KENYA HISTORY PROJECT

Patrick Shaw: Hero or Villain?

To many, the name Patrick Shaw elicits many memories.

During his stint as a police reservist until the time of his death in 1988, he was able to carve out a bigger-than-life persona as a crime buster who brought down major criminals and equally deterred budding criminals; he was known to approach a close relative with a stark warning for the budding criminal – stop or I’ll put you down.

However, Shaw’s name was also mentioned in connection to a litany of  extrajudicial killings and political assassinations such as that of JM Kariuki although he was never prosecuted or found guilty of these accusations.

During the day, Shaw was formally an administrator at the Starehe Boys Centre and School alongside famed educationist and philanthropist Geoffrey Griffin. Many students at Starehe attest to the human side of Shaw and his positive influence on them during their time at the school. To many of them he was unequivocally a saint and a father-figure.

It is however at night, during his famous patrols (or infamous depending on whom you ask) plying the streets of Nairobi in his Volvo that most remember. Due to his considerable girth, Shaw was hard to miss. In addition, a medical condition that only permitted him to sleep for only 2 hours forced him to spend his nights patrolling the streets and making him seem to have the gift of omnipresence.

Sometimes it is hard to separate the legend from truth when it comes to Shaw. During this author’s high school days at Moi Forces Academy in Eastleigh in the early 90’s, a school guard narrated (swearing on his mother’s grave) how he had seen Shaw cartwheel across the large concrete pipe spanning the Nairobi river from Buru Buru to where the school is located while chasing a criminal. Quite a feat…although every now and then you would see a cyclist carrying a sack of charcoal ride across. So it was not an impossible feat!

As a side note, this particular concrete pipe was a popular shortcut for us students who liked to board Matatus along Route 23 or 58 and ride into the city center in style on “Manyangas.”  I must say walking on this pipe was not for the faint of heart but then there was always “Eliza Kid” along Route 32 for those who could not make the journey!

But I digress. Now back to Shaw.

This son of a British doctor arrived in Kenya in 1955 at the age of 19 and four years later in 1959 joined the Kenya Police Reserve (KPR).

Assigned Kenya Police Call Sign “Romeo 9”, there is no question that sometimes Shaw used questionable methods to root out crime that seemed to endear him to those in power. He rose to the rank of senior superintendent of Police.

To many he was also therefore seen as an enforcer for those in the government-of-the-day. It is for this very reason that Shaw’s name kept cropping up when politically charged assassinations and events occurred.

For example, it is also well documented that he was “extensively mentioned” in the 1975 assassination of JM Kariuki. In addition, he was also accused to be one of the main perpetrators of the March 1 1975 bombing that killed over 27 Kenyans that is said to be the first attempt to eliminate JM. Incidentally, it is said that it is Shaw was also the first person to collect a statement from the purported killer of Pio Gama Pinto, Kisilu Mutua. Some have speculated that Mutua was just a fall guy in the large frame-up surrounding Kenya’s first political assassination and that his statement was coerced through torture and beatings.

However, it is important to note that Shaw was never prosecuted nor found guilty for any of the accusations leveled against him.

Certainly Shaw was a complex man, and probably a psychotherapist might be better placed to explain why this man could have two such conflicting and seemingly divergent and complex personalities – one of a cold blooded enforcer and one of a man out do good.

David Smith wrote a series of superb articles on the Daily Nation in 2013 detailing Shaw’s childhood and escapades as a lawman based on extensive research and even shadowing Shaw on the streets of Nairobi.

The author sadly details Shaw’s modus operandi of “shoot-first-ask-questions-later” but also talks glowingly of the lawman’s uncompromising sense of justice that developed at an early age as a result of bullying he had endured as a child.

Whatever the motivation, the fact is that criminals feared Patrick Shaw and probably many Nairobians slept easy knowing that Shaw was out there cruising the streets of Nairobi fighting crime.

But tell that to the countless widows and fatherless children that were left in the wake of Shaw’s fight against crime.

Undoubtedly, by the time he died from a heart attack on Valentine’s Day 1988, he had certainly made his mark as crime fighter, school administrator and to some a man out of control but could not be reined in for one reason or another.

For such a man, probably it is best to let history be the judge and decide his legacy.

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