Maimed soldier bitter over MoD double standard

A British peacekeeper who lost a leg is denied compensation, while a Kosovar shot by Paras gets legal aid to sue the Ministry of Defence
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The Independent Online

An Albanian Kosovar wounded by UK peace-keepers in Pristina has been awarded legal aid to sue the Ministry of Defence for thousands of pounds, while a British soldier who was maimed in Bosnia has been denied even a penny in compensation.

Muhamed Bici, 24, lost most of his lower jaw when he was shot last July by British Paratroopers as he and his friends were celebrating Republic Day in the Kosovo capital, Pristina, a month after the province was liberated by Nato troops.

Sergeant Trevor Walker, 34, had his leg amputated after being seriously injured in May 1995 when a Serbian tank opened fire on a school which was being used by British troops as an observation post.

Last week the House of Lords expressed sympathy for Sgt Walker, a father of two, but ruled he had no right to any compensation. The ruling was made as it emerged that the Government is planning to fund Mr Bici's claim against the MoD.

The decisions have provoked a bitter response from Sgt Walker, who lost his right leg from above the knee. "I lost my leg for nothing," he said yesterday. "It's a double standard. It just highlights that the MoD is not taking care of its staff."

Sgt Walker's solicitor, Richard Stein, a partner at Leigh Day & Co, said the contrast between the two cases was "bizarre". "It's a shame the MoD doesn't remember the old adage that charity begins at home," he said. "They are keen, when they're recruiting, to talk about camaraderie but, somehow, once someone's damaged they're not interested any more."

Sgt Walker was fighting his case in the House of Lords last week when MrBici's solicitor, Jane Horton, revealed to the Independent on Sunday that her client would be claiming damages for "physical and psychological pain and suffering" from the MoD for the incident, in which two of his friends were killed. Mr Bici's cousin, who claims he suffered psychological trauma after witnessing the deaths, also plans to sue. "I don't think you ever get over something like this," Ms Horton said. "I would be surprised if they will ever put this behind them."

Mr Bici lost most of his lower jaw when he was shot last July by British paratroopers as he and his friends celebrated Republic Day in the Kosovo capital by "happy firing" their weapons into the air from a car.

The incident, in which Fahri Bici and Avni Dudi, members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, were killed, is the subject of an investigation by the Special Investigations Bureau, the Royal Military Police's equivalent of the CID. Although the extensive inquiries are known to be reaching a conclusion, no decision has been made about whether to hold court martial.

After the shooting, Mr Bici was brought to Britain for surgery. A hasty repair job performed in Pristina had become badly infected, and specialists at Leeds General Infirmary had to rebuild his face. Maxillofacial surgeons used bone grafts from his hip and skin grafts rom his wrist to make a new jaw while part of his tongue was used to create a new lower lip. Doctors did not initially expect him to survive.

Mr Bici now lives with his family on a Leeds council estate on support paid by the local authority. Despite the surgery he will be scarred for life.

Sgt Walker was also close to death and required 13 operations. A Royal Engineer, he was helping to build roads for aid convoys when the Serb tank opened fire on Maglaj School, where his UN team had its headquarters. Under the rules of engagement, the British soldiers were not allowed to shoot at the tank first. "You couldn't fire at it because you'd be done for murder," he said.

The Law Lords expressed sympathy for Sgt Walker, but in a 4-1 decision rejected his claim that the MoD had acted "unfairly and perversely" in denying him compensation. The case revolved around whether the tank was acting in a military or criminal capacity. British soldiers are not eligible for payments under the Criminal Injuries (Overseas) Scheme if their injuries result from war operations or military activity by warring factions. Sgt Walker argued that UN peace-keepers perform a policing role so attacks against them are criminal.

The Royal British Legion, which has funded Sgt Walker's legal battle, is considering options for pursuing the case.