratuitous.

But he led a case which convinced the judge, and as one man who had come into court to watch proceedings said: "This man, Cholmondeley, has killed two people. It is right that he serves time in jail."

He referred to a previous event in 2005 when, Tom Cholmondeley admitted, he shot and killed a Kenya Wildlife Service ranger on the family estate.

The case came to court; he was charged with murder, but the state dropped the case for lack of evidence.



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SEE ALSO
Aristocrat guilty of manslaughter
07 May 09 |  Africa
Profile: Thomas Cholmondeley
07 May 09 |  Africa
Aristocrat has 'case to answer'
25 Jul 07 |  Africa
Aristocrat 'treated shot poacher'
27 Sep 06 |  Africa
Kenyan aristocrat freed from jail
18 May 05 |  Africa
The Maasai's century-old grievance
01 Sep 04 |  Africa


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