Security officer accused of stealing from lost property was unfairly dismissed, tribunal rules

Judge finds ‘deficiencies in the extent and quality’ of the investigation conducted by the claimant’s employer

A security officer accused of stealing a wallet from lost property was unfairly dismissed because of his employer’s inadequate investigation, a tribunal has ruled.

Mr O Adeshina, who worked night shifts as a security officer at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, was dismissed by his employer Corps Security UK without notice on the grounds of gross misconduct on 1 October 2019, after more than 10 years of service following the theft allegations.

However the London South Employment Tribunal ruled that the “deficiencies” of the investigation leading to his dismissal were so great that Adeshina’s employer “could not have had a reasonable belief in the claimant’s guilt because of the unreasonable process which led to that belief”.

Adeshina’s role involved spending time at the control desk in the management office, as well as checking and locking up each department using a set of master keys.

On Friday 16 August 2019, another security officer working at the hospital was handed a lost wallet containing cards and £80 in cash. She logged it in the lost property book, placed the wallet and the completed lost property form into a green transparent patient bag and placed it into another bag at the control desk in the management office.

However, when the bag was opened the following Monday, it was discovered that the wallet was not in it.

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The footage from the cameras covering the control desk for the full weekend was reviewed by a security contract manager employed by Corps Security and based at St Thomas’. At least some parts of the footage were also reviewed by Belayeth Hussain, security operations manager for the trust.

As a result of what he had seen on the footage, Hussain requested Adeshina be suspended with immediate effect and an investigation conducted. His view was that the CCTV appeared to show Adeshina opening the property bag, taking the patient property bag out, hiding the contents then walking out of the control desk before later returning to the office and shredding paper and what appeared to be a card.

Adeshina was suspended on 30 August and Clarence Hyman, one of Corps Security’s contract managers, began an investigation.

After being informed that he had been identified on the CCTV footage, Adeshina said he wasn’t saying that it wasn’t him, but that he did not take the wallet or shred paperwork.

Following their interview, Hyman reviewed the extracts of CCTV footage which showed Adeshina in the early hours of that morning but undertook no further investigation. He admitted to the court that he did not review all of the CCTV footage at any point. The tribunal noted that Hyman did not give the Adeshina the opportunity to view the footage, or ask him to explain the actions he was seen undertaking on the footage, taking the view that Adeshina would be given access to the footage during his disciplinary hearing.

On 23 September, Adeshina was invited to a disciplinary hearing with Glen Bowen, Corps Security’s contract manager who managed the Trust’s account. In advance of the disciplinary hearing, Adeshina was provided with statements from various colleagues, including the security officer who found the wallet, and stills taken from the CCTV footage. However, he was not provided with the footage itself nor any opportunity to view it.

The hearing concentrated primarily on whether or not Adeshina was the person seen in the still from the footage. During that hearing, he admitted that it was him in the stills but maintained he did not take the wallet. He explained that his reason for using the shredder was that when he went to the toilet and took off his jacket, two cards fell out, prompting him to look through other cards in his wallet. When he found some that he no longer needed he disposed of them in the shredder.

Following the hearing, Bowen reviewed the footage again but was not convinced by the explanation Adeshina had provided, yet didn’t take any steps to investigate further. On 30 September, Adeshina was informed that he was being dismissed on the grounds of misconduct for theft of patient property and breach of trust.

Adeshina brought a claim of unfair dismissal to the tribunal on 15 December 2019.

At the hearing, judge Clarke ruled that during the investigatory stage, Adeshina was asked only generalised questions, and that he had not seen either the CCTV footage relied upon or the still photographs taken from it.

Clark conceded that the firm held a “potentially fair reason for dismissal” in believing Adeshina had committed theft, however he found “deficiencies in the extent and quality of the investigation conducted… A reasonable investigation would have sought to verify the claimant’s explanation for the actions seen on CCTV.” It was therefore judged that “the deficiencies in the respondent’s investigation made this dismissal unfair.”

Paul Holcroft, managing director at Croner, said the case highlighted how important it was for employers to be able to justify they acted reasonably in dismissing an employee, especially in potentially career-ending situations of this nature. “A crucial part of this is conducting a thorough investigation, taking into account all evidence available and considering all explanations put forward by the employee that may explain their actions,” he said.

“As seen here, failure to do this could lead to a costly finding of unfair dismissal, even if the tribunal does have a degree of understanding as to why the respondent took the actions it did,“ said Holcroft.

An award will be decided at a subsequent remedial hearing. Corps Security has been approached for comment.