Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Court rejects RUC post-traumatic stress action

A legal claim by police officers over post-traumatic stress caused by the conflict in Northern Ireland was dismissed by the Court of Appeal today.

A total of 5,500 Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers took a group action alleging their management had failed to treat the disorder adequately.

The policemen were involved in years of anti-terrorism operations which saw many of their colleagues killed or injured at the hands of gunmen or bombers.

Belfast Court of Appeal judge Lord Justice Paul Girvan was reviewing an earlier decision in the High Court.

His office said: "Lord Justice Girvan ... said that it could not be concluded that the chief constable's (currently Sir Hugh Orde) failure to provide training and education to officers to identify signs and symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to enable them to trigger a referral to the occupational health unit or to other medical advice was a breach of his duty of care to individual officers."

The court heard the RUC had established the occupational health unit and taken forward stress awareness training for the whole force, albeit with limited coverage of methods of delivery.

The Court spokeswoman added: "Lord Justice Girvan said it was not possible to conclude on the evidence for any given individual that the outcome of that person's case would probably have been different if the RUC had pursued a different policy on training and education.

"Lord Justice Girvan concluded that the officers had not established an actionable breach of duty by the chief constable."

The court also considered an earlier finding on whether a lack of resources could have an impact on the chief constable's liability for psychological or psychiatric symptoms suffered by them.

It was held that the original judge, Mr Justice Patrick Coghlin, had not found a lack of resources could be a defence, so there was no finding on whether an appeal could be entertained.

The Lord Chief Justice said the chief constable was aware of the potential for service to expose officers to trauma causing psychological or psychiatric illness.

He said the chief constable was also aware, or should have been, of the shortcomings of treatment available to officers other than through the occuptational health unit.

The Lord Chief Justice added a blanket exemption from a duty to treat cannot be justified.

"This is not to say that the duty to treat arises in every case where a police officer complained of psychiatric or psychological symptoms and we do not understand (Mr Justice Coghlin) to have suggested that this was so," he added.

"He was careful to note that this duty was activated only where it was 'appropriate (and) consistent with available resources'."

The Court of Appeal rejected the argument made by the chief constable that he is entitled to complete immunity from liability on a duty to treat.

The Court went on to consider appeals by the officers in the five lead or specimen cases, all five were dismissed.

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