Pregnancy sackings cost MoD pounds 58m

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The Independent Online
COMPENSATION AWARDS to servicewomen who sued the Armed Forces after they were dismissed for becoming pregnant have cost the taxpayer pounds 58m.

More than 5,000 women have been given compensation, paid over several years. One former officer was awarded pounds 455,000.

The list of payments for all cases, including bullying and training accidents as well as pregnancy, totalled pounds 70m last year. The figures were revealed in a report compiled by the Ministry of Defence, which warned that the Services must change their ways or face more claims on an already overstretched budget.

The report also warned that bullying, horseplay and recklessness in training must be stamped out amid fears that the number of claims could increase. Last year two soldiers were awarded pounds 1.7m after suffering serious injuries during training exercises. Both accidents were said to have been caused by Army negligence.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said the report was compiled in an effort to be more open, and would help to identify where management techniques could be improved and thus reduce the number of compensation claims.

But the figures so far could be dwarfed by claims that are still waiting to be heard. Large numbers of racial and sexual harassment cases are expected in the next 12 months. One solicitor has 60 cases pending.

The rules governing pregnant women, who were compensated under European law, have been changed and they are now allowed maternity leave. But other, equally expensive cases have taken their place.

The MoD may have to pay out pounds 100m to homosexuals who were forced to leave the Services. Campaigners are to start a legal battle next year claiming that intimate, and sometimes brutal, interrogations about their sexuality amounted to sexual harassment.

Others are pressing for damages for hundreds of alleged victims of Gulf War Syndrome and veterans who claim that exposure to nuclear and chemical weapons tests as far back as the 1950s gave them cancer.

Last year the MoD settled 8,300 claims, ranging from complaints of bullying to training accidents at a total cost of pounds 70.2m. In 1994-95 the total cost of compensation payments was pounds 50.9m. The report lists the compensation bill since the Armed Forces lost their Crown immunity from such claims in 1987.

The senior official who wrote the report said the military needed to modernise its traditional attitudes or face exposure to even higher liabilities.

A black Marine who was "crucified" by racists is currently appealing in a long- running damages claim which, the report said, had the potential to be "expensive".

"It is imperative that all forms of racially motivated abuse in the Armed Forces are eradicated," it said.