NHS worker sacked over £400k cash and jewellery stash wins payout


Staff discovered a trove of expensive items and money in Hanan Zaitoun’s filing cabinet (Picture: Getty)

An NHS scientist who was sacked for stashing £400,000 worth of cash and jewellery in her office is set to be handed compensation from her former employee.

Hanan Zaitoun, 71, was storing personal items valuing £250,000 in a filing cabinet, along with £144,000 in several currencies.

Hospital bosses forced her drawer open while the Syria-born scientist was suspended from work on an unrelated matter and, suspecting theft or fraud, called in the police.

But it turned out Mrs Zaitoun had suffered a spate of burglaries at home and was the victim of a mugging so decided to store the money and expensive goods at work for safekeeping.

After a police investigation, she was cleared of any wrongdoing, with detectives concluding the valuables were part of a dowry.

The tribunal heard she believed she had been the victim of ‘a personal vendetta or unlawful discrimination’, adding: ‘My career has been wrecked. My health has been very severely affected. 

‘I was near suicidal and my personality and character have completely changed as a result of the trauma I have suffered.

Mrs Zaitoun is a veteran NHS scientist who was working at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle at the time (Picture: Getty)

‘I have been humiliated in front of my friends and colleagues who are aware of what has happened to me, and I believe my reputation will never be restored.’

She was initially placed under investigation for transferring confidential information to a private email account, which she says did so she could work from home.

The office trove came to light when Mrs Zaitoun asked if she could collect her belongings after being suspended on full pay for the data breach from the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.

Mrs Zaitoun, who worked as a consultant in the NHS for 37 years, was under police investigation from September 2016 to April 2017.

Finance director Angela Dragone said goods and cash of that value being stored on the premises ‘exposed the trust to extreme risk’ as its insurance policy only covered losses worth £3,000.

The affair has been rumbling on for several years but now the scientist is due a payout (Picture: Getty Images)

Mrs Zaitoun raised a formal grievance shortly after being cleared ‘to investigate the circumstances surrounding the decision to abuse my privacy by breaking into my filing cabinet and subsequently calling the police’.

But she was eventually sacked from Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Hospitals Foundation Trust following an internal investigation in May 2019.

Now a tribunal ruled that the process which led to the dismissal was unfair.

Employment Judge Gerald Johnson said: ‘It was unreasonable for the Trust to categorise [Mrs Zaitoun’s] use of her locker as either ‘theft’ or ‘dishonesty’. No reasonable employer would have done so.’

Mrs Zaitoun also sued for age discrimination, but the tribunal found no evidence of this. 

Compensation will be awarded for the unfair dismissal at a later date.

A spokesperson for the trust said: ‘Whilst a judgment has been made in this case, the legal process is still ongoing so it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.’

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