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Mother of all defeats! Huge blow to Army as it faces £100,000 payout after tribunal backs single mother who went AWOL over childcare
By Vanessa Allen
Last updated at 8:10 AM on 14th April 2010
Forced out: Ms DeBique is pushing for a six-figure payout after winning her case
Army chiefs face the nightmare prospect of having to consider their soldiers' childcare problems before giving them orders.
The devastating blow follows a successful sex discrimination claim brought by a single mother.
Tilern DeBique, 28, says she was forced to leave the Army because she was expected to be available for duty around the clock.
She was formally disciplined when she failed to appear on parade because she had to look after her daughter.
She was told the Army was a 'war-fighting machine' and 'unsuitable for a single mother who couldn't sort out her childcare arrangements'.
Now she is in line for a payout of at least £100,000 for loss of earnings, injury to feelings and aggravated damages.
The case could have massive implications if other recruits argue that their childcare rights must be considered.
Tory politician Patrick Mercer, a former Army officer, warned last night: 'The defence budget is already hugely overstrained.
'If specialist childcare arrangements have to be made for every soldier who doesn't have an extended family to help, it will be cripplingly expensive.'
Fellow Tory Ann Widdecombe said: 'If you are in the Army, you must be available for duty.
'The idea that someone can sue for sex discrimination is simply ludicrous. As for a £100,000 payout, that is just turning a grievance into a lottery win.'
Miss DeBique also won a claim of race discrimination because Army chiefs did not let her bring her half-sister from the Caribbean to look after the child.
The former corporal, whose daughter is now four, told the Central London Employment Tribunal that British soldiers could rely on their families for childcare, but her relatives were all on her home island of St Vincent, where she was recruited.
This second victory raises serious questions about the Army's ability to recruit from Commonwealth countries if it will be held responsible for soldiers' childcare arrangements.
Miss DeBique joined the 10th Signal Regiment in March 2001 after recruiters visited her home village.
She became pregnant in 2004 and gave birth to her daughter Thalia in August 2005.
At first she took the baby back to her family in St Vincent but brought her to the UK in September 2006.
Soldier: Ms DeBique served as a signals technician, based at Chelsea Barracks
It was initially arranged that she would work from 8.30am to 4.30pm and only on weekdays, so she could arrange childcare.
As a signals technician Miss DeBique was responsible for fixing faulty cables and communications equipment but she was also required to have the skills to serve on the front line if required.
She was given two-bedroom family accommodation at Chelsea Barracks and wanted her half-sister to become a live-in carer.
British soldiers who become single parents are encouraged to ask relatives to live with them to help.
But Army chiefs told Miss DeBique that immigration rules meant any relative of hers could enter the country only as a visitor and stay no longer than six months.
In December 2006 she missed training after her daughter fell ill, and in January 2007 she failed to appear on parade because of childcare difficulties.
It was then she was told that she was required to be available at all times and that she was working for a 'war fighting machine'.
She feared she was 'on the path to dismissal' and quit the Army in 2008, after seven years.
The Defence Ministry says she could have accepted an alternative posting.
Miss DeBique told the tribunal it had been her 'dream' to join the Army and she had wanted to give her daughter a better life than she had.
She said she would have seen out her full 22-year period of service if she had not suffered discrimination, but was now struggling financially because she could not find another job.
The tribunal criticised the Army for not making childcare arrangements for her - especially after its costly recruitment drive in the Caribbean.
It found that the Ministry of Defence could have liaised with the UK Border Agency to relax immigration rules.
The Ministry appealed against the rulings but lost.
Its lawyers say any payout for loss of earnings should be reduced because only six per cent of female soldiers serve their full 22 years. The compensation hearing continues.