Mr Darren A Black

Profession: Arts therapist

Registration Number: AS08366

Interim Order: Imposed on 14 Nov 2014

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 09:00 29/03/2016 End: 16:00 29/03/2016

Location: Radisson Blu Hotel, The Gasworks, 3 Cromac Place, Belfast, County Antrim, BT7 2JB

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

1. On 09 July 2015 a Conduct Committee for Northern Ireland Social Care Council imposed a record of admonishment on your entry in the Register for a period of two years.

 

2. By reason of this determination by another regulator, your fitness to practise as an Arts Therapist is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters:

 

Service:

 

1.             The Panel was satisfied that proper notice of today’s hearing had been served on the Registrant. A letter dated 25 January 2016 had been sent by first class post to his registered address notifying him of today’s date. It contained all of the details of this hearing and had been sent within the appropriate time period under the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003.

 

Proceeding in the Registrant’s Absence:

 

2.             The Panel decided to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. In making its decision The Panel accepted the advice that it received from the Legal Assessor that it must exercise its discretion with the utmost care and caution and it took into account the HCPC’s Practice Note entitled “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”, with particular reference to the factors set out in R v Jones  [2002] UKHL 5. The Panel was referred to email correspondence from the Registrant dated 5 March 2016. In this email the Registrant indicated that he did not intend to be present or represented at today’s hearing.

 

3.             The Panel was satisfied that all reasonable steps have been taken to notify the Registrant of the hearing and he had ample opportunity to attend or to make representations. In his email the Registrant has stated that he does not intend to be present or represented. The Registrant has not sought an adjournment, and he had not given any indication that he would be more likely to attend at a future date if this matter were adjourned. The Panel was satisfied that there was no unfairness or prejudice to the Registrant in the hearing proceeding today and that he had waived his right to attend the hearing. The Panel decided that the hearing should therefore proceed in the absence of the Registrant.

 

Application to have part of the hearing heard in private:

 

4.             Mr Dilaimi asked the Panel to deal with certain references to the Registrant’s family in private. The Panel is aware that hearings such as this one are normally held in public but agreed that it was in the interests of justice that any references to the Registrant’s family should be heard in private.

 

Background:        

 

5.             The Registrant is registered in the Art Therapist part of the HCPC Register. He is also registered as a Social Worker with the Northern Ireland Social Care Council (“NISCC”), was employed as a Project Manager in Glencarn House by Threshold Services, a provider of specialist services for people who suffer from mental health problems. 

 

6.             On 24 July 2014 the HCPC received a referral from the Registrant’s employer, Threshold Services. This referral gave information about an allegation that, over a period of a year, the Registrant took for his personal use, money totalling £1,265 that should have been passed to Threshold, to be held on behalf of residents for whom he had responsibility. The supporting documentation, including notes of a disciplinary hearing, provided information about the circumstances in which the Registrant had taken the money. The Registrant accepted that he took money from the fund and left an IOU note in the sum of £1,265 and the Registrant stated that he altered the figure on the IOU as and when he took money. The Registrant was dismissed from his employment on 23 July 2014.

 

7.             On 28 August 2014 Threshold Services wrote to the HCPC stating that the Police Service of Northern Ireland had decided not to investigate the case.

 

8.             The NISCC suspended the Registrant’s registration as an Art Therapist on an interim basis, initially for 6 months on 22 August 2014, and for a further period of 6 months on 12 February 2015.

 

9.             On 9 July 2015 at a final hearing a panel of the NISCC decided that the Registrant’s actions constituted misconduct and that the appropriate sanction was an admonishment for a period of 2 years. The Registrant did not attend the hearing on 9 July 2015 and was not represented. He did complete an agreed statement of facts and submitted a document entitled ‘Statement of admission and mitigation’ to that hearing. In its written decision the NISCC identified a number of mitigating factors, including the Registrant’s apology for his actions, his remorse, his engagement with debt counselling, and the fact that he had repaid the money in full.

 

Decision on Facts:

 

10.           The Panel found the allegations set out in Particular 1 proved. It relied on the Notice of Decision of the Northern Ireland Social Care Council’s Conduct Committee (dated 10 July 2015) which set out the facts found proven by the NISCC and that those facts amounted to misconduct. The Panel also considered the statement of DR, a Conduct Officer in the Conduct Team at NISCC dated 30 December 2015. In this statement DR detailed the progress of the NISCC process which resulted in the Registrant receiving an admonishment for two years. DR was not called to give evidence at the hearing, the Registrant had been advised of this prior to the hearing. The Panel is aware that it is not able to test DR’s evidence, however it was satisfied that it could attach considerable weight to her evidence, given the administrative nature of her role, and as her evidence is corroborated by other documentary evidence including the NISCC Notice of Decision.

 

Decision on Impairment:

 

11.           In making its determination in relation to impairment the Panel has borne in mind that the purpose of these procedures is not to punish the Registrant for past misdoings but to protect the public against the acts and omissions of those who are not fit to practise. It has also borne in mind the HCPC’s Practice Note on Impairment. It noted what the Court of Appeal stated in GMC v. Meadow [2006] EWCA Civ 1319 “...the purpose of fitness to practise is not to punish the practitioner for past misdoings but to protect the public against the acts or omissions of those who are not fit to practise. The fitness to practise panel thus looks forwards, not back.   However, in order to form a view as to the fitness of a person to practise today it is evident that it will have to take account of the way in which the person concerned has acted or failed to act in the past”.

