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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 May, 2003, 09:42 GMT 10:42 UK
Troops lose war trauma case
British soldiers in Iraqi desert
Nearly 2,000 former troops awaited the ruling
Former UK troops have lost their court battle to win compensation for the after-effects of trauma suffered in the line of duty.

A High Court judge announced the ruling on Wednesday.

Veterans of Northern Ireland, the Falklands, Bosnia and the Gulf War had claimed they had been inadequately prepared for their exposure to the "horrors of war".

The case, which began last year, would have resulted in a multi-million pound payout by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) if the troops had been successful.

War and warlike operations inevitably take their toll, both physical and psychological
Mr Justice Owen

But the MoD contested the case, rejecting the allegation it had negligently failed to prevent troops from suffering mental injury resulting from the stress of war or conflict.

Nearly 2,000 potential claimants registered an interest, but the hearing centred on 15 "lead" cases prepared for trial to illustrate the central issues.

Solicitors for the claimants say they are now considering whether to launch an appeal.

In his judgement, Mr Justice Owen said: "It has long been recognised that combat may result in psychiatric as well as physical casualties.

"The infliction of shock and extreme stress on an enemy has been a military objective throughout history.

"War and warlike operations inevitably take their toll, both physical and psychological."

'Horrors of war'

The servicemen and women involved in the case claimed to be mentally scarred from witnessing death and killing.

Although they accept such events were part of their jobs, they said the MoD should have done more to treat and diagnose their illness, just as a physically wounded soldier would have been cared for.

Mark McGhee, solicitor for the claimants, told the BBC: "The judge has held that in terms of the MoD's knowledge of the long-term consequences of war, what they did or what they did or didn't do was acceptable.

"That is obviously something we disagree with, and if we appeal, that will be the main grounds for our appeal."

Captain Morgan O'Connell, of the campaign group Combat Stress, said: "If we're going to ask our young men and women to sign up and fight in the cause of their country, and then we discard them to the scrapheap when they begin to present with symptoms like this, we don't deserve the armed forces that we have today.

"This judgement today will have a terrible impact on the morale of those ex-servicemen and women who are suffering psychological disorders after fighting for their country."

The MoD said in a statement: "The MoD acknowledges that some members of the armed forces may, during the period of their careers, be subject to traumatic experiences and may suffer stress as a result.

"But this does not mean that the MoD has been negligent or that the individual is entitled to receive common law compensation."

Occupational health

During the hearing last year, Stephen Irwin QC, for the claimants, said "exposure to war" was expected by soldiers and sailors.

But he added: "It is also what their masters should expect and they should provide for this exposure to the horrors of war. In a sentence we say they did not.

"They didn't do it systematically and so far as they had a system it did not work properly to protect and care for soldiers, sailors and airmen in the forces."

The MoD provided an occupational health service and primary healthcare for personnel in the three services, but it was alleged most people affected by trauma were discharged without even recognition of their complaints, let alone treatment.

In response, the MoD said post-traumatic stress disorder - the condition most claimants are suffering from - was not officially recognised until the late 1980s.

And it said the treatment the soldiers received was in line with the best practice at the time.

The BBC's Andrew Burroughs
"Today's ruling... brought an angry reaction from psychiatrists and lawyers representing the veterans"

Counsellor warns over war trauma
10 Apr 03  |  Cornwall
Veterans sue MoD over trauma
04 Mar 02  |  UK News
Post-traumatic stress disorder
20 Dec 00  |  Medical notes

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