OPINION: Cash is no reward for tragedy

Peter Stanford, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

With our Prime Minister so obviously enthralled by all things American, it has become par for the course that whatever happens in the States, good or bad, to end up over here sooner or later. One such is the alarming growth in the compensation culture. No tragedy occurs that isn't followed by victims' families going to court to claim damages. What used to be decried as ambulance-chasing by shady lawyers is now oh-so-respectable with law firms sponsoring hospital charity events, presumably to get closer to the ranks of the wounded in A&E.

Clearly, in some cases there is a real financial loss and that must be addressed, but all too often this new generation of claims revolves around the utterly unquantifiable emotional trauma suffered. Most worryingly, a mistaken belief has developed, almost unchallenged, that getting a lump sum will somehow assuage the pain of losing a child or a partner. Anyone with any experience of grief will know that money can't even scratch the surface of the devastation.

What does seem to work, by contrast, is to take the pain that eats away at you and use it positively. So it's not what happens to you and yours, it's what you do with it. This has been the philosophy of the parents of murdered Surrey schoolgirl, Milly Dowler. They have launched a campaign to encourage parents to keep in contact with their children through text messaging. It's an initiative that reminded me of the work of Diana and Paul Lamplugh who set up the Suzy Lamplugh Trust after the disappearance of their daughter.

They have built on their shattering experience of loss to highlight issues of personal safety. Good came out of bad, to put it at its simplest. Tragedy can either be channelled for the benefit of the wider community or it can be channelled into the courts where money is the only (inadequate) answer on offer. With the announcement that Diana and Paul are stepping down because of illness (Third Sector, 8 October), I hope their dedication to the public good, born out of their private tragedy, will continue to inspire others.

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