11:34am Wednesday 13th March 2013
TWO nursery workers were instantly sacked by bosses who suspected them of planting cocaine and trying to blackmail them out of £30,000, a tribunal heard.
Experienced child-care workers Sharon Ingham and Sharon Sadler were fired after a small amount of the drug was found at Sale Private Day Nursery, which cares for children aged between a few months and five years.
The pair are claiming unfair dismissal against Louise and Michael Porter, the married couple who run the nursery, over their sacking on July 2 last year.
Ms Ingham, 38, and Ms Sadler, 36, were accused in the hearing of sending three text messages to Mrs Porter demanding £30,000 or threatening to report the nursery to the authorities over drugs being on the property.
But they deny being behind the texts – although they admit stashing the drugs in a staff room video recorder at the nursery for six days.
They insist the drugs belonged to another member of staff, who they said was dealing to Mr Porter, aged 50, and his 52-year-old wife.
Ms Ingham, of Southwick Road, Northern Moor, told the court that she thought it was Mr Porter who was behind the blackmail texts in a bid to cover up their own drugs habit – something the couple strenuously deny.
She told the hearing in Manchester that the cocaine had dropped out of the pocket of a pair of trousers, owned by the other member of staff, on June 27 – the day before the first blackmail text was sent.
Ms Ingham then told Ms Sadler – but did not immediately tell police or Ofsted because they were ‘frightened’ of the nursery being shut down and them losing their jobs.
Earlier, the Porters admitted bugging the office of Ms Sadler – the manager of the nursery who worked there for 11 years – after receiving the first blackmail text on June 28, 2012.
The texts said the sender knew there were drugs on the nursery premises and threatened to ‘go to the authorities’ unless £30,000 was paid.
The hearing was told that the Porters, who were suspicious about the behaviour of Ms Ingham and Ms Sadler, used a listening device in their office to hear conversations between the women over the course of the next five days – as well as watching them move around the staff room on CCTV.
Mr and Mrs Porter, of Derbyshire Road South, Sale – where the nursery is also located – said they had heard Ms Ingham and Ms Sadler, of Dunster Drive, Urmston discussing where to ‘stash’ something through the listening device.
They insisted they had never taken drugs. In a bid to bring matters to a head after receiving another blackmail text on July 2, Mr Porter made a show of saying to his wife – in front of the claimants – that he was going to the police.
According to the Porters, one of the two women was then heard saying to the other: “Do you think they know about the ******* text?” Ms Ingham denied this during questioning.
Ms Ingham admitted then using a latex glove to move the cocaine from the video recorder to some cushions under the staff room floor.
She and Ms Sadler then told Mr and Mrs Porter about the drugs.
The owners accused the women of planting the drugs and sacked them on the spot. Police officers investigating the two text messages – as well as a third from the same number sent on July 5 – later traced the sim card, which had been bought at a newsagents in Stretford.
The trail went cold because it had been paid for in cash. No one was ever charged in connection with the drugs find.
Both the sacked workers are also making claims under whistle-blowing laws because they say they were trying to expose illegal acts taking place in public life.
The hearing was adjourned until May 3 – when Ms Sadler is expected to give evidence.
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