A judge has ruled that a police officer in Australia suffered a workplace injury when he opened an email, and is entitled to a full pension.
Steven See was taken to a hospital emergency ward after suffering an anxiety attack when he read the email, sent to him on a Wednesday morning in April 2009.
Written by his lawyers, it had informed him the police commissioner had rejected an application to have 189 days of sick and annual leave re-credited after suffering the fallout of a distressing murder case.
"I broke down crying and was unable to complete my duties. I am still suffering anxiety symptoms," See is quoted as saying in court documents seen by IBTimes UK.
New South Wales District Court judge Garry Neilson ruled last Friday (3 February) that See, who never worked for the police again, had injured himself on duty because of opening the email.
"I determine that the suffering by [See] of the infirmity of 'chronic major depressive disorder' was caused by his having been hurt on duty," Judge Neilson ruled.
The sick leave taken by the former police officer, over a two year period, related to an incident almost 20 years ago, in March 1997.
Senior Constable See had been the shift supervisor at Lithgow Police Station, about 90 miles (140km) west of Sydney, when a young woman was found murdered in the city.
Serious questions were subsequently raised over his handling of the case on the night of the victim's death – later named as 19-year-old Alison Lewis.
It led to an apology by the then-police commissioner Peter Ryan, who said he was "embarrassed" by the mistakes made that night, and fellow officers allegedly encouraging See to take his own life to divert flack away from the police department.
"I was told that the best way I could assist the investigation would be to get a noose and hang myself," See said.
The whole affair was said to have led the former police officer to suffer a breakdown, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Racking up sick days while he recovered, the tipping point came with the arrival of the email saying those days would not be re-credited.
"The email read, 'Surprisingly the offer has been rejected by the Commissioner. You must either run your matter in GREAT (not advised) or make an application for medical discharge," said court documents quoting See.
The email appeared to be a tipping point for See's mental condition, and led to the claim that he had been "Hurt on Duty" from the fallout of Alison Lewis's murder.
Two years after the case was first brought to court, Judge Neilson found the effect of the email could be considered an injury at the workplace.
He ruled: "Each stressor can be seen as a blow, a punch, to his psyche. Whatever psychiatric condition was manifest initially, eventually the certified infirmity was diagnosed, the condition progressively deteriorated as the stressors became more severe and there was a permanent altering of brain chemistry.
"This is properly categorised as a disease of gradual process. The last stressor was on 8 April 2009 [the date of the email]."
New South Wales Police is understood to be reviewing the decision.