The government will this week launch an attempt to deny soldiers crippled in battle full compensation for their injuries.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) will go to the Court of Appeal on Tuesday to try to slash the compensation awarded to two injured soldiers by up to 70%. If the government wins, it will fuel the mounting disquiet over the relatively paltry payments some soldiers are receiving for lifelong injuries.
The legal action comes as British troops are suffering their heaviest casualties since the beginning of the conflict in Afghanistan in 2001.
Yesterday a soldier from the 40th Regiment Royal Artillery became the 20th to die this month, and the 189th overall, when he was killed in an explosion in Lashkar Gah in Helmand province.
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It also emerged this weekend that the new commander of a platoon that had lost five men in a Taliban bomb attack earlier this month has himself been badly wounded in an explosion. Second Lieutenant James Amoore, 2nd Battalion the Rifles, stepped on an improvised explosive device last Sunday.
The 24-year-old officer had just replaced his predecessor, who had been seriously wounded in a similar explosion that killed five soldiers. Both officers are receiving critical care at the Selly Oak hospital in Birmingham.
The rising number of casualties has attracted attention to deficiencies in the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme, which was introduced in 2005. Last week Sir John Major, the former Conservative prime minister, said the nation was not meeting its “obligations” to injured servicemen.
Compensation payouts to soldiers are routinely dwarfed by those awarded in the civil courts. In one of the most high profile cases Ben Parkinson, 25, suffered 37 injuries, including brain damage and the loss of both legs. He initially received £152,000. After a campaign by his mother, this was raised to £546,000.
Lawyers believe that Parkinson would have received £3m in a civil trial.
In the landmark legal case this week Bob Ainsworth, the defence secretary, is appealing against a ruling that two soldiers should have their compensation increased.
In September 2005 Anthony Duncan, a soldier with the Light Dragoons, was on patrol in Iraq when he was shot in his left thigh. He needed 11 operations to clean and close the wound and had a pin inserted in his leg to help the bone heal.
He subsequently suffered calcification in his thigh muscle and constant pain in his leg. He struggled to walk without crutches while attempts to run left him “crippled” with pain, according to court documents.
The MoD initially gave him £9,250 in compensation, arguing that his injury was only a fracture. Duncan appealed and a tribunal awarded him a lump sum of £46,000 and a guaranteed weekly income payment for life.
Matthew McWilliams, a Royal Marine, suffered a fracture of his thigh bone during a training exercise. He was awarded £8,250, which was increased on appeal to £28,750 and a guaranteed weekly payment because of damage to his knee following surgery.
In June last year the MoD took both cases to a higher court, claiming it should have to compensate the men only for the initial injuries and not subsequent complications. The three judges ruled against the ministry, saying it was “absurd” to divorce the injury from treatment.
The MoD was so concerned by the ruling that earlier this year it suspended payouts for three months, barring the most serious injuries. If it loses at the Court of Appeal, wounded soldiers who suffered further complications after treatment will be entitled to higher payouts.
Carl Clowes, 23, from Bradford, is among those taking a keen interest in the case. In July 2007 he was in a Land Rover in Helmand when it drove over a mine. Both his legs were crushed. His left leg was amputated below the knee 10 months later and he still suffers pain in his right leg. He can walk only short distances without crutches.
Clowes was awarded £92,000 for his amputated left leg, but £8,000 for his damaged right leg. He will be medically discharged from the army this week but will only be able to do sedentary work.
He appealed against his payout and shortly afterwards was delighted to find £48,300 in his bank account, which he used to pay off his mortgage. A day later the MoD contacted him to tell him the money had been paid in error. He is now being forced to return it.
“I’m permanently disabled. The last thing I expected was for the MoD to quibble over compensation,” he said.
Colonel Tim Collins, who commanded the Royal Irish Regiment in Iraq in 2003, said: “It is not surprising (the MoD) is doing this because of its finely tuned budgets, but it is a reflection of the regard this government has for the services.”
Sue Freeth, director of welfare at the Royal British Legion, said: “People who are putting themselves in harm’s way for their country feel cheated. These injuries affect people for the rest of their lives, but for many the compensation system fails to address that.”