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Police trauma claims rejected

Lead cases in compensation battle thrown out by judge

By Lesley-Anne Henry

Thousands of police officers suing the Chief Constable for psychological distress suffered during the Troubles were dealt a major blow today after a judge threw out the 10 lead cases.

Sitting in Belfast High Court Mr Justice Patrick Coghlin dismissed all 10 lead plaintiffs in the McClurg v Chief Constable and Police Authority for Northern Ireland action, and refused any financial compensation.

On Friday 5,500 former RUC and serving PSNI officers won the right to sue Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde for negligence in providing treatment for post-traumatic stress suffered as a result of years of violence in Northern Ireland.

The judge ruled there were "systemic failures" in the training, education and treatment for stress-related mental disorders in the force after 1988.

Today while acknowledging the lead cases - which were decided by both parties - were most representative of the trauma, Mr Coghlin said there had been a reluctance among officers to avail of help from the force's Occupational Health Unit which was set up in 1986.

In dismissing the case of Jennifer Hare, who was a member of the RUC photography branch for a number of years, the judge said she "was able to cope effectively" with the harrowing situations she witnessed and that she went on to have a successful career.

James Spencer Beggs had been a sergeant in Pomeroy, south Armagh, when he was medically retired. The 55-year-old was injured during a bomb attack in Newry in 1980. Five years later, just 50 yards from where he had almost been killed, four of his colleagues were blown up in an IRA bomb at Killeen Customs Post.

The judge recognised that Mr Beggs did suffer depression and PTSD but threw his case out. The judge ruled that the macho culture and reluctance to seek help meant it was unlikely that Mr Beggs would have sought treatment any earlier. Mr Beggs was not in court to hear the judgment.

The judge said that another officer, Lindsay Boal, suffered acute anxiety as the result of an explosion but that he had exaggerated the extent and nature of his symptoms. Outside the court Mr Boal refused to comment on the judge's findings.

Mr Justice Coghlin also ruled that more should have been done to help police suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and similar psychological problems after 1988. He found there should have been an adequate system for stress awareness training for officers and their superiors in place by 1987-88.

But the joy of Friday's victory was replaced with shock and disbelief.

Trevor McIlrath, who was not one of the lead cases but is part of the bigger action said some officers would be "suicidal" over the judgment. He said it was one of the "darkest days" of the Troubles.

Dorcas Crawford, a solicitor representing many of the officers said the setback would help define which cases would be more likely to win in the future.

"The door remains opened. The judge saw 10 cases out of 5,000 odd and these were difficult cases. There would have been no point in us putting forward easy cases."

She urged the Chief Constable and NIO to negotiate with the Federation on the matter.

Terry Spence, chairman of the Police Federation said they were disappointed and raised concerns that some officers would be put off pursuing the action.

Belfast Telegraph


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