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Ian Henderson

Controversial colonial policeman;

Born: 1927; Died: April 13, 2013.

IAN Henderson, who has died aged 86, was an Aberdeen-born colonial policeman famed for his no-nonsense role in putting down the 1950s Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, and later as the chief security enforcer in Bahrain where he was accused of torture and dubbed the Butcher of Bahrain.

He remained in the Gulf state as a private security officer after its 1971 independence from Britain, still advising the one-family Sunni Muslim dynasty of sheikhs and still feared by the democracy-seeking Shia majority until his recent death. As head of the country's Security and Intelligence Service (SIS), his job was to maintain in power the multi-millionaire al-Khalifa family, who paid him many times what he would have earned as a policeman in the UK, tax free. All he had to do was keep the Shia majority quiet and ensure they never got a whiff of democracy.

The British MP George Galloway described Mr Henderson as Britain's Klaus Barbie – in reference to the Nazi torturer of Gestapo prisoners – and accused him of torturing Mau Mau detainees in Kenya. But Mr Henderson and his fellow British officers always insisted their brutality was essential to combat what was often the barbarity of the Mau Mau against their fellow Kenyans.

Mr Henderson's role won him two George medals, in 1954 and 1955, and he was seen by many of his colonial police and diplomatic contemporaries as something of a romantic hero. Mr Galloway's references to Kenya were more aimed at getting Mr Henderson prosecuted for his later activities in Bahrain. Lord Avebury, the former Liberal MP, was among several parliamentarians who supported Mr Galloway in calling for prosecution.

Bahraini Shia leaders and ordinary people accused Mr Henderson of torture from the mid-1960s to his retirement in 1998, when the ruling sheikhs saw fit to elevate him to the rank of Major-General. Mr Henderson always denied the torture allegations and, despite the efforts of human rights groups in Bahrain and beyond, including Amnesty International, was never prosecuted. His Bahraini paymasters would never have prosecuted him and the British police cited lack of co-operation from Bahrain for leaving him untouched. Bahrain, and more so its big brother across the causeway, Saudi Arabia, are key allies of Britain and the US in the Middle East.

Mr Henderson maintained a home in Holne, near Dartmoor, but fearing prosecution chose to live out his days in Bahrain. Shia opposition leaders said he remained a powerful influence as an adviser to the self-styled King of Bahrain, Hamad al-Khalifa, until his death.

Ian Stuart McWalter Henderson was born in Aberdeen but moved as a child to Kenya, where his father had been sent as a salesman for a Scottish agricultural seed company several years earlier and had set up a farm in Nyeri. The young Ian quickly learned the language and hunting skills of the local Kikuyu tribesmen before going to school in Nairobi and joining the British-led Kenyan police when he was 18.

After being appointed to the colonial special branch, he moved from dealing with bicycle thieves to murderers and rapists. He was in charge of security for the historic 1952 visit to Kenya by the young Princess Elizabeth, where she learned that her father, King George VI, had died and she would be crowned Queen the following year.

After several years of the Mau Mau uprising, he was instrumental in destroying the rebel movement. Personally leading British and local forces through the Kenyan forests, facing wild animals as much as rebels, he tracked down the last significant Mau Mau leader, Dedan Kimathi. When Kimathi was found guilty of terrorism and hanged in February 1957, the Mau Mau uprising was effectively over. (In recent years, Kimathi and the Mau Mau have increasingly been regarded as heroes by Kenyan nationalists. Last year, three Mau Mau veterans won a British court case granting them the right to claim damages for torture by British colonial officials.)

As a Middle East correspondent based in Bahrain in the early 1980s, I knew Mr Henderson and of his fearsome reputation. Despite being fellow Scots expats, he was not a man to socialise but we often met at diplomatic cocktail parties, where he cut an odd figure in Western suit and tie alongside his Bahraini bosses in their white thobes and keffiyeh headdress. Bespectacled and with an avuncular air, you could easily have assumed he was a visiting civil servant from Whitehall or an absent-minded professor.

Behind the closed doors of his SIS offices, where his wife was his secretary and ushered suspects in to "see" him, he was said to have been the opposite of a kindly uncle, using what nowadays are euphemistically described in the West as enhanced interrogation techniques. Some detainees in his offices or in Bahrain's al-Qalaa prison accused him of personally hitting or kicking them although most allegations suggest he was overseer rather than personal torturer. Those allegations included torture and rape by his officers and, in many cases, forced exile for opponents of the "royal" family.

He was appointed CBE in 1984. He is survived by his wife, Marie, and by a son and a daughter.

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