Former soldier wins five-year battle for damages after suffering heatstroke injury
A former soldier who developed a debilitating chronic condition after suffering from heatstroke whilst on exercise in Kenya that has left him unable to work, has finally been awarded £275,000 in damages from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) after a five-year battle for compensation.
Barney Tipping joined the Grenadier Guards in November 2005. In 2006, as soon as he turned 18, he was deployed to Iraq and spent a six month tour in Shaibah Logistics Base, near Basrah. In March 2007, Mr Tipping was taking part in an exercise in Kenya in preparation for a tour of Afghanistan. After marching in extreme heat for several hours, wearing a heavy backpack, Mr Tipping began suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration. His Platoon Sergeant ordered that he remove his shirt and a jerry can of cold water was thrown over him, despite this being against Army guidelines in relation to heat injuries. He went into shock, was transferred by air ambulance to a hospital in Nairobi for treatment and later medevacked home to the UK.
The march was part of a two week pre-deployment exercise that saw Mr Tipping’s platoon marching and undertaking attack exercises against the clock, at the peak of the day in temperatures reaching over 40ºc. This happened on a number of occasions, despite Army guidelines stating that soldiers should remain undercover when temperatures reached this level. At times, the soldiers were living with very limited water supplies and on the day of the exercise in question were not given a briefing on the risks of heat injury. Some 26 other soldiers suffered from heat exhaustion that day.
On Mr Tipping’s return to the UK, he began to experience what he now knows to be symptoms of fibromyalgia, which continued to worsen over a period of months and whilst fighting in Afghanistan. By early 2008, he was experiencing photosensitivity, severe eye pain, double vision, exhaustion and severe joint pain.
His condition continued to deteriorate and he underwent countless medical examinations and tests by Army medical personnel. His condition was neither correctly diagnosed, nor was his account of his now chronic pain believed by certain military personnel. He was accused of exaggerating and medical staff refused him appropriate treatment and care, giving him large amounts medication for conditions that he didn’t have. Army psychologists suggested that he was ‘revelling in the sick role’ and that he was copying his reported injuries from other injured people. No connection was made with the heatstroke he had suffered in order to prevent him from qualifying for compensation under the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme. The callous treatment he received also resulted in the deterioration of his mental health.
Mr Tipping was medically discharged from the Army in October 2009 and now lives in Gloucestershire with his wife and two children. He remains in constant pain, is unable to work and requires considerable help with day-to-day tasks.
Whilst he was in the Army, Mr Tipping was promised that the PAX (soldier’s insurance which is mandatory) would provide a financial entitlement if he was injured and also that a soldier who is medically discharged would receive compensation. He was also assured that housing would be found for him and his young family and that he would be fast-tracked through the NHS. None of these promises proved true – he was refused housing and at one point was weeks away from being made homeless.
After discharge Mr Tipping made a claim to the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS) and he has been fighting a claim for negligence against the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for five years. In both cases the process has been highly traumatic, involving multiple medicals and interviews with rheumatologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists and other medical professionals.
The Army and the now Veterans UK (who deal with AFCS claims) refused to accept that his symptoms were not connected with the heatstroke, nor, initially, that he had fibromyalgia at all (they did later accept this). For four months Mr Tipping and his family were covertly filmed by a private detective employed by the MoD, despite the fact that all of the medical experts agreed that Mr Tipping’s symptoms were genuine and that there was no suggestion that he was exaggerating.
After a long and drawn out civil claim, the MoD finally settled the claim approximately a month prior to a trial commencing, awarding Mr Tipping £275,000 in damages.
Mr Tipping, who is now 27, says: “I loved the Army and always wanted to be a soldier. I was fit and healthy and always rose to any challenge, including the arduous marches we undertook in Kenya. Despite the soaring temperatures I followed orders and pushed my body to the maximum because in the forces that is what you are trained to do. My superiors knew this and should never have put us in that position given the risk we were taking and the Army guidelines relating to heat.
“I expected to have a long career in the Army and after Afghanistan wanted to become one of the Army’s personal trainers, but all that changed after what happened in Kenya. I now live with constant pain and am unable to undertake many basic tasks. I try to live a normal life with my wife and family but my physical limitations and the mental impact of what has happened to me mean that day-to-day life is very difficult.
“I have absolutely no trust in the Army after the way that I was treated and I feel betrayed by an organisation that appears to have done everything in its power to avoid its responsibilities. I have had to fight for years to gain acknowledgement that I have an illness caused by the exercise in Kenya and have had to endure this battle at a time when I have been trying to come to terms with a life changing condition. I still feel incredibly angry about what has happened to me and hope that in the future other injured soldiers will not face the poor treatment that I have. Sadly, with legal aid no longer available in cases like mine, it will be even harder for soldiers to fight against the system and gain redress.”
Jocelyn Cockburn, partner and Lucy Cadd, solicitor at Hodge Jones & Allen, the civil liberties law firm that specialises in actions against state organisations, have been acting for Mr Tipping in the case. Jocelyn has particular expertise in advising in cases where service personnel have been affected by heatstroke and acted for the family of Jason Smith, who died in 2003 whilst serving in Iraq in 50ºc degree heat.
Jocelyn says: “The Army were well aware of the dangers associated with heatstroke, following the death of Jason Smith in Iraq in 2003, and have guidance on avoiding heat injury. This was not followed in Barney’s case and yet it has taken years to get redress, with the MoD attempting to fight the negligence case at every turn. With the deaths of serviceman taking part in SAS selection marches in soaring temperatures in the Brecon Beacons in 2013, it seems that lessons about the seriousness of heat injury have not been heeded. I hope that the Army now examines how it protects soldiers against heat injury and, where servicemen are injured, ensures they receive the financial support they so badly need.”
Lucy says: “Barney has suffered a great deal over the past few years, both in terms of managing an extremely painful and debilitating illness and, in having to fight for his condition and its causes to be recognised by the Army and the MoD. He was subjected to extreme scrutiny, with countless medical consultations and unnecessary covert surveillance of both him and his family. At every step along the way, from his initial symptoms, to settlement of his civil claim, Barney, who joined the Army before his 18th birthday, was treated with disdain and contempt by the institution that he had given everything to.”
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Notes to editors:
About Hodge Jones & Allen
Hodge Jones & Allen LLP was founded in 1977 in Camden and has 200 staff based in Euston NW1. The firm practices personal injury, clinical negligence, civil liberties, military claims, family law, wills and probate, housing, dispute resolution, criminal defence and serious fraud.
The Civil Liberties team at Hodge Jones & Allen is one of the UK’s foremost teams in bringing actions against the police and state authorities. The team has been at the forefront of advancing greater legal protection for our armed forces and in 2013, partner Jocelyn Cockburn won the landmark ‘Snatch Land Rover’ case at the Supreme Court which related to allegations of inadequate and unsafe equipment. The case established that British troops can rely on the protection of the Human Rights Act even when they are deployed on active service abroad.
The firm also has a strong track record of success in securing compensation, independent investigations, apologies or admissions of wrongdoing, as well as policy changes for military personnel.