Mr Martin Coomber
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1. On 11 April 2017 at the North Hampshire Magistrates’ Court, you were convicted of the following offences:
a. Making indecent photograph/ pseudo-photograph of a child;
b. Making indecent photograph/ pseudo-photograph of a child;
c. Making indecent photograph/ pseudo-photograph of a child;
2. By reason of your conviction as set out in Paragraph 1a-c, your fitness to practise as a Paramedic is impaired.
Proof of Service and Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant
1. The Registrant did not appear nor was he represented. The Panel was satisfied that good service had been effected.
2. On behalf of the HCPC, Ms Manning-Rees applied for the hearing to be conducted in the absence of the Registrant on the basis that he had been notified of the date, time and location of the hearing at his registered address. Ms Manning-Rees submitted that the Registrant had waived his right to appear and that it was in the public interest for the hearing to proceed expeditiously. Ms Manning-Rees drew the Panel’s attention to an email of 8 September 2017, in which the Registrant explicitly stated that he would not attend any hearing.
3. Having considered the revised HCPTS Practice Note on proceeding in absence and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor on the case of GMC v Adeogba  EWCA Civ 162 (“the fair, economical, expeditious and efficient disposal of allegations against medical practitioners is of real importance”), the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had received reasonable notice of today’s hearing and had waived his right to appear. The Registrant had not applied for an adjournment. There was no indication that he would attend at a later date if today’s hearing were to be adjourned. The Panel noted the overriding public interest in dealing with matters in a timely manner and noted that this case related to a conviction that was not in dispute. In balancing the Registrant’s interest and the public interest, the Panel decided that the matter should be heard in the absence of the Registrant.
4. The Registrant was employed as a Paramedic by South East Coast Ambulance Service and had worked in that profession for 19 years. He was arrested by the Hampshire police on 3 August 2016 after they received intelligence that he had downloaded and stored indecent images of children on his laptop computer and other devices. He was suspended from his duties as a Paramedic and referred himself to the HCPC by email, following advice from his employer, on 5 August 2016. The Registrant stated in his email that he was aware that he was likely to be ‘struck off’ the Register and that he wished to leave his profession as quickly and as easily as possible in the circumstances.
5. The Registrant was first interviewed by the police under caution on 3 August 2016. He admitted that downloading the images was wrong. He had no children or access to children himself other than occasional access in the course of many years’ work as a Paramedic. He admitted searching for images of children and using search terms like ‘teen’ or ‘preteen’. He had viewed images of all categories, including category A (penetrative sexual activity). He had saved two or three hundred images of children from age 7 to 16 years. When re-interviewed under caution by the police on 9 March 2017, the Registrant admitted obtaining indecent images of children by using file sharing software and using search terms indicative of an interest in child pornography. He said that he had no interest in actual sexual contact with children and believed that he looked at them as an act of self-harm or a way of coping with stress. He was undertaking private counselling sessions.
6. The Registrant pleaded guilty to three offences of making indecent photographs of a child on 11 April 2017 at North Hampshire Magistrates’ Court and was committed to Winchester Crown Court for sentence. On 11 May 2017, he received a sentence of six months’ imprisonment, suspended for 24 months with a requirement to complete 150 hours of unpaid work and a rehabilitation activity requirement of 60 days. He was also made subject to a Sexual Harm Prevention Order of seven years’ duration.
7. There was further email communication between the HCPC and the Registrant in February 2017 in which he repeated his view that he was likely to be struck off the register. He provided some background details in relation to his personal life and problems, which it is not necessary to repeat in this determination, in an email dated 27 February 2017. He also explained how he had engaged with the Lucy Faithful Foundation and attended their programme for those who had committed child pornography offences. He had also benefited from seeing a counsellor. He expressed disgust with himself and maintained that his record had been ‘blemish-free’ until this. He had loved working in his profession and he regretted the upset he had caused to others.
Decision on Facts and Grounds
8. The Panel took into account the submissions of Ms Manning-Rees on behalf of the HCPC and the content of the emails that had been sent to the HCPC by the Registrant. The Panel also had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on Conviction and Caution Allegations and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor as to the burden of proof and the issue of impairment.
9. The Panel found the Memorandum of the Conviction to be conclusive proof of the conviction and the underlying facts. The Panel then considered the issue of impairment.
