Terror target officers still at work after clocking off
Disabled police officer Peadar Heffron struck a blow for all ranks when he took on the Social Security Agency and won, writes Suzanne Rice
Last month witnessed a landmark ruling, when Peadar Heffron, the PSNI constable who suffered serious injuries in a terrorist car bomb in 2010, was awarded industrial injury disablement benefit by the Social Security Commissioner.
This was the first time that a police officer in Northern Ireland had been successful in establishing before the commissioner that his, or her, journey to and from work could be classed as being on duty.
For many employees, the issue of travelling to and from work – and whether such travel can be considered to be during work hours – will be clearly outlined in terms and conditions of employment.
However, for certain professions – and, in particular, police officers – there is no such thing as a contract of employment.
This type of employment calls into question when exactly does an employee clock on and clock off. In this case, what constitutes hours of employment was at the heart of the claim.
Industrial injury disablement benefit is a weekly payment made by the Government to employees who are injured, or ill, as a result of an accident, or disease, caused by their work.
Once this disability has been accepted by the Social Security Agency, medical evidence is obtained to confirm the extent of the disability and the amount of benefit which is to be paid.
In this case, no-one could argue that the life-threatening injuries sustained by Peadar Heffron represented anything short of the highest category of disability; the argument arose in determining whether the injuries occurred in the course of the officer's employment.
The facts of the case clearly established that the officer was only targeted because he was a police officer (and, therefore, as a direct consequence of his employment).
However, the Social Security Agency refused Peadar Heffron's application, stating that he was not in work, or carrying out duties associated with his work, when the injury occurred. Previous case law in this area had determined that an officer had to do something to put himself on duty, when injured outside his uniformed duties. Being injured simply because he was a police officer was not enough.
A modern example of the application of how this (now overturned) principle worked is as follows. An officer, on his way home from work, stops off at a local shop.
When walking into the shop, he encounters an armed robber, who is holding the shop assistant at gunpoint.
Were the officer to radio for assistance, or to identify himself to the robber as an off-duty police officer and be shot as result, then he has put himself on duty.
Were the officer to have walked into the shop and been shot instantly, that officer could not have claimed for industrial injury disablement benefit, as no active step had been taken, before the injury occurred, to put himself on duty.
In the recent appeal to the Social Security Commissioner, the commissioner overturned this principle by stating that a police officer, outside of his uniformed hours of work, could still technically be on duty, if the injury sustained arose because of his, or her, work.
This is because the Social Security Commissioner recognised the unique nature of being a police officer in Northern Ireland, in comparison to other police forces throughout the UK.
He considered that the regular threat of terrorism, or attack, is much greater and none more so than for officers travelling to and from work.
This ruling will have considerable implications for police officers, as they can now be reassured that, if they are injured as a result of their job outside of official work hours, they could potentially claim for industrial injury disablement benefit, on the basis that they were injured while on duty and as a result of that duty.