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UK to pay £19.9m compensation to Mau Mau torture victims

The payment was relatively small, but Photo: Reuters/Noor Khamis

There was no apology, no admission of liability. The offer of money was relatively small.

But after years of refusal, Britain drew a line under a dark period of its colonial past today by agreeing to compensate the victims of rape, castrations and torture during the Mau Mau emergency of the 1950s.

Foreign Secretary William Hague announced a £19.9m total payout to elderly Kenyans who were abused by the colonial administration. There are many victims - 5,228 in total - with a combined age of half a million years.

So, where might this important decision end for the British government?

Recently unearthed Foreign Office documents are expected to reveal more crimes from the days when much of the map was painted red. Claims are now expected to be lodged from Cyprus, Malaysia and elsewhere.

But Britain is clear that today's settlement does not set a precedent.

Mau Mau fighters pictured in the 1950s. Credit: Kenyan National Archives

Archbishop Desmond Tutu wants the UK Government to embrace the idea of future reparations "for its own healing".

He tells me that he threw his hands in the air and shouted "yipee" when he opened a letter from David Cameron which indicated that Britain would pay a settlement.

And as a member of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he has become an advocate for nations facing up to the sins of the past.

The British government must now judge how to respond to future claims about its colonial past.