Ex-officer awarded pounds 175,000 after work ruined hearing

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The Independent Online
A FORMER undercover policewoman was awarded pounds 175,792 in damages yesterday because her hearing was impaired when she was "wired up" to a hidden radio.

Laura Dyer, 48, said she was forced to retire early from the Metropolitan Police after getting tinnitus - constant noises in the ears - from having to wear an earpiece. The High Court in London ruled that Mrs Dyer, who worked for four years in the Met's Serious and Organised Crime Squad and the Flying Squad, was exposed for prolonged periods to excessive noise from the receiver.

Costs against the police are understood to be about pounds 100,000.

The award could open the way for similar claims at a time when police forces are having to pay out record compensation. Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, and Sir Paul Condon, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, have both expressed concern at what they believe is a growth of a "compensation culture" in the police service.

Mrs Dyer was medically retired in 1989. As the only woman in her squad, she was frequently asked to carry out undercover surveillance, during which she had to wear the earpiece for up to 12 hours a day. The High Court was told that the receiver had no volume control to allow her to reduce the noise of messages from other officers and sounds created by interference.

Mr Justice Garland said it would have been simple to provide an earpiece with a limited output and an on-off switch.

Mrs Dyer, of Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, had claimed about pounds 500,000 damages on the basis that she would have carried on in the job until completing 30 years' service in 2003. She said she could not go swimming with her 11-year-old daughter because of the enhanced noises in her ears, and travelling on the London Underground was a traumatic experience.

Mrs Dyer, who now works part-time for a firm of estate agents, said after the judgment that she was pleased with the award. Scotland Yard, which denied negligence and breach of duty, was granted a 28-day stay on payment of the damages, pending a possible appeal.

Superintendent Des Parkinson, national secretary of the Police Superintendents' Association, said: "It's worrying that the amount is as high as this, but the law is the law. Police officers have rights ... ultimately there's less money for police activities."

The Home Office has announced a review of the amounts paid to victims of criminal attacks. According to the fixed tariff, someone losing their hearing would be entitled to a minimum of pounds 3,500 if the loss was partial and in one ear, pounds 7,500 in both ears and at least pounds 40,000 for total deafness in both ears. As many as 3,500 officers in England and Wales are reported to be taking legal action for damages totalling as much as pounds 40m.