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Court to rule on cross-examination of Solai case defense witnesses

A Naivasha Court is set to rule on whether the counsel for the victims of the Solai dam tragedy will be allowed to cross-examine the defense witnesses when the accused persons take to the dock to give their defense.

When the case came up in court on April 27 this year, the counsel for the prosecution witnesses who were also survivors of the dam tragedy; Kelly Marenya sought to be allowed to cross-examine the defense witnesses when they take to the stand.

This was after Naivasha Chief Magistrate Nathan Shiundu ruled that the nine suspects of the 2018 dam tragedy had a case to answer.

Marenya told the court that the witnesses, who were the most affected by the dam tragedy, had been left to be mere spectators during the trial.

His application was supported by the leader of the prosecution; State Counsel Alex Muteti who reiterated the right of the victims to participate in the case.

But in a sharp rejoinder, the defense led by Senior Counsel Pravin Bowry objected to this application, prompting the court to direct that both parties file submission in court by Thursday, May 11.

In his submission before the court on Thursday, Marenya said there was need for him to cross-examine the defense witnesses on behalf of his clients to ensure the victims of the dam get justice for the atrocities visited on them and their families on the fateful day of the unfortunate incident.

“Most witnesses who were the most affected by the dam tragedy which occurred four years ago had been left out of the of this crucial process which seeks to give them justice,” Marenya told the court in a session that was held virtually.

Marenya said the victims have suffered immensely following this tragic incident and prayed that the court allows him to cross examine the defense witness to authenticate their statements and to deter any form of witness coaching by the defense counsels.

But in his submission before the court, defense counsel Pravin Bowry objected to the application maintaining that the move would be a duplication and a waste of time more so when the case has dragged on for the last four years.

Bowry submitted to the court that the witness counsel should only raise any queries arising from their final defense arguments and witness statements on the case but not cross-examining the defense witnesses.

The court will now rule on whether the witness counsel will be allowed to cross examine the defense witnesses on May 25.

The court had ruled that the nine suspects; Solai farm owner Perry Mansukhlal Patel, General Manager; Vinoj Jaya Kumar and other accused persons; Luka Kipyegon, Winnie Muthoni, Tomkin Odhiambo, Johnson Njuguna, Lynnette Cheruiyot, Willice Omondi and Jacinta Were, who each face 48 counts of manslaughter corresponding to the number of lives lost, had a case to answer.

The nine are 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.

The court made the decision to put the suspects on their defense after considering evidence from 36 State witnesses.

The nine accused persons were first charged in 2019 and were each released on a Sh5 million with 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.

On May 9, 2018, the dam burst at a private farm in Solai, Nakuru County killing 48, injuring and displacing hundreds 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 was caused by surplus water from three rivers that were blocked by the Patels and directed to the unfortunate dam.

By Mabel Keya – Shikuku

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