'Juggling life' test for Army mother

A SINGLE mother suing the Army because of a lack of childcare considered taking highly-paid civilian work in Afghanistan which would have meant spending months away from her daughter, a tribunal heard.

Tilern DeBique, 28, a former corporal from the Caribbean island of St Vincent, left the Army in April 2008 after being driven to her "wits' end" trying to juggle life in the military with arranging childcare for her daughter, now aged four.

The 28-year-old, who was formally disciplined after missing a parade and part of a course because of childcare commitments, won claims of race and sex discrimination last year after the employment tribunal heard she was told the Army was "unsuitable for a single mother who couldn't sort out her childcare arrangements".

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But yesterday, at a hearing to decide the size of Ms DeBique's payout, it emerged she had expressed an interest in two administrative jobs in Afghanistan before leaving.

The civilian positions, which made use of her specialist telecommunications experience from the Army, offered salaries of 48,000 and 35,000 but would have involved long stints away from her daughter.

The tribunal panel also heard Ms DeBique turned down another position within the Army, a five-year posting to Blandford Forum camp in Dorset, which would have offered better childcare opportunities.

Keith Morton, for the Ministry of Defence (MoD), suggested Ms DeBique was exploring jobs which paid "considerably more money" in the run up to her departure.

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But Ms DeBique denied that she was financially motivated, replying: "They did pay more than I earned in the Army but it wasn't my primary consideration."

Ms DeBique, who lives in south west London, represented herself yesterday, while her daughter sat beside her playing with toys and a colouring book.

The former soldier said she was "disadvantaged" by being from a Commonwealth country because immigration rules prevented her sister from being able to stay with her in two-bedroom accommodation at Chelsea Barracks.

"She would be able to stay if she was visiting but not for the purpose of looking after my child," said Ms DeBique.

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"If it was a case of me going by the rules, it wasn't permissible."

More than six per cent of the 100,000-strong British Army came from Commonwealth countries, based on 2007 figures, the tribunal heard.

Ms DeBique told the hearing that her sister, who lives in St Vincent, would have looked after the child if she had got either of the jobs in Afghanistan.

One position would have involved working in blocks of nine weeks, with three weeks off, and the other three months on, with one month off.

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Ms DeBique accepted that she might not have been "thinking straight" in rejecting the posting to Blandford Forum.

"Looking back in hindsight, I can see it being perceived that way but at the time I had gone through so much mentally," she said."I was at my wits' end, if that's the appropriate term to use."

The tribunal has heard that Ms DeBique was 19 when she joined the Army in 2001. She became a mother in August 2005.

She was formally disciplined in early 2007 after missing part of a course and failing to turn out on parade because of childcare commitments.

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The panel was told that Ms DeBique had worked in temporary jobs after leaving the Army but was currently unemployed and had fallen behind on her 80-a-week rent for a room in shared accommodation.

An MoD appeal against the ruling was rejected last October.

The current hearing, which will decide how much Ms DeBique should receive, is expected to finish later this week.

Last night, an MoD spokesman said: "Serving personnel who are parents are responsible for ensuring they have childcare arrangements in place."