|Many of the women felt relief|
that these crimes are at last
taken seriously by the MOD
The women's lawyer, Martin Day, said there was documentary evidence that complaints had been brought to the attention of British commanding officers in Kenya from 1977 onwards, but little sign that anything had been done.
"When the women first came to see me about six months ago, I couldn't believe it could be true," said Day, a founder of a London-based law firm that specializes in personal injury claims.
"But the more we went to police stations, clinics, hospitals and local government offices, the more we were able to find contemporaneous documentary evidence to show the women had been complaining about the rapes over a 30-year period," he said.
"What really worries us is that, despite the fact that this was reported for the first time in 1977 to the British commanding officers at the time, no attempt was ever made, so far as we can ascertain, to try to stop this happening."
Some 650 women, mainly from the town of Isiolo, are taking part in the civil suit, accusing the MoD of doing nothing to stop systematic rape by British soldiers in the former colony, despite complaints dating back to 30 years.
The case, to be heard in Britain, could cost the MoD millions of dollars if it is shown that officers failed to control their men during military exercises, which take place in remote areas of Kenya each year.
Some of the women allege that they were subjected to gang-rape by groups of soldiers who treated the attacks virtually as a leisure activity.
Over 40 say they have given birth to mixed-race children, who have faced stigmatisation from other tribes-people.
Now that the women have been granted legal aid to help cover their legal bills, the case can proceed to the courts, Day said on Wednesday on a BBC radio broadcast.
British official reaction
British Junior Defence Mnister Adam Ingram said it would be "inappropriate" for him to discuss the women's case at this stage.
In a statement to the BBC, he said: "The allegations are the subject of a continuing investigation by the special investigation branch of the Royal Military Police."
"It is being conducted in co-operation with the Kenyan authorities and they are asking anybody with information to pass it on," he added.
But Day said that the stigma of admitting to being a rape victim was so great in Kenya that the women had a lot to lose by joining the class action, with some even being thrown out of their homes by husbands as a result.