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Daniels v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, High Court, 5 July 2006

21 July 2006
The issues

Protection from Harassment Act 1997 – stress at work – harassment – whether the Claimant could show a course of conduct amounting to harassment; whether Claimant could show reasonable foreseeability of harm to health in respect of claiming negligence

The facts

The Claimant, who was 43 at the time of the appeal, joined the Metropolitan Police in August 1988. She had previously spent 3 years as a Military Policewoman in the Army. In 2002 she suffered a breakdown of her health, left the police force and was medically retired. She brought a claim in which she alleged that throughout her police service she was the victim of harassment and victimisation and that the Defendants were negligent in respect of the stress to which she was subjected at her work place. She claimed to have suffered psychiatric injury in the form of depression as a result. She claimed for negligence and for breach of statutory duty under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. The allegations cover the period from October 1994 to May 2002.

The decision

The impact of her allegations was restricted in two ways. Firstly, the relevant sections of the Act did not come into force until 16th June 1997 and no conduct prior to that date could be the subject of a civil claim. Secondly, by virtue of Section 6 the limitation period was 6 years and could not be extended and therefore no conduct was actionable prior to the 23rd July 1998.

Moreover the Claimant had brought three sets of proceedings in the Stratford Industrial Tribunal, all of which had been compromised. Those sets of proceedings covered certain of the allegations. The Claimant could not therefore, on the basis of the decision in Sherriff v Klyne Tuggs bring a further claim in respect of injury caused by those specific events. It had been argued on behalf of the Claimant that any acts of harassment by any employee combined may be aggregated so as to give rise to vicarious liability under the Act. The better view was that there had to be an established case of harassment against at least one employee who was shown, on at least two occasions to have pursued a course of conduct amounting to harassment or by more than one employee each acting on different occasions in furtherance on some joint design. On the facts there was no substance in the harassment claim based on the act. Certain allegations were out of time. Other allegations were misconceived. The Claimant’s own account of certain allegations was rejected.

As to the negligence claim, on the facts there were no incidents or events approaching an occasion of impending harm “plain enough for any reasonable employer to realise he should do something about it” (in the words of Hale LJ in Hatton). Moreover it did not appear that there were steps which could have been taken which were likely to do any good. A confidential advice service was available and the Claimant’s attitude to it was between ambivalence and open hostility. The GP and that of two other medical practitioners, both were of the view that the only reasonable and effective step was for the Claimant to step down. The Claimant opted to continue her work and where a Claimant acts in that way in the face of independent medical advice it was not for the employer to impose a different solution on her.

Claim dismissed.

focus on...

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