Veteran spat by cobra wins 50-year fight for justice

Patrick Edwards. Photo/Stephen Parker
Patrick Edwards. Photo/Stephen Parker

More than 50 years after a cobra spat in his eye in the jungles of Malaya, blind Rotorua veteran Patrick Edwards is set to receive the disability pension he has spent decades fighting for.

And it is, in the words of the 80-year old, "a beautiful Christmas present".

Edwards served as a regular in the New Zealand Army from April 1959 until May 1962, during which time he saw active service in the Malayan Emergency.

His eyesight had been failing from around the time of his service and by 1989 he was totally blind.

He first applied for a war disablement pension for failing eyesight in 1966 which was declined because his condition could nor be linked to his service.

Following decades of applications, reviews and reconsiderations High Court judge Justice Joseph Williams this week ruled Edwards' pension, which was finally granted in 2006, should be backdated to 1966.

It has been a long wait for justice for Edwards, his whanau and supporters.

"I am overjoyed after fighting them all these bloody years," Edwards told the Rotorua Daily Post.

Patrick Edwards. Photo/Supplied
Patrick Edwards. Photo/Supplied

Justice Williams acknowledged Edwards' case was a complex one, in part because of a reform of the laws in relation to support for veterans in 2014.

But he concluded Edwards' failing eyesight was aggravated by a cobra strike during his service in Malaya and he should have been granted the pension in 1966 when he first applied.

"The extent of the back payment will depend on both the degree of his partial blindness (prior to 1989) and the extent to which he was already receiving the WDP (War Disablement Pension) for his other disabilities."

Edwards described in a 1995 application how during a patrol he had a "close-in confrontation with a cobra" which was about 1.8m away in the strike position with the hood up.

"They spit venom on to the face of animals/humans to protect themselves, aiming at the eyes. I suspect that this is what happened and my (right) eye got slightly splashed as it was after this that I was having trouble," his statement said.

It was a 2006 letter from a doctor in Thailand that "changed the game", Williams said in this week's ruling.

The doctor stated cobra venom to the eyes, if untreated or not properly treated, may result in permanent blindness.

Patrick Edwards served in Malaya. Photo/Supplied
Patrick Edwards served in Malaya. Photo/Supplied

He had reviewed Edwards' medical records from the time and said it was possible he had not received this treatment, also noting a photo in the jungle showed signs of eye swelling already.

On the basis of this evidence, it was accepted Edwards' loss of vision was aggravated by his service and he was awarded the pension.

Then began the fight to get it backdated, with further appeals and reviews unsuccessful until Edwards took the case to the High court.

His daughter Aneta told the Rotorua Daily Post more than 50 years of fighting for what he was entitled to had taken a huge toll on her father - physically, emotionally, financially.

She said there had been times when they felt a sense of hopelessness but her father's absolute belief that he was right kept him going.

"My Dad has an indomitable will and drive for justice, a need for justice, to be respected and recognised.

"He had an absolute belief that he was right and he refused to give up his entitlement. He had lost so much already."

Edwards and his daughter both stressed the fight was not just about him.

"There are men that were in Dad's situation that have died before they ever got justice. Many are long gone. There are still men fighting for justice," Ms Edwards said.

"It was important to him to get justice for all."

She said she hoped the case would set a precedent for others in similar situations.

"It wasn't just about my Dad. His fight for justice was a fight for all veterans."

The amount Edwards will be granted is yet to be determined.

Topics:  cobra compensation pension veteran

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