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Court allows parties in Solai dam tragedy out of court settlement

A Naivasha Court has ratified an application by the parties in the Solai dam tragedy in Nakuru seeking to settle the case outside the court.

In his ruling delivered virtually on Thursday, Naivasha Chief Magistrate Nathan Lutta Shiundu allowed the prosecution to officially withdraw the case against the nine accused persons in the Solai dam tragedy including the owner of the Solai Farm; Perry Mansukhlal following an application filed last Tuesday to withdraw and settle the case out of court.

The trial magistrate in the criminal case against the nine accused persons said he had considered all the grounds laid by the prosecution in seeking the withdrawal of the case and noted that the law gives accused persons and victims an opportunity to resolve their disputes outside court and ruled that the application by the ODPP had merit.

In the out of court settlement agreed upon by the parties, the victims of the tragedy will be compensated a total of Sh47.2 million as compensation by the farm management where families who lost adults in the tragedy will get Sh1.2 million and minors Sh800, 000.

Mr Lutta then directed that the Sh47million agreed upon as compensation funds be channeled to victims of the tragedy directly and immediately.

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) had Okayed an application by the defense lawyers seeking an out-of-court settlement in the case that has been pending in court for the last six years.

In the suit filed under a certificate of urgency through State Counsel Alex Muteti last Tuesday, the prosecution sought orders of the court to be allowed to withdraw the case which was ongoing and allow for out of court settlement.

Muteti told the court that the accused and victims’ families together with their lawyers have held several meetings and have reached an agreement that will see families who lost adults each pocketing Sh1.2 million and minors Sh800, 000 from the farm owner.

In April this year, the court had placed the nine accused persons on their defense, saying a prima facie case had been established against them after the prosecution closed its case after presenting 36 witnesses.

The farm owner Perry Mansukhlal Patel and his farm  General Manager Vinoj Jaya Kumar and other accused persons; Luka Kipyegon,Winnie Muthoni, Tomkin Odhiambo, Johnson Njuguna, Lynnette Cheruiyot, Willice Omondi and Jacinta Were  each face 48 counts of manslaughter.

The nine were accused of neglecting their duty by failing to prepare an environmental impact assessment report, which led to the deaths of the 48 people on May 9, 2018 where hundreds of people were also displaced when the mega dam broke down.

All the nine accused persons were first charged in 2019 and were each released on a Sh5 million bond with a surety of a similar amount, or the option of Sh2.5 million cash bail.

The case had been in hiatus for three years and only commenced early last year at the Naivasha law courts. This followed the directive by the High Court to allow victims be represented by lawyer John Chigiti.

Prosecution was led by State Counsel Alex Muteti while Kelly Marenya is appearing for the survivors of the tragedy while Senior Counsel Pravin Bowry is leading the defense.

On May 9, 2018, the mega dam burst at a private farm in Solai, Nakuru County killing 48, injuring and displacing hundreds downstream and destroying property worth millions of shillings.

The dam collapsed sending millions of litres of water gushing through the fields of a 3,000-acre commercial coffee farm and into the homes downstream, killing 48 people.

It is not clear what caused the bursting of the dam but the residents of affected villages which include: Endao, Energy, Nyakinyua, Milmet and Arutani in Solai division claimed the bursting caused surplus water from three rivers that were blocked by the Patels and directed to the dam.

By Mabel Keya – Shikuku and Erastus Gichohi

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