Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who discussed the "compensation culture" on BBC Radio.
Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, discussed the “compensation culture” on BBC Radio.

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors

Yesterday, James Whale of BBC Radio Essex interviewed me about the “compensation culture” and a Freedom of Information Act request showing compensation paid by Essex Police between 2011-2014. The BBC contacted me as I am a solicitor who specialises in actions against the police who has successfully sued Essex Police for compensation.

The interview focussed on why people receive compensation, how they go about claiming it, and whether there is a “compensation culture”. You can hear it here:


Mr. Whale followed a well-trodden path when he asked me about the so-called “compensation culture”, but to be fair to him, it was just one question in a wide-ranging and thought-provoking interview.

I pointed out that, by discussing the “compensation culture”, he seemed to be focussing on personal injury damages, which, despite the government’s efforts, are still promoted in cheesy adverts on daytime t.v.

The media, police, and government continue to trot out the idea that we are all a bunch of despicable compo-grabbers, claiming compensation for everything and anything, and taking money away from front-line services like the police in the process.

Only last year Norfolk’s Chief Constable Phil Gormley was interviewed on BBC radio about one of his own officers who was making a claim after getting injured at work. He repeatedly blamed the “corrosive compensation culture” for her decision to seek compensation, saying that “it generates a something for nothing attitude”.

As my analysis of the Essex Police figures shows, this is not only wrong, but misses the point and masks the true reasons for seeking redress in the first place.

Freedom of Information Act Data

Essex’s population is about 1.6 million people, served by 3,600 police officers (so the police make up only 0.225% of the total population). The BBC’s Freedom of Information Act request confirmed the following:

2011    Damages paid to members of the public £177,230.04

2012    Damages paid to members of the public £105,350.09

2013    Damages paid to members of the public £149,911.14

2014    Damages paid to members of the public £139,113.69 (to the 15 December 2014)

The following categories of claim are used to record information and payments could be made in any one of these categories: Unlawful arrest / False imprisonment, property damage / loss, dog bites, assault, negligence, breach of Human Rights, breach of data protection.

 2011    Damages paid to Police Officers or Police Staff £20,039.85

2012    Damages paid to Police Officers or Police Staff £135,682.13

2013    Damages paid to Police Officers or Police Staff £47,762.15

2014    Damages paid to Police Officers or Police Staff £241,464.50

The claims are recorded under the single category of Employer Liability Claim but will include : Injury at work claims, stress at work claim, damage caused to personal property whilst on duty, acts of negligence by police officers / police staff.

  • The figures do not include redundancy payments.
  • The figures do not include payments awarded in Employment Tribunal claims
  • The figures do not include ex-gratia and property damage claims
  • The figures do not include motor claims

 

Analysis of Data

These figures show the following:

  1. Between 2011-2014 the total for claims made by the public was £571,604.96. Police officers and staff received £444,948.63. The grand total for all claims paid was £1,016,553.59.
  2.  Essex Police officers and staff account for 44% of all compensation claims paid by the Force despite them making up less than a quarter of a per cent of the region’s population.
  3. Payments to the public over the four-year period were £0.36 per person. Compensation payments to the police and staff were £123.60.
  4. Compensation claims made by the public (all 1,596,400 of them) are broadly going down, so that in 2014 they recovered only 37% of the total paid out by Essex Police. By contrast the Force’s police and staff received the lion’s share of compensation in 2014: 63%.
  5. In the four-year period, compensation claims made by Essex police and staff against their employers have sky-rocketed, from a low of £20,039.85 in 2011 to £241,464.50, an increase of 1205%.

Over half a million pounds in four years looks like a lot of money paid out to the public.

But is it? Compared to police officers and staff, payouts to ordinary citizens are almost non-existent. Police officers and staff themselves claim almost as much money from their employers despite being a tiny proportion of the overall population.

Bear in mind that, according to the Freedom of Information request, the police’s compensation claims include, among other things, the same kinds of claims as the public. (ie. negligence claims by police officers/ staff, such as false imprisonment, unlawfully executed police warrant claims, malicious prosecution and misfeasance in public office claims, etc.)

Full disclosure: although most of our clients are ordinary members of the public, Donoghue Solicitors also represent police officers in these claims when they are treated as ordinary citizens instead of employees. Despite their jobs, police officers and staff can be victims of police misconduct too. It’s strangely comforting to think that the police don’t discriminate when abusing their powers.

And it is worth remembering that, regardless of who claims compensation, whatever money paid is well deserved. Police forces only pay out in actions against the police when they have to. Winning claims against the police is hard because they have statutory protections so they can do their jobs effectively without fear of prosecution. As a result, compensation is only paid in appropriate circumstances where police misconduct is clear.

Compensation Culture Myth

This official data shows that the public are making relatively few claims and being paid only in deserving cases.

I’ve written about this in the past but it bears repeating as the message doesn’t seem to be getting through: there is no such thing as a compensation culture.

The government, police, and media are wrong in focussing purely on compensation, especially in actions against the police. Why?

Because there’s more to making a claim than getting paid compensation.

Many of my clients want things that cost nothing like:

  • an apology
  • a promise of protection from future police harassment
  • an acknowledgment that the police made mistakes and a promise that they will put things right
  • an assurance that the police will receive training so others don’t suffer.

In short: they want justice.

A recent case of mine proves this point.

Essex Police made an error when they wrongly effected a police warrant at my client’s flat looking for drugs. He was held for 1 hour 20 minutes while they searched his flat and established that he had no drugs on the premises and was not a criminal.

They did not apologise at the time and, to make matters worse, Essex Police officers brought along a journalist from the local newspaper. The press published pictures of the flat door, showing the house number, and an arrested man’s face, which they blurred in the photograph. Anyone reading the paper who knew my client would have been in no doubt that he was a drug dealer, and not a respectable businessman.

My client was understandably upset and complained to Essex Police. He instructed me to make a claim because they ignored his complaint.

I helped him receive £4,000 compensation and costs but, more importantly for my client, he got an apology and offer to publish a retraction in the newspaper.

I suspect that he would not have claimed compensation if the police contacted him on the day of the raid and gave him an immediate apology, published a retraction, and re-assurance that they would not trouble him again. The fact that they did not offer that simple, and free, solution led to his compensation claim and a payment of thousands of pounds in compensation and legal fees.

Misdirection

I’m sure Essex Police were quietly happy that the Freedom of Information request did not also include a demand for details about whether police complaints had been made and/ or resolved before they received the compensation claims. The police have set the agenda so successfully that no one thinks to ask.

By concentrating solely on compensation, the authorities are cleverly pointing the media and unsuspecting public in the wrong direction. They can paint genuine claimants as grasping opportunists to discourage:

  • legitimate claims;
  • criticism of their misconduct; and
  • questions about their methods when confronted with a complaint.

Instead of more nonsense about the “compensation culture”, surely this is issue politicians and media should investigate. The public have a right to know why the police are spending taxpayer money before offering free remedies. But this puts the spotlight back on the police, and they don’t like that one bit.

 

If you want help claiming compensation from the police contact me on 08000 124 209 or complete the form on my firm’s website.

 

 

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