Police Federation defends hearing loss compensation bill

RUC patrol in Belfast in 1999.
RUC patrol in Belfast in 1999.

The cost of compensating former police officers for hearing loss suffered during firearms training has been defended by the Police Federation.

In response to criticism of the overall £135 million bill including legal fees, Federation chairman Terry Spence said the negative comments were “totally unwarranted”.

Following the publication of the figures, Sinn Fein MLA Pat Sheehan said the cost was “clearly unjustifiable”.

The total bill was also criticised by the SDLP’s Alban Maguinness as a “shocking figure”.

However, the barrister and MLA said he had no criticism of the compensation payments themselves – only the legal and medical costs involved.

“I think it’s right and proper that these men should be properly and fairly compensated for their injuries,” he said.

Mr Spence responded saying: “These officers were injured on duty, and it was a result of the use of firearms, and the fact that they had to train frequently. They had no proper hearing protection right through until the late 90s for that weapon training and the other forms of anti-terrorist training that caused the hearing loss.

“There was clear medical evidence in each and every case – that those officers had been injured and that there were systemic failures by successive chief constables.”

Mr Spence said he had approached the chief constable over three years ago with propositions that would have dealt with the claims in a more cost-effective way, but these were refused amid concerns over accountability of public funds.

A PSNI spokesman said the claims had to be “thoroughly investigated” and dealt with accordingly.

Many of the 10,000 claimants involved have suffered additional damage caused by helicopter transport and motorcycle duties.

The spokesman added: “Independent medical experts are instructed to carry out examinations to assess the claimants condition as is normal practice in personal injury litigation.

“On the basis of the investigations carried out by the chief constable’s lawyers and the independent medical assessments the chief constable has been able to, when appropriate, negotiate best possible settlements.”