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Defence Secretary Says Soldiers' Use Of Sex Workers Is "Deeply Concerning" Amid Kenya Murder Allegations

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace

4 min read

Exclusive: The military needs to ask whether it turned a blind eye to the impact of soldiers using sex workers in poor countries, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said – while speaking about the murder of Kenyan mother Agnes Wanjiru.

In a frank interview with The House, he spoke at length about the death of Wanjiru – last seen going into a hotel room with a British soldier almost a decade ago –  describing it as “deeply concerning”.

He suggested the Oxfam scandal in 2018 where aid workers were sleeping with sex workers in Haiti should have served as a “red flag” to the army – as aid workers and soldiers are both sent to the poorest parts of the world.

The Sunday Times reported that the body of Wanjiru, a 21-year-old hairdresser, who was desperately poor and had turned to sex work, had been stuffed into a septic tank at the Lions Court Hotel near the British warm weather base at Nanyuki.

Asked if he was concerned by the newspaper's reports that those at the base were using sex workers, Wallace said: “I think we should all worry.

“We should be asking ourselves about what our soldiers are doing to respect women. Let’s start with that. Have we done too much turning a blind eye over the past 30 years about prostitution?”

“The Oxfam scandal should have been for everyone a red flag. But it should have happened even before that. The British armed forces serve in some of the poorest countries in the world.”

He said that when he was serving in Belize in the 1990s, there was a brothel situated at the back gate of the army base, but that it was no longer there.

“There was definitely in the past a sense of ‘it’s what happens in these countries’, and I think the real key here… is better respect [for women].”

An emotional Wallace added: “Never mind the poor women outside the unit, the poor ladies in the bars. What does it say to the women serving alongside the [male] soldiers [using prostitutes]? The soldiers who come back from a night out and talk about it.”

Asked if he thought people had looked the other way when it came to the use of sex workers, he said: “We have done, certainly in countries in poverty, where the British are there on a whole range of issues.”

Wanjiru was 21-years-old when she was killed. She had been working as a hairdresser to try and look after her baby daughter, Stacy, then only five months old, but had turned to sex work and gone to the Lions Court Hotel in Nanyuki one evening in March 2012.

An inquest in 2019 found that she had been killed and the Sunday Times has reported how a squaddie who was at the hotel that night has since identified her killer, claiming he confessed to the murder and showed him Wanjiru's body in a septic tank.

The paper has reported how her death had been an “open secret” among one regiment.

The Kenyan defence minister, Eugene Wamalwa, has said he wants the British suspect extradited but Wallace said there has been no legal request for that to take place so far.

"It’s a deeply concerning murder and story and there is no one in the MoD standing in the way of [an investigation],” Wallace insisted. “There’s no cover up, there’s no blockade,” he said.

Wallace says the department stands ready to help but what they can’t do, because of the 2006 Armed Forces Act, is conduct their own parallel investigation. He said they shared names with the Kenyan authorities nine years ago but did not receive a Mutual Legal Assistance request for help.

He admited there were valid questions over what Britain could have done, from the discovery of Wanjiru’s body in 2012 to the 2019 inquest that confirmed it was a murder.

Could the UK have pressed the Kenyans to do more? “I think that is a matter to look back on, and ask ourselves that,” he said.  

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