THE region’s police forces have paid out millions to tackle compensation claims lodged by their own officers and staff in recent years, The Northern Echo can reveal.

An investigation uncovering unsafe practices and dangerous incidents linked to forces across the country found that scandal-hit Cleveland Police has spent the equivalent of £640 per employee dealing with such claims.

The spend per employee for the beleaguered force is the highest in the country, almost triple that of the Metropolitan Police and more than the total for Durham Constabulary, Northumbria and North Yorkshire Police.

Since 2015, more than 170 compensation claims have been lodged against forces in the North-East by their own employees, with pay-outs made in that period totalling more than £2m.

A joint investigation between The Northern Echo and Newsquest’s Data Investigations Unit found that more than 1,900 claims have been made nationally, and over £20m paid out by UK forces and their insurers – the equivalent of the first annual salary of more than 870 new officers.

Dog attacks, trauma following the death of a toddler and a terrorism training exercise gone wrong are among reported incidents that drove police employees to lodge the claims.

A Freedom of Information request revealed numerous pay-outs and allegations relating to injuries from falls, training exercises, defective equipment and unsuitable work environments.

Claims were also lodged in relation to animal attacks, assaults and road traffic accidents, with bullying, harassment, trauma and stress at the heart of several mental-health related cases.

The findings prompted the Police Federation to call on the Government and chief officers to do all in their power to ensure the safety and welfare of officers at work.

Clive Knight, the Police Federation’s Health and Safety Lead, said preventing injuries was in the interest of all officers, their colleagues and the public in order to “reduce absences on an already stretched service”.

He added: “The Government and chief officers must do all they can to ensure the physical and mental welfare of officers is protected to allow them to keep doing their jobs, serving the public to the best of their ability.

“The consequences for officers who suffer an injury on duty are wide-ranging. It can affect their ability to perform their required role, their personal life and in extreme cases it can even end their policing career.

“As well as physical injury, it is important to note that increasingly these cases focus on the psychological harm police officers can suffer as a result of their work.”

The Federation is campaigning to raise awareness of the toll police work can have on mental health and wellbeing and is pushing for improved health and safety practices across all forces.

A spokesman for the National Police Chiefs’ Council said: “Every day police officers and staff run towards danger and deal with numerous traumatic events whilst assisting the public. Chief officers take their duty to protect their workforce very seriously.

“Forces carry out risk assessments, offer training and work with staff associations to make sure our people are as safe as they can be and when a police officer or member of staff is injured at work, it’s vital they receive appropriate care, support and treatment.”

North Yorkshire and Cleveland Police did not provide details of individual claims but among cases disclosed by Durham Constabulary were claims relating to stress, training injuries, assault and injuries in custody. Two claims were lodged over problems with work chairs.

Northumbria Police addressed allegations linked to fractures, deafness, burns and back injuries, with claims linked to training, evidence removal, unsuitable equipment, a lack of protective equipment and one fall from a horse.

Not all claims led to pay-outs and several cases are still active, but between 2015 and 2019, Cleveland Police paid out almost £1m and tackled 73 claims while Northumbria paid £130,000 and dealt with 50 new claims; North Yorkshire Police paid £105,000 and dealt with 36 claims and Durham Constabulary paid £263,000 and tackled at least 18 cases. Some sums paid in that period may relate to the conclusion of older claims.

Spokespersons for North Yorkshire Police and Durham Constabulary said efforts were being made to ensure staff and officers were safe and protected while carrying out their duties, with safety and well-being a priority.

A spokesman for Cleveland Police said the force was also committed to staff protection and said its new executive team was “moving the organisation forward to better engage with staff and ensure that past failures are not repeated.”