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Contaminated banknotes caused bus driver to test positive for cocaine

A bus driver wrongly accused of using cocaine has won a substantial payout after arguing that the traces of the drug must have come from passengers’ money.

Alan Bailes lost his job of 22 years when he was asked to take a saliva test that came back positive for the class A drug. Bailes, 55, insisted that he had never taken any illegal drugs but was sacked for gross misconduct by First West of England, part of FirstGroup.

The father-of-two from Bristol spent £440 for a more accurate hair follicle test with his GP, which he said proved there had been no drugs in his system for 90 days. But he was not given his job back.

He said: “We were left feeling stressed, incredibly worried and upset, all for something I didn’t do.”

Bailes and his family set about researching the possible reasons for the initial positive test, found a news article on how many banknotes are contaminated with cocaine and, backed by the Unite union, took the company to a tribunal.

He said on the day of the test he handled several hundred pounds of cash. Bailes added that he did not wash his hands before the test, increasing the likelihood of the drug being transferred from cash to his hands and on to the test swab.

“I hadn’t smoked cigarettes for 16 years and I have never taken drugs in my life,” he said. “It was contamination off the banknotes.”

Bailes’ wife, Rita, added: “The whole thing was a complete and utter nightmare. They put us in severe financial hardship for something he didn’t even do. He has been completely stressed out throughout the whole thing.”

Employment judge Christa Christensen said in her ruling: “The respondent [First West of England] was aware that banknotes in general circulation are or could be contaminated by cocaine.

“This in turn means that it was incumbent on the respondent, as part of a reasonable investigatory process, to investigate the possibility that that reality may have some significance to the claimant’s positive cocaine drug test.”

Bruce Robin at Thompsons Solicitors, who represented the driver, said: “Mr Bailes and his family have suffered enormously and it was particularly pleasing to see the tribunal back his version of events.

“In particular, they entirely accepted that his future career prospects have been affected by the unfair dismissal, and that there was an onus on the employer to carry out proper investigations before dismissing such a long-serving employee with an impeccable record.”

Thompsons said it was estimated that in the UK upwards of 88% of banknotes carry detectable traces of the drug.

A spokeswoman for First said: “We take the safety of our passengers, staff and other road users incredibly seriously and as such have stringent drug and alcohol testing for all of our employees.

“We randomly test individuals in line with company policy as well as acting when there are grounds for suspicion over misuse.

“While it would be inappropriate to comment on the finer details of this individual case, we believe that we followed due process throughout.”

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