Police officer wins case over fear of siren

Louise McGarva  claimed she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after taking part in a simulated disturbance. Picture: Andrew Stuart
Louise McGarva claimed she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after taking part in a simulated disturbance. Picture: Andrew Stuart
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A former police officer who claimed she developed a fear of sirens following a riot training exercise has won an out-of-court settlement with Lothian and Borders police.

Louise McGarva, 36, claimed she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after taking part in a simulated disturbance that spiralled out of control.

Miss McGarva was initially seeking £500,000 in compensation after she said she had been left with a fear of police cars and sirens after being crushed during the training in a former hospital building in West Lothian.

Her lawyers alleged that eight officers were left injured during the exercise after their instructors attacked them with “baseball bats, long batons and martial arts”, using “excessive” force.

Ms McGarva said she repeatedly passed out after being crushed in the melee while an officer giving her medical assistance allegedly told her she had “had it” and was going to die.

The former officer, who retired on grounds of ill-health, said the incident left her suffering from nightmares, flashbacks, depression and panic attacks, and she needed psychological treatment at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.

Police chiefs denied that the course had descended into a real-life riot, and said that Ms McGarva already had a “history of psychological injury”, including the need for stress counselling following her involvement in a child death inquiry in 2004.

She launched the legal action against Chief Constable David Strang in 2011 at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, alleging that the course’s instructors were negligent.

Ms McGarva, who had been a police officer for 11 years, was sent on a two-day public order course taking place at the former Bangour Village Hospital in May 2007.

Nine instructors took the role of rioters whom the 21 officer students had to “control and restrain”.

After undergoing a day of training, Ms McGarva and her fellow students had to enter the hospital and detain the ‘rioters’.

But lawyers for Ms McGarva said the role-playing instructors “ambushed” their team, causing the police team’s response to “immediately dissolve into disarray”.

She said the instructors attacked them with baseball bats and baton, as well as using martial arts. The police team pushed forward up a stairwell “en masse”, a tactic her lawyers contend was “inappropriate and unsafe” and likely to cause “crush injuries”.

As two officers were injured and taken away, Ms McGarva said she was lifted off her feet by the surge and her windpipe constricted after her helmet strap was pulled up.

Ms McGarva said she passed out and the exercise was finally brought to a halt with eight officers injured.

She feared she was paralysed and about to die, and said she overhead an officer debating whether to move her to a vehicle, but said they “would not be covered if she died in the van”.

Although she did not require hospital treatment that day, lawyers for Ms McGarva said she was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suffered from a “major depressive disorder” until March 2008 before retiring on ill-health grounds in February 2009.

Lawyers for the force argued that Ms McGarva had suffered psychological injuries before the riot training, and also contended that she was fit to work from early 2009 at least.

They added that the instructors had all undergone courses in giving public order training.

A police spokesman said: “The action raised in the Court of Session has been resolved extra-judicially and without admission of liability.

“The manner in which the matter resolved is confidential”

Ms McGarva’s lawyer Stuart Cochran, from Edinburgh-based Slater & Gordon, said he could not comment on the case.