Friday, October 19, 2007

Ogling Chopper Jocks May Cost Us £250,000

Eastbourne must have changed since 1954
"A military helicopter destroyed the conservatory of a £1.75 million mansion when its pilot swooped too low to look at a sunbathing au pair, a court heard yesterday.

The four servicemen flying the Merlin helicopter were said to have dropped to 500ft or lower for the "frolic" in July. The house's owners claim the downdraught from the aircraft seriously damaged the 23ft-high glass conservatory, leaving it needing to be replaced. Barry and Anna George, who own The Old Stables in Eastbourne, East Sussex, are claiming £250,000 in damages plus legal costs."

In theory, pilots are supposed not to go below 1,000 feet over built up areas, irrespective of how attractive the au pairs may be. But these boys seem to arguing that their chart was wrong, plus their instruments weren't working properly.


This is by no means the first time taxpayers will have had to compensate the victims of "horseplay" in the services. A case reported by the National Audit Office involved squaddies "windsurfing" on the tailgate of a moving lorry, with taxpayers having to stump up for the resulting injuries to them, on account of the Army's failure to enforce discipline.

Last year we shelled out £82.4m on compansation claims against the military. Of course, a large chunk of it was unavoidable in the sense that the forces do dangerous things and people do get hurt. But according to the NAO, who reported on it in 2003, costs could be reduced if the military made a more serious effort to ensure its personnel behaved responsibly- as we can see from this chopper "frolic".

It could also reduce costs by getting its claims operation working more efficiently. Of the £82.4m paid out last year, £15.1m went on legal costs. That's a staggering 21% of claims paid, up from 14% in 1998-99. The NAO made a series of recommendations for cutting the bill, by speeding up the whole drawn out process and making better use of lawyers' time. As per, it seems the recommendations have been ignored.

If this chopper case goes against us, expect not just to shell out £250 grand in compensation, but at least another £50 grand in legal costs. All for an ogle.

PS On the subject of tax-funded compensation claims and legal fees, regular BOM readers will be familiar with the scandal over miners compensation (eg see this blog). The latest news is that while £3.4bn has now been paid to ex-miners for work related diseases, a jaw-dropping £1bn has been paid to lawyers (29.4%). And some small firms of solicitors have done spectacularly well- our old friends Beresfords of Doncaster have now clocked up £123m, with Jim Bereford raking in a £16.7m salary in 2006; Thompsons made £131m; Raleys, of Barnsley, got £77m, and Watson Burton took home £32m. But we can't blame them for being rapacious: they are simply taking candy offered by a baby- to wit, our clownish Simple Shopping government. And yet my friends, we're the ones who are really the clowns- we're the ones who let the Shopper give away our money.

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