Christopher Andrew Howle
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The Registrant was employed as a Hearing Aid Dispenser at Scrivens Hearing Care. On 23 February 2015, at Stafford Crown Court, the Registrant pleaded guilty to five counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. He was sentenced on 27 February 2015 to a total of three years’ imprisonment on each count concurrently and ordered to pay a statutory surcharge of £120.
Guilty pleas were to counts one, three, four, five and seven on a seven count indictment. Counts two and six were left to lie on file. The victim in relation to each count of assault was the Registrant’s then wife. The couple had met in 2005, married in 2010 and had two children together.
Facts and Grounds
The Panel found that the conviction was proved by the certified copy of the Certificate of Conviction of the Stafford Crown Court. The conviction amounts to a statutory ground.
Decision on Impairment
The Panel accepted and applied the advice of the Legal Assessor and the guidance in the HCPC Practice Notes on Conviction and Caution allegations and Finding that Fitness to Practice is Impaired. The Panel considered the Registrant’s fitness to practise at today’s date.
The Panel considered the nature, circumstances and gravity of the offence. The injured party was the Registrant’s wife. The circumstances relating to each count on which the Registrant was convicted were summarised by the Crown Court Judge in his sentencing remarks.
The Crown Court Judge identified aggravating features which were the commission of the offences in a domestic context, their commission over a considerable period of time, the presence of children who may not have been in the same room, but were in the same house, and that some of the offences, particularly counts 4 and 5 were aggravated by gratuitous degradation. The Registrant’s wife’s mental health was affected and there was an impact on the young children. The Judge identified mitigating features which were the Registrant’s guilty plea and the absence of any related convictions. The Judge decided that the overall seriousness of the case justified a sentence which was near to, but not quite at the top end of the sentencing range for the offence. He decided that a starting point of 54 months for the global sentence was appropriate. He gave credit for the Registrant’s guilty plea which reduced the sentence to three years.
The Registrant self-referred to the HCPC after having been arrested in February 2014. He has continued to update the HCPC on the progress of his case. In a letter dated 23 May 2015 the Registrant indicated that the allegation was accepted in full, he felt his fitness to practise was impaired by virtue of the conviction and agreed to his name being removed from the Register.
In his statement for the purpose of today’s hearing the Registrant suggests that he is no longer a Registrant because he did not renew his membership in 2014. He states that he deeply regrets his behaviour towards his estranged wife and that he has already started his rehabilitation. He states that his personal life has never interfered with his professional life and there is no reason to suggest that his convictions present a risk to service users or the public at large. He questions whether the public really do expect standards of personal conduct to be maintained by Hearing Aid Dispensers. He asks whether the public expect a hearing aid dispenser’s personal conduct to be held to a higher level than that of a gas fitter. He appears to be aggrieved that the matter has proceeded to a hearing.
The Panel first considered the personal component, which is the Registrant’s current behaviour. In his statement the Registrant suggests that his personal life is irrelevant to his professional life and that the public has no expectations in relation to personal conduct. The Registrant’s position is clearly contrary to the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics, in particular standard 3 “you must keep high standards of personal conduct” and standard 13 “you must behave with honesty and integrity and make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession. Hearing Aid Dispensers are expected to comply with the same standards of personal conduct as all HCPC Registrants. This is clearly set out in the Standards of Proficiency for Hearing Aid Dispensers at paragraph 1.a.8 “understand the obligation to maintain fitness to practise – understand the need to maintain high standards of personal conduct”.
The Registrant’s statement for this hearing indicates that he does not understand the need to maintain high standards of personal conduct. He does not appear to understand the purpose of the regulatory process or the need for this hearing. He does not demonstrate insight.
The Panel’s assessment is that the Registrant is not a risk to service users, but there is an ongoing risk that his personal conduct will damage confidence in the profession. The Registrant appears to agree that there is such a risk because he acknowledges that he may be a risk to future partners in situations of conflict or relationship breakdown. There is therefore an ongoing risk that the Registrant may bring the profession into disrepute. The Panel therefore concluded that the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired on the basis of the personal component.
