MoD ‘failed to address risk’ to soldiers of catching Q fever in Afghanistan

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The Ministry of Defence “failed to address the risk” posed to soldiers deployed to Afghanistan by what is known as the Helmand group fevers, a court was told.

Wayne Bass, a private from the 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment, said his life has been ruined after serving in Helmand Province in 2011-2012 without being given antibiotics by the Army.

Humans can catch Q fever after breathing in dust from the faeces of infected farm animals such as sheep, cattle and goats.

During his tour, Mr Bass was in contact with goats and sheep and “was often required to take cover and jump through ditches and crawl along the ground, coming into contact with animal products and excrement”, his lawyers said.

Mr Bass, 34, was medically discharged from the Army in 2014 because of his Q fever and chronic fatigue symptoms.

Theo Huckle QC told the court his client’s case was that there was a “well-established” known risk to soldiers deployed to the area of developing Helmand group fevers, including Q fever.

Opening the case, he said: “What he says, is the obligation of the MoD as his employer was to identify the risks to him in that regard, and to consider and to take all reasonable steps to minimise, remove or minimise the risks.”

In court documents setting out the case, it is argued that the MoD should have considered using doxycycline, an antibiotic used to treat Q fever, as an anti-malarial drug.

Mr Huckle told the court: “In essence, the complaint that the complainant makes is that the MoD failed to address the relevant risks, concerned itself with its policy on anti-malarial protection, it did not properly address the risk of Helmand group fevers to the men, and having failed to address the risk, unsurprisingly failed to take any steps to deal with that risk.”

Wearing a navy suit displaying two medals, with his hands clasped around a walking stick, Mr Bass sat at the back of the courtroom behind his legal representatives.

Introducing the claimant to Judge Heather Baucher QC, Mr Huckle QC said he sometimes could be in “quite considerable discomfort”.

She replied that he was free to leave the courtroom whenever he wished for a break.

It is the first case to test the MoD’s duty to protect against Q fever, said Hilary Meredith Solicitors, the firm acting for Mr Bass, 34.

The five-day trial, which started at the Central London County Court on Monday, will examine the extent of any duty owed by the Army to Mr Bass in relation to Q fever, and whether that duty was breached.

Mr Bass’s lawyers said he was disabled, suffers from anxiety and depression and symptoms that “greatly affect his life and his functional capacity”.

In a document setting out the claim, lawyers said: “The claimant remains severely limited in his physical function.

“He is unable to work. He cannot carry out domestic activities.

“There has been no meaningful recovery.”

In a statement setting out the defendant’s case, lawyers for the MoD acknowledged the risk of Q fever was foreseeable.

But it said the claimant “cannot come close” to showing that using Doxycycline as an anti-malarial was the “only reasonable option”

The defence will argue that the claimant “cannot show that the decision not to use Doxycycline as a prophylactic against malaria and Q fever was unreasonable so as to amount to a breach of duty at common law”, or that “he would not have sustained injury if he had been prescribed Doxycycline.”

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