Northern Ireland

Car crime victims 'financially penalised' by police claims

crashed car
Image caption Owners that have had cars stolen are being financially penalised

The owners of stolen cars are being sued by some police officers in Northern Ireland who were injured when chasing car thieves.

It is understood civil claims have been made against the car owners, even though they were not involved in the thefts or crashes.

The officers are claiming for injuries sustained when stopping the cars.

The owner's no-claims bonus can be affected and their car insurance premiums can increase as a result.

Bill Rooney is one of those affected. He had his car stolen from his north Belfast home last July.

He was still awake in the early hours of the morning when he heard his car being driven away from his house.

After a police chase, two men were arrested and his car was so badly damaged that it was written off.

'Private matter'

He had arranged a new car through his insurance and believed the matter to be closed until he received an unexpected letter.

"I received a letter from a solicitor saying he was suing me for personal injuries on behalf of his client... and I later found out this client was a police officer who had been hurt when retrieving my car," he said.

"I was very angry and disheartened by the fact that a police officer was suing a victim.

"I'd already had my house broken into, I'd had my car stolen and I had had to replace it.

"I did feel sorry for the police officer if he was hurt doing his job but I felt that he should be insured in his own place of work."

Mr Rooney's case has not yet been settled and he believes the police officer is prepared to take it to court.

The BBC has been unable to discover how many claims individual police officers have pursued or how much money they have received.

In a response to a Freedom of Information request, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said they did not have a record of such claims.

"The PSNI would not hold any information in relation to police officers making a compensation claim against the owner of a stolen vehicle," they said.

"This would be a private matter between the officer and the solicitor and the information would not be recorded or required by police.

"Neither are they required to inform PSNI of their intention to pursue a claim."

'Carry the burden'

Stormont's justice committee, where the matter was first raised, also requested information from the PSNI.

In a letter, Supt Ryan Henderson said victims of car crime may or may not be penalised depending on their insurer and the terms of their policy.

He said that police officers, like any individual, could decide to pursue a claim through the Motor Insurers' Bureau (MIB) if they were in a crash where the driver of the other vehicle was at fault and could not be traced or was not insured.

Image caption Bill Rooney has received a claim after his car was stolen last July

"When claims against the MIB are settled, the MIB can seek to recover the cost incurred from the actual party at fault, i.e. the person who stole and was driving the vehicle," he said.

"In reality this probably seldom happens as car thieves do not generally have the financial assets to repay what MIB have had to pay out in damages and costs.

"It is a matter between the person who insures the vehicle and the insurance company as to whether or not in the event of their vehicle being stolen and involved in a collision, the insurance company will treat that incident as a claim under their policy."

SDLP MLA Alban Maginness, who brought the matter to the attention of the justice committee, said two of his North Belfast constituents had received claims.

"Here are cases where victims of crime are actually penalised financially as a result of the act of criminals," he said.

"It seems to them and me to be totally unjust and quite unfair that they have to carry the burden of the criminal's actions."