Ex-Army major wins record pounds 300,000 for sex discrimination: MoD likely to contest award to woman forced to leave over pregnancy

A FORMER Army major who was forced to quit her job after she became pregnant won pounds 300,000 compensation yesterday. It was the highest in a series of awards to ex- servicewomen who have been compelled to leave the forces after starting a family.

Helen Homewood, 44, from Edinburgh, is one of thousands of former forces personnel who have won sexual discrimination claims against the Ministry of Defence after the High Court ruled in 1990 that its policy of dismissing pregnant women was unlawful.

The awards, totalling some pounds 10.3m so far, have been challenged by servicemen and MoD civilians maimed in action. They argue that it is wrong to make huge payments to women who knew that their conditions of service precluded pregnancy, while soldiers who have suffered terrible injuries in the line of duty have received much smaller sums after long court battles.

An industrial tribunal in Glasgow heard that Mrs Homewood had been an 'exceptional and devoted' officer, who could have been promoted to the rank of colonel if she had not been forced to resign her commission in 1981 after she became pregnant. The tribunal ruled that she had been discriminated against and awarded her pounds 299,851 damages.

As a major, Mrs Homewood was responsible for enforcing army rules effective from 1978 which, until the ministry was found to be in breach of a European directive outlawing sexual discrimination at work in 1990, compelled pregnant women to leave the service.

'On one occasion she had been faced with the unpleasant task of securing that a fellow officer resign, though the latter was reluctant to do so,' the tribunal chairman said.

Mrs Homewood had 'a life-long ambition' to be a soldier, the tribunal heard. She joined the officer training corps when she was a student at Edinburgh University and became a first lieutenant after graduating in 1972. She married a fellow officer in 1980 and she and her husband discussed what she would do if she became pregnant.

At the time, the tribunal was told, it was widely but wrongly believed that married women with children could not re-enlist.

She turned down a place on an army staff college programme as 'the only honourable course', because she knew that another soldier could not take her place if she became pregnant.

When she resigned she told officers: 'Old-fashioned as it may be, I believe that my family must come first and I do not feel I could do justice to either family or work by attempting to do both.'

Five years after leaving the Army, Mrs Homewood joined the Territorials and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in 1992. Her decision, the tribunal found, 'demonstrated her continuing drive, ambition and love of the forces.'

Mrs Homewood said yesterday that her relief at winning her case was 'tempered by the fact that the Ministry of Defence has every right to appeal and probably will. Until I know the case is finally resolved, I am trying to put my feelings on hold.'

An MoD spokesman said yesterday that officials were 'taking legal advice' about an appeal.

The MoD has already paid compensation to 1,929 of the 4,000 women who have lodged claims for sexual discrimination. The ministry is likely to lose about pounds 50m in all.

Earlier this month the size of the awards was criticised by Adrian Hicks, a Grenadier Guard who, after a long court battle, received pounds 105,000 compensation for the loss of his legs in an exercise in Canada in 1988.

He said that he could see the women's point of view, 'but they were aware of the rules at the time'. He added: 'If the system can fork out for them without a fight, it should fork out for people who are far worse off.'

(Photograph omitted)