A former Royal Navy Able Seaman has today (Friday 22 July 2016) succeeded in a High Court action in defeating the Ministry of Defence's combat immunity defence and obtaining a judgment for damages.
Michael Knights, 30, currently of Southminster, was deployed as a detainee handler at a Temporary Holding Facility in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan from October to November 2012.
The Temporary Holding Facility was controlled by British Forces and was used to detain Afghan prisoners.
However, the UK Government implemented a moratorium in April 2010 on the transfer detainees to the Afghan authorities, which led to an increase in the length of stay for a number of detainees, many remaining at the facility for months.
Tension among detainees rose as a result of their extended and indeterminate detention, and led to a number of assaults against detainee handlers. The unrest became so severe that on 12 November 2012 the detainees rioted; an event which military experts involved in the case agreed was foreseeable, and therefore preventable.
Mr Knights, who had been in the Navy since 2009, was left without support and in the middle of dozens of detainees who had broken free largely due to defective bolts on the compound gates.
He managed to climb razor wire and escape but has since suffered from significant Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He was discharged from military service following the incident and has since struggled to find alternative employment due to his ongoing mental trauma.
Thompsons Solicitors has been acting on behalf of Mr. Knights in an ongoing case against the Ministry of Defence for negligence and a breach of their duty of care.
The Ministry of Defence initially refused disclosure and a pre-action application for disclosure was required to obtain at least some of the relevant documents. Thereafter the claim was issued largely in reliance on Mr Knights’ own account whereupon the Ministry of Defence applied to stay the action pending the outcome of their wider investigation into myriad allegations made by Afghan national detainees.
That application was refused after a full hearing before a High Court Judge in Leeds in March 2015. Thereafter the Ministry of Defence filed a defence denying liability in reliance on the doctrine of combat immunity.
The full trial was listed to be heard by a High Court Judge in Newcastle in October 2016 but will now not be necessary in light of today’s hearing.
Mr. Knights said: “I went to Afghanistan with my eyes open – I knew it would not be easy, however the government made decisions that placed servicemen in unnecessary danger. The riot has left me suffering a host of psychological problems that mean I can no longer serve in the military and cannot find other work.
“Thompsons Solicitors have been with me every step of the way and obtaining this judgment against the MoD means that I will now be able to provide for my wife and children.”
Military accident law expert David Robinson of Thompsons Solicitors said: “My client Michael has been through more than most of us can imagine, and from day one we were determined to fight to ensure that his case was heard.
“In this case the MoD were yet again seeking to hide behind the ‘combat immunity’ line which the Supreme Court provided detailed guidance upon back in 2013. In doing so they have so far denied him the funds he needs to treat his PTSD and move on with his life; that will now change and the focus will be upon proving the extent of Michael’s injuries and the impact of those injuries upon his daily life, and ensuring that he receives fair compensation for them.
“This case should remind the government that the principle of combat immunity should not act as a carte blanche refusal to deal fairly and responsibly with legitimate claims.”