Man wins payout over Tsunami stress
A police trainer who identified bodies in Sri Lanka following the 2004 Tsunami disaster has won a £400,000 settlement from his former employers after suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
David Collins, 45, worked 16-hour days managing a mortuary and described the experience as a "production line of bodies" following the huge wave which killed 228,000 people around the Indian Ocean.
When he returned to Britain, Mr Collins did not receive any de-brief from his employer, the National Police Improvement Agency, where he was a trainer in forensics, photography and crime scene preparation.
Since his experience in Sri Lanka recovering and identifying bodies, he developed mental health problems and had to leave his job.
He is now receiving therapy for PTSD.
Mr Collins, from Consett, County Durham, said: "While I am pleased that I was able to go to Sri Lanka and help support them during the country's time of need following the Tsunami disaster, the resulting illness I have suffered because of the lack of support from my previous employers has ruined my career and turned my life upside down.
"Nothing prepared me for my time out there.
"It's a horrible image but it was like a production line of bodies that we were working on 16 hours a day and while I didn't realise it at the time, it had a massive impact on me psychologically.
"When I got back I was very obsessively organised and wouldn't do normal things like watching the news.
"After a couple of months back in the UK I was told that I would get a de-brief but it never happened and everything just never seemed the same."
Before his deployment PTSD had been identified in a risk assessment but there was no de-brief on his return to the UK.
He instructed Irwin Mitchell solicitors and he has won a settlement with his former employers after they admitted they breached the duty of care they owed him, by not referring him to occupational health.
During the first two weeks in Sri Lanka, Mr Collins was working with a police team who were not forensically trained so had to do most of the work, photographing and fingerprinting bodies as well as storing them and moving them.
He then worked for a further four weeks with more specialist support from the Sri Lanka police force but for the six week period he only had three days off.
Solicitor Isobel Lovett said: "Mr Collins' life has been turned upside down by his experiences in Sri Lanka, when he should have been given more help by his employer to minimise the risk of PTSD and its impact on his life. He has lost a career he loved."
Mr Collins had difficulties with relationships at home and problems at work, and went off sick in April 2011, never to return.
He has suffered depression as a result of not being able to work and worried about his future and family.
Mr Collins said: "I take each day as it comes and try to keep busy.
"I will never forget my time in Sri Lanka and I am proud that I was able to help in some way; hopefully now I will be able to get my own life back on track."
A spokeswoman for the College of Policing, which replaced the National Police Improvement Agency, said: "The College has negotiated, in good faith, an arrangement that should see Mr Collins receive the treatment and support he needs to recover from his injuries and lead an active life.
"As an organisation that has unique skills and the ability to deploy those skills on demand anywhere in the world, there are always likely to be associated risks with such deployments. However, we recognise there are lessons to be learned from this unique deployment and as the new professional body for policing we will ensure that any learning is applied to future deployments of this kind."