 

12.           The Panel has found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on both the personal and public component grounds. So far as the personal component is concerned, the Panel notes that the Registrant is still subject to the admonishment imposed by the NISCC on 9 July 2015.This will remain on the Registrant’s registration until 8 July 2017. The Panel also took into consideration that the Registrant’s actions involved a breach of trust during his work with vulnerable service users. In his role as an Art Therapist the Registrant would be in contact with a similar grouping of service users. The Panel recognised that the Registrant has demonstrated remorse and some insight and that it appears there may have been a practice of ‘borrowing’ money in Glencarn House at the time. However the Panel is satisfied that the personal component remains engaged.

  

13.           In relation to the public component, the Panel has concluded that an informed member of the public would expect a regulatory body such as the HCPC to make a finding of impairment in a case such as this and that public confidence in the Art Therapy profession would be undermined if it did not do so. The public has a right to expect Art Therapists to ensure that their behaviour does not fall below acceptable and professional standards such that the public’s confidence is damaged. It also has a right to expect a regulatory body to uphold standards of behaviour and conduct on behalf of members of the social work profession. Despite the remorse the Registrant has shown his actions involved a breach of trust over a period of about one year and involved vulnerable service users. The Panel finds that the public confidence in the profession of Art Therapy and in this regulatory process would be undermined if a finding of impairment was not made.

 

Sanction:

 

14.           In considering the appropriate and proportionate sanction in this case the Panel was referred to and took account of the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy. It also referred to the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (in force at the relevant time) – and in particular;

 

                Standard 1 – Promote and protect the interests of service users and carers.

 

                Standard 9 – Be honest and trustworthy.

 

The Panel found that the Registrant’s actions had breached both of these sections of the Code.

 

15.           The Panel took account of the Registrant’s written submissions provided during the NISCC process and in relation to this hearing today. It considered mitigating and aggravating factors. In relation to mitigating factors, the Panel noted that the Registrant has expressed regret and remorse for his actions, although not in person before either this hearing or during NISCC’s process. The Panel also noted he paid back the money he took from the service users in full and did so within a short period of time after he self-reported the matter. The Panel also gave consideration to the factors the Registrant says motivated his actions; his financial difficulties and personal stressors.

 

16.           In relation to aggravating features, the Panel took note of the serious nature of the Registrant’s actions which involved a breach of trust when he was working with vulnerable service users. The Panel notes that the Registrant was taking money from a fund that the service users paid into and consider that his actions had the real possibility of causing them harm, or at the very least damaging their faith in those responsible for their care. A large sum of money was taken by the Registrant over a period of about a year. By his own admission he only reported the matter when ‘I realised that the amount of money was so great, and that it was going to be hard to pay it back’. 

 

17.           In reaching its decision on sanction and on the issue of insight, the Panel considered the Registrant’s written submissions to NISCC. The Panel accepts that it does appear that the Registrant has some degree of insight into his failings but he has not appeared before this panel to allow it to fully assess his insight and demonstrate that he understands how his behaviour could affect his work as an Art Therapist. The Panel concluded that this showed some lack of insight into what it means to hold professional registration or of the obligations that go with such a registration.

 

18.           The Panel considered the available sanctions in ascending order of seriousness.  It decided that to take no action or to impose a Caution Order in this case would not be appropriate or proportionate given the gravity of the Registrant’s behaviour. It was satisfied that in order to ensure that public confidence in the profession was not undermined it had to consider more a more severe sanction. 

 

19.           The Panel next considered making a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel finds that the Registrant’s actions involved elements of dishonesty which mean that it would be very difficult to devise suitable conditions. Furthermore the Panel has no knowledge of the Registrant’s current circumstances and whether or not he is in employment. The Panel has expressed some concerns about the level of insight the Registrant has displayed and finds that an informed member of the public would be concerned if a registrant with such lack of insight was able to practise even subject to conditions.

 

20.           The Panel next considered a Suspension Order. It took account of the relevant paragraphs in the Indicative Sanctions Policy and determined that it would be the appropriate and proportionate sanction in this case. The Panel did not view the Registrant’s actions as isolated or minor. Rather he carried out a course of action over a period of about a year and took a considerable amount of money that belonged to vulnerable service users. He breached their trust and his actions had the potential to cause them harm. The Panel is aware that when he took the money the Registrant was not operating in his role as an Art Therapist, but his work as an Art Therapist would bring him into contact with similar groups of vulnerable service users. The Registrant has said that there is little risk of him repeating this behaviour and to an extent the Panel accepts that this might be the case. However the Panel finds that this sanction is required to not only protect the public but primarily to satisfy the wider public interest concerns which include:

 

       the deterrent effect to other registrants;

       the reputation of the Art Therapy profession; and

       public confidence in the regulatory process.

 

21.           The Panel considered that given the serious nature of its findings the duration of the suspension should be for the maximum period allowed under the Rules, one year. The Panel finds that this period will allow the Registrant time to attempt to demonstrate that he has full insight into his failings. The Panel finds that this period also marks the seriousness of the Registrant’s actions. The Panel did not consider that a Striking Off order was appropriate or proportionate in this case. The Panel has not been made aware of any psychological or other difficulties preventing the Registrant from understanding and seeking to remedy his failings.

 

22.           Any future reviewing Panel may be assisted by:

 

       Information from the Registrant, preferably in person, to demonstrate that he understands the seriousness of his behaviour and how it relates to his practise as an Art Therapist;

 

       A reflective piece demonstrating his insight and remorse and how his actions could impact adversely on the confidence that the Public are entitled to have in Art Therapists;

 

       Relevant references and testimonials.

 

Order

That the Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Darren A Black for a period of one year from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

No notes available

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Darren A Black

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
06/04/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Struck off
29/03/2016 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended