|Secret £1million payout to SAS soldier crippled by US helicopter
By MARK NICOL
21st April 2007
The Ministry of Defence has secretly paid £1million to a wounded SAS soldier in the first case of compensation for injuries sustained on the battlefield during wartime.
After a five-year legal battle, the MoD privately settled the claim made by "Soldier J', who was crushed beneath a United States helicopter in Afghanistan while fighting the Taliban.
By settling out of court, the MoD avoided creating a legal precedent. Soldier J, a 37-year-old former corporal, is also banned from discussing details of the incident.
Defence chiefs had felt reassured that they were protected against claims of battlefield liability by the 1996 Court of Appeal judgment against Royal Artillery gunner Richard Mulcahy, who lost his hearing in the first Gulf War. His case for damages failed on the grounds his employer's duty of care did not extend to the wartime battlefield.
But Soldier J's lawyer, Geraldine McCool, said combat immunity had since been redefined by the Crown's advisers. Her firm, McCool Patterson Hemsi, has 80 cases pending of veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq intending to test the MoD. If successful, they could cost the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds.
Soldier J was injured by a Chinook helicopter which was supposed to transport him and his colleagues to Qalai Janghi fort in northern Afghanistan in 2001 to support a CIA-led operation. Thousands of Taliban prisoners had staged a riot in the fort during which a CIA agent was kicked and beaten to death.
As the helicopter descended through cloud, it landed on top of Soldier J's vehicle. He suffered severe throat, neck and shoulder injuries which ended his Special Forces career.
The MoD stood by its post-incident report which cleared the American air crew and blamed instead the SAS patrol on the ground. But SAS sources described the report as 'a whitewash' designed to dissuade Soldier J from launching a legal claim against the US government.
One soldier said: "You can't blame the guys on the ground in this case. The pilot and crew are responsible for where they land and should be observing through the windscreen, portholes and the lowered tailgate.
"Soldier J was very lucky not to have been killed. The downdraught from the Chinook threw up a huge dust cloud. There was no escape route for the British vehicle. This post-incident report is a joke."
Hereford MP Paul Keetch, a member of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said: "I hope it is not the case that British taxpayers' money has been spent on sparing the embarrassment of US forces. Compensation should be pitched according to the wounds inflicted and not designed to stop a story coming out or to oblige a Coalition partner."
The MoD conceded that there was a discrepancy between the deal offered to Soldier J and the standard payments provided to soldiers under War Disablement Pension rules. A spokesman said: "After an investigation found that British parties were to blame, there was no question of the Ministry of Defence asking the US for money.
"Payouts under the War Disablement Pension scheme are based on the injury, not loss of earnings, so there was a difference in this case."
Well done that man.
- Thomas, Durham
Good - he deserves every penny.
- Ian, Towcester, Northamptonshire UK
£1,000,000 sounds a lot of money, however, it is nothing, especially for a guy who was fit and defending our country. He is now crippled for life, unable to do many of the things that we take for granted, and will require constant care and attention for life. When you consider the payouts to the 'fat cats' of industry, bankers etc... this poor guy has not been given anything like the amount that he truly deserves. I disagree with Labours policies of war in Afghanistan and Iraq but I do appreciate the hard work and determination of the Armed Forces and the SAS.
- Dave, Brussels, Belgium