Miss Hayley Hughes

Profession: Occupational therapist

Registration Number: OT60500

Interim Order: Imposed on 15 Dec 2015

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 15/12/2015 End: 17:00 15/12/2015

Location: Health and Care Professions Council, Park House, 184 Kennington Park Road, London, SE11 4BU

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

Whilst registered as a Occupational Therapist, you:

1. Were convicted on 19 December 2014 at Liverpool Crown Court of:

a) Conspiracy to fraudulently evade a prohibition on the importation of a class B drug and;

b) Conspiracy to supply a class B drug.

2. By reason of your conviction as set out in paragraph 1 your fitness to practise as an Occupational Therapist is impaired.

Finding

Background

This case concerned the conviction of Ms Hughes, the Registrant, an Occupational Therapist, at Liverpool Crown Court, on 19 December 2014 for conspiracy to fraudulently evade a prohibition on the importation of a Class B drug and conspiracy to supply a Class B drug. Ms Hughes was sentenced on 23 January 2015 to two years’ imprisonment on each count to be served concurrently.

Ms Hughes had been a Band 5 Occupational Therapist (OT) employed by The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospital NHS Trust (the Trust) since 9 November 2009, having qualified in 2007. She was promoted to Band 6 on 1 September 2013. She commenced maternity leave on 2 March 2014. In July 2014 Ms Hughes requested a meeting with her manager. It related to a newspaper article in the local paper reporting her arrest for drug offences. The Trust organised a follow up meeting in September 2014, during which Ms Hughes was suspended pending her December 2014 criminal jury trial. The trial was reported in the Liverpool Echo and its website. On 20 December 2014, the Liverpool Echo reported the verdict that Ms Hughes had been found guilty. The newspaper further reported on 23 January 2015 the sentence Ms Hughes received, together with her occupation and her place of employment.

In relation to the offences for which Ms Hughes was convicted, the facts as found by the jury and commented upon by the Judge are outlined in his sentencing remarks. Ms Hughes was involved with others in a relatively large-scale importation and supply of a new class B drug called “4 - Methylethcathinone” (known as “4 - MEC” on the street), which provides dramatic highs followed by a dramatic lows and is highly addictive.

Ms Hughes’ boyfriend was one of the suppliers and she became knowingly involved with his drug importation and supply operation. On 28 August 2013 he was recalled to prison and, whilst he was inside prison, Ms Hughes helped him on the outside with perpetrating and continuing the importation and supply network. He, and later she, would collect the packages and the drug would then be passed onwards for distribution. Ms Hughes played a significant role from in or about August 2013. She knew what was going on; namely, the importation and supply of a Class B drug in quantity. She had knowledge and email contact with those who had been importing. She collected one, possibly two, parcels of the drugs, knowing that the drugs would be passed on, having been imported. Knowing that her co-defendant boyfriend was a criminal, nevertheless, Ms Hughes carried on and disregarded her professional status, the effect of such behaviour on her profession, and ignored her loving and caring family.

The drug was described in her trial as being extremely dangerous and addictive and that the characters involved were strong with tendencies to violence and threats.

The Judge stated that Ms Hughes was intelligent, educated and attractive with enormous support from a wonderful family. He remarked that no other co-defendant in the trial had had that benefit and she had rejected that for the dark side of life.

As a result an immediate prison sentence with no suspension element was imposed and it was also emphasised that this was on the grounds of a clear deterrent message to be sent out to existing importers and suppliers, and to the public.

The HCPC’s case is that Ms Hughes was convicted of a serious criminal offence for which she was sentenced to two years imprisonment and that, therefore, she is currently impaired on the grounds of a serious breach of the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (the Standards), especially Standard 4

Decision on Facts: 1 a) and b): Proved.

The Panel was satisfied that the Certificate of Conviction dated 11 February 2015 has proved the conviction and the facts relied upon within that conviction. The Panel also noted that Ms Hughes admitted the fact of the conviction as alleged.

