Forces face pounds 100m bill for sacking women

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EVIDENCE has emerged that the cost to the taxpayer of the abandoned armed forces policy of sacking pregnant servicewomen could easily top pounds 100m by the time all outstanding legal claims have been met.

The eventual bill, following the dismissals of about 5,500 women over a 12-year period, could be yet higher because of substantial claims for loss of earnings and pension rights.

At a bare minimum, the taxpayer would be likely to have paid out pounds 25m because of the illegal sackings. Steadily mounting legal costs incurred by the Treasury Solicitor's department will also account for many more thousands of pounds of expenditure.

Official figures show that the Ministry of Defence has already paid out pounds 7,822,943 to 1,679 unfair dismissal claimants who were sacked from the services between August 1978, when the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act came into effect, and August 1990, the date Britain dropped the unlawful policy following a European Court of Justice ruling.

Figures supplied by Jeremy Hanley, the armed forces minister, to Eric Martlew, Labour MP for Carlisle, reveal an average award of pounds 4,659.

But a second European ruling, which last autumn outlawed an pounds 11,000 ceiling on industrial tribunal compensation, has already led to compensation in six figures. The ruling also allowed dismissed women to claim interest on their compensation.

The Ministry of Defence disclosed yesterday that at the end of last year, 3,700 more women had applied for compensation.

Taking Mr Hanley's average amount, that would mean an eventual global bill of pounds 25m. But the pounds 4,659 average bears little relationship to recent tribunal awards.

A new record was set on Thursday when Fiona Hadley, a 34-year-old former Wren, collected pounds 170,000 from the Navy after arguing she would have stayed in the service until she was 50. Loss of pension is expected to take her compensation well over pounds 200,000.

Other claims and out-of- court settlements have produced sums of pounds 17,000, pounds 22,000, pounds 33,000, pounds 60,000 and pounds 173,000, depending on the woman's prospects had she not been sacked, and other factors. If all outstanding claims were settled at an average of pounds 33,000, the total bill would be pounds 111m.