Decision on Impairment
10. The Panel noted that the Registrant had made full admissions to the police and had pleaded guilty to all charges at an early stage. There was evidence of some remorse and insight demonstrated in the Registrant’s emails to the HCPC as well as during his interviews with the police. There was also some evidence of remediation in relation to his engagement with the Lucy Faithful foundation programme and in the fact that he had sought counselling.
11. However, these were extremely serious charges, which by their nature indicated that the Registrant presented a potential risk to the public. There was no evidence of treatment, other than what the Registrant stated in his representations. The imposition of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order indicated that the Judge had found the Registrant to present a risk of sexual harm to others. The Panel noted the Registrant’s response of 27 February 2017 where he states “at no time has any child been in danger of any harm.”. Clearly, this would not have been the case for the children in the images that he viewed. For the reasons stated above, the Panel finds that there remains a risk of repetition of this conduct, and finds that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired in relation to the personal component.
12. In relation to the public component, the Panel considers that the nature and gravity of the Registrant’s conviction for offences of downloading child pornography damaged public confidence in his profession. Public confidence in his profession and the regulator would be severely undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in this case. A reasonable and informed member of the public would be astounded if the Registrant’s fitness to practise were found not to be impaired in these circumstances.
13. The Panel also had regard to the criteria that were set out by Dame Janet Smith in the Fifth Shipman Report, namely whether the Registrant’s conviction showed that his fitness to practise was impaired in the sense that he has put service users at risk, or is liable to do so in the future, whether he has brought his profession into disrepute or may do so in the future, and whether he has breached the fundamental tenets of his profession or may do so in the future. In answering those questions, the Panel found that the nature of the Registrant’s conviction was such as to place service users at risk of harm.
14. In committing offences of this kind, the Panel found that the Registrant had brought his profession into disrepute and breached the fundamental tenets of his profession and is liable to do so in the future. The Panel has come to this conclusion because it has already found a risk of repetition as described in paragraph 11 above. There is no evidence that service users were harmed but the Panel considers that members of the public would be very concerned if they though that a Registrant with his conviction was able to attend children in his professional capacity.
15. Accordingly, the Panel found the Registrant’s current fitness of practise to be impaired by reason of the conviction.
Decision on Sanction
16. The Panel considered the Indicative Sanctions Policy of the HCPTS, in particular paragraphs 20-22 in relation to those who have committed sexual and/or child pornography offences, and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor as to the principles to be applied in a case of this kind.
17. The Panel considered the personal mitigation and the aggravating features in this case. The principal aggravating feature was the nature and quantity of the images that had been downloaded by the Registrant. The Panel also noted that the Judge had found the Registrant to pose a risk of serious sexual harm to others.
18. In mitigation, the Panel accepted that the Registrant had expressed remorse for what he had done and acknowledged that there were other relevant mitigating factors: the admissions to the police, the early guilty pleas and taking some remedial steps.
19. In considering the appropriate and proportionate sanction, the Panel considered that this case was far too serious to take no action or to impose a Caution Order. Neither outcome would protect the public or meet the public interest because the Registrant would be able to practise without restriction.
20. A Conditions of Practice Order is not appropriate because such an order would not meet the gravity of the offence or the potential risk. Furthermore, permitting a Registrant with a conviction of this nature to return to his profession in any role when there is a risk of repetition would not maintain public confidence in the profession.
21. The Panel considered whether the level of risk could be addressed by the imposition of a Suspension Order of up to 12 months’ duration. The Panel did not consider that a Suspension Order reflected the seriousness of the offences and would not maintain public confidence in the profession or its regulation. In that regard, the Panel noted that the Registrant was subject to a Sexual Harm Prevention Order for a period of seven years (until May 2024).
22. In considering the sanction of striking-off, the Panel acknowledged that this was a sanction of last resort but also had regard to the nature of the offences and the court order that indicated a significant level of continuing risk. Whilst there were some mitigating factors in this case, as outlined above, the Panel determined that a conviction of this nature was fundamentally incompatible with continued registration.
23. The Panel therefore decided to strike the Registrant’s name off the register, because of the gravity of his offending, the risk he presents to others, the need to deter others, and in order to uphold and maintain proper standards of conduct. The Panel was satisfied that this sanction is necessary and proportionate to the level of risk in this case. Public confidence in the Registrant’s profession and in the regulator would be severely undermined if any lesser sanction were to be imposed.
History of Hearings for Mr Martin Coomber
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|21/12/2017||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Struck off|