NAIROBI, Kenya — A British tourist whose charred bones were found in a game park was murdered, a court ruled Friday, vindicating her father's yearlong battle against state investigators who claimed wild animals had killed her.
The death of Julie Ward, 28, remains unsolved, however, with no one arrested and the judge saying he saw no need for further investigation. Ward's father has charged that there was an official cover-up to protect Kenya's lucrative tourism industry.
Ward's partly charred lower left leg and lower jaw were found Sept. 13, 1988, in the sprawling Masai Mara Game Reserve, a week after she reportedly left the world-renowned park while on a wildlife photography expedition.
The state contended that she was eaten by carnivores after abandoning her vehicle mired in mud. The Masai Mara is home to lions, vultures, hyenas and leopards among other meat eaters.
Her father, John Ward, a hotelier from Suffolk, England, contended she was murdered, hacked up and burned with gasoline. He pleaded with the state to order an inquest and spent tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours in a private investigation of her death.
"There is ample and substantial evidence that Julie Ward died of foul play by a person or persons unknown," Chief Magistrate Joseph Mango said at the conclusion of his inquiry, which began in mid-August and heard 38 witnesses before ending Oct. 6.
However, he said he "saw no reason" to investigate her death further and rejected claims by her family that the state had engaged in a cover-up to protect her killer or Kenya's $360-million annual tourist trade.
During the inquest, John Ward's attorney, Byron Georgiadis, had tried to build a case that Julie Ward was killed by someone who knew the game park well, had freedom of movement there and could have ordered or inspired a cover-up of the circumstances surrounding her disappearance.
He pointed to Simon Makallah, the Masai Mara's head game warden, as a chief suspect, contending the game warden was able to find the young woman's remains hours after her vehicle was found six miles away only because he already knew where the remains were.
After the ruling, Ward said he was surprised at the outcome and that he had had "very serious doubts" Mango would rule in his favor. He called the ruling a "credit" to Kenya.
"At the end of the day, he came up with the verdict that was required," Ward said.
But asked if he was pleased with the ruling, he said: "How can you be pleased to have it confirmed that your daughter has been murdered? But, yes, I suppose I am pleased."