Page last updated at 11:40 GMT, Saturday, 18 July 2009 12:40 UK

MoD defends 'spying' on soldiers

Ben Parkinson
Ben Parkinson lost both legs in a landmine explosion in Afghanistan

The Ministry of Defence has defended the practice of effectively spying on servicemen suspected of lodging false claims for damages for injuries.

Since 2000, 284 claims have been secretly tracked and monitored, less than 1% of all claims, the MoD says.

It says the tactics have helped stop fraudulent claims and saved millions of pounds of taxpayers' money.

But families of wounded soldiers have criticised the MoD for failing to understand what soldiers go through.

'Insulting'

Diane Dernie, mother of 25-year-old paratrooper Ben Parkinson who was badly injured in Afghanistan, said she was "surprised and heartbroken" by the tactics used.

"I think the whole implication that there are fraudulent claims shows a complete lack of understanding on behalf of the people who are sending them out there of what the soldiers go through and what they experience," she said.

"I have met so many of these boys now and the implication that they are not genuine is insulting.

"It insults what they do and it insults them and their families."

The Daily Mail has reported that solicitors representing servicemen and women received letters from the MoD this week warning them that claims were being "investigated thoroughly".

In a week when yet more soldiers have given their lives, the idea of covert surveillance being used on those who managed to survive is particularly distasteful
Liberty spokesman

The letter read: "[It] can involve an assessment of the claimant's physical capability undertaken covertly by surveillance when necessary and proportionate."

It went on to say that where there was "a reasonable suspicion of fraud", cases were now routinely passed to the MoD police, according to the paper.

Lord Guthrie, the former head of the armed forces, told the Mail he found the practice "extraordinary", but typical of the attitude in the MoD and Whitehall.

A spokesman for the human rights group, Liberty, said: "In a week when yet more soldiers have given their lives, the idea of covert surveillance being used on those who managed to survive is particularly distasteful.

"It is one thing to use such methods where there is reasonable suspicion of fraud but quite another to do so routinely, without ministerial authority or as a means of deterring legitimate claims.

He called for the MoD to publish its surveillance policy immediately to justify how it complies with human rights standards.

The number of false claims identified as a result of the surveillance has not been made public.

But an MoD spokesman said that in the vast majority of cases where surveillance was undertaken, the claims were found to be exaggerated, resulting in them either being repudiated or settled at a greatly reduced level of damages.

He added that the practice had helped uncover fraud which had saved the government millions of pounds.



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