THOUSANDS of police have claimed victory in a battle over their pensions led by a retired Northumbria officer.
The officers’ monthly pay-outs could hinge on a test case brought by Bryan Simpson, whose pension was slashed 31 years after he left the service.
Mr Simpson took on the Home Office and Northumbria Police Authority at the Appeal Court in London in a bid to protect the livelihoods of thousands of retired police officers across the country.
Now he says he is one step closer to winning pensions back for himself and fellow former colleagues.
Mr Simpson, 76, of Westerhope, Newcastle, said: “We are not out of the woods yet but I am pleased with the result at the Court of Appeal. We just want to obtain justice in the end.”
The changes to the pensions were introduced by Northumbria Police on the back of Home Office guidelines.
But many forces, including London’s Metropolitan Police, decided they would not apply the new rules retrospectively to retired officers already claiming their injury pension.
However, Northumbria Police decided to follow the guidelines and the cost-cutting measures meant hundreds of former Northumbria Police officers had their pensions reduced – some by more than half.
Mr Simpson, was a police constable with Northumbria Police for 29 years until he was medically retired in November 1988, London’s Appeal Court heard.
His QC, David Lock, told the court his disabilities were caused by back injuries which stemmed from his service as a police officer.
Mr Simpson was awarded a police injury pension at the rate of 30% disablement, and periodic reviews confirmed the award until he suffered a major setback in February 2009.
His injury pension entitlement was then dropped from “Band 2” to “Band 1” – effectively halving his income – his solicitor Ron Thompson said. His monthly payment was reduced from around £500 to £247.
The decision against Mr Simpson was confirmed by the Police Medical Appeal Board in November 2010, prompting a judicial review challenge with implications for large numbers of retired officers.
Mr Simpson’s lawyers claim the Home Office guidance underpinning the decision is unreasonable and unlawful, placing too much stress on injured officers’ residual earning capacity.
Appeal Court judge Lord Justice Moses, has now opened the way for Mr Simpson to mount a full legal challenge to the Police Medical Appeal Board’s ruling and alleged “inconsistencies” in the way Home Office guidelines were being applied.
The case will now go back to the High Court for a full hearing.
Mr Simpson, who worked in the west end of Newcastle, the city centre and Gateshead, said: “Some officers have won or partially won their cases after taking their cases to the Police Medical Appeal Board and the High Court. Mine was knocked back along with others in Northumbria. This has also happened to so many others across the country and now because my case was successful at the Appeal Court we are one step closer to winning.
“This has taken a lot of our time. Some colleagues have died during the process and they will never get to see justice.”
Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell, who backed the police officers, said: “It is up to the individual police authority to cut pensions to officers who were retired after being injured in the line of duty.
“I thought it was absolutely wrong to take so much money off people who had been used to a certain amount of money.
“It was brutal how it was done and I argued that there should have been a gradual scale down and eventually those people on these pensions would have eventually died out. But they didn’t listen to me and just cut harshly.”
After the hearing Mr Thompson said his Yorkshire-based firm, Lake Jackson Solicitors, has 16 similar claims against Northumbria Police in the pipeline, with a potentially similar number against the West Yorkshire Police Authority.
“I’ve got men of 82 and 83 getting their pensions cut when they’re at a stage in their lives when they shouldn’t be having their income drastically reduced”, he said.
“This is affecting thousands of injured retired police officers, but we can’t contact them to fight their cause as police authorities use the Data Protection Act and don’t give us their names.
Mr Thompson added: “We are pursuing cases on behalf of many other former officers who lost their police careers as a result of injuries and then have the further insult of having their injury pensions unlawfully reduced.
“I appreciate that there are pressures on police budgets but this case shows that police authorities cannot unlawfully reduce the pensions of former officers as a way of trying to save money.
“We hope that the Home Office will accept that the guidance for reviewing pensioners who reach the age of 65 is unlawful and that any reviews conducted under the guidance should be set aside and the pensions should be reinstated.
“We are not surprised that hundreds of police officers are rightly angry that they have had their pensions unlawfully reduced.
“We recognise that this will have a price tag for police authorities but they are now on notice that they cannot reduce pension payments to their injured former officers to save money and those officers will be coming for compensation and reinstatement of their entitlements.”
A Northumbria Police spokesperson said: “Northumbria Police, along with a number of other forces, implemented Home Office guidelines concerning the award of injury pensions. To minimise the financial impact on individual officers Northumbria Police reviewed the cases of people affected in a staged approach and gave them 12 months notice of a review to allow them sufficient time to adjust to a possible reduction in income.
“If any former officers were unhappy with the results of the review they were informed of their right of appeal. Northumbria Police does not wish in any way to diminish the considerable contributions that former officers have made. Their value to the force and the community it serves remains unchanged.”
I’ve got men of 82 and 83 getting their pensions cut