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Police Constable Turner(Merseyside)

Volume 960: debated on Friday 15 December 1978

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2 p.m.

Before we adjourn for the Christmas Recess, I think that it is appropriate to raise a matter which I believe to be of considerable public interest and great importance. It is a matter that affects the country and the way in which we, as a civilised nation, treat those whose task it is to protect us in everyday life and help to enforce the law.

I refer in particular to the police force, although what I have to say is as relevant to those working in other public services, such as firemen, whose job constantly puts lives at risk. I ask the Minister to see established the principle that those who protect the public should not be penalised if injured in the course of duty when such duty involves danger to their own life.

My principal task this afternoon is to consider the plight of one young policeman, which illustrates the problem well. It concerns ex-police constable Turner, who lives in Liverpool and who was living in my constituency.

In 1974, at the age of 25, after six years in the force, he was on duty in Liverpool, standing on the pavement, when he saw a stolen car being driven towards him, pursued by a police vehicle with a blue flashing light. He was about to throw his truncheon through the windscreen of the car when it swerved and drove right at him, mowing him down. The driver was later arrested, found guilty at the Crown court and sentenced to five years' imprisonment. The driver of the car was a dangerous criminal, and was subsequently convicted of a manslaughter charge involving a 3-year-old boy, resulting in a prison sentence of 15 years.

Ex-police constable Turner was badly injured. He spent 18 months in hospital, but he has made a miraculous recovery. All that he now suffers from is a gammy knee. His police colleagues visited him regularly in hospital. The Merseyside police force did all they could to make his life comfortable, including ensuring that he was kept on full pay for 14 months after the accident.

When ex-police constable Turner left hospital he was medically examined by the force, declared unfit for duty, and discharged from the force. As a result of his discharge, he now receives an annual pension—a pension he will receive for life. His pension from the police and the DHSS works out at about £1,200 per annum. That is little compensation for a young man who risked his life when seeking to apprehend a dangerous criminal. It is little compensation for a young man whose lifelong dream to serve in the police force now lies shattered.

I am told that the police regulations state that, once a policeman is discharged as medically unfit, he cannot be reconsidered for police duties even if the work offered is of a sedentary, clerical or administrative nature. Even if the job is in police headquarters, the kind of work attracts civilian status and not police status, and is paid accordingly.

This is one of the areas which need to be changed. I shall ask the Minister to examine the matter. Surely there should be a duty on the police force, if at all possible, to find a job for the policeman who is injured rather than to allow him to be downgraded to civilian status.

As Turner was anxious to return to work with his police colleagues, after considerable effort—and we should not underestimate how difficult it was for him to get back into the police force—a job was found for him in a civilian capacity. He was employed as a clerk in the criminal record division. From being a police constable, with all the status and prestige which that brought, he suddenly found himself demoted and put in the position of a clerk in local authority employment. But, worse than that, his pay was reduced initially by £2,500. That was bridged by the pension. As police pay increases, it is likely that that gap will also increase.

Ex-police constable Turner has been very much worse off ever since the accident, even though he has worked very hard as a clerk and has been promoted. He has passed a number of examinations which he took to improve his position and pay, and he must be commended.

As a result of promotion, Turner has now moved out of the records office and has little to do with the police force at all. That is an aspect which he very much regrets. He was trained in the force and from the age of 19 to 25 has had six years' experience. He finds it difficult to understand why he cannot be used to advantage in the police force—if not on the beat, certainly in an administrative capacity. He cannot understand why a gammy knee is a reason for his not being reinstated as a police constable. Mr. Turner is quite mobile. He came down by train today and managed to travel by Underground to the House to hear this debate. He can walk round this building, but his knee is not strong enough to enable him to perform the ordinary duties of a police constable.

I am told that there are a number of obstacles. Once a policeman is discharged medically, he cannot work as a policeman again. If he draws his pension, he cannot get a policeman's wage as well. Turner does not want the pension and would be happy to give it up—provided that he can get back into the force as a policeman.