Decision on Impairment 

The Panel took note of the submission from Ms Hastie for the HCPC and the written and oral evidence and submissions of Ms Hughes. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice and exercised the principle of proportionality at all times. In reaching its decision, the Panel took into consideration the HCPC’s Standards and Practice Note on Impairment.

The Panel considered that the conviction was a serious one, involving the importation and supply of a dangerous, addictive and illegal drug, with the commensurate dangers to the public, especially to impressionable young people. In the Panel’s judgment, the public would recoil in shock to learn that a professional registrant from the HCPC was found to be significantly and knowingly involved in this conspiracy. However, this did not make the offence irremediable.

In the Panel’s judgement, how Ms Hughes has remedied, and is able to remedy this matter is, as yet, unresolved. It was clear to the Panel that she has progressed some way from her early post-conviction beliefs, as set out in her undated hand written letter that she told the Panel she had written for the sentencing process. She told the Panel that she was no longer in the “dark place” referred to by the Judge. She reassured the Panel that her reaction to stressful and unfortunate circumstances would never result in criminal behavior. She said that there would now be absolutely no risk of repetition. The Panel is not yet fully persuaded.

Whilst there may be some recognition by Ms Hughes of her personality failings that brought about this conviction, the Panel’s view was that this was an ongoing process, yet to be fully refined. She has to demonstrate full insight into the gravity of her criminality and its effect on the public’s perception of the profession. In the Panel’s view, there is a low risk of repetition, which has been recently reduced. The Panel is of the further view that Ms Hughes’ remediation process is only just beginning (she has only recently been released from prison on license with a tag, for example) and the remediation process requires more work by her that does not just reflect the help and support given to her by the prison authorities. This latter remit should give emphasis to her position in the wider community and the criminality itself. The Panel finds that it is important for her to further reflect upon and demonstrate  proper understanding of how her conviction will impact on her work, any employer and the profession’s and the general public’s perception of a convicted drug dealer working in the position of an OT. 

Therefore, it is the Panel’s conclusion that, for these reasons, there is still some risk of repetition and that public confidence in the profession and in the regulatory process would be undermined, and the public would be put at risk, if the Panel were to find that Ms Hughes’ fitness to practise is not impaired.

Therefore, the Panel has determined that Ms Hughes’ fitness to practise is impaired on the grounds of her convictions as alleged.

Decision on Sanction

The Panel took into account the submissions from MS Hastie for the HCPC and Ms Hughes. It read all the documentation, including the references and testimonials on behalf of Ms Hughes. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice and exercised the principle of proportionality at all times. In reaching its decision, the Panel took into consideration the HCPC’s Indicative Sanction Guidance (the Guidance).

The Panel identified the following mitigating and aggravating factors:

Mitigating Factors:
• Blemish free working and criminal record until these events;
• Engagement in the criminal and regulatory processes;
• Glowing professional and personal references and testimonials;
• Conviction does not relate to Ms Hughes clinical practice;
• Admission of the conviction allegation in these proceedings;
• Evidence of growing understanding and insight;
• Highly supportive and respectable family;
• Responsible for upbringing of a young child;
• Under some personal pressure and threat of violence at the time of the events.

Aggravating Factors:
• Conviction of a serious offence of drug importation and supply;
• Significant involvement in the crimes committed with knowledge;
• Ms Hughes’ crimes took place over a period of one and a half months;
• Imprisonment for two years reflecting the serious nature of the offence;
• Risk to the potential user of the drug of harm and addiction;
• Planned participation by Ms Hughes in the conspiracies, with evidence of a degree of objective organisation by her;
• Her stance that others were lying and/or that she was a victim of her then-boyfriend or a victim of circumstance was maintained as recently as January 2015;
• Ms Hughes did not report the allegations against to her employer until they were published in the press nine months later;
• Putting her employer and family through the criminal trial and commensurate publicity.

