Pounds 173,000 for pregnant officer fired by RAF: Tribunal awards record damages to former servicewoman. Steve Boggan reports

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The Independent Online
A WOMAN whose RAF career was brought to a premature halt because she became pregnant was awarded record damages of pounds 172,912 by an industrial tribunal yesterday.

Nichola Cannock, who served as a senior engineering officer during the Falklands war, has become the latest in a string of former servicewomen granted compensation after pregnancy cost them their jobs. Between 1978 and 1990, 5,500 women were dismissed from the armed forces for becoming pregnant.

Until last month, Mrs Cannock's compensation would have been limited to an pounds 11,000 ceiling, but this was lifted when a former nurse, Helen Marshall, successfully appealed against the limit to the European Court. The court ruled that compensation for unfair dismissal on the grounds of sexual or racial discrimination in Britain, and religious discrimination in Northern Ireland, should not be restricted.

Last night, Mrs Cannock, who now has three children, said she expected the RAF to appeal and so did not plan to spend the award.

'If I had been allowed to stay I would have been promoted and would probably be on twice what I'm earning now,' Mrs Cannock said. 'I think the tribunal made a good effort to see that justice has been done.'

The two-day hearing in Leeds was told that Mrs Cannock, 38, was considered a skilled and competent engineering officer. She was one of a small number of women to hold such a post and was present during the Falklands campaign in 1982, where she worked 12-hour shifts servicing Victor Tanker aircraft.

As part of her career progression, she was about to move to a post servicing Tornado aircraft, the elite of the RAF's strike force, when she disclosed she was pregnant. She told the tribunal that official attitudes changed dramatically after her disclosure and she was forced to retire early. She said: 'I feel bitter. I had a good career ahead of me and felt very frustrated that they were forcing me to terminate it.'

Mrs Cannock said her final report was critical of her and, when she applied to re-join the force six years on, she was rejected. The tribunal was told she had had counselling to deal with unresolved feelings of bitterness and anger. Her dismissal affected her relationship with her children and her husband, Paul, a squadron leader in the force.

Dominic Grieve, representing the RAF Board and the Defence Council, admitted sex discrimination but said Mrs Cannock was only entitled to just over pounds 12,000 in pecuniary losses. However, her claim for damages for injury to feelings, loss of career, earnings, pension rights, resettlement grants and financial interest, was taken into account by the tribunal when assessing the compensation.

In a statement, the RAF said: 'We thought our interpretation of the sex discrimination was legal. We accept it's now been found wrong and we must now compensate people.'

Three days ago, Angela Howell, 35, a former Army captain forced to leave the service when she became pregnant was awarded more than pounds 24,000 by an industrial tribunal.

Last month, Deborah Miller, a former RAF servicewoman from Humberside, also dismissed after becoming pregnant, was awarded pounds 33,000 by a tribunal.