Miss stephanie marie capper

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW03040

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 09:00 17/08/2018 End: 16:00 17/08/2018

Location: Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service (HCPTS), 405 Kennington Road, London, SE11 4PT

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: No further action

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Allegation

On 30 June 2017 at Leeds Magistrates Court, you were convicted of a criminal offence in that:

1. On 16 June 2017 at Segment in Ca Middleton, Leeds, West Yorkshire, you drove a vehicle on a road after consuming so much alcohol that the proportion in your breath exceeded the prescribed limit.

2. By reason of your conviction as set out in paragraph 1, your fitness to practise as a Social Worker is impaired.

 

Finding

Preliminary matters

1.Ms Dudrah made an application for matters relating to the Registrant’s private life to be heard in private. The Registrant supported the application.

2.The Panel granted the application having taken into account Rule 10(1)(a), which states that: ‘the proceedings shall be held in public unless the Committee is satisfied that, in the interests of justice or for the protection of the private life of the registrant…the public should be excluded from all or part of the hearing…’. The Panel was satisfied that was in the interests of justice for matters relating to the Registrant’s health and sensitive personal matters to be heard in private to protect her right to a private life.

Background

3.The Registrant is a registered Social Worker. On 5 July 2017, the HCPC received a self-referral from the Registrant in which she confirmed that she had been convicted of a criminal offence. The Registrant provided details of the conviction and stated that she was due to complete a drink-drive awareness course.

4.On 22 August 2017, the HCPC received the Memorandum of Conviction which confirmed that the Registrant had been convicted of driving a motor vehicle having consumed so much alcohol that the proportion of it in her breath exceeded the prescribed limit.

5.The incident occurred on 16 June 2017 in the early hours of the morning. The police had reason to stop the vehicle that the Registrant was driving.  The Registrant was asked to provide a roadside breath test and was subsequently arrested on suspicion of drinking alcohol whilst over the prescribed legal limit. The Registrant was taken into police custody where she provided two breath tests. The lower of the readings was 73 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath; the legal limit being 35 microgrammes. The Registrant was charged with the offence and her recorded reply was ‘I’m sorry.’

6.The Registrant pleaded guilty at Leeds Magistrates’ Court on 30 June 2017. She was disqualified from driving for 17 months, fined £120.00 and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £30.00 and prosecution costs of £85.00.

7.The Registrant sent an email to the HCPC on 5 July 2017 outlining the circumstances which led to her conviction. She stated that she had been out for a meal with friends and had consumed 3 glasses of wine. She went on to state, ‘At the time of driving my vehicle I did not feel under the influence and I was shocked at the level of alcohol that the breathalyser revealed. Had I known this I would never have contemplated driving.’ She described the incident as a ‘mistake’’ In a further email, dated 2 June 2018, the Registrant stated that she was going through a ‘difficult’ time both personally and professionally and felt that spending time with friends she had not seen for a long time ‘would be beneficial’. She also stated that she ‘realise[d] that accepting an alcoholic drink was not appropriate overall… [and] could have had serious implications for the public’s safety.’

Decision on Facts and Grounds

Panel’s Approach

8.The Panel was aware that the burden of proving the facts was on the HCPC. The Registrant did not have to prove anything and the particular of the Allegation could only be found proved on the balance of probabilities.

9.In reaching its decision the Panel took into account the documentary evidence including the Memorandum of Conviction. The Panel also took into account the HCPC Practice Note entitled ‘Conviction and Caution Allegations’. The Panel was aware that in accordance with Rule 10(1)(d), it could not go behind the conviction and was required to accept the certification from Leeds Magistrates’ Court as conclusive proof of the conviction itself and the underlying facts.

Particular 1 – Found Proved

‘On 16 June 2017 at Segment in Ca Middleton, Leeds, West Yorkshire, you drove a vehicle on a road after consuming so much alcohol that the proportion in your breath exceeded the prescribed limit.’

10.The Panel was provided with a Memorandum of Conviction in the name of the Registrant, which was signed by an officer of the court. The Panel accepted the Memorandum of Conviction, dated 30 June 2017, as conclusive evidence that on that date she pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of excess alcohol and was therefore convicted of the offence. The Panel noted that the Registrant was fined £120.00 and ordered to pay a victim’s surcharge of £30.00 and prosecution costs of £85.00. In addition, the Registrant was disqualified for 17 months with an option to reduce the period of disqualification by 17 weeks if she were to complete a drink-drive awareness course approved by the Secretary of State.

11.The Panel was satisfied that the facts had been proved and the statutory ground of conviction had been established.

Impairment

Registrant’s Evidence

12.The Registrant chose to give evidence. During her oral evidence she reiterated the circumstances that led to her criminal conviction. She informed the Panel that she is aware that high standards of personal conduct are expected of her given her status as a registered social worker. She stated that there was no excuse for her to have driven her vehicle whilst under the influence of alcohol and she apologised for her conduct and behaviour. The Registrant explained that she does not usually drink alcohol and suggested that that may be why she was so shocked that she was over the prescribed limit. She described her actions as ‘unforgiveable’ and informed the Panel that she recognised that her conviction is a very serious matter and had the potential to cause harm to others. The Registrant also informed the Panel that she actively participated in the drink-drive awareness course and at its conclusion felt ‘very informed’ about the impact of alcohol on the system.

13.The Registrant informed the Panel that she immediately notified her employer and referred herself to the HCPC. She explained that at the time she was working in the area of Child Sexual Exploitation at Rotherham Council as a locum Social Worker and took the decision that she should not return to practice until these proceedings have concluded. The Registrant stated that she had taken the opportunity during the last 12 months to reflect on her behaviour and has undertaken counselling to help her with the emotional impact of her difficult personal circumstances which included her criminal conviction as well as matters relating to the breakdown of a longstanding relationship. She informed the Panel that, so far, she has attended 5 out of 12 sessions which has helped her to realise the importance of talking about her problems. The Registrant stated that, if she is permitted to return to social work, she will make better use of supervision as a means of exploring whether she has any problems which may impact on her work and on her conduct.

14.The Registrant outlined the devastating consequences her conviction has had on her professionally, personally and financially. She stated that she has learnt from the experience and assured the Panel that it would not happen again.

Panel’s Approach

15.In considering whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired, the Panel took into account the submissions of Ms Dudrah, on behalf of the HCPC, the Registrant’s written submissions as set out in her emails, dated 15 July 2017 and 2 June 2018 and her oral evidence. The Panel also took into account the HCPTS Practice Note: ‘Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired’ and the HCPTS Practice Note: ‘Conviction and Caution Allegations’. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

16.In determining current impairment, the Panel had regard to the following aspects of the public interest:

•The ‘personal’ component: the current behaviour of the individual