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A former elite soldier who smashed her collarbone falling from an Army horse is bringing a £2.5m compensation claim against the MoD who have accused her of faking it.
Debbie O’Connell – who served as a gunner in the Royal Horse Artillery – says she fell when her mount kicked out and threw her off during training for ceremonial duties in 2015.
The former King’s Troop squadron member shattered her left collarbone in four places, leading to massive nerve damage and a virtually useless left arm.
She left the Army and reinvented herself as a para-athlete, wining two gold medals at the Invictus Games after her accident.
The 34-year-old, from Lincoln, is now fighting for £2.5m in damages, claiming her injuries wrecked her military career and left her struggling with chronic pain and lasting disabilities.
But MoD lawyers are accusing her of ‘fundamental dishonesty’ and say they have secret surveillance video taken by a private investigator which will send her claim, ‘up in a puff of smoke’.
Ms O’Connell, from Lincoln, is fighting for £2.5m in damages, claiming her injuries wrecked her military career and left her struggling with chronic pain and lasting disabilities
Debbie O’Connell (pictured competing in the Women’s 1500m at the Invictus Games Sydney 2018) – who served as a gunner in the Royal Horse Artillery – says she fell when her mount kicked out and she was thrown off during training for ceremonial duties in 2015
Ms O’Connell (pictured at the Road Cycling Time Trials event at the Invictus Games, in Sydney) left the Army and reinvented herself as a para-athlete wining two gold medals at the Invictus Games after her accident
The MoD is vigorously disputing her £2.5m compensation bid, and has hired a private investigator to take secret video footage which they say will prove she has faked part of her claim.
Niazi Fetto, for the MoD, told Judge Richard Davison that the Army had ‘formally raised’ allegations of ‘fundamental dishonesty’ against Ms O’Connell based on its video surveillance evidence.
Ms O’Connell’s barrister Nigel Lewers pointed out at London’s High Court that she has not yet had a chance to respond to the footage and give her side of the story.
The judge, during a brief pre-trial hearing, said the MoD felt they now had ‘enough material to make that allegation of fundamental dishonesty’,
And added on their case: ‘One might say that the whole case turns on this video evidence, because if she is found to be fundamentally dishonest on the basis of that her whole case will go up in a puff of smoke’.
At the hearing, lawyers for Ms O’Connell and the MoD focused on issues about legal costs and the shape of the evidence to come at trial.
Debbie O’Connell of the United Kingdom pictured competing in the Women’s 1500m IT7 during the Athletics during day seven of the Invictus Games Sydney 2018
Ms O’Connell, who is also a qualified fitness instructor, studied forensic science at university before starting out in the funeral industry.
She joined the Army in 2010 as a reservist before becoming a regular soldier and then becoming part of the King’s Troop, a ceremonial unit of the Royal Horse Artillery, tasked with driving teams of six horses pulling First World War era cannons during high-profile public displays.
Troopers wear a distinctive blue and gold uniform dating back to the Napoleonic wars and are called on to fire the royal salutes marking grand-scale state occasions, such as the Queen’s birthday and platinum jubilee.
But then when her accident happened she says she was forced her to reshape her entire life after she was discharged from the services in 2017.
She became a gold winning para-athlete, and went on to establish a post-Army career as a funeral director.
Before the Invictus Games in 2018, she told Lincolnshire Live: ‘After my injury, I hit a time low. I had lost my job and my whole life changed.
‘I went from riding horses and working as a fitness instructor to having to come to terms with not being able to use my left arm. You take your limbs for granted until you lose the use of them.
‘I am in pain all of the time. The time is excruciating and it’s difficult to sleep for long periods due to the discomfort.
‘I had an operation to fix my collarbone, although the nerves had been damaged.’
Her barrister, Mr Lewers, also told the court that Ms O’Connell also hopes to get sponsored by Athletics England to train full-time for the next Paralympics.