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Nine suspects in Solai Dam tragedy have a case to answer

Nine accused persons in the Solai Dam tragedy in Nakuru in 2018 that claimed the lives of 48 people have been placed on their defence by a Naivasha court.

While delivering the ruling in the case facing the nine accused persons, Naivasha Chief Magistrate Nathan Lutta Shiundu said that the evidence presented before court by 36 state witnesses against farm owner Perry Mansukhlal Patel and his eight co-accused persons had heavily implicated all the accused persons and ruled that the nine have a case to answer.

“Having scrutinised the evidence before court, I am convinced that a prima facie case has been established against all the accused persons and I proceed to put them on their defence forthwith,” the magistrate said.

Also among the accused is the Solai farm`s  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.

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 nine accused persons were first charged in 2019 and were each released on a Sh 5 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.

During the proceedings in court on Thursday, there arose a clash between the two sides over an application by counsel for the witnesses who were also survivors of the dam tragedy; Kelly Marenya seeking to be allowed to cross-examine the defense witnesses when they take to the stand.

Marenya told the court that the witnesses were the most affected by the dam tragedy, but 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, through Senior Counsel Pravin Bowry opposed this application.

The magistrate directed the victims’ counsel to file their application within seven days to which the defense will file a reply to in another seven days. The case will then come up for mention on May 11, 2023 to argue the application before a date can be set up for the defense to trial to begin.

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 the 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 Patel’s and directed to the unfortunate dam.

By Mabel Keya – Shikuku

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