Soldier wins damages over abortion warnings

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The Independent Online

A female lance corporal who claimed she was told by senior Army officers to have two abortions or risk being hounded out of the service has been paid £21,500 damages by the Ministry of Defence.

Nina Middlemass, 28, took the MoD to an employment tribunal last May, accusing Army chiefs of sexual discrimination and victimisation. She said she was warned to terminate the pregnancies or risk losing her military career.

Miss Middlemass also told the tribunal how, 10 weeks after giving birth to her daughter, she was made to do gruelling seven-mile runs before being posted to Bosnia as part of the UN peace-keeping force. The former soldier said she was never informed of a maternity leave option, although legislation laying down maternity rights was introduced in August 1990. The lance corporal further claimed she was victimised to the brink of suicide after giving birth to Kara, who is now agead four.

At the time Miss Middlemass said: "I was doing six and seven-mile runs on a regular basis after having my baby just weeks previously.

"I was four stone overweight and it was obvious to anyone that I was unfit. I was struggling, I would fall behind and then I would be left alone to complete the run by myself. Because of the way I kept going over on my ankles I was seriously feeling the strain.

"After I mentioned it to my bosses I was depressed, I was told that I was using post-natal depression as an excuse to get out of the work." On the day she returned to work in June 1995 she was insulted and sworn at by members of staff, she claimed.

Miss Middlemass's claims of sexual discrimination and victimisation were described by her barrister, Paul Cape, as "endemic" in the British Army. He told the hearing: "It is part and parcel of the complaint that victimisation and discrimination are endemic in the Army."

Yesterday, Miss Middlemass, from Ryton, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, said the Army had settled the case. She had received £21,500 as payment for injury to her feelings, had been discharged from the Army on medical grounds and would also receive a pension of £3,000 a year, she said.

"The Army have not admitted they were in the wrong, but I believe the money does that," Miss Middlemass said. "I still feel cheated and angry that I have never been able to clear my name and that my career has been ruined."

The former radio technician was serving with 2 Signals Regiment, based at York, during the time covered by her abortion and harassment claims.

Her great-grandfather Francis Miles was awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War, and a barracks at Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, is named after him. Her grandfather, who was in the Army, was evacuated from Dunkirk, and her father, Carlton, served 22 years in the RAF.

Miss Middlemass said: "I come from a military family, who have served their country proudly. I am angry because I feel the family name has been tarnished even though I was not to blame."

A spokeswoman for the Equal Opportunities Commission, which backed her case, said of the settlement: "Although there hasn't been aruling here, this case and others like it prove that organisations have to be vigilant against discriminatory behaviour. Other cases brought by women in the services have been won after behaviour and attitudes within the forces, as claimedby Nina Middlemass in her case, have been ruled to be discriminatory."

The Ministry of Defence would not comment, other than to confirm that an out-of-court settlement had been reached.