Police vehicle recovery men were exposed to terrorist car bombings and fatal road crashes without any proper care or protection, the High Court has heard.
Civilian staff employed for breakdown and accident duties received no training for traumatic experiences which caused them serious psychiatric illness, it was claimed.
One worker said he could still smell burning flesh weeks after finding two bodies in a car's wreckage.
He also had to pick up the vehicle in which solicitor Rosemary Nelson was killed in a loyalist booby-trap attack, a judge was told.
Details emerged at the opening of an action brought by two men and the widow of a third who all worked as recovery drivers.
They are suing the PSNI and the Policing Board for alleged breach of a duty of care and failure to provide treatment, support and counselling.
Liam McCollum QC argued his clients received none of the support offered to members of the force following the establishment of an occupational health unit.
Instead of being properly shielded from the consequences of terrorist acts, public disorder and road deaths, they were required to carry out duties for which they were entirely unsuited, according to the barrister.
Joint cases have been taken by James Rodgers (65), Mark Campbell (50) and the widow of Samuel Brown.
Nicholas Hanna QC, for the PSNI and Policing Board, rejected claims that crime and accident scenes should have been "sanitised" before the vehicle recovery men arrived.
The action was then adjourned for amendments to be made to the parties' cases. It will be reviewed again later this week to fix a date for resuming the hearing.