The Panel next considered the public component, which includes the need to uphold standards and maintain confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. The Panel’s view is that members of the public would regard the Registrant’s conduct as entirely unacceptable and damaging to the profession. Members of the public would be concerned about the aggravating factors including that this was a bad case of domestic violence and that it involved an abuse of power and abuse of trust. Members of the profession and the public would also be concerned about the Registrant’s apparent lack of understanding of the basic HCPC standards which apply to him as a Hearing Aid Dispenser and his apparent suggestion that no standards relating to personal life of Hearing Aid Dispensers are appropriate.
The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired, on the basis of the public component.
Decision on Sanction
The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and followed the guidance in the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy. The purpose of a sanction is not to punish a Registrant, though it may have that effect. The purpose of a sanction is to protect public safety and the wider public interest which includes maintaining confidence in the profession and the regulatory process and acting as a deterrent to other Registrants. The Panel applied the principle of proportionality and balanced the public interest against the Registrant’s interest in continuing to practise as a Hearing Aid Dispenser.
The Panel noted the guidance in the case of Fleischmann that if a Registrant has been convicted of a serious criminal offence and is still serving their sentence at the time the matter comes before a Panel, normally the Panel should not permit the Registrant to resume their practice until that sentence has been satisfactorily completed. The Registrant is currently serving his sentence. The Panel did not identify any reasons for departing from the guidance in Fleischmann in this case.
The Panel identified the following aggravating circumstances:
• The offences involved violence in a domestic context and caused serious physical and psychological harm
• The offences were committed over a considerable period of time
• Some of the offences involved gratuitous degradation
• The Registrant’s lack of insight and lack of understanding of the HCPC Standards
The Panel identified the following mitigating circumstances:
• The Registrant’s guilty plea and expression of remorse
• The absence of similar convictions or fitness to practise history
• The Registrant states that he has begun a process of rehabilitation
The Panel’s judgment is that any sanction which permitted the Registrant to resume his practice would not be sufficient or proportionate taking into account the gravity of the offences, the aggravating circumstances and the guidance in Fleischmann.
The sanction should be the least restrictive which is sufficient to protect the public and the wider public interest. The Panel therefore considered a Suspension Order. In the Panel’s view the Registrant’s conduct is not of a nature that it can be remedied. The Registrant has taken some steps in rehabilitation by attending an anger management and a victim awareness course. In the Panel’s judgment the rehabilitative steps may reduce the risk of repetition of similar misconduct, but a risk of repetition of similar conduct will remain. The development of insight might also assist in reducing the risk of similar misconduct, but again the Panel is not confident that this would reduce the risk of repetition to an acceptable level.
The Panel also takes the view that the offences are so unacceptable that a member of the public would not expect the Regulator to permit the Registrant to practise as a Hearing Aid Dispenser even after a period of reflection and rehabilitation. The clear unacceptability of the Registrant’s conduct is described by the Judge in his sentencing remarks and is particularly illustrated by his description of the photographs as “horrific”. As a Hearing Aid Dispenser the Registrant would work with elderly and vulnerable service users. The public perception and the view of the Panel is that it is not appropriate for a Registrant who has been convicted of an offence of this gravity to practise. In the Panel’s judgment it is very unlikely that this position would change even if the Registrant were to develop insight and to take rehabilitative steps during a period of suspension. The Panel took into account that a Suspension Order is for a maximum period of twelve months, but is subject to review and may be extended for further periods of up to twelve months.
The Panel took into account the mitigating circumstances including the Registrant’s expression of remorse. The Panel’s view is that the Registrant’s guilty plea and expression of remorse would not change the public perception of the seriousness of the offences in this case. The Panel concluded that a Suspension Order is not sufficient to protect the reputation of the profession and to maintain confidence the regulatory process.
The Sanction of Striking Off is a sanction of the last resort. If this Order was made the Registrant would not be permitted to apply for restoration to the register for a period of five years. The Panel decided that the Registrant’s past conduct and the risk of similar conduct in the future are so serious that striking off is the necessary and proportionate sanction. The sentencing remarks of the Judge in this case succinctly convey the abhorrent nature of the Registrant’s conduct and in the Panel’s view those remarks summarise why the Registrant’s conduct has damaged the profession and why the public would expect the Regulator to impose the ultimate sanction in this case.
The Panel therefore decided to make a Striking Off Order.
Order: The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Christopher Andrew Howle from the Register from the date this order comes into effect.
The Order imposed today will apply from 19 January 2016.
History of Hearings for Christopher Andrew Howle
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|22/12/2015||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Struck off|