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Comment: Hello, hello, how much can I claim for this then?; Certain public service workers are losing our trust with their culture of grievance, says Dennis Ellam.

They are meant to be among the most conscientious members of society, men and women with a keen sense of dedication to the job of serving, healing and protecting us.

Instead, they have become pioneers of the newly-emerging "culture of grievance" - their view is that society is there to provide for them, with every penny which a smart lawyer can manage to obtain for them.

Police officers, health service professionals, members of the armed services. An increasing procession of them move through the courts and tribunals, demanding compensation for the stresses and traumas which, so it might have been thought, must form a re gular part of their working days.

Indeed, some of their complaints would be dismissed by most of us as laughingly trivial - if it were not for the outrageous sums which the litigants have been able to collect.

The latest example is that of former detective Laura Dyer, who received a payment of pounds 175,000, awarded to her by the High Court.

Her reason for seeking compensation? She has a ringing noise in her ears.

This discomfort was caused, she successfully claimed, by too high a volume setting on the Metropolitan Police earpiece which she was obliged to wear while on covert operations.

How many who have retired from factories and workbenches with the enduring sound of clattering machinery in their heads must envy Ms Dyer her good fortune?

Certainly, it surpasses the pounds 151,000 which was handed out to WPc Lynne Schofield, earlier this year.

She was able to convince the court that she was stricken with that welnown affliction of the modern times, post-traumatic stress disorder, brought on because she witnessed a colleague firing a gun.

The police, it must be said, are at the very forefront of this stampede for grievance money.

It is estimated that 3,500 officers in England and Wales have lodged their individual claims seeking damages totalling pounds 40million to ease their suffering at work. Their numbers have doubled in less than a decade.

Among them is a former detective constable who wants pounds 150,000 for hurting his back when he slipped on the police station floor - and, perhaps the most brazen claimant of them all, a policewoman who demands pounds 100,000 for strain which was caused , she insists, by the body armour which was meant to protect her from injury.

Little wonder that one eminent former police chief - Lord MacKenzie, an ex-president of the Police Superintendents' Association - felt moved recently to warn that today's officers who were so eagerly cashing in upon the culture of grievance risked bringi ng contempt and ridicule upon the entire service.

And yet the police are not alone in this scramble. The biggest payment ever made for an injury which did not lead to physical illness was awarded to a doctor - who pricked her finger on a needle.

She received pounds 500,000 and insisted upon anonymity, hardly surprisingly since the money which the NHS was obliged to lodge in her bank account might have funded, for example, 115 hip replacement operations.

Meanwhile, from the ranks of the armed forces, Wrens alleging harassment and soldiers complaining of brutalities have successfully argued their cases for compensation.

The latest of them, a former RAF policewoman who resigned after becoming a single mother and then unsuccessfully applied for reinstatement, was granted pounds 80,000 by an industrial tribunal which ruled that she was a victim of sexual discrimination.

All of these individuals, a few from the many who are collecting their legal windfalls, courtesy of this expanding culture of grievance, were in careers which, traditionally, we would have regarded as a step aloof from the rest.

They were carrying out work which, it was always assumed, demanded the highest levels of dedicated skill, a clear sense of responsibility, and the strength of individual character to make sure that the job was carried out to a finish, no matter how adver se the conditions.

Without a doubt, it was the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster which began to change the outlook of those within the service professions, and which inevitably has demeaned them in the public's opinion.

Fourteen police officers received, in all, pounds 1.72million in compensation, for the trauma they allegedly suffered while on duty in the football stadium on that fateful day.

The crucial point in the public mind, of course, is that they were officers on duty.

They were fulfilling the task for which they had been trained, and for which they received their salaried pay.

It is a reasonable assumption - to anyone outside the civil courts, apparently - that a police officer might at some time during his career be called upon to deal with a situation of crisis and danger, perhaps even towards himself.

That is the job which is entrusted to him. That is a part of the service which he is expected to provide to society. Similarly, a health service professional might sensibly anticipate that minor injury could be a consequence of using sharp implements, an d be prepared to accept the consequences; a serving member of HM Forces, meanwhile, might concur that single parenthood is bound to become a handicap in trying to fulfil that service to its fullest requirements.

These have become old-fashioned standards.

Not surprisingly, the legal profession has been keen to see them replaced by the culture of grievance - indeed, will actively promote it, touting for the business of pursuing claims.

A solicitor who is on almost permanent engagement to the Police Federation once boasted to me, without a trace of abashment, that Hillsborough had set the precedent for all kinds of workers who, until now, had "suffered" the more testing aspects of their jobs without any hope of recompense.

So, for instance, an ambulance driver who was called to a particularly nasty traffic accident might subsequently sue for the horrors which he had witnessed? Exactly, was the reply.

There is, of course, a price to be paid.

The carers and the servers should remember that each of their successful compensation claims has to be paid out of the State purse, one way or another.

It might seem an attractive proposition, to grab the public's money; but with each handful, they lose a little more of the public's trust.
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Author:Ellam, Dennis
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 12, 1998
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