UNISON and Thompsons Solicitors took the case for Gail Freeman and Steve Wood, both of Middlesbrough, after they were sacked by the Tees Esk & Wear NHS Trust in 2007.

Health care assistant Gail Freeman was on duty on a secure mental health ward at St Lukes Hospital, Middlesbrough, trying to cope with a severely disturbed patient who made constant suicide attempts and lashed out at staff. On the day of the incident, the patient had made 8 suicide attempts within a two hour period and was becoming aggressive with staff. The police were called and at some point before their arrival, Gail’s colleague Steve Wood, a Community Support Worker, arrived on the ward.

The staff nurse in charge of the ward asked Mr Wood to tell the patient that he was a policeman. Mr Wood reluctantly agreed to do so and asked her to calm down, as she was being a danger to herself and to others. The police then arrived and arrested the patient.

Tragically, later that afternoon she committed suicide in police custody.

Steve Wood explains: “I was asked by a senior member of staff to assist and that’s why I did it. I was suspended, along with the three other carers, whereas our managers were simply moved side ways and medical staff were protected. It’s a disgrace. We were basically made scapegoats for the death of a patient. I was on suspension for over two and a half years while the investigation was carried out. This caused me considerable stress and fear about my future.”

Liz Twist, UNISON head of health, northern region, comments: “This case is proof that justice can be achieved through union membership even in extremely difficult cases. We were always concerned that the fact a tragic death had occurred could have made a tribunal unsympathetic to our members’ plight. We’re therefore very pleased with the outcome.”

Steve Wood was represented by Ranjit O’Mahony from Thompsons Solicitors in Newcastle, and Gail Freeman was represented by Deborah Henning, also from Thompsons.

Deborah Henning comments: “All employers must apply a fair and rigorous investigation and should not be daunted because something serious has happened. They must think very carefully before dismissing especially at the expense of loyal employees. We believe that both Steve Wood with over 10 years loyal service, and Gail Freeman, with over 23 years, were treated unfairly by the Trust and we’re pleased for them that the case has ended successfully.”

Ranjit O'Mahony, at Thompsons Solicitors, said: "In partnership with UNISON we have been able to ensure that Mr Wood was able to progress his unfair dismissal claim to the Employment Tribunal in order to achieve this great result."

The tribunal hearing commenced on Monday 12th May 2008, it was listed for 7 days, and settled on the 3rd day (Wednesday 14th May).

This news story was also published by The Northern Echo and the Evening Gazette.