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Last Updated: Monday, 7 November 2005, 11:55 GMT
Police seek Troubles compensation
Police in riot situation
Police had to deal with many riot situations
More than 5,000 serving and retired police officers have begun legal action to claim compensation for trauma they said they suffered during the Troubles.

It is one of the biggest such civil actions ever taken in the UK and started in Belfast on Monday.

The chief constable is being sued for injuries caused by "a failure to diagnose or treat" post-traumatic stress disorder.

The case, to be overseen by Mr Justice Coghlin, is due to last four months.

It is proceeding as a class action with up to 20 individual cases being selected to represent issues common to all the claims.

The officers claim they were not prepared for what they experienced and that adequate support mechanisms were not in place.

Solicitor Dorcas Crawford
The force really did nothing effective for far too long and when they did begin to think about it eventually, they took far too long to do anything about it
Dorcas Crawford
Solicitor

Many of them faced direct attack, witnessed terror attacks at first hand or had to cope with the aftermath of atrocities.

Others are fighting for loss of earnings after being medically discharged as a result of what they faced in the line of duty.

Their lawyer told the High Court in Belfast on Monday that they were seeking acknowledgement of what happened and help for those who needed it.

He said that whilst the men and women volunteered for a highly dangerous job, they ''stayed hurt more than they should have'' and this was a case of "system failure".

The officers will claim during the four-month hearing that their employers made inadequate provision to deal with post traumatic stress disorder.

Those taking the case range from constable to chief superintendent, with 2,000 of them still serving in the police.

A major issue in the case is the duty of care which the chief constable owed to his officers.

Leading experts have been engaged to give evidence about the development of psychiatric and psychological knowledge during the 30 years of the Troubles.

'Severe trauma'

Dorcas Crawford, a solicitor acting for the Police Federation in the case, said the group action brought together "all of the individuals who suffered from those horrendous incidents".

There was a long history of post-traumatic stress disorder within the police but that "it just simply wasn't labelled as such", she said.

"Of course they knew what they were going to face, but so did their employer - that is the point.

"Their employer was the person responsible for looking after them when they faced that situation.

"The occupational health unit in the RUC was not set up until 1986, and by that stage people had 17 years of severe trauma in their daily duties.

"The force really did nothing effective for far too long and when they did begin to think about it eventually, they took far too long to do anything about it," she alleged.

"There was a committee set up in the 1980s and recommended a package, but very few of those measures that were recommended in the package were implemented, and those that did were implemented far too slowly."

Terry Spence said symptoms were identified over many years
Terry Spence said symptoms were identified over many years

Speaking outside the court, Terry Spence of the Police Federation said symptoms among officers had been identified by the RUC over many years.

"They didn't take any remedial action to deal with that," he alleged.

"They should have taken all necessary steps to diagnostically deal with this situation and they simply ignored it."

He added: "It has resulted in marriage break-ups and family break-ups.

"It has also involved acute alcoholism within the service and many officers have suffered many traumatic incidents throughout the years and that has manifested itself in their personality breakdown."

The Royal Ulster Constabulary became the Police Service of Northern Ireland under sweeping reforms of the service proposed by the Good Friday Agreement.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See the story of one police officer whose life was shattered



SEE ALSO:
Police officers seek trauma compensation
07 Nov 05 |  Northern Ireland
Need 'to heal NI wounds'
27 May 04 |  Northern Ireland
Consultation on NI truth process
14 May 04 |  Northern Ireland
Killings will 'go unsolved'
10 Jun 03 |  Northern Ireland


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