Mine that produced Queen’s best-loved diamond hit by allegations of killings and beatings

Nestled on a diamond-rich stretch of one of Tanzania’s poorest regions, the Williamson mine occupies a special place in British royal history. 

It was here, in the shadow of a baobab tree, that a group of boys found a diamond of such dazzling brilliance that the mine’s first owner, John Williamson, thought it was fit for a Queen.

And so it proved in 1947, when Princess Elizabeth – as she was then known – was presented with the 54-carat rough diamond as a wedding gift from the eccentric Canadian geologist.

It was later set into a Cartier flower brooch which the Queen has worn for decades since – including at the wedding of Charles and Diana – with the Royal Collection describing it as “the finest pink diamond ever discovered”. 

Now, however, the Williamson mine has been thrust back into the public eye for altogether different reasons, after its guards were accused of a string of killings and serious violence. 

A lawsuit is being brought in London’s High Court on behalf of 30 Tanzanians who claim either they or their relatives suffered an abuse of their human rights at the mine. 

It is being brought by the British legal firm Leigh Day against the mine’s British owners, Petra Diamonds, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange and brands itself as a seller of “ethical diamonds”.

At the same time, a non-government organisation (NGO) which investigates alleged corporate human rights abuses claims to have found evidence of seven killings and 41 assaults at the mine since it was acquired by Petra in 2009. 

It is alleged in a 50-page report by Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) that a private security firm hired to protect the diamond mine “repeatedly used excessive force with impunity against artisanal miners and others”.

The report, based “extensive field research” and titled The Deadly Cost of Ethical Diamonds, continues: “In almost none of the interviews, including with witnesses, were any of the victims described as having been armed with anything that could be considered a weapon or threatening or responding with the use of force at the time of injury or death.”

Anneke Van Woudenberg, an executive director of RAID, told the Telegraph the findings raised concerns about the rigour with which companies that pride themselves on ethical practices monitor their operations overseas. 

Petra Diamonds has said it is taking the claims “extremely seriously” and promised it would establish an independent investigation into the alleged wrongdoing at the mine. 

The Royal Collection said the brooch made from John Williamson's wedding gift contained 'the finest pink diamond ever discovered'

Credit: Royal Collection

Founded in 1940 by Dr Williamson during the last decades of British colonial rule in Tanzania, the mine was the first of its kind outside of South Africa, with the story behind its most famous diamond well known in royal circles for years. 

It made a minor celebrity of Jimmy Sudra, a son of one of the mine workers who discovered the diamond – which he first thought was glass – in the dirt under a baobab tree at the age of 10. 

Jimmy Sudra, who found the diamond given to the Queen, would later be awarded an MBE for charity work

Recalling his thoughts at the time, he said in a later newspaper interview: “God must have placed it there, or why would it be found? It was fit for only a monarch to wear.”

Dr Williamson decided to reward Mr Sudra’s honesty in bringing him the diamond by paying for his private education and the miner’s son would go on to spend his adult life in Kent.

In 1996, he was awarded an MBE for charity work by the Queen – who wore the five-petalled brooch with the diamond as its centrepiece to the investiture ceremony. Mr Sudra died in 2017 at the age of 80.

There is no suggestion the diamond on her brooch is in any way connected to the allegations of human rights abuses that would follow more than half a century later. 

The Queen wearing the brooch to a separate investiture ceremony in 2009 

Credit: PA

Raid began detailed research into the mine in September 2019 and went on to conduct 118 interviews with alleged victims, their families and witnesses. It completed its work in November this year. 

The NGO said it had found evidence there had been “at least seven killings and 41 assaults of local residents” since 2009, many of which led to “life-changing injuries”

It said it had heard accounts of “people shot with little or no warning, stabbed, detained, stripped, beaten, incarcerated for days in a filthy and cramped holding cell by the mine’s entrance, deprived of food and medical treatment, and/or handcuffed to hospital beds at the mine’s medical facility”. 

The private security contractor which guards the site, Zenith Security Services Ltd, was claimed to be “implicated in nearly all of the killings and abuses documented”. 

The alleged killings involved six people who were shot dead, while a seventh was beaten to death.

The 41 alleged assaults included 17 shootings, with one of the men injured shot from a distance of 40 metres while fleeing. 

The Williamson diamond mine was the first of its kind outside of South Africa

Residents in the neighbouring communities, which have a population of around 30,000, have been allegedly targeted by security after inadvertently wandering onto the site looking for pasture, fire wood or sometimes the road.

The boundaries of the mine are said to be “easily missed” as a fence had been removed and it is now only demarcated by “intermittently placed” rocks, according to Raid. 

One resident, quoted in the report on the condition of anonymity, described being assaulted after going to mine in an area of bush that was not within the Williamson perimetre.

“There were no police. When they caught us, they beat me very badly," he said.

"They told me I gave them a lot of trouble because I didn’t stop running. They beat me with clubs. There were about seven guards, it was an attack. I didn’t have any weapons. No one in my group had any weapons. The guards did not give me any warning before attacking me. The guards struck me first. I didn’t fight back."

Pictures of the guards at the Williamson mine have been posted by Zenith Security Services on social media

A spokesman for Petra Diamonds told the Telegraph its board found the “allegations deeply concerning” and the matter was being taken “extremely seriously”. 

A sub-committee of independent non-executive directors has been formed to oversee the issue and a “specialist external investigator” will lead an inquiry into the claims, with a report expected by the end of the year, according to the spokesman.

Petra Diamonds intends to report on the issues in the first quarter of 2021. 

Williamson Diamonds Limited (WDL), the owner and operator of the mine in which Petra Diamonds has a 75 per cent share, has appointed an external consultancy to carry out an assessment of security and human rights at the site. 

The spokesman for Petra highlighted 10 steps already taken by the WDL in response to the allegations, including the suspension of the chief security officer at the mine and a tender process for a new third-party security contractor. 

Zenith Security Services Ltd was contacted for comment. 

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