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Update: Norfolk police chief hits out at officer attempting to sue Thetford petrol station owner

PUBLISHED: 12:50 01 April 2013 | UPDATED: 12:50 01 April 2013

Petrol station owner Steve Jones next to the kerb which PC Jones tripped on.

Petrol station owner Steve Jones next to the kerb which PC Jones tripped on.

Archant

Norfolk’s top cop has today told of his ‘disappointment’ at the attempts of a police officer to sue a petrol station owner after a fall during a call-out.

Norfolk Constabulary says it had no prior knowledge of PC Jones’ intended legal action until informed on Friday.

It said in a statement today: “The legal action is not supported by the Constabulary, our understanding being that the action is funded and supported by the Police Federation, a position over which the Constabulary has no control.”

Meanwhile, Chief Constable Phil Gormley added: “This type of claim does not represent the approach and attitude of the overwhelming majority of our staff who understand and accept the risks inherent in policing and which they willingly confront to keep the public they serve safe. It is a disappointment that this is potentially undermined by a private compensation claim.”

Meanwhile, yesterday a Norfolk MP hclaimed the case threatens ‘the fabric of our emergency services’.

Henry Bellingham, MP for North-West Norfolk, raised his concerns to the EDP after it emerged PC Kelly Jones is taking action for injuries she claims to have suffered while attending a suspected break-in on August 25 last year.

The 33-year-old had been called to Nuns’ Bridges Filling Station on Bury Road in Thetford at about midnight after an alarm was triggered, but fell on a kerb while she and owner Steve Jones were checking the outside of the building.

Speaking to the EDP yesterday, Mr Jones said he was “astounded” to receive a letter on Wednesday alleging that the officer had hurt her wrist and leg, which she said required treatment at the West Suffolk Hospital, and that he was to blame.

The 50-year-old, who is married with three children and lives near Bury St Edmunds, said: “It’s a very tough economic climate for us retailers and the margins are very thin and every time you turn around there’s somebody else wanting a piece of you, whether it’s shoplifters, people driving off without paying, the credit card companies or rates going up and something about this doesn’t feel right.

“I’ve got several friends who are policemen and they do a great job and I think when you sign up to the police there must be an element of risk when you put that uniform on. I would still call the police out but it makes you wonder what the repercussions are.”

The letter, from London-based lawyers Pattinson and Brewer, made several claims against Mr Jones including that he had failed to point out the kerb or to adequately light the area, therefore exposing the police officer to an “unnecessary risk of injury”.

It went on: “As she proceeded to the jet wash area located on the right hand side of the filling station, she moved toward a gap in the fencing in order to access the rear of the premises.

“It was dark and there was inadequate lighting. Unknown to our client, there was a section of raised high kerbing. There was very little to draw this raised section to our client’s notice and as our client proceeded towards the gap, she was unaware of this step-up. As such she was caused to trip and fall, thereby sustaining personal injury.”

Mr Jones maintains that the petrol station’s canopy lights were on at the time, as was a street light directly next to the kerb.

Liz Truss, MP for South-West Norfolk, was unavailable for comment, however, Mr Bellingham, said: “I think the Home Secretary needs to get a grip of this situation immediately. A police officer goes into the job knowing what to expect and this begs the question of what will be next? Will a firefighter sue because they don’t like flames or a paramedic because they can’t stand blood? This case threatens the fabric of our emergency services.

“A lot of people have contacted me to register their anger and I’m going to be working with other Norfolk MPs and Liz Truss on this case, as well as speaking to the police federation. The public need to know they can have confidence that the police will investigate a crime without trying to sue them.”

However Paul Ridgway, chairman of Norfolk Police Federation said claims by police officers for injuries sustained while on duty were “very rare”.

He said: “This is not an isolated incident but it is very rare and there’s a very high threshold test by solicitors taking on cases as to whether there’s a case for negligence so it’s not common place.

“It’s not as if police officers will be suing every time they go out on a call and the numbers are not going up or anything like that.”

PC Jones, who is no relation to the petrol station owner, was unavailable for comment.

A Norfolk Constabulary spokesman said that PC Jones was currently on sick leave in relation to pre-planned medical treatment, unrelated to August’s fall.

She added: “We have a duty of care to any officer injured whilst on duty, to support their continued health and well-being and fitness to return to work. Officers can, in addition, receive further support from their staff association, as well as pursuing private treatment.

“The constabulary was wholly unaware of this litigation which appears to be instigated privately by the individual officer.”

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, has now demanded urgent Home Office guidelines on the issue, saying: “This civil claim will have huge implications for every citizen if they call police out to their premises to help them in an emergency.

“It is in the public interest to know where exactly people stand in circumstances like this. If there are going to be cases like this, then people will feel reluctant to call the police in case they are sued.

“I do not think in such circumstances the public would feel they had a responsibility for health and safety issues, in the middle of the night while apparently facing danger.

“It’s a bizarre case and we need some urgent guidelines from the Home Office.”

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