Belfast Telegraph

What price do we put on the life of a policeman?

Officers grievously wounded in the line of duty deserve better than public squabbling over compensation, says Alan Murray

What signal does it send to other police officers, Terry Spence asked, when a PSNI officer horrifically wounded in a terrorist attack is denied compensation via an industrial injuries scheme?

The Police Federation chairman was commenting on the circumstances of the grievously-injured Catholic police officer Peadar Heffron, who lost one of his legs as a direct result of a bomb attack on his car by dissident republicans.

The 35-year-old constable, who has been unable to return to police duties, was denied compensation under the industrial injury compensation scheme.

The reason, ostensibly, as far as we understand it, is because the scheme's provisions do not recognise the act of travelling to work as being effectively part of a job.

In Constable Heffron's case, it was while he was travelling from his home in Randalstown in January 2010 to begin his police duties that he sustained the life-threatening injuries caused by the undercar bomb. In 2009, thousands of PSNI and former RUC officers lost a 'class suit' action for compensation in a test case for post-traumatic stress injury.

Other former officers have lost claims for compensation for deafness caused, they argued, by the exposure to firearms training and bomb and gun attacks.

Members of the public can legitimately claim for compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2009 if they can demonstrate that they were innocent bystanders injured as a direct result of a criminal act being committed, which undoubtedly covers the circumstances attending Peadar Heffron's serious injury more than two years ago.

More than 2,000 people-a-year avail of this compensation.

We have not been told by the Police Federation if Peadar Heffron applied for compensation under this scheme. His application for compensation under the industrial injury scheme appears not to have been a fruitful exercise and it would seem logical that workers injured on their way to work would not be covered under the scheme, even if travelling in a works' van.

In most circumstances, either vehicle insurance or employers' liability insurance would be expected to cover any compensation claim.

Injury as a result of a bombing on the way to work is unlikely to be covered by commercial or industrial insurance policies, so Constable Heffron's particular cause of injury is unlikely to feature regularly in these claims' systems.

Is a part-time fire officer who collides with another vehicle on his way to the station covered by industrial injuries insurance, or public utility insurance, or just by his own vehicle insurance?

What if the fire officer's vehicle was stoned by a mob at a notorious flashpoint while he was on his way to a fire station? What insurance, or compensation facility, would cover his injuries then? Without knowing all the details, it does seem odd, though, that Peadar Heffron is involved in an unseemly squabble for compensation at all.

A source has said that the issue is "of considerable financial significance" to Peadar Heffron, because, among other negative prospects, he may be compelled to retire from the PSNI because of his injuries.

We can understand why those who manage the industrial injuries scheme have, as it seems, followed the letter of the law in dealing with Constable Heffron's application.

To create a precedent in law, compensation awards, or indeed planning applications, carries major implications - not least the prospect of an avalanche of similarly demanding applicants.

Until it is determined whether Peadar Heffron can, or cannot, continue to serve as a police officer here or elsewhere, the compensation amount he is rightly entitled to cannot be accurately calculated.

But before that moment arrives, the necessary steps should be taken to ensure that the risks he took for his community are suitably recognised - without further haggling.

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