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'Harassed' female soldier wins damages award

A female soldier who claimed she suffered psychiatric injury because of harassment by colleagues has won £6,983 damages.

Donna Rayment, who had been offered nearly nine times that to settle the case by the Ministry of Defence, immediately said that she would give the whole award to charity - including the war wounded organisation Help for Heroes.

Ms Rayment, 41, alleged that three senior officers wanted to drive her out of the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC), where she held the rank of lance sergeant until she was dismissed in June 2005 while on sick leave for stress.

She claimed at London's High Court that she developed adjustment disorder and depression because of her treatment, and sought damages for her lost employment as the commanding officer's driver.

But Mrs Justice Nicola Davies said that Ms Rayment, of Rose Road, Canvey Island, Essex, was only entitled to £5,000 damages in respect of three events which exacerbated her recurrent depression to a mild to moderate degree for nine months.

These related to a meeting in May 2004 when she was wrongly told she no longer had the driver's job and had to repay a month's salary and the "unfair and unjust" circumstances in which she was issued a final written warning in February 2005 and later discharged.

The judge also made an award of £500 for the distress caused to Ms Rayment by the blown-up framed pornographic photos displayed on the walls of the rest room used by drivers.

The court heard that Ms Rayment, the only permanent female driver, took down the photos, repainted the room, and generally made it a civilised place to sit in, but they were put up again until she complained to the Regimental Sergeant Major.

The judge dismissed Ms Rayment's claim for loss of earnings as she accepted the MoD's argument that she was unsuited to the driver's role and it was highly unlikely that she would have successfully completed her probationary period.

She commented: "There were faults on both sides. The claimant was a challenging employee, those who worked with her were increasingly frustrated by her attitude and conduct, and on occasions this showed.

"In 2003 to 2004, the claimant presented as a woman well able to challenge that which she did not accept and accustomed to military establishments where robust language could be used."

The balance of the award was made up of sums for travel expenses, complementary medical treatment and interest.

After the ruling, Wendy Outhwaite QC for the MoD, which denied negligence and harassment, told the judge that Ms Rayment had turned down a "rather generous" pre-trial offer of £60,000 damages and £125,000 costs to settle the case.

She said that the MoD's costs, up to December, stood at £91,000, while those of Ms Rayment's lawyers, who took the case on a conditional fee agreement, were estimated at £400,000.

Arguing that each side should pay its own legal bill, Ms Outhwaite said that out of 21 allegations of negligence and 42 of harassment, Ms Rayment had succeeded on only four matters.

"The defendant has been put to enormous cost facing this blunderbuss approach", said counsel.

"We say we are the real winner as the MoD successfully defended more than 90% of the claim."

Ms Rayment's counsel, Andrew Hogarth QC, said that the MoD had waited two and a half years before making an offer and Ms Rayment had established that she had been harassed, although she had lost her case on the amount of damages.

During the trial, he had told the court: "Our case is that these three may well be officers, but they certainly do not behave in this matter as though they were gentlemen."

Ms Rayment's solicitors said later that whatever the judge ruled on costs, she would keep her £6,983.

Ms Rayment, the single mother of a profoundly deaf 15-year-old daughter, joined the Territorial Army in 1987 and worked as a civilian employee in the stores of the HAC's London complex before she enlisted as a non-regular permanent staff soldier in April 2004.

She said that she was not disappointed with the outcome.

"I've never done it for money, I've always done it for the justice side. "

She said that she would give all the award to charity - to Help for Heroes and local charities where she lived.