A former RUC officer traumatised by a gun battle with armed robbers which led to the death of a civilian pensioner is to receive £50,000 damages, a High Court judge ruled. The award was made to Colin Keys as part of his action against the Chief Constable for negligence surrounding the security operation at Pomeroy, Co Tyrone in November 1983. Local woman Brigid Foster, 80, was hit and fatally wounded by a police bullet during the shootout with raiders escaping from the village’s post office.
Finding that Mr Keys went on to suffer periods of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Mr Justice Shaw said: “I accept he is now to be regarded as vulnerable to psychological effects of trauma and that stress could re-trigger in him the Pomeroy incident.”
The 59-year-old ex-policeman is expected to receive a further payout for potential loss of earning capacity at a future hearing on special damages.
Mr Keys was in a separate unsuccessful group action taken by thousands of rank and file officers seeking compensation for how their trauma was treated during decades of terrorist violence in Northern Ireland.
He sued again individually, claiming that his exposure to the events in Pomeroy caused chronic suffering and ultimately his retirement on medical grounds. The case was conceded on the basis that the defendant admitted RUC negligence in the conduct of the police operation at Pomeroy, resulting in a psychiatric injury of PTSD sustained by Mr Keys. Separate claims that his authorities failed him over the alleged use of undercover police informants within paramilitary groups were denied and ultimately withdrawn from the action.
In a judgment dealing only with the level of damages to award, Mr Justice Shaw had to determine the former officer’s complaint that his life has been marred.
Mr Keys was part of a police patrol shot at by two masked men who had targeted the post office, the court heard.
The RUC officers returned fire, but the raiders managed to escape.
During exchanges Mrs Foster, an innocent passer-by standing inside the post office, was struck and killed by a stray police bullet.
Mr Keys was placed on leave following the incident and later transferred to another station.
He later served as a close protection officer and within CID, but has not worked since being medically retired in April 2002.
Mr Keys told the court how he had been devastated by the thought that he may have shot dead an elderly woman at Pomeroy.
However, weeks later he was informed that forensics had established that another officer fired the fatal round.
Ruling on the extent to which the events at the post office contributed to the plaintiff’s chronic mental health problems, Mr Justice Shaw found that he suffered from PTSD at a diagnostic level for a period of two years.
The judge also held that the condition has “fluctuated” since then, with further episodes partially linked to Mr Keys’ “obsession” with the protracted litigation.
He confirmed: “While allowing for the fact that matters outwith the Pomeroy incident contributed to his condition, I consider he should receive general damages of £ 50,000.”
Following the judgment Mr Keys’ solicitor, Kevin Winters, said: “This case sets an important precedent for the assessment of damages arising out of conflict-related incidents.”
Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.