A senior IT worker at the Sellafield nuclear plant was sacked after she dropped USB sticks containing ‘official sensitive’ information in a car park.
Louise Telford potentially risked national security by downloading unencrypted data onto her personal memory devices and taking them home with her, an employment tribunal heard.
The senior systems control engineer, who worked at the site for more than 20 years, was caught when USB sticks fell out of her bag and were found by another employee.
She claimed that because she frequently worked late she needed to use her own devices because official memory sticks were locked away at 4.30pm for security reasons.
After a disciplinary hearing, Miss Telford was sacked for gross misconduct.
But she then sued her employer for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination. However, her case was thrown out by a judge.
Employment Judge Alan Johnson said: ‘This was a case which involved an employer who operated in a field where national security and safety was of paramount importance, and it was essential that data security was taken extremely [seriously].
‘The management of personal data has for all employers and employees become an increasingly important matter throughout the world of work.
‘But with Sellafield, there was the added dimension of data being sensitive in terms of its potential impact on nuclear safety, the threat of terrorism and overall national security.
‘One does not have to be an enthusiast of the history of espionage to be aware of how the smallest of information breaches can form part of a much wider programme or strategy by a third-party body to undermine sensitive industries.’
Miss Telford suffered from a number of medical conditions which required her to take medication every day, the tribunal was told.
This caused her to suffer from ‘drowsiness’ and as a result she often started work later and finished later than her colleagues.
To counter this, she claims to have ‘improvised’ by using unencrypted USB sticks to take her work home with her.
This was a problem because she took them off-site and used them on other computers, potentially bringing malware viruses into Sellafield’s computer systems, the tribunal heard.
Miss Telford blamed her disability on the car park incident, saying her medication caused ‘forgetfulness’ and she ‘vaguely remembered’ items spilling from her bag.
IT engineers spent 261 hours looking into the incident, proving the seriousness of what happened, the tribunal heard.
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