A railway worker was unfairly fired after accidentally drinking tea with cocaine in it, but won't get any compensation, a tribunal ruled

A railway worker was unfairly fired after accidentally drinking tea with cocaine in it, but won't get any compensation, a tribunal ruled
A railway worker drank a herbal tea infused with cocaine to relieve indigestion. Suriani
  • A railway worker was dismissed after he tested positive for cocaine in a routine drug test.
  • He had been drinking a herbal tea he bought from a market, which he later found contained cocaine.

A British railway worker fired for a positive drug test was unfairly dismissed, a tribunal ruled, after he argued that he had drunk herbal tea infused with cocaine.

Paul Glenholmes, a safety technician for Network Rail since July 2014, was dismissed in 2020 after a routine drug test found traces of cocaine in his system, according to claims brought by Glenholmes to the Midlands East Tribunal.

Glenholmes had been prescribed medication for a disability which caused him indigestion, and he was taking an over the counter medicine to resolve the issue. On September 6, 2020, he bought Inca Tea at a market which didn't list any of the ingredients. According to the tribunal, he said it immediately worked to relieve his indigestion.

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Inca Tea, also known as mate tea or coca tea, is a South American herbal tea, which contains the same active ingredient as cocaine. Glenholmes continued to take the product from that point forward, and claimed not to be aware of what was in it.

On 24 September, he had to take a standard drug and alcohol screening test, after being given eight weeks notice. The results showed that Glenholmes tested positive for benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine found in urine.


He was then suspended on September 30 after which an investigation commenced.

Glenholmes provided a personal statement for the investigation in which he said he believed the failed test was due to his ingestion of "Inca Tea" which didn't have an ingredients list. After researching the product, he told the tribunal that he came to realize it contained cocaine.

"Having the information and research which I now know, I would not have in good conscience bought the product or consumed it," he said in the statement.

Glenholmes was then unable to attend a disciplinary hearing on November 20, 2020 with Network Rail citing "stress at work," and ill-health. He also said there was a lack of "due diligence," by managers during the investigation.

The tribunal judge ruled that the procedural errors during the investigation meant the dismissal was unfair, but that Glenholmes would not receive any compensation because he was "wholly blameworthy" for the incident.


"I am in no doubt that the claimant was entirely to blame for his dismissal. He deliberately drank tea from South America without knowing, and not researching prior to drinking it, what it contained. He further failed to consider finding out what it contained notwithstanding that it was at least as effective as the over the counter medication he had replaced with the tea."

Business Insider reached out to the Midland East Tribunal and Network Rail for comment but did not immediately hear back.