A HEALTH care assistant and community support worker, sacked for trying to calm a patient by impersonating a police officer, have been awarded £90,000.

Gail Freeman and Steve Wood, of Middlesbrough, settled the case during an unfair dismissal hearing, after being sacked by the Tees Esk and Wear NHS Trust last year.

Health care assistant Miss Freeman was working at St Luke's Hospital, in Middlesbrough, when the incident happened in 2004.

A severely disturbed patient, who had made numerous suicide attempts, was becoming aggressive with staff.

Police were called but, before they arrived, Mr Wood reluctantly agreed to tell the patient he was a police officer in an attempt to calm her down.

Later that afternoon, the patient committed suicide in custody.

Mr Wood said: "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 sideways 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 more than two-and-a-half years while the investigation was carried out. This caused me considerable stress and fear about my future."

Miss Freeman, 52, who was awarded £60,000,said: "It is not about the money. I knew I had done nothing wrong and that is why I decided to fight it.

"I worked there for 23 years and I have had four years of stress and worry. Obviously, I am happy but I am just glad it is finally over."

Thompsons Solicitors, in Newcastle, who represented the pair, welcomed the decision.

Liz Twist, Unison head of health in the North-East, said: "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."

A spokesman for Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust said: "Mr Woods and Miss Freeman were both dismissed by the trust for gross misconduct following Mr Woods' impersonation of a police officer to a vulnerable mental health patient, and concealing that unacceptable behaviour to the investigation carried out by the trust.

"Following legal advice the trust decided in the interest of the taxpayer to reach an out of court settlement."