MASSACRE BY MACHETE; Torture, Rape and Mutilation Were Rife in Britain's Bloodiest Ever Colonial War, against the Mau Mau in Kenya. Yet, Disturbingly, Many of the Abuses Were Perpetrated by British Forces. Now, Kenyans Are Seeking Retribution - So What Is the Truth about This Dark Chapter from Our Past?

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PEOPLE said that the Mau Mau severed the limbs of their victims, then drank their blood. Peter Mungai, an African Christian, never saw blood being drunk but he witnessed something more terrifying.

When the Mau Mau caught up with him one warm Kenyan night more than 40 years ago, they didn't harm him - not physically, at least. They just forced him to watch as they slowly strangled his closest friend and then bludgeoned him with a machete. Next, the Mau Mau gang leader cut off his dead friend's finger and forced Peter to kiss it. He was so repulsed that he vomited.

So did other acquaintances of the dead man who were forced to join in the macabre ritual. It was the Mau Mau's way of intimidating fellow Kenyans to support their cause for independence from Britain.

As an alternative means of intimidation, the Mau Mau left dismembered corpses where they would be chanced upon by those they wanted to ter-rorise - 'strung up like pigs', as one young British soldier recalled.

Walking along a forest path one beautiful morning, the soldier found the body of an African man, about the same age as himself, spiked on the branches of a tree.

The man's throat was cut, his wrists were slit and his tongue was cut out.

This was how the Mau Mau treated informers.

Another British officer described how he and his patrol were woken at dawn on their first morning in a battalion camp near Thika, in Kenya's Highlands, by a commotion of worried voices.

He went to investigate and found his men staring in horror at the body of an African, chopped up - 'as if butchered on a slab' - and hung in pieces on the perimeter fence.

The Mau Mau had left their calling card with a chilling message to anyone who opposed them: next time it could be you.

NO WAR of independence was more brutal than the battle in Kenya against the Mau Mau in the Fifties. This was Britain's dirtiest war of decolonisation.

Its history is a catalogue of terror, abuse and excess.

Despite the horrors perpetrated by the Mau Mau, neither side emerges with glory.

During the 'Emergency', as the fighting was termed, the Mau Mau slaughtered 32 European settlers on their farms in isolated rural districts, as well as murdering more than 2,000 Africans who they deemed 'collaborators'.

But security forces killed more than 10,000 rebels, and that's the official figure - the true number may be closer to 20,000. In no other British territory this century was there such a death toll.

ONLY now is the true story coming to light.

In the past few weeks, a group styling themselves the Real Mau Mau Freedom Fighters have announced plans to mount a prosecution against the British Government, claiming that our security forces committed human rights abuses in the Fifties.

They want reparations for alleged 'war crimes' against the Mau Mau and their supporters during the State of Emergency that lasted from 1952 to 1960.

Distressing as it is to admit it, the truth is that the historical record contains much that can support their claims. British behaviour during this dark period was questionable at best.

Equally, there is no doubt that the Mau Mau's atrocities against their own people were more barbaric than anything the British had encountered.

To understand this conflict and our dubious role in it, we have to return to colonial Kenya, in the days when it was known as 'the White Man's Country', where Europeans first settled in the early years of the century. By the Fifties, the second generation of settlers was farming the land, and considered Kenya their home.

The land they farmed, however, had once belonged to the Kikuyu people of the central Highlands. After the Second World War, a number of Kikuyu took up arms against the British after tiring of the administration's delays over claims for the restitution of their land. …