A decorated police firearms officer who was removed from his job because he has partial hearing loss in one ear has won a disability discrimination claim.
Police Constable Bruce Shields, 39, suffered high frequency hearing loss throughout his 12-year career as a “distinguished” marksman for Surrey and Sussex Police.
Despite his hearing impairment the tribunal was told that Mr Shields was involved in many challenging work situations including thwarting an armed robbery at a Barclays bank, in Ashford, Surrey, in June 2010. He was awarded a Chief Constable’s Commendation for his role.
Mr Shields, a married father-of-two from Petersfield, Hants, had suffered an ear infection in 1999 which left him with some hearing loss in his right ear. He underwent and passed hearing tests annually, but it was only when a new minimum permitted hearing level was introduced in 2013 that Mr Shields failed. He was immediately removed from firearms duties.
The judgment said: “The claimant had many years’ distinguished service as a police constable who was authorised to carry firearms (known as AFO). Throughout his AFO service he had suffered from high frequency hearing loss. There was no evidence or indication that his hearing loss had ever caused any operational difficulty or issue.”
The tribunal heard how the Sussex and Surrey Tactical Firearms Unit failed to give Mr Shields a specialised practical hearing test which could have shown he was able to do the job. A practical test carried out by the London Fire Service was identified by the command but Mr Shields was not even offered the opportunity to take it.
The judgment added: “The LFS test was at the time the best available test. It seems clear that apart from gunfire, there were sufficient operational similarities between the police and the fire service for the test to have some application.
“LFS had it in current use for fire fighters working in life threatening settings. In our judgment, it would have been reasonable for the claimant to undertake the LFS test, and accordingly reasonable to defer the conclusions until after the claimant had done so.”
Mr Shields is still working for Surrey Police in a temporary training capacity.
He said: “I would like to thank the court in reaching a balanced and considered verdict.
“I am very pleased with the result and hope, as a result of this action, future officers may benefit from the judgment.
“Although I cannot comment on the detail at present, I hope that a satisfactory remedy is implemented and that I can put this behind me and carry on with my professional career.
“Finally I would like to thank my family, legal team and the Police Federation of England and Wales for their support.
Mr Shields’ lawyer, an employment law specialist at Slater and Gordon, said: “It’s extremely disappointing that Mr Shields was discriminated against in this way.
“He was an exemplary firearms officer and should have been given the opportunity to take the test that could have proved he was capable of doing his job.
“Sussex and Surrey Constabularies need to take this tribunal ruling very seriously and ensure this does not happen again.”