The owner of a Coast skydiving facility where a Zambian soldier, who was part of a mysterious mission died, has led a controversial life ever since he arrived in Kenya, investigations by the Sunday Nation reveals.
Coast security officials say they are investigating Mr Gary Lincoln-Hope, a former parachute regiment officer at the British Army who owns Skydive Diani in Kwale. He is also linked to a number of security companies.
In the latest incident, Zambian soldier David Pumulo is reported to have died while skydiving. The accident appeared to have been handled quietly since mid-February until details emerged this week.
It is revelations that Mr Pumulo was among a group of foreign soldiers whose presence was not declared that has stirred a storm with police now questioning the licence status of the facility. It is an interesting claim given that on February 11, 2017, Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala participated in a publicised sky diving mission and activities have been going on for years.
Police sources involved in the investigation revealed that Mr Lincoln-Hope, who is the Chief Supervisor at the sky diving company, had been in constant communication since early December with a group of 14 Zambian soldiers who wanted to train. It is alleged he helped secure hotel bookings for the group upon their request with the soldiers arriving in early February without informing Kenyan authorities as required.
This week, the police effected a ban on all skydiving activities in the Coast, which was issued as soon as Mr Pumulo died.
Coast regional police boss Marcus Ochola said that Mr Lincoln-Hope’s skydiving training school did not have the capacity to conduct military training and that all the activities that have been taking place there since it was opened in 2013 were illegal.
“It is already clear that they (the Zambians) never registered their presence as required by law. They came in as tourists and headed straight to Ukunda for skydiving.
“The skydiving institution is not permitted to conduct military training,” he said.
The police chief added that “they went and carried out their training without their (Kenyan) counterparts in this country knowing”.
Mr Lincoln-Hope is alleged to have booked the 14 soldiers into a local hotel where they were issued with seven double rooms. Hotel staff are said to have been told that they were his “friends and relatives”. The police have since confiscated the records of the soldiers from the hotel.
It is during the many skydiving expeditions that Mr Pumulo’s parachute is thought to have failed and got entangled with a colleague’s. They came tumbling down.
Mr Pumulo was pronounced dead at the Diani Hospital while his colleague was seriously injured.
The soldiers were then said to have hatched a plan to sneak their injured colleague out of the country but the police learnt about the incident, thwarting the plot.
This week, Ms Esther Chibuye, a widow of the dead soldier, told the Sunday Nation about the death.
“I was informed about his death on February 19,” she said. Asked if she knew what had caused her husband’s death, Ms Chibuye went silent.
However, a family source revealed that Mr Pumulo, whose body was flown to Zambia on February 25, was buried two days later.
“No one was allowed to view the body on the burial day, everything happened so fast,” said the source in Zambia, who spoke in confidence.
Mr Ochola said it is after the death of Mr Pumulo that questions were raised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Zambian High Commission in Nairobi.
“If they had communicated, it could have helped in knowing the capacity of the institution and whether it was capable of training soldiers. That was not done until he died and that’s when we started getting queries from the (Zambian) embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” he said.
The Sunday Nation contacted the Zambian High Commission but officials declined to comment on the matter, saying that no one was currently authorised to speak to the media following the death of High Commissioner Brenda Muntemba-Sichilembe in a road accident.
“The Zambian High Commissioner to Kenya died and she was the only one who could have commented about the matter,” said an official who added that they were waiting for a new envoy.
It is not clear how Mr Lincoln-Hope arrived in Kenya where he has vastly invested but the police this week said he came in as a security officer in charge of ships.
However, how he ended up training military officers remains a puzzle.
“Military people are a sophisticated lot and should only be trained in an internationally recognised institution,” said Mr Ochola, who also confirmed there was no problem with Mr Lincoln-Hope’s papers allowing him to live in Kenya.
The businessman started Skydive Diani five years ago and at the time worked closely with top police officers in the coastal region.
The training school charges a Sh35,000 fee for a skydive, which takes a few seconds.
“We offer tandem skydives for first timers, and the price is Sh35,000 per person. This involves a short brief followed by a 20-minute plane ride over the coastline. At 12,000 feet, you will jump out while attached to the front of an instructor and experience free fall for about 55 seconds,” an advertisement by Skydive Diani reads.
The school also offers an Accelerated Free Fall course where one is trained on how the equipment operates, exiting an aircraft with an instructor, maintaining control in free fall, safety procedures and how to initiate the opening of a parachute. The price of a complete course is Sh260,000.
The facility receives many visitors, mostly foreigners.
His other investment is a security company known as XFOR Kenya where he is listed as CEO. The company, which has its headquarters in the UK and was started in 2004, has in the past worked with the Kenyan police to offer training in the Coast.
For instance, On February 13, 2012, the company held a training attended by the then Coast region police boss Aggrey Adoli and the Coastal region anti-terrorism department head Elijah Rop.
At the training, Mr Lincoln-Hope said he had plans to offer more training across the country.
The security company says it also operates in Dubai, Uganda, Tanzania and Mozambique.
But in 2011 the security company found itself on the wrong side of the law after three men attached to its operations were arrested in Mombasa and described as terrorists.
However, Nick Cryne, 30, Niall Young, 34, and Ben Hope, 27, appeared in court and answered to the charges that included being in the country illegally.
It later emerged that the three had been hired as private security workers to trail a couple which was living in the Coast.
Mr Lincoln-Hope later said they were sent to Kenya to assist with an intelligence investigation into corporate spying when they were arrested.
On his LinkedIn account, Mr Lincoln-Hope states that he started his career in 1997 when he completed training at a military academy in the UK where he was awarded the sword of honour and a commission into the Parachute Regiment.
The Sunday Nation contacted Skydive Diani training school for comment but an official who answered our calls said the director and the manager were away.
“The manager and director are currently not around; you can reach them through email,” said the official.
The official instead directed us to send an email to the company, which by the time of going to press had not been answered.