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Bereaved partner backed over pension

Denying a special pension award to the unmarried partner of a police officer killed in a horror road crash was unlawful, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice Treacy held that Debbie Morrison was discriminated against on the grounds of her marital status by regulations which could not be justified.

Ms Morrison's partner of three and a half years, Kevin Gorman, was one of four policemen who died when their Shogun vehicle exploded in flames near Warrenpoint, Co Down, in November 2008. The PSNI officers were responding to an emergency call from colleagues when the fatal crash happened.

At the time of the tragedy Ms Morrison was pregnant with the couple's second child. She had taken time off from her job as a residential social worker and was said to have been dependent on her partner's income.

Even though provisions were made for her children, and an ex-gratia payment made to her, Ms Morrison only received a small pension due to Mr Gorman's limited length of service.

He had joined the PSNI just over a year before he was killed.

Ms Morrison's lawyers sought to judicially review her classification as ineligible for an award under the PSNI and PSNI Reserve (Injury Benefit) Regulations 2006 because she was not a surviving spouse or civil partner of an officer killed in the line of duty.

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They argued it was perverse and inconsistent with arrangements for soldiers and other members of the emergency services.

The court heard that not only was the loss of her partner a personal tragedy, it was also a financial disaster.

Although the regulations were said to be under review after the Chief Constable raised the issue with the relevant authorities, any changes were not expected to be retrospective.

This meant Ms Morrison would not benefit from any amendment.

In his judgment Mr Justice Treacy said he was satisfied that she had been discriminated against on the grounds of her marital status.

The judge stressed this was not enough to make good her claim, pointing out that the onus was on the State to justify it. But he held that it was not reasonable for the discrimination on the grounds of marital status to be maintained for the length of time involved.

Mr Justice Treacy declared that it was incompatible with Ms Morrison's human rights.

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