Aiders and abettors in criminal offences

You can be convicting for looking the other way when crime is committed

In Summary

• The curious case of Willy Kimani's murder offers a cautionary tale

Crime scene
Crime scene

I was recently having a conversation with a friend about some colleagues he has at work who were giving him a hard time. The infamous toxic colleagues. Most if not all people who work have colleagues they do not see eye to eye with. The interesting thing is that this colleague will also think the other is the problem.

Somewhere along that conversation, we talked about how not everyone you work with is your friend. And that sometimes, it's just better to earn your salary and go home. Then came the story of one Sylvia Wanjiku who was among the four people convicted of the murder of lawyer Willie Kimani, his client and a taxi driver.

Sylvia worked as a police officer and was stationed at Syokimau police station at the time the three murders were committed. Before the three were murdered, they were arrested and taken to the station.

Ideally, as the officer manning the Occurrence Book (OB), Sylvia was to record those brought in. She did not. Her colleagues later bundled them up, left the station and went on to kill them. Sylvia did not report any of these occurrences to her seniors. When investigations were done, Sylvia was charged as an abettor. So, who are aiders and abettors?

In many crimes, there's always a person who can help the main perpetrator to escape being caught or who does something that enables them to commit the crime. This could be by actively doing something that helps the criminal carry out their plan; or failing to do something that would stop the criminal. And because of that inaction, the criminal is able to carry out their purpose. Where this party is actively involved, they are called aiders, and if the assistance is by inaction, they are called abettors.

Being an aider appears criminal to most people. Being an abettor is what appears far more harmless. You probably would think that it's not your work to nab criminals, so you have no obligation to do anything to stop them, right?

The law has a different holding. Being an abettor is criminal and an abettor is charged with the same offence as the main culprit. The same applies to an aider. The sentence may or may not be the same as that of the main culprit; the court will examine the circumstances and make an appropriate determination.

In Sylvia's case, she was convicted of murder simply because of abetting crime. At the material time, I doubt she knew that her inaction would lead to her being convicted of murder six years later.

As harmless as it may seem, any inaction that helps a criminal commit an offence or beat the law will make one be charged as that criminal. So, unless you're ready to take that fall because of someone, don't be an abettor. Keeping off company that can get you into trouble is a good place to start. Because a troublemaker's sins will often come off on those around them.

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