'Bullying' allegation in police pension row

RETIRED police officers injured on duty are being "bullied and coerced" in the fight to reclaim their injury pensions, it has been claimed.

Former Northumbria Police officers forced to retire after being injured on duty, are appealing a decision to cut their pensions on the back of discretionary Home Office guidance.

This week, the News Post Leader acquired two letters sent out to the officers appealing the decision to cut their awards, which have been branded "threatening" by campaigners.

The letters, sent out by the principal solicitor at the force, threaten applicants with legal costs in excess of 6,200 if their appeal to a medical tribunal proves to be unsuccessful.

Retired officer Bob Watson, of Seaton Delaval, now national spokesperson of the new Police Pensioners for Justice group, said: "To say we are disgusted is an understatement.

"The force and the Police Authority should feel a great deal of shame over this.

"These are some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in society who have been met, in their complaints, with silence and a refusal of the police to even discuss their problems.

"The letter from Northumbria Police is nothing short of coercion and bullying."

Northumbria Police is currently reviewing the pensions awarded to 586 former police officers who were injured whilst serving, as it seeks to save almost 1.2m a year.

In a letter to one applicant, the principal solicitor at Northumbria Police said: "To the best of my knowledge, no medical appeal against the implementation of Home Office Circular 46/2009 has ever succeeded.

"Your appeal is, therefore, bound to fail in my view.

"I will be making submissions to the Medical Appeal Tribunal that you should be ordered to pay the fees and expenses of the tribunal."

Mr Watson says Northumbria Police is the only force to implement the Home Office guidance with such severity.

President of the National Association of Retired Police Officers, Eric Evans, said the letters were a "clear attempt to intimidate" police pensioners to stop them appealing.

"This is by far the worst example we have seen of this type of intimidation," he said.

"Current officers should be concerned at this total lack of sympathy by the force of those injured protecting the public."

One former officer with 13 years service, from Cramlington, who had to retire because of a back injury sustained during an arrest, will see his pension reduced from 400 to 300 a month.

Another officer from Gateshead, who broke both of his legs and back trying to prevent a house burglary, will see his pension reduced from 1,200 each month to just 400.

Northumbria Police said it would be "inappropriate to comment" as the appeals procedure is ongoing.

However, in an earlier statement, assistant chief officer Bernie McCardle said: "As a public authority we have a duty to ensure most effective use of public money.

"In carrying out reviews in line with Home Office guidance we are ensuring this is achieved and it is anticipated that savings will be made."

Now MP for Blyth Valley, Ronnie Campbell, has asked ministers at the Home Office to conduct an inquiry into the issue.

He has also requested that police minister, David Hanson MP, meet with Mr Watson personally to hear the group's concerns.