Stockton Community Support Officer Wins Compensation

The recent case of a community enforcement officer who was equipped with poorly fitting body armour by his employer has attracted considerable anger from union officials. Anthony Roach, aged 31, sustained serious back and shoulder pain after he was required to wear defective body armour for almost a year. Community enforcement officers frequently deal with stressful situations in environments that are potentially very dangerous, so the wearing of protective body armour is essential. Unlike some other forms of body armour, the type issued to community enforcement officers is usually designed to protect against stabbings. As such, the body armour incorporates relatively lightweight materials and balanced (front and back) sheets of metal. Nevertheless, if the body armour is in some way defective, its use can prove extremely uncomfortable for officers who may be required to wear it throughout the entirety of their shifts.

In the case of Anthony Roach, who worked for Stockton Borough Council’s Neighbourhood Services Team, the defective body armour in question was issued in April 2006. Although not evident to Mr Roach at the time, the body armour had been purchased second-hand and suffered from a fault on the metal plate fittings. Specifically, the metal plates located on the front and back of the body armour were of different sizes, which meant that the heavier plate pulled Mr Roach’s body to his left. In order to compensate for this, Mr Roach’s body adjusted by pulling back to the right; however, over time this process resulted in an injury to the community enforcement officer’s back and shoulders. Five months after he was issued the faulty body armour, Mr Roach complained to bosses that it was causing him considerable discomfort. However, Stockton Borough Council did nothing to alleviate the problem until June 2007, by which time Mr Roach had been assigned light duties.

Middlesbrough County Court ruled in favour of Mr Roach, finding that Stockton Borough Council had failed to provide the claimant with adequate protective equipment. Accordingly, the court awarded Mr Roach with £2,000 in compensation. Following the case, Unison’s General Secretary, Dave Prentis, said: “Community enforcement officers deal with potentially dangerous situations – if they do not get the right equipment to do their job, it could put their lives at risk”. Mr Prentis added that Stockton Borough Council’s failure to provide adequate body armour was nothing short of “inexcusable”. It is clear that Mr Roach, despite suffering a personal injury as a result of his employer’s negligence, could have found himself in a far more serious situation if the defective body armour failed to protect him from being stabbed; indeed, both parties to the case should perhaps count themselves lucky in this regard.

Nevertheless, despite having been found to have acted in breach of its duty of care to Mr Roach, Stockton Borough Council issued a statement that described how it regretted the case had been brought before the court. The statement continued: “We have established grievance procedures, which have been agreed with the trade unions and staff, which aim to resolve problems in an efficient and non-adversarial way. We are undertaking an urgent review of why this case avoided those procedures”. Unfortunately, the statement issued by Stockton Borough Council failed to address its negligence in providing second-hand defective equipment to Mr Roach, who suffered a personal injury as a result. Furthermore, the council added that it intends to challenge the legal costs awarded against it by Middlesbrough County Court – a move that is likely to provoke anger amongst union officials.

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