British families of New York victims may be compensated for trauma

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The Independent Online

British families who watched their relatives die during live television coverage of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre may receive compensation for the trauma they suffered.

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), which normally compensates people who witness in person a relative killed or injured in Britain, has taken the unprecedented decision that people who watched coverage of the 11 September attacks should be eligible for payments.

The CICA, which was set up to administer compensation in the UK to victims of violent crimes, decided families of the victims would be treated as witnesses to the attacks. Those eligible will receive payouts of between £1,000 and £500,000, although the average level will be an estimated £20,000. This will rise if the claimant can prove they have suffered long-term psychological damage.

Edward McKeown, the deputy chief executive of the compensation authority, said that changes in communication technology such as the introduction of live news channels gave an immediacy that meant people who saw the incident in the United Kingdom might meet the criteria that they "are present and witness it."

He added that the events of 11 September provided an "exceptional example" of circumstances which for the first time are more likely than any to give rise to eligibility.

"There is no doubt someone could have seen the second plane crashing into a building where a loved one was working or have seen the towers collapse" Mr McKeown told The Sunday Telegraph.

"The victim may even have telephoned them before the collapse. All these circumstances suggest this is the kind of situation which would for the first time suggest the loved one fulfilled the criteria."

If the compensation scheme is sanctioned, it is likely to set a precedent that will enable a person who has watched live coverage of the death of a relative to claim compensation from the authority.

Initial estimates put the number of Britons thought to have died in the World Trade Centre attacks at several hundred although the death toll has since been revised to between 50 and 100. Payments from the CICA can be claimed in addition to compensation made to families by the US authorities.

The New York Criminal Injuries Board has confirmed that it will pay compensation to those who lost relatives in the attacks. But legal experts have voiced concerns that some will be denied significant official compensation under the stringent conditions of the US system. Survivors' relatives may be subjected to a means test to check for other sources of income, including social security entitlements and life insurance policies.

The proposal was welcomed by Norman Thompson, a former police coroner from Sheffield who lost his son, Nigel, in the attack. Mr Thompson, who watched live television footage of the collapse of the North Tower, where Nigel worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, said the scheme recognised the "pain of watching".

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