The Panel first considered taking no action. The Panel has already determined that this case is a serious criminal conviction case, and, as such, therefore it cannot be marked by there being an order for no action. The release into her former employment immediately of a convicted criminal would not uphold any public interest and would be in direct contravention to the principles as set out in the case of Fleischmann v GDC [2005] EWHC 87 (Admin); namely, that sanction should match the end date of the sentence in a criminal conviction Fitness to Practise case. That infers that there must be a sanction that adequately represents the serious nature of criminal convictions per se and, in addition, that also meets those convictions that are more than merely technical or minor. In the Panel’s view, this case is neither technical nor minor.

The Panel next considered imposing a Caution Order. The Guidance makes it clear that this sanction is to be used only for the less serious type of case, where full insight has been demonstrated and where there is no risk of repetition in the future. The Panel does not believe that Ms Hughes has yet fully understood the level of insight she needs to demonstrate as it affects her practice and profession. For example, in the Panel’s opinion, it was trite for Ms Hughes to state that the newspaper headlines would soon be forgotten by people. In addition, it is clear to the Panel that the aggravating factors set out, above, outweigh the mitigating factors, also set out, above.

Therefore, the Panel has determined that the imposition of a Caution Order, allowing Ms Hughes back into immediate practice whilst on licence and under tagging from a lengthy prison sentence for serious drug offences, would be disproportionate and inappropriate. The Panel is of the clear view that public opprobrium at Ms Hughes’ offence would not be assuaged at this time by this sanction.

The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order and rejected this. There is no question as to her practice, as this has been described as exemplary. The Panel were not able to formulate any workable and enforceable conditions that would be relevant to this conviction or address the public interest element. Therefore, this sanction would not be proportionate, fair or relevant to the facts of this case or the mischief to be addressed.

The Panel next considered imposing a Suspension Order. The Panel noted that a Suspension Order is suitable where a Caution or Conditions of Practice Order would not provide sufficient public protection, or where the allegation is of a serious nature and is unlikely to be repeated, and, thus, Striking Off is not merited.

The Panel noted that this is a serious matter, but that the Panel has already concluded that the risk of repetition, although in existence, is low. The primary reason for this is the primary reason for this is Ms Hughes’ failure to demonstrate full insight. However, the Panel noted that there are mitigating factors in this case and although they are outweighed by the aggravating factors, Ms Hughes is on the way to remediation.

Whether she would be able to remain in the profession, even in a position of having a Suspension Order as a sanction, is a matter for this Registrant. The Panel is of the view that she must understand that at the next review she must be able to demonstrate that she fully understands the consequences of the gravity of the crimes she committed, how it affected others, including the victims of the drugs’ supply in which she was involved and how she addresses her responsibility to the reputation of her profession.

It is the Panel’s suggestion that Ms Hughes should obtain and send into the HCPC no later than 28 days before the next review hearing the following:

• A Reflective Statement that demonstrates all these matters;
• An up to date set of personal and professional references and testimonials, including from any employment whether paid or unpaid;
• Evidence of keeping up to date with the OT profession.

The Panel also considered imposing a Striking Off Order, which is described as the sanction of last resort, where there is a lack of insight, where there are continuing problems demonstrated and where the Registrant continues to deny involvement and culpability. However, the Panel was of the opinion that this was too draconian and would be disproportionate at this time. There may come a time, if the issues related above are not addressed, when this might not be a disproportionate outcome, but, the Panel considers that, at this time, it would be.  The Panel has determined that a 12 month Suspension Order is fair and proportionate, as it meets the need to reflect the public’s inevitable opprobrium for such convictions as well as allowing a period of time for the Registrant to demonstrate her suitability to remain in the profession.

Order

Order: That the Registrar be directed to suspend the registration of Miss Hayley Hughes for a period of twelve (12) months from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

The order imposed today will apply from 12 January 2016.

This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 12 January 2017.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Miss Hayley Hughes

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
15/12/2015 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended