Northern Ireland

Police hearing loss: Final compensation bill could be £239m

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionMore than £135m has already been paid out in hearing loss claims

The final bill for settling hearing loss claims by former RUC officers could be almost a quarter of a billion pounds.

More than £135m has already been paid out.

Justice Minister David Ford has revealed that it will cost over £100m to settle outstanding claims during the next five years.

That will bring the total estimated cost to just under £239m.

Legal sources have said they expect significant numbers of new claims will be lodged during the next five-year period.

The RUC knew from the mid-1960s that officers engaged in firearms training should have been provided with proper ear protection, but they were not given industry standard protection until the late 1990s.

Costly mistake

More than 20,000 police officers were believed to have undergone firearms training before adequate ear protection was introduced.

It was a costly mistake.

The BBC revealed in January that up to the end of November last year, more than £135m had been paid out to settle claims by over 8,500 former police officers.

Nearly half of that sum, more than £65m, was for legal fees.

More than 2,000 claims have still to be settled, and Mr Ford has now revealed the estimated cost of doing so over the next five years.

In a written answer to a question from the DUP's Peter Weir, he said the estimated cost of settling claims during the next five years would be:

  • 2014/15 £27,139,680
  • 2015/16 £27,139,680
  • 2016/17 £20,258,520
  • 2017/18 £14,436,000
  • 2018/19 £14,436,000

That will be an additional bill of £103,409,880, on top of more than £135m already paid out.

The justice minister was questioned about the issue in the assembly on Tuesday.

'Operational issue'

Sinn Féin West Tyrone MLA Declan McAleer asked if he was aware "of the growing level of public frustration at the cost of this scheme to the public purse?"

In response, Mr Ford said: "It is an operational issue for the chief constable, it is administered by the PSNI and not by the Department of Justice, and as it is an operational issue, responsibility lies with the chief constable."

The minister pointed out that the first £12m of the cost each year would be funded by his department, with the remainder paid by the treasury at Westminster.

The payments come on top of the Patten redundancy scheme for RUC officers, which cost almost half a billion pounds.

That means the combined bill for compensating officers for hearing loss or early retirement could come to around £750m.

More on this story