Ker-ching: the policewoman, the pineapple, and PTSD – a modern fairy tale

Tracey Ormsby is a former police constable from Glasgow.  In August 2001 she was placed on patrol at Govanhill Baths and her life was changed.  The outcome is Ormsby v Chief Constable Strathclyde Police [2008] CSOH 143, a decision of Lord Malcolm issued 10 October 2008.

In August 2001 the natives of Govanhill were restless as earlier in the year Glasgow City Council had elected to close the baths.  This caused particular difficulties in community relations as the baths had provided a weekly session for Asian women in the area – and there was no intention to provide replacement facilities.  Local residents objected to the council plans, and occupied the baths.  The council obtained a court order seeking the eviction of the locals and 36 police officers were asked to attend when sheriff officers went to the baths to enforce this order.  On attendance the 36 officers discovered two protestors in deckchairs, but within a short time more protestors had arrived and blockaded the baths.  Eggs and missiles (a variety of implements and materials including human waste) were thrown at the officers, but shields body armour and CS gas were not issued to the officers, and there was a general no arrest policy implemented throughout a lengthy day of protests.  The police officers attempted to prevent protestors (and others who had arrived to join the protest, including protestors from Faslane) gaining access to the building to allow the council contractors to board up the baths.  Ms Ormsby was injured by a pineapple striking her sternum and subsequently sued her employers in negligence.  She sought £1.5 million, according to newspaper reports. Counsel for Ms Ormsby argued that in policing this disturbance senior officers were negligent in exposing unprotected officers to the risk of injury.  Although Lord Malcolm had sympathy with the predicament of senior police officers and the decisions to be made

“I am very conscious that society expects much of the police, in particular to fight crime and to deal with a wide variety of difficulties and problems on a daily basis. Each force has to work within a budget and often its resources will be inadequate for the task. As has been emphasised on more than one occasion the court should guard against the danger of legal claims and challenges every time an officer is injured. However, after giving due account to these compelling considerations, and having regard to the hopefully unusually extreme nature of the situation outside the Baths that evening, I have come to the conclusion that a duty of reasonable care was owed to the pursuer and other officers, and that it was breached by the decisions taken by the officer in charge given the way in which officers were deployed and continued to be deployed over a lengthy period that evening once the risk of serious injury to them became apparent. I wish to stress that this decision is based on the particular, perhaps unique facts of this case. I would be disturbed if it led to any change in the willingness of the police to put the public interest before their own safety, something which was so clearly demonstrated that evening by the courage and fortitude of the pursuer and her colleagues.” (para 29)

On this issue of police liability in negligence the decision is noteworthy.  However, the tale of Ms Ormsby’s injuries occupies the bulk of the decision.

Ms Ormsby claimed for damages resulting form her injury, as well as claiming for damages caused by a subsequent psychological injury.  She argued she was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and agoraphobia – as a result of her experience facing the protestors.  However, evidence of changes in her behaviour ran counter to the suggestions of the defender that Ms Ormsby was a liar who had told her then boyfriend “Ker-ching” when she found out she was diagnosed with PTSD.

Additionally, it was argued by the defender that Mr Ormsby had attempted to persuade her then boyfriend to lie for her.  He was married and alleged that Ms Ormsby had threatened to send certain photographs to his wife if he did not give evidence in her favour.  A number of text messages sent by Mr Ormsby were used as evidence to support this.

In reaching his decision on the nature of the injuries suffered by Ms Ormsby Lord Malcolm was particularly critical of the pursuer,

“The overall picture is clouded and complicated by the pursuer's willingness to be untruthful and conceal material facts in order to further her interests. She has consistently misled the various medical experts who have assessed her. This devalues the weight and quality of their conclusions.” (para 95);

“I consider that at best for the pursuer there is a very considerable degree of exaggeration in her account of her disabilities. Her robust, combative and feisty performance in cross-examination was wholly different from her account and from her presentation in examination in chief. I cannot reconcile the person I saw in cross-examination with the fearful and fragile person described in some of the medical reports”.  (para 96)

and

“I am unable to accept the evidence of the pursuer on the key issues as credible and reliable. The burden of proof is upon the pursuer. I am left in very considerable doubt as to the true extent of any disabilities from which she may be suffering at present, and thus also as to her prospects in the future.” (at para 97)

Lord Malcolm therefore rejected the claim for psychological injuries and assessed compensation as being £3,000 solatium for the physical consequences of her pineapple-related injury.

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