Northern Ireland

Trainee policewoman wins right to appeal discharge

A trainee policewoman badly injured 12 months into her 18 month probationary period has won High Court permission to challenge her discharge from the PSNI.

Gillian Dixon was granted leave to apply for judicial review on the basis of alleged unlawful delegation.

The judge, Mr Justice Treacy ruled that she had "arguable" grounds to proceed.

Ms Dixon was discharged by Chief Constable Matt Baggott who told her he could not continue "paying police wages to someone doing a desk job".

She said that Mr Baggott was very sympathetic and said "that he may have to look into developing a place for persons in my situation."

In an affidavit to support her case, Ms Dixon stated that the injuries had a profound and devastating effect on her life.

The court heard that Ms Dixon's shoulder shattered when the car she was travelling in crashed into a traffic sign.

It was responding to a 999 emergency call at the time.

The crash happened on the Culmore Road in Londonderry in April 2008.

The accident caused extensive damage to her nerves which has impaired the movement of her left arm and, at one point, left it completely paralysed.

She also had surgery to replace her shattered shoulder and suffered from nightmares and sleep disturbances.

A doctor said her shoulder replacement could become dislodged if she attempted to restrain a suspect.

Additionally, an assessment by a police occupational health and welfare officer found that she would not even be suitable for public order duties.

Ms Dixon said that it was at this point that she realised "I would never be able to fully return to the job that I loved and was trained to do".

Minimum standards

Despite the medical evaluations, Ms Dixon initially returned to work in December 2008.

A year and a half later, in June 2010, an assistant chief constable decided to discharge her.

She appealed to the chief constable who upheld the original decision to discharge her.

"The chief constable said that he had to act in accordance with the legislation and do what the Policing Board would want him to do," she said.

After being discharged, Ms Dixon was paid an extra three months salary.

Lawyers for Ms Dixon argued that decision had been based on unlawful delegation, which meant that the decision to discharge should never have been taken by the assistant chief constable, but only by Matt Baggott himself.

They also argued that former Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde had promised officers injured in the line of duty would not be involuntarily discharged.

Ms Dixon, who has also launched a separate action for damages, said: "I am devastated that a serious injury received in the course of my duty as a police officer has led to my discharge from the PSNI in circumstances where no fault can be attributed to me."

Peter Coll, barrister for the PSNI, stressed that medical opinion showed Ms Dixon could not meet the minimum standards for probationer officers.

He told the court that Ms Dixon had been offered a civilian support post within the PSNI.

In his ruling Mr Justice Treacy rejected all grounds of challenge apart from the unlawful delegation claim.

The case will now proceed to a full judicial review hearing on that point later this year.