Met warns damages claims will rise by £8m

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The Independent Online

The Metropolitan Police has asked for an extra £8m to meet a huge increase in compensation payments from damages and corruption cases it expects to have to meet next year.

The Metropolitan Police has asked for an extra £8m to meet a huge increase in compensation payments from damages and corruption cases it expects to have to meet next year.

The Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA), the recently created body that oversees the force, says it needs to increase its compensation budget by 28 per cent over this year's record allocation of £28.5m for damages claims.

In a provisional budget application to Ken Livingstone, the Mayor, the authority has attributed the rise to "the anti-corruption strategy and a more general trend of increased litigation and higher awards".

That figure is likely to be trimmed back during intense negotiations over the authority's total budget application for £1.958bn next year involving Mr Livingstone and the Greater London Assembly during the next four months. However, the authority's treasurer, Peter Martin, insisted that the compensation figure was fully justified, sparking off a fresh storm over an alleged "compensation culture" increasingly affecting the public services.

Mr Martin said the figure covered all forms of compensation claims and legal costs, from damage to private property, routine injuries to officers and the more high-profile cases of corruption, deaths in custody or wrongful arrest.

Many payouts resulted from cases dating back five years or more. But New Scotland Yard's CIB3 internal corruption unit has several major cases soon to reach the courts, and the force faces compensation claims from families such as the parents of Stephen Lawrence, whose killers are still at large.

Peter Forrest, leader of Haringey Borough Council's Conservative group, said the sum was nearly half the £18.6m allocated to increasing police numbers in the capital by 850 to 26,550 next year. "This is an enormous sum of money compared to the amount being spent on improving frontline policing," he said.

David Liddington, the Conservatives' home affairs spokesman, added: "It appears that more millions are to be pumped into this country's ever-increasing compensation culture. This will provide cold comfort to those alarmed by the recent rises in violent crime across London."

However, the proposed increase was broadly defended by both the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents 25,000 officers, and groups representing claimants against the police.

Raju Bhatt, a civil rights lawyer, urged the Government and police chiefs to improve police discipline. He said: "If that money went on shoring up discipline and control, and those in management exhibited the will and authority to bring these officers under control, it would be much better spent."

Glen Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said his officers would benefit from being better compensated for injuries at work. He said it was right for the public to be properly reimbursed if their property was damaged during chases or searches. However, it was "almost inevitable" that if tougher anti-corruption policies were needed to restore public confidence, compensation bills would rise. "The MPA are being prudent, and they're right to be prudent. But it does reflect that society is more prone to litigation," he said.

"They're not sweeping anything under the carpet. Getting it right out in the open is the only way to deal with it, which is very laudable. An even greater scandal would be to know we had corruption and do nothing about it."