Thursday, January 24, 2008

No Justice For Janine

Today I got the final decision: I will receive no compensation for losing my eye when it was hit by a firework set off sideways in a public park on 5th November 2005.

For background, my old blog can tell you the details of the horrible incident itself, having facial reconstruction surgery six months later, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) turning down my application for compensation in September 2006, getting a false eye a month later, and marking the anniversary by taking my kids to a firework display and giving a firework safety talk to some year 6 kids. Since then, my false eye has failed because my eyeball continued to shrink; I am having a new one fitted next month, but in the 50:50 event of it shrinking further, will have to have it surgically removed and replaced by an implant.

But oh no, no compensation for you, Janine.

Today was my appeal hearing - the final stage. The CICA is supposed to pay out to victims of violent crime if the action is deliberate or reckless. The panel of three - a lawyer, a doctor and a lay person - rejected my appeal on the grounds that what happened to me was a 'tragic accident'.

Together with my legal team, whom I wouldn't fault at all, I pointed out to the panel that a firework only goes off sideways if it is deliberately pointed that way or if it is set off recklessly. If you pay proper care and attention, it goes upwards. Moreover, the particular group of people who set off the firework had already let one off sideways a couple of minutes beforehand - sufficiently scaring me that I was rounding up my children to take them home when I was struck. Once might possibly, conceivably, be an accident: twice is downright reckless if not deliberate. Oh, and legging it and leaving other people to help me and call the ambulance is pretty reckless too.

But this evidence made no impression on the majority of the panel (though one of the three seemed more sympathetic than the others). They - and the Presenting Officer, the geezer who defends the CICA's refusal of the claim - were much more concerned with suggesting that it might be my fault for venturing out with my kids on fireworks night in the first place. I knew it was dangerous, didn't I? Well maybe, but so did all the other millions of parents who took their kids out that night too. What am I supposed to do? Lock my kids up on 5th November every year and have them grow up resenting their killjoy mum?

Then came the death blow to my chances of winning: the police. On the night, the coppers had told me that I was the victim of a crime, that they would give me a crime number, that I would receive compensation. They wrote to me the next day with the crime number, in a letter that stated clearly that I was the victim of a crime of violence. They referred me to Victim Support, who only support victims of crime, not victims of accidents. It was only when the CICA rejected my application ten months later that I found out that the police had deemed it an 'accident' instead. You might speculate that their inability to secure a conviction led them to declare it an 'accident' because that's less embarrassing for them than 'unsolved crime' - I could not possibly comment.

The police officer who attended today described my injury as 'horrific', adding that he had seen gunshot wounds, stabbings, even a person impaled on an iron bar, but that in his ten years of policing, mine was the worst injury he had seen (and he personally only saw me in the hospital, by which time I had been cleaned up a little). But he insisted on giving evidence and answering questions in a way that he must have known would lead to me receiving no compensation. At least one member of the panel seemed to be enormously grateful to the officer for attending (although it's just part of his job to do so) and gave me the impression that he would believe everything a copper said above anyone else. The Detective Constable got none of the suggestive and hostile questioning that I got.

As I understand it, since 1995 governments have successively tightened up the criteria for criminal injuries compensation, making it harder and harder to get some kind of recompense for life-changing damage. The CICA has even refused claims from Tube workers who went through the trauma of the 7/7 bombings at close hand if they weren't quite close enough. So while the Tories and New Labour compete with each other in speeches about who cares most about the victims of crime, behind the scenes both parties have whittled away the rights of those victims.

As one of my friends texted to me on hearing the verdict: it adds insult to injury.