Artillery Sergeant Receives £100k After Losing Hearing During Training Exercise

Former Armed Forces Father-Of-Two Looks For First Civilian Job After Being Medically Discharged

13.03.2014

A former soldier who served in the Artillery for 18 years has been forced to end his career early, after suffering from severe hearing damage and is now looking to move on with his life after receiving a six-figure settlement from the MoD.

Sgt Robert Thornton instructed workplace illness experts at Irwin Mitchell after a training exercise in Otterburn involving several 150mm light artillery guns left the 34-year-old with terrible hearing loss and tinnitus in his left ear.

The father-of-two from Lisburn, Northern Ireland was posted to Otterburn in Newcastle during January 2009 on a training exercise before deployment to Afghanistan.

Robert was carrying out fire missions known as ‘danger close’, which let fire support teams experience what it is like to have artillery support when the enemy is encroaching upon their position. 

His duty on this training exercise would be to receive instructions through a personal role radio (PRR) in the left ear, with a set of ear defenders over the top to dampen the noise from the artillery fire.

As a result of the PRR being worn in the left ear, the ear defenders did not form a proper seal around the ear. After a few missions, Robert recalled suffering with ringing, fuzzy hearing and nausea.

Following a tour in Afghanistan, he received a medical and subsequently he was diagnosed with noise induced hearing loss and tinnitus in his left ear.

Due to Robert’s circumstances he was medically advised not to fire guns or go to events that would produce loud noise. After thirteen years of service and doing what he loved the most, Robert was first moved to the logistical sector within the regiment providing supplies to personnel and then in 2011, he began work for the Army Recruitment office in Bristol.

The former soldier was medically discharged in March 2014 following the Ministry of Defence admitting a breach of duty and with the help of law firm Irwin Mitchell he was awarded £100,000 which Robert will use to start a new life for his family as he looks for his first civilian job.

David Johnston-Keay, Workplace injury expert at Irwin Mitchell, said: "This is certainly not an isolated case, as we have represented a number of armed forced personnel after they suffered hearing damage in training exercises due to inadequate protection being provided.

"The MoD has been providing hearing protection for soldiers for many years and there are procedures in place to ensure staff are properly protected. It is unfortunate however those safeguards failed and it is not just the individual’s hearing that is affected as they can be downgraded on medical reasons, ruining their careers.

"This is a career that Robert has lived and breathed all his life. He grew up on the barracks with his family as his father served in the forces and he was enlisted in the army at just 17 years of age.

"Now at the age of 34, Robert feels like he is starting his life again. If he was originally provided with the adequate protection then it would have been possible to complete his 30 years of service.

"Although Robert’s hearing will never be the same again and he has missed out on the rest of the career he loves, we are pleased that we have achieved justice for Robert and the money received will go towards making up for his losses and provide financial help for a new start for his partner and two children."

Following his discharge from the Armed Forces, Robert Thornton said: "Being in the Armed forces is all I have ever known and all I have ever wanted. My dad was in the forces and that is exactly what I wanted to do.

"Being back in civilian life is quite an adjustment and one I wouldn’t have been required to make for a number of years if I had have been provided with the correct hearing protection.

"Now I have sleeping difficulties and I have to play music to drown out the constant ringing in my ears. You take your hearing for granted sometimes but it is a very upsetting and stressful experience when all you can hear is buzzing and having people repeat conversations to you.

"At the age of 34, this isn’t where I expected to be but thanks to the support from Irwin Mitchell I can try and provide for my family and give them the best they deserve."

If you've suffered Hearing Loss due to a Military Training Exercise you might be entitled to claim compensation. See our Military Claims page for more details.