Servicemen challenge pregnancy payments: MoD change of heart on compensation

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SERVICEMEN and Ministry of Defence civilians maimed in action or in the course of duty have backed the MoD's decision to fight huge claims for compensation by women dismissed from the services after they became pregnant.

The MoD has already paid pounds 8,904,942.75 to dismissed pregnant women but stands to lose hundreds of millions more at a time when it is desperately trying to save money. In 1990, European legislation opened the way for record payments to women who had been dismissed from the forces between 1978 and 1990. Besides the MoD's financial concerns, there is a growing belief that it is wrong to make huge payments to women who knew that their conditions of service forbade them to get pregnant, when people suffering terrible injuries in the course of their duties received less and had to fight for it through the courts.

'Our attitude has changed,' an MoD spokesman said, after an industrial tribunal awarded pounds 150,000 to Debra Colley, a former RAF flight lieutenant last Thursday. 'We are now contesting these awards because, unlike the High Court, which has a complex set of guidelines, an industrial tribunal has none. There is an element of the haphazard.'

There is now no ceiling on payments to women forced to end their service careers and the potential cost to the MoD is vast: 2,000 potential claimants have still not sought compensation, which could reach pounds 250,000 in some cases. Assuming claims varying from near to zero to that level, they could cost the MoD another pounds 200m.

Last Thursday the MoD said that the Treasury Solicitor's department, its lawyer, had begun proceedings to appeal against the record pounds 172,000 award to Linda Channock, a former flight lieutenant and aeronautical engineer who had to leave the RAF in 1984.

On the same day as Ms Cannock received pounds 172,000, Rudi Molinari, an MoD civilian who was considered to have contracted leukaemia while working as a nuclear submarine fitter received pounds 160,000.

Other discrepancies are greater. Adrian Hicks and Sean Povey, of the Grenadier Guards, lost their legs during an exercise in Canada in 1988. Eventually, they were awarded pounds 105,000 each - but only after fighting for it in the courts. Wyn Lewis lost a leg in an IRA attack on a night club in Germany and was awarded pounds 80,000.

Yesterday Mr Hicks said that he could see the women's point of view but that 'they were aware of the rules at the time'.

He went on: 'It's not just the money. It's the way we had to fight for it. If I were in those women's shoes, I'd do the same thing. But if the system can fork out for them it should fork out for people who are far worse off.'

The amounts that industrial tribunals award to ex-servicewomen vary greatly, depending on qualifications. A woman with a master's degree in aeronautical engineering, who could have expected a long, well-paid RAF career, would get the maximum, whereas the lowest payments have been around pounds 900 for unskilled servicewomen leaving near the end of their engagements.

The regulation that pregnant women should be dismissed was in force from 1978 to 1990 and was introduced as women took up more front-line roles, with the express intention of avoiding the creation of orphans. An MoD source said yesterday that it had been introduced with the best of intentions, but had suddenly been found to be 'politically incorrect'.

During that 12-year period, 5,700 women left the services after becoming pregnant. Since the European Court ruling, in 1990, that the dismissals were unlawful, 3,700 claims have been received.