Charles Stuart

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:46 pm on 10 February 2009.

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Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Veterans) 9:46, 10 February 2009

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Singh on securing this debate. I am grateful for the opportunity that it affords me to update the House on Mr. Stuart's case, which is some 18 years old and has, over that time, been the subject of extensive correspondence between my ministerial predecessors, and my hon. Friend and his predecessors, as Mr. Stuart's constituency MP. Owing to the passage of time, much of the paperwork is no longer retained, but I would like to reassure my hon. Friend that the limited information available shows evidence of a detailed investigation undertaken by my predecessors into all aspects of the case.

It might be helpful to recap the Ministry of Defence's understanding of Mr. Stuart's complaint. As my hon. Friend mentioned, Mr. Stuart sustained an injury to his neck and shoulder while serving at RAF Belize in November 1991. He subsequently reported sick in January 1992, upon which a full investigation was undertaken by the medical authorities and Mr. Stuart was put on what are referred to as "light duties". As my hon. Friend mentioned, he then took legal action against the Department concerning the injury and, after exhaustive investigations, accepted a full and final settlement in 2004.

However, in addition to his legal claim, Mr. Stuart contacted his then Member of Parliament, the then Member for Workington, now the noble Lord Campbell-Savours, to raise a number of complaints about the treatment that he had received for his injuries while in the RAF and about the decision not to extend his RAF service. Mr. Stuart's concerns about his medical treatment were addressed by the right hon. Viscount Cranborne, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, in his letters of 28 September 1993 and 21 February 1994 to Lord Campbell-Savours. Viscount Cranborne confirmed that there was no evidence that the medical staff who had been responsible for Mr. Stuart's health had been in any way negligent. On the contrary, it was clear that all the organic causes of his symptoms had been fully investigated.

It was apparent that Mr. Stuart's complaint had been taken seriously at all times, with every effort being made to assist him. He was treated by a physiotherapist and saw a physician, an orthopaedic specialist and a neurologist at regular intervals. Viscount Cranborne concluded that his complaints had been taken seriously at all times. Mr. Stuart continued to receive medical attention until his discharge on invalidity grounds in July 1995.

As to Mr. Stuart's specific complaint against his physiotherapist in November 1994, the then Minister for Defence Procurement confirmed that the RAF director general medical services had personally reviewed Mr. Stuart's treatment and confirmed that there was no case to support the accusation of medical negligence against the physiotherapist.

Mr. Stuart has also raised the issue of the extension of his service. He complained that although an extension of service by three years was offered to him in July 1992, which he accepted, it was subsequently withdrawn when the results of medical tests became available. Viscount Cranborne, in his letter of 28 September 1993, informed Lord Campbell-Savours that individuals can be offered extensions of service subject to continued eligibility and suitability for service. Eligibility and suitability must be confirmed by the individual's superiors and by medical staff before the offer is formally made to the individual. In Mr. Stuart's case, it was known that he was awaiting an appointment with a specialist at the time of the offer. I understand that Mr. Stuart contended that, since he had not at that stage been medically downgraded, the unit medical staff should have approved his extension of service. In fact, given that the unit medical staff were aware that he was awaiting further medical tests, it would have been a breach of regulations for them to have endorsed Mr. Stuart as fit for further service before the outcome of those medical tests. The case was therefore returned to the RAF personnel manning authority to await the outcome of those medical tests.

The RAF authorities considered Mr. Stuart's request to be allowed to extend his service very carefully. Occasionally, personnel are granted a short period of extra service to enable them to regain an acceptable level of medical fitness to re-engage. However, following his medical tests, the medical staff advised that is was very unlikely that Mr. Stuart would regain the necessary level of medical fitness to enable him to be re-engaged in the RAF.

On the issue of medical negligence, to which my hon. Friend has referred, Mr. Stuart initiated a claim against the Ministry of Defence in May 1993 in respect of the personal injuries he had sustained in Belize. That action took quite a long time to reach its conclusion, but it was settled in August 2004, when Mr. Stuart accepted an offer in full and final settlement of his claim against the Ministry of Defence. The conditions of that settlement precluded him from making any further claims against the Ministry of Defence in relation to the incident, or from pursuing any other course of action to obtain financial compensation. Having reviewed the file, it is clear that he accepted that offer in full and final settlement of any future claims against the Ministry of Defence.

My hon. Friend has referred to the issue that is perhaps now at the heart of Mr. Stuart's case—namely, the redress of his complaint—and I should like to touch on that now. During the period 1993 to 1997, Mr. Stuart raised three redress of complaints procedures, in accordance with Queen's Regulation 1001. While there is little documentary evidence remaining about the level of investigations that took place, it is evident that a large amount of ministerial time was spent reviewing Mr. Stuart's case with RAF staff to ensure that a full, open and detailed explanation could be given in response to his inquiries. That is supported in the documentation that my predecessors have written in response to the large number of inquiries they received.

Limited information is available about the investigation carried out in respect of the redress. I can therefore only refer my hon. Friend to the letter of my predecessor of 30 January 2006, which found that Mr. Stuart had been requested to provide further information in support of his redress of complaint to enable the investigation to take place. Unfortunately, despite a number of reminders, Mr. Stuart failed to provide the requested information and a decision was then taken to close the case. While there are no specific guidelines within Queen's Regulation 1001 regarding the closure of a case prior to submission to the Air Force Board, every reasonable course of action should be taken to ensure that all relevant information is available to enable the board to make a judgment on the case. Mr. Stuart had the option to request an extension to the deadline to enable him to provide the relevant information, but there is unfortunately nothing on the record to indicate that that was ever requested or that any further explanation was actually provided.

In conclusion, it has been nearly 14 years since Mr. Stuart was invalided from the Air Force. I would like to put on record my thanks to him, as to all former servicemen and women, for their service to this country. Limited papers are now available to enable a further investigation to take place. That said, having considered the exchanges of correspondence and the information that has been presented to my predecessors, I am assured that all the complaints have been thoroughly investigated and that Mr. Stuart has been treated fairly within the parameters of the Queen's Regulations. In light of the fact that Mr. Stuart has accepted compensation in a full and final settlement of his injuries, there is no real basis for reopening the case now.

In those circumstances and in the light of what has been said, and after looking at the case in detail today, I feel that there is really no way forward. I congratulate my hon. Friend again on securing this debate. I hope it is helpful to him if I say that if either he or Mr. Stuart has any further evidence that has not been presented so far, I would be willing to meet to discuss any such points and to see whether anything has been overlooked. I leave that option open to my hon. Friend; if he brings any more evidence forward, I will certainly meet him at his convenience.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.