Blood gemstones of Tsavo: How famous British miner met his death
Originally Published: August 23, 2009
Events leading to the death of Mr Campbell Bridges, the British miner murdered in Kenya two weeks ago, point to an elaborate plan to gain control of the mining of rare and sought-after gemstones.
Mr Bridges’ son Bruce claims a fierce three-year battle for control of the mines of tsavorite — the precious stone “discovered” by his father — involving illegal mining, a politician and the local community preceded his death.
At the time of going to press, the area OCPD confirmed that one person suspected to be the leader of the gang that attacked Mr Bridges had been arrested.
The mines, leased to Campbell Bridges since 1971, had been attracting good money since 2003 from sales of tsavorite to jewellers and collectors in the United States and Europe.
Bruce Bridges told the Sunday Nation that certain people, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, tried to convince the owner of the ranch to strip Bridges of the mining rights and award them the lease to them instead.
Even though the ranch owner had a lease agreement with the Bridges, the people who wanted a piece of the action moved into the mines anyway.
“They (the illegal miners) did not leave. They operated several mines within a ranch on which the Bridges had legal mining rights,” said former area District Commissioner Kang’ethe Thuku, now stationed in Nakuru.
After going over the dispute, a newly appointed commissioner of mines ruled in favour of Bridges Exploration.
“But the businessman found another backer, a politician who whipped up emotions of the residents telling them the minerals belonged to the local people and anyone else benefiting from the minerals was an outsider,” the younger Bridges said.
Area Member of Parliament Calist Mwatela disputes Bruce Bridges’ claim, saying he did not know of any political interference with the activities of local businesses.
“There is no interference from any politician in the area. Businessmen are let to get on with their business as the law requires them to,” Mr Mwatela told the Sunday Nation.
Mr Bridges said that in September 2008, his father went to one of the illegal mines — their number had grown from three to five — to enquire whether they had received an eviction notice.
He said his father said he was threatened in the presence of other people, one of whom the elder Bridges said was a government official.
“We approached the district commissioner and the area OCPD to seek help in evicting the trespassers. They offered none. All we managed to do was register the death threat,” Bruce Bridges said.
Area police chief Herbert Khaemba said he received no such information and to date only knows of one death threat against Campbell Bridges.
According to sources who cannot be named because they do not have the authority to comment on ongoing investigations, about six weeks ago six men who were found mining in one of the Bridges Exploration areas were arrested and taken to Voi police station.
The officer in charge of that operation was reportedly ordered by his superiors not to detain the six men but to release them on cash bail and report to his superior in Mombasa for disciplinary action for an undocumented mistake.
The Sunday Nation has learnt from multiple interviews with officials familiar with the investigations that the next day, while the officer awaited his discipline in Mombasa, the six men were released and their case dropped.
A few days later, some of the illegal miners accosted two employees of Bridges Exploration on a trespass charge and took them to Wundanyi police post.
Bruce Bridges said that before the employees were taken to Wundanyi, they were given a message to pass on to Mr Bridges.
“They said they were coming for my father’s head,” he said.
The court date for that trespass case had been set for August 10, the day Campbell Bridges was speared to death.
Mr Mwatela, the area MP, said Campbell Bridges did not get on well with the local people. “Mr Bridges and his entourage beat up the people he had found at the mine.
This was his nature since he had little regard for black people,” the MP said. Current area DC Njenga Miiri also said Campbell Bridges had been known to harass people living around the mines.
After the confrontation, the two Bridges went to Wundanyi to report the trespass to the area district commissioner. But their journey was cut short.
Campbell Brigdes, his son and their security officer were interrupted by a pick-up truck carrying several men with crude weapons that drove onto the road from an adjoining sisal plantation and blocked their truck.
“They said they would mine by force and that next time they would kill us,” Bruce Bridges said.
The Bridges party reported the death threats to the authorities but were rebuffed.
“We were referred to the deputy OCS,” Bruce Bridges said. “We met him and asked whether it was possible for him to provide security for us or at least investigate the claims.” He said the deputy OCS refused.
On August 10, the day of the court case, the younger Bridges said he and his father decided to brief the DC on what had transpired while he was away.
“At his office we were told he was still in Mombasa, but we decided to go to his house anyway. There were administration policemen at the gate. We asked to see him and we were let in,” he said.
Mr Miiri acknowledges having met Campbell Bridges on the day he died but denies ever having told him and his son that he was not in the area.
“What they say is not true, I was there. I don’t know where they got such information,” he said.
After the court hearing, one of the Bridges’ security people received reports that a group was blocking the road to their mine.
“We went back to the deputy OCS and asked him what he was going to do about it,” the younger Bridges said, adding that the deputy was not very cooperative.
He and his father then went back to the DC, who promised to make a call to the deputy OCS, who would, he said, help out.
“We waited for almost an hour for communication from the deputy OCS to come through. But it didn’t. The OCPD told us he was not in the area. When we went back to the deputy OCS’s office; he was no longer there. We tried his cell phone, but it was switched off,” Bruce Bridges said.
Mr Miiri said he referred the matter to the OCS and does not know what happened after that.
Mr Khaemba, the OCPD, said he had indeed received a report on the death threats issued to Mr Bridges the previous day.
“Those were the only death threat reports I have ever received about him. But on the day he was attacked I had travelled to Kericho,” he said.
Campbell Bridges, his son, and their employees headed back to the mine.
“The road was blocked. At a certain point, all six of us had to get out of the vehicle and move boulders off the road,” he said.
The younger Bridges said a group of between eight and 10 men, all of whom he knew, came running down a nearby hill towards them. When the group got close to Mr Bridges and his party, they hesitated.
“They took out whistles and started blowing, then more people came at us from all directions,” the son said. “We were also armed. I had a club and a knife, our security men had clubs and knives. The other two employees ran into the bush. My father stood unarmed.”
Then on one command, he said, all hell broke loose. “Their leader screamed ua (kill),” he said.
One of the attackers went for Mr Bridges with a spear. The 71-year-old pushed it aside with a sweeping move of his left hand, leaving himself exposed.
Another man then speared Mr Bridges in his upper left chest and took off. “He collapsed in a sitting position and lay there. While the other two were trying to fight their way through the attackers and back to Dad, I ran after the guy who had speared him,” Bruce Bridges said.
The assailant got away.
“He (Mr Bridges) was pale all over. He had lost a lot of blood,” he said. “I took off my shirt and tried to plug the wound.”
The Bridges party rushed Campbell Bridges to Voi, almost an hour away, where he was pronounced dead at the hospital.
The younger Bridges, a British-American national, said he has received death threats and has given all the information he had to the British and US embassies.