Police officers sue over Dunblane

TWO WOMEN police constables who claim they received just one hour of counselling following the Dunblane massacre are suing their force for pounds 800,000, it emerged yesterday.

It was also disclosed that about pounds 3m in damages had already been paid in compensation to 139 people who had been affected by the tragedy.

The two women, one of whom has retired on medical grounds while the other is off on long-term sick leave, say that they suffered psychological problems as a result of the 1996 killings, in which 16 children and their teacher where shot dead by Thomas Hamilton in the small Scottish town.

The women, aged 26 and 30, of Central Scotland Police, say that they were sent to Dunblane school shortly after Hamilton struck. One of them guarded the school gate, meeting distressed parents. Both women eventually went into the gym, where the dead and injured were lying, and were later involved in assisting families of the children.

The officers, who have not been named, are each suing for pounds 400,000, claiming that the force failed to provide them with adequate counselling to help them overcome the trauma that they suffered. Proceedings have been commenced against Chief Constable William Wilson. It is alleged that Mr Wilson was negligent in not providing a critical incident stress debriefing.

The solicitor representing the two officers, Ian Watson, said: "We take the view that the stress counselling received by both officers was totally inadequate."

He added that he feared both their careers could be ruined by the psychological effects of the trauma.

The case is believed to be the first action by a police officer against his or her force in relation to Dunblane.

In December, the House of Lords ruled that four police officers who had suffered severe mental trauma as a result of treating dying fans on the pitch at the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster were not entitled to compensation.

In a majority decision, the Law Lords overturned a Court of Appeal decision in 1996 that the officers should receive damages after being exposed, by the admitted negligence of South Yorkshire Police, to "excessively horrific events such as were likely to cause psychiatric illness even in a police officer".

Yesterday's legal action follows a row earlier in the week about the level of compensation paid to the Dunblane victims' families.

Christine McSkimming, the grandmother and legal guardian of a schoolgirl who was shot twice in the incident, described a pounds 4,500 pay-out she had received from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority as a "slap in the face".

Her granddaughter, Aimie Adam, now eight, suffered a damaged sciatic nerve and a shattered foot.

The authority has dealt with 203 applications for compensation so far, rejecting 64 and paying out about pounds 3m to 139 claimants. A further 111 cases have yet to be dealt with.

A spokesman for Victim Support Scotland said that the needs of the injured and the victim's families should be addressed before those of professionals who had served at the scene of the massacre.

"In a sense, the issue is that they [the two WPCs] can do whatever they want and can sue whomever they want," he said.

"But if they were to get that money, we would perceive that as being a little unfair... I am aware that there is a certain amount of disquiet at the levels of those awards in the Dunblane community."