Media mistaken over hearing award

Lawyers for ex-policewoman Laura Dyer say the hearing damage she suffered was not a 'risk of the job'. Roger Pearson reports.

The AWARD of #175,000 made to the former undercover detective who sued the Metropolitan Police over her damaged hearing has been widely misunderstood by the media, according to her lawyers.

The High Court awarded the money to 48-year-old Laura Dyer of Bishop's Stortford after she claimed the use of covert surveillance equipment had caused her injury.

Many newspapers have focused on this case and similar claims over injuries sustained during police work.

But Lawford & Co partner Mike Watson, who represented Dyer, says the media has largely missed the distinction between the inherent dangers of the job and avoidable dangers.

He concedes that if a police officer was attacked and injured by a criminal they had pursued then that would go with the territory of their job and would not be a cause of action against their bosses.

But he says it is different if an officer suffers injury – as in Dyer's case – through excessive noise from surveillance equipment or, as in two other recently-settled cases, through slipping on a wet canteen floor or being thrown from a horse known to be skittish.

Police officers, nurses, fire fighters and armed forces members may have to accept certain risks. But they also have a right to be protected and employers have an obligation to protect them from avoidable dangers, says Watson.

Watson says the Dyer case will bring home to the police and others the obligation to protect employees – mostly because of the substantial sum awarded.

Dyer was forced to retire early because of the tinnitus she developed after using an ear-piece during covert surveillance.

The police contested her claim but Mr Justice Garland ruled the tinnitus was caused by exposure to excessive noise levels for substantial periods during her four years of surveillance work.

He said the police had, by the end of 1986, rather belatedly caught up with current standards governing this sort of surveillance equipment.

But he said: "They should have had the code of practice well in mind many years earlier. Had the police addressed the problem of noise exposure, it would have been comparatively simple to provide an earpiece with a limited output and, if necessary, an on-off switch. I therefore conclude that there was a duty of care and a breach."

In a statement following the decision, Lawford & Co said: "We hope this will persuade the Metropolitan Police to be less cavalier about protecting other police officers in the front line in the fight against crime."

Watson says: "This case is a warning to the police and others like them that they must take care of their work force in the same way that other employers do."

He says this is the second such case his firm has been involved in and he knows of others in the pipeline.

In response to media criticism of the award, he says: "What happened to Mrs Dyer was not an inherent risk that went with the job but an avoidable one and as such she is entitled to damages in the same way that anyone else in any other sector would be."