It has been suggested that one of the problems facing Mr. Turner is that it would create a precedent if he were brought back into the force. There are 50 such cases—some worse and some better than Mr. Turner's—in Merseyside alone. This is a national problem because hundreds of policemen are injured every year. If Turner is brought back into the force, it is said that this would create difficulties within the civilian component because the unions may well argue that, when a qualified policeman carries out his civilian job, he is taking a job from another civilian.

There is also the argument that every policeman must be 100 per cent. fit. He must be available for any duties at any time, and if the police force employed policemen who were regarded as medically unfit it would place the public at risk.

I am not suggesting that Mr. Turner should be a police driver or put on traffic patrol, but the Minister must appreciate that there are a great number of jobs which trained policemen who have performed acts of gallantry and been injured in the process could surely undertake without losing money and status. The money consideration could possibly be covered by some form of industrial insurance, and perhaps the Minister will say whether there are plans for improving that arrangement. An important matter which should not be underestimated is the loss of status and also the loss of future opportunity.

Perhaps the Minister will tell the House that she is as concerned as I am about this case. I hope that she will say that she will try to find a way round this bureaucratic rule so that the principle is not defeated. Those whose job it is to defend our society and protect the public should not be discriminated against if they suffer the misfortune of being injured in the course of their duty.

We live in a throw-away society in which in many ways the individual has become less important. The way in which ex-police-constable Turner has been treated, the fact that he was dispensed with that easily, and the fact that it has been necessary to raise this matter in the House highlight the problem. Rules and regulations must help the individual and not militate against him.

I have discussed this matter with the chief constable of Merseyside. He shares my concern for injured policemen, but he is also concerned that his force and others should not be manned by an increasing number of unfit men. He is right to be concerned, and I pay tribute to him for the interest he has taken in this case.

In the analysis, our country owes a debt of gratitude to ex-police constable Turner and others like him. I hope that the Minister will tell the House this afternoon that she will look personally at this case and will consider ways in which the regulations might be changed and improved.

If the Minister is uneasy about imposing a duty on chief constables to reinstate injured policemen, she could at least give them a greater discretion and a directive from the Government that they are concerned that those who embark upon acts of bravery do not get a raw deal. If the Minister cannot do that, she must realise the consequences, because some of those now engaged in public duties which entail risk of life and limb may well take the view that they do not get adequate compensation and do not know that if they are injured they will be properly looked after.

Will the hon. Gentleman say whether the Police Federation has taken up the case of Mr. Turner? Does he not think that that is a line that ought to be pursued?

I am glad to tell the House that the Police Federation has been concerned in this case. The need to bring this matter to the Floor of the House arises because the Police Federation has not been able to override the rule that once a policeman has been discharged he can be brought back into the force only as a a civilian, which necessitates a completely different wage and promotion structure. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing that point to the attention of the House.

The Minister must realise that if she does not say something today about those engaged on public duty which involves risk to life and limb, and cannot tell the House that adequate compensation is available, we may well see a time when very few of our policemen and firemen are prepared to risk their lives in discharging their duty of protecting society.

The case of ex-police constable Turner well illustrates the ease with which our society dismisses acts of gallantry, sheltering, in this case, under bureaucratic rules and seemingly forgetting compassion. The country will be very interested in what the Minister has to say.

2.12 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) for giving the House the opportunity to debate the issues arising from this sad case, which illustrates in a particularly unhappy way the dangers to which all police officers are inevitably subject by the very nature of their job.

I hope that the House will bear with me if I take a little time to give the full background to the case and add to what the hon. Member has said. I think it is important that hon. Members should be aware of all the details of the sympathetic consideration shown to Mr. Turner following his tragic accident. The considerable efforts which the Merseyside police force and the police committee made to look after Mr. Turner's short-term and long-term needs give a good illustration of the care and concern of the police service as a whole for the well- being of those who serve us as police officers.

Mr. Turner joined the then Liverpool and Bootle constabulary as a police constable on 2nd August 1968 and served until 3rd December 1972, when he resigned to take up unemployment outside the police service. On 16th April 1974, he rejoined the police in the Merseyside police force, which had by that time taken over the area previously policed by the Liverpool and Bootle constabulary.

