Monday, March 13, 2006

NSW Polcie Should Settle Out Of Court

NSW, AU -- MARK COLVIN: The New South Wales Police Force has been accused of wasting millions of dollars by fighting compensation claims, by officers who've been physically or psychologically damaged in the line of duty.

It's been revealed that in a number of cases former police officers had offered to settle for less than $150,000 but ended up with payouts of three quarters of a million dollars, after the force insisted on going to court.

The Police Union says the way the claims are handled by the force's legal unit is "dysfunctional", and that the process only causes further injury to officers seeking compensation for negligence.

The allegations have prompted an external review of the force's legal services unit.

Jean Kennedy compiled this report for PM.

BOB RIDLEY: I had a total nervous breakdown in '98, and went into a state of depression and had a suicidal tendency, and I basically gave up on life.

JEAN KENNEDY: Bob Ridley was a former undercover officer with the New South Wales Police Service.

He worked for four years as a senior constable in the police service's most secretive squad, the special forces unit known as the stingers, and assumed a range of different identities posing as both a drug dealer and buyer for crime gangs.

He infiltrated bikie gangs and the Russian mafia, and to both fit in and cope with the danger, he drank to excess and took speed and cocaine, among other drugs.

But Bob Ridley says that when the job was done, he was left with an addiction but little support in picking up the pieces.

BOB RIDLEY: The biggest mental struggle I had was trying to find my feet being a policeman again after being a crook for four years, you know, purporting to be a drug dealer and running around living that sort of lifestyle.

JEAN KENNEDY: He sought compensation from the police force for negligence. They knocked back an offer of $100,000 forcing him to pursue a civil claim through the courts, which he ended up winning, and was awarded $ 750,000 plus court costs.

The police union says there are many such examples, where the police force's legal unit appears intent on dragging out cases and pushing them into the courts, at taxpayer's expense.

Peter Remfrey is the Police Association Secretary.

PETER REMFREY: Well we think the whole system for handling of these claims is dysfunctional, and part of the reason for that is that, there are so many different people, and so many different agencies that are involved in the system, that it makes it impossible for sensible decisions to be made when there's offers of settlement on the table.

JEAN KENNEDY: What sort of cases are having to go before the courts because they're not accepting settlement?

PETER REMFREY: The cases that have got the real problems around them are people who have been severely injured at work, who might have psychological claims, people who are working in crime scene for example, and are suing New South Wales Police for negligence.

They make offers of a small amount of settlement and unfortunately the system is forcing them to go through a court process, that asks them to repeat and relive the very things that it is, that damaged them. In our view forcing someone through such a system, who is already damaged, is criminal.

JEAN KENNEDY: The New South Wales Police Minister, Carl Scully.

CARL SCULLY: Well, I've had a number of complaints brought to my attention by serving and former police officers and lawyers, about the way claims are being managed. Not police prosecutors by the way, but the civil law claims, and I thought that those claims needed to be tested and that's why I've ordered an external review.

JEAN KENNEDY: How concerned are you about these cases where officers have been prepared to settle for around $150,000 or less, but end up going to court, being forced to go to court and getting $750,000 awarded to them?

CARL SCULLY: I'm very concerned about those allegations that have been made. I need to have them tested.

It's one thing for people to make informal approaches, it's quite another to put formal offers into the court documents. And I'd be quite concerned if the offer had been formalised by the plaintiffs' lawyers, and not seriously considered by Police legal when the consequence is taxpayers end up paying a lot more money than they necessarily should have.

JEAN KENNEDY: In Bob Ridley's case, after the court awarded him $750,000 the case was appealed against by the police force, but after four months it thought better of it, and dropped the matter. He says the way the force handled his compensation claim was disgraceful.

BOB RIDLEY: It's just fight them until they either die, or they lose interest, or they run out of money.

JEAN KENNEDY: So they made it very hard for you?

BOB RIDLEY: Most definitely. In fact, I probably got as much stress from that, than I did doing undercover work.

JEAN KENNEDY: Did you feel a sense of satisfaction that you ended up getting such a big amount rewarded to you, when you had been prepared to settle for so little?

BOB RIDLEY: Just relief, just relief that it was all over. I felt vindicated, that I had done nothing wrong myself, and that I was the loyal one to the Police Service, and a committed police officer, who tried his hardest to do the right thing and got shafted in the mean time.

MARK COLVIN: Former undercover police officer, Bob Ridley, ending Jean Kennedy's report.



Post a Comment

<< Home