Sri Lanka Disaster Assistant Receives Settlement After Police Failed To Protect His Mental Health

Police Trainer Suffers Severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder After Employer Failed To Provide Proper De-Brief

23.06.2014

Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

A former police trainer who suffered severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after working in Sri Lanka following the Tsunami disaster has received a settlement from his employers after they failed to protect him from the mental health risks associated with the deployment.

David Collins, 45, from Consett, Co Durham, was an employee of the National Police Improvement Agency, responsible for training others in forensics, photography and crime scene preparation.

In January 2005, following the tsunami in Sri Lanka, he was sent abroad to assist in the disaster recovery managing a mortuary and the recovery and identification of bodies. But despite working almost non-stop 16-hour days dealing with bodies for six weeks, he was given no de-brief on his return and developed PTSD which had a massive impact on his life eventually forcing him to quit his job.

David instructed specialist workplace illness lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate if more should have been done to protect him. The law firm has now secured him a £400k out-of-court settlement to cover his past and future lost earnings as well as help provide expert support and therapy to help with his recovery.
 
Before he was deployed to Sri Lanka the risk of PTSD had been identified in a risk assessment and there should have been a de-brief to asses workers’ conditions on their return home. However in David’s case, this did not happen and he returned to work and continued training, particularly in disaster victim identification, the area of his recent experience.

His former employers, the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA), admitted that they had breached the duty of care they owed him in failing to refer him to occupational health on his return from Sri Lanka.

During the first two weeks in Sri Lanka David was working with a police team who were not forensically trained so had to do most of the work, photographing and fingerprinting bodies as well as storing them and moving them. He then worked for a further four weeks with more specialist support from the Sri Lanka police force but for the 6 week period he only had 3 days off.

David, who is now receiving therapy to help overcome his PTSD, said: “While I am pleased that I was able to go to Sri Lanka and help support them during the country’s time of need following the Tsunami disaster, the resulting illness I have suffered because of the lack of support from my previous employers has ruined my career and turned my life upside down.

“Nothing prepared me for my time out there. It’s a horrible image but it was like a production line of bodies that we were working on 16 hours a day and while I didn’t realise it at the time, it had a massive impact on me psychologically.

“When I got back I was very obsessively organised and wouldn’t do normal things like watching the news. After a couple of months back in the UK I was told that I would get a de-brief but it never happened and everything just never seemed the same.”

David didn’t realise at the time that he was suffering the effects of dealing with the horrors of his work in Sri Lanka. His experiences led to difficulties with relationships at home and he referred himself to his employer’s occupational health service for help in 2007. He obtained some therapy which helped him to understand that he was suffering from PTSD due to his experiences in Sri Lanka.
 
Due to his illness, he was also experiencing problems at work and eventually went off sick in April 2011, never to return. He has continued to need counselling. He has suffered with severe depression because he could no longer work in the same role and he worried about finances and pressure on his family.

Isobel Lovett, a specialist workplace illness solicitor at Irwin Mitchell’s Newcastle office representing him, said:

David added: “It’s been an horrendous few years but hopefully now Irwin Mitchell has secured the settlement I can continue to receive expert help and begin to move on with my life. I take each day as it comes and try to keep busy. I will never forget my time in Sri Lanka and I am proud that I was able to help in some way; hopefully now I will be able to get my own life back on track.”

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in Work-Related Illness Claims.