It was only a short time after his reappointment that, in the early hours of 19th June 1974, the accident which eventually ended his career took place. As has been said, Mr. Turner showed the highest sence of duty that we have come to expect of our police officers when, with no thought of his own safety, he attempted to stop a stolen vehicle that was being pursued by a police car. The vehicle was driven at him and knocked him down, causing serious injuries, which necessitated a seven-week stay in hospital. The driver of the stolen vehicle was later arrested, and was sentenced to a total of five years' imprisonment.

During the year that followed the accident, Mr. Turner remained off duty and was examined on a number of occasions by the medical officer. During this time he received full pay and allowances. By the time of the last examination in June 1975, it had become evident that because of the seriousness of his injuries he would never regain the high standard of fitness demanded of all police officers.

At this point I should explain in some detail why chief constables must demand the highest degree of fitness of anyone who wishes to become a police officer. With the increasing use of civilians in the police service on clerical and administrative jobs previously done by police officers, it has been possible over the last few years to employ the skills of police officers on those duties which they alone can do. We have seen the trend moving away from, for example, the village police station manned by a station sergeant and several police constables, moving to systems where, to a large extent, police officers are engaged in work with a more demanding and satisfying operational flavour, and the duties requiring purely clerical and administrative skills are carried out by civilian workers.

It is true that some police officers are still engaged in jobs which do not require a great deal of demanding physical activity, but it is important to remember that every police officer is expected to, and, indeed, must be prepared to, carry out any of the duties of the job whenever circumstances make it necessary. It is possible to accept that an officer who is temporarily below the standard of fitness required could be employed in a post involving only a limited variety of duties, but it would be wrong to retain on that work an officer who was never likely to be able to carry out the full duties of a constable.

It is not difficult to envisage a situation —in fact, we have had two very good illustrations within the last week—in which the safety, perhaps even the lives, of a police officer, the officer's colleagues and members of the public depend on his reactions to the set of circumstances in which he finds himself. I refer for convenience to a male officer, but in the modern police force it is quite likely that a female officer may find herself in the same situation.

It is one of the more regrettable aspects of the age in which we live that the modern-day criminal is sufficiently sophisticated and ruthless to recognise and capitalise upon any weakness that he may spot in anyone who stands between him and his freedom. To place an officer who is not totally fit in a situation in which his own or other lives could depend upon the speed of his physical reactions would be a risk which no chief constable would be right in taking. For these reasons the chief constable of Merseyside had to accept that Mr. Turner was regrettably unlikely to be able to recover the standard of fitness necessary.

Mr. Turner was therefore seen in July 1975 by the assistant chief constable of the force responsible for personnel matters and the medical opinion concerning his case was explained to him as sympathetically as possible. In addition, various aspects of his future were discussed in detail, both on this occasion and on a number of subsequent occasions when the force welfare officer visited him.

The Merseyside police committee met on 29th July 1975, shortly after Mr. Turner's interview with the assistant chief constable, and, in accepting the medical officer's recommendation, set Mr. Turner's retirement date for 27th October to allow him plenty of time to seek a new career before his retirement.

The Minister has somewhat glossed over the point that I was trying to make. Accepting that more jobs of a clerical and administrative nature are being done by civilians, and accepting that the police on the beat have to be 100 per cent. fit, does she not agree that there needs to be the one exception, that where policemen are injured in acts of gallantry of this kind they should be reinstated in the kind of jobs that are now being done by civilians, but as part of the police force?

That is what is really being argued in these special cases, because they are so very few. The number of very young men injured in this way must be comparatively few. I understand that probably a great number of policemen are injured in the course of their duties throughout the country, but I ask the Minister to appreciate that this kind of case is slightly different. That has not been quite apprehended by her in her answer so far.

I see that the hon. Member wants an exception made to the general rule. He accepts the logic of the general rule, but he wants that rule to be put aside in the very few cases such as this.

I was going to say at the end that I shall ask my right hon. Friend to consider the very point that the hon. Member has made, which I think he was implying would require action from the Minister if any change were to be made. It would obviously require the acceptance of chief constables. I am not sure of the exact effect that it would have, but I shall draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the hon. Member's speech, with that point in mind.

Mr. Turner had initially wished to explore the possibility of a career unconnected with the police service. His efforts in this direction did not bear fruit, and after he contacted the force, its senior civilian member offered to help him in finding a job as a civilian in an area connected with police work. At this time a post as a clerical officer grade II was available in the Merseyside criminal records office. In agreement with the National Association of Local Government Officers, posts at this level must normally be advertised, and this was done. When the senior civilian representative of the Merseyside police discussed the details of Mr. Turner's case with them, NALGO representatives agreed that in view of the exceptional circumstances of the case Mr. Turner could be employed in this higher grade without application in the normal way. Mr. Turner took up his post in the Merseyside criminal records office on 27th October, that is, on the day that his service as a police officer ended, and worked on duties in this job, in which the experience he had gained while he was a police officer was of great use.

I think it would be helpful if I were to explain in some detail the philosophy behind the award of police pensions to officers such as Mr. Turner who have been obliged to retire on medical grounds.

The police pensions regulations provide that where a regular policeman is found to be permanently disabled for the performance of his duty he may be required to retire on a date determined by the police authority. He will receive the ill-health pension granted to officers who are required to retire on this ground. In addition, if his disablement has been caused by an injury received on duty, he receives an injury pension supplemented by a lump sum. He may commute up to one-quarter of the ill-health pension for an additional lump sum.

Perhaps I may give some information concerning Mr. Turner's situation. Police pensions are governed by the police pensions regulations which are made by the Home Secretary after consultation with the Police Council on which local authorities and staff associations are represented. Any award under the regulations is a matter entirely for the police authority concerned and the Home Secretary has no authority to intervene. His only function in the matter of a medical discharge is to appoint a medical referee to decide an appeal, when one is made, either against discharge or, in the case of an injury, against the degree of disability as assessed by the police surgeon.

Mr. Turner has not appealed against discharge or against the degree of his disability, which has been assessed at 40 per cent.

We have checked with the police authority that Mr. Turner's award has been correctly based. He receives an ill-health pension and an injury pension, which have been increased annually since award. In addition he receives a national insurance disablement pension and a special hardship allowance. On retirement he also received two lum sum payments under the police pensions regulations. One was an injury gratuity and the other was part of his ill-health pension. He has also received an award from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.

A police pension is not reduced on account of any pay received from civilian employment. The combination of Mr. Turner's salary in his new civilian post and the pension received from the police service meant that Mr. Turner suffered no loss of salary because of his changed circumstances.

I must challenge that statement, because according to the former police constable he has lost financially. That is a point that I should like to press upon the Minister. He has not only lost financially—although he has been very well looked after ; he is not complaining —he will lose more and more as the opportunities that would have been open to him as a policeman no longer exist for him in the future. One cannot compensate for that. That is why it is being argued that if the man was brought into the police service in some capacity, at least he would have the status, if not the finance. If he were a police constable he could rise to the heights at the top of the police service. If he is going to be incapacitated by his injured knee, he is unlikely to rise very high, but at least he would have the status of a police officer. That is a point which should not be passed over, because of the financial aspects. It is a question of the status as well as the finance.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the financial aspects as I have, but I have not gone into figures, notwithstanding the fact that I have before me a very full set of figures. I have not specifically mentioned them, partly because this is a public debate and partly because the matter is very complicated. However, I shall certainly send the hon. Gentleman figures to support the point I made that Mr. Turner suffered no loss of salary because of his changed circumstances.

However, now the hon. Gentleman is mentioning the other point about status. All civilians in posts connected with the police service are employed by the police authority or by the local council and there are opportunities for all police civilians to gain promotion within the local government service. The senior civilian in the Merseyside police had interested Mr. Turner in the career prospects in local government and arranged for him to take a correspondence course in the subject. I understand that Mr. Turner has recently been promoted and has taken up another post within the local government service.

I hope that I have shown that the financial arrangements that the police service makes for those of its officers who are unfortunate enough to have to retire on account of injury on duty are very fair. There is obviously nothing which can adequately compensate for Mr. Turner's lost career, as the hon. Gentleman is emphasising. I hope, however, that the hon. Member will agree that the care and sympathetic consideration shown by the police service for officers injured in the course of duty stands well in comparison with any other profession or industry.