, NAIROBI, Kenya, May 20 – When High Court judge Muga Apondi pronounced the eight months sentence against Tom Gilbert Cholmondeley, he said he considered that the scion of the colonial era Happy Valley had been humbled by the criminal justice system which had placed him in custody for slightly more than three years.
The judge said he had imposed a light sentence on the accused to ‘allow him reflect on his life and change to an appropriate direction’. Picking the cue from the preceding statements, the question begs for answers is ‘who is Cholmondeley, and what his life was like? Has the experience taught the man anything, or is he the same old self despite the harrowing experience?
Tom Gilbert Cholmondeley was born in Kenya 40 years ago. The chisel-faced, seven footer is an heir to the expansive Delamere estate in Naivasha.
Cholmondeley is a man who speaks fluent Kiswahili and mixes well with the locals who live near his expansive ranch. According to one of his employees Jeffrey Mitto, Tom is a kind, attentive and respectful man. This, according to Mitto is in contrast to what was being portrayed in the media that likened him to his British aristocratic lineage.
Mitto who has lived on the Soysambu ranch told the High Court during the trial that Cholmondeley is a gracious man.
“Cholmondeley is a good boss. He has helped many people who have even settled on the ranch. All my children grew up and schooled within the Delamere estate. We have, and still are, treated well,” Mitto said.
Cholmondely has also gotten good and kind words from another white settler and farmer Aidan Hartley who is quoted by the Daily Mail that: “Tom has been cast in some media quarters as a toff enjoying his “vast estate” in the Rift Valley, suggesting he’s the scion of the colonial era Happy Valley set that supposedly indulged in orgies, drug-taking and crimes of passion. The reality is a far cry from that.”
“One of the last conversations I had with Tom was about wheat production in Kenya. In this sense he is like his ancestor Lord Dela¬mere, who when he arrived here in 1896 after walking on foot for nearly a year through Africa, found Kenya to be his “Promised Land, a rich and fertile country.”
However, this passion has not been reflected during the protracted trial. Not at any given time did he show any emotion even when the judge was passing the sentence.
“I have never seen a man who is as composed as Cholmondeley. I have never seen him betray his emotions even when faced with the hangman’s noose,” said one of the journalists who covered the trial.
Another of Cholomondeley’s friends Pippa Witt wrote in an online blog dedicated for the rancher – Justicefortom.com – that Cholmondeley is far from what he seems.
In solidarity with the aristocrat Witt says: “I am so pleased that I know you a little bit, and can tell people what a wonderful person you are – kind, charming, fun, and not the ‘baddie’ that the press often makes you out to be. No doubt, you’ll have made many friends among the other inmates – life will be poorer for them when you leave, which MUST happen for you, at some point.”
But the light sentence imposed by the judge was received with outrage by Kenyans across the board, many seeing that the eight months jail term was a slap on the wrist. They are saying that Cholmondeley would easily walk out of Kamiti to freedom in less than four months.
Many bloggers and commentators have also seen the sentence as an abuse to Kenyan intelligence.
“He’s gotten off very lightly. Clearly a case of the mzungu greasing a few palms. Had he been a local Kenyan, I doubt that he’d be seeing the light of day. It’s a shame the Kenyan judicial system could not have made an example out of him,” a comment on the Capital News website reads.
According to leading constitutional and criminal lawyer Paul Muite, the judge was too lenient and should have handed Cholmondeley at least five years. He also wants a previous case which was dropped by the Attorney General revived. “I would have given him five years not eight months if I was a judge. I hope the Attorney General will quickly move to Court of Appeal and seek review,” Muite said. “It is only a question of time (before) he kills again.”
Another Kenyan interviewed by Capital News agreed with Muite saying he would have preferred a more reasonable sentence, “This is a joke”, says Richard Munguti, the judge should have freed him before putting him on his defence. Why should he be that lenient if he has found that the guy clearly killed him (Njoya)?”
But what does the future hold for Cholmondeley after he leaves prison? Will he go back to Soysambu ranch and enjoy his past bliss? Will the people still give him the same treatment considering that there was a lot of tension in Naivasha? This is difficult to answer but some of his friends see it differently.
“Yes, Tom Cholmondeley will stay in Kenya because it is his birth place,” says Aidan Hartley.
“When he sees liberty, I have no doubt Tom will stay in Kenya and he will not wish to leave, whatever black racist politicians or Kenyans on the blogosphere say. It seems amazing that in today’s world, people can say you cannot be a Kenyan just because you are not black – but of course it happens.”