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PI and Civil Litigation

Law - practice - procedure

03 MAR 2015

AB v Chief Constable of X Constabulary [2015] EWHC 13 (QB)

AB v Chief Constable of X Constabulary [2015] EWHC 13 (QB)
Police – psychiatric harm – ex turpi causa

 High Court, Queen’s Bench Division: Males J

8 January 2015

 The claimant sought damages for psychiatric injury in the form of an adjustment disorder. He argued that this arose from a breach of duty owed to him by the Chief Constable, who accepted vicarious liability for the acts and omissions of the collaborative police unit, where the claimant worked. During this period the claimant’s misuse of cocaine came to light, which meant that he was no longer able to continue in this role. The court determined that the claimant’s disorder had resulted from the loss of status and identity which occurred after the misconduct came to light. Judgment was entered for the defendant.

 The claimant worked as an undercover officer tasked with gathering intelligence in relation to a serious organised criminal group. The claimant was found to be misusing cocaine and was offered alternative employment within the police. He applied for ill-health retirement, which was granted by the medical appeal board.

 The claimant argued that the defendant had breached his duty of care for failing to provide appropriate support, and that this had resulted in his adjustment disorder. The defendant contended that any psychiatric harm was attributable to the claimant’s own misconduct.

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The parties sought an order under CPR 39.2 that the trial should be heard in private, and the court agreed that the lives of a significant number of witnesses would be at risk if their involvement in undercover work became public.

The court found that there was no objective evidence of any symptoms, indicating an adjustment disorder, prior to the claimant being confronted with his misconduct.

The court accepted the defendant’s submission that the principle of ex turpi causa non oritur actio would apply. The claim was therefore barred on the basis that it was not possible for him to recover damages which were the consequence of his own criminal acts. In any event it was concluded that no breach by the defendant could be established.

In his judgment Justice Males concluded by saying that it had not been in the claimant’s interests to bring this claim, and that all the experts had agreed that the stress of litigation was likely to have obstructed his recovery. This is a reminder that in cases of psychiatric injury it is important to consider the potential for further harm and weigh this up against the likelihood that a successful claim can be made out.

Summarised by Adam Dyl & Hannah Swarbrick, Anthony Gold Solicitors