Two women who were sacked because of their sexuality, a tribunal has found. Margaret Durman and Penny Smith from Cornwall won a record, but undisclosed, payout.

They both worked as nurses in a care centre run by Barchester Healthcare.

The company dismissed them in September 2005 for gross misconduct after allegations of physical and sexual abuse of patients.

They appealed to an employment tribunal, who found there was no evidence to back up the allegations against them and that a proper investigation would have cleared them.

The tribunal agreed that Ms Durman, a 55-year-old registered nurse and Ms Smith, a 41-year-old psychiatric nurse, had been the victims of sexual orientation discrimination.

The nurses were supported in their appeal by the Royal College of Nursing.

They won their tribunal in June 2006 but Barchester Healthcare unsuccessfully appealed, which delayed the ruling becoming public knowledge.

“It is hard to see how any dismissal, conducted by an employer of such size, could be so very bad unless sexual orientation discrimination was the root cause of it,” the tribunal found.

“We are not satisfied that a heterosexual couple would have been treated the same.”

“This has ruined our lives – both our professional lives and our private lives,” Ms Durman told the Plymouth Herald.

“Because of the ongoing hearings and appeals we have not been able to work at all.

“We have had no apology from Barchester Healthcare.

“The tribunal report was so damning and the only conclusion that they could come to was the dismissal was based on discrimination.”

An anonymous allegation in May 2005 led to the nurses facing a management disciplinary hearing, which lasted two days, at which they were judged to be guilty of goross misconduct and dismissed.

Sue Matthews, regional officer for the Royal College of Nursing, welcomed the ruling:

“Barchester had a total disregard not only for employment law and good practice but also the health and welfare of their staff who they assumed were guilty from the outset,” she told the Plymouth Herald.

“I’m delighted for Margaret and Penny that they have the recognition that they were completely inappropriately treated by Barchester, although the personal damage they have suffered won’t be compensated by any amount.”

A spokesperson for Barchester Healthcare said: “While Barchester is clearly disappointed by the outcome of the tribunal, its primary concern has always been and remains to be the welfare of its residents at Kernow House.”