A FORMER Royal Marine has said the Ministry of Defence (MoD) accepting responsibility for hearing loss suffered during service gave him a “glimmer of hope” in his legal fight for compensation. 

Robert “Barney” Barnett, from Christchurch, was medically discharged from the armed forces in 2014 after an 18-year career, which saw him serve on three tours of Afghanistan and two of Iraq. 

The 44-year-old is now one of thousands hoping to receive compensation for noise-induced hearing loss suffered during military service after the MoD accepted that it had a duty of care towards personnel. 

The agreement, approved by the High Court on Monday and which is the first of its kind, could allow thousands of former servicemen and women to claim damages. 

Robert BarnettRobert Barnett (Image: PA)

Mr Barnett launched legal action against the MoD in 2016, having never been able to afford the hearing aids he needed after suffering around a 20 per cent loss of hearing in each ear. 

He said the legal process was “slow” and “frustrating”, having rejected low settlement offers in the past, with those affected by hearing loss “treading water”. 

He said: “It gives me a glimmer of hope. Not just me, I hope nobody has to go through what I have. It’s speeding up the process. 

“The people who don’t have a good support network, this injection of cash, whatever that will be, whatever level, for some people that will mean the world, to not have to go through this lengthy legal battle.” 

He continued: “The reason I am doing this is to spread the message far and wide. We found in the veteran community and the services, sometimes things are kept need-to-know, so the hope of doing this is that the message is spread far and wide, and there is hope. 

“If you don’t ask, you don’t get, so it is worth at least ringing, texting, or sending an email just to make an initial inquiry.” 

Mr Barnett joined the Marines aged 16, following in the footsteps of his father, who served in the Royal Navy for 40 years.  

He was exposed to various weapons and mortar fire and first noticed hearing problems in 2008. 

Mr Barnett said that service-issue hearing defenders “wouldn’t fit under your helmet, let alone with the earpiece for your radio”. 

He said: “All we cared about were the people left and right of us. In the heat of battle, you don’t really think about your hearing defenders.” 

He continues to suffer from tinnitus in his job in security, having been denied the opportunity to pursue a planned career in the police after leaving the military. 

He said: “Every single day it affects me. It wakes me up, it is a constant buzzing in my ear. I don’t like to be in places like nightclubs, even offices, on the trains. 

“The moment let’s say three of four people came into the room, or are speaking, let’s say for instance they had alcohol, then the noise level rises and I find it extremely difficult.” 

Mr Barnett said those who were medically discharged were given three months to “get your life in order”, and he knew “some” people who had taken their own lives after being medically discharged due to hearing problems. 

The father-of-one said the process was “absolutely heartbreaking” and the adjustment to civilian life was “brutal”. 

He said: “It was extremely difficult because the jobs I could have gone into were limited. 

“My first choice would have been RMR (Royal Marines Reserves) as a backup, I would have applied for the police, and having been limited in where you can go, it does start to affect you after a while, because not only have you lost your identity from the service, you are also limited as to where you can go.” 

He continued: “It is hard. It is a hard transition, and it is extremely turbulent post being medically discharged as opposed to discharged.  

“When you leave, it’s your choice, and you have around 12 to 24 months to plan your exit and attend courses, but when you only have three months to get your life in order … it’s a very lonely place sometimes.” 

On Monday, lawyers for the MoD accepted that the organisation had a duty of care towards personnel who were suing the body, having previously disputed this in earlier legal claims. 

There are thousands of active cases, with the agreement applying to those who have been in regular or reserve armed forces since 1987 and does not apply to civilian military staff or cadets. 

While the MoD accepts that noise exposure during service caused hearing loss among former personnel, it may dispute the extent to which this happened in individual cases. 

This issue, and others in contention in relation to the hearing-loss claims, are due to be decided at a trial involving several “test cases”, which is expected to be held between October and December 2025. 

The outcome of the trial will likely then affect how much compensation thousands of others could receive. 

When asked about his feelings towards the MoD, Mr Barnett said: “I don’t have anger against them, but there is more, dare I say it, frustration. 

“But again, by going through this process, we make it easier for those behind us, and that is what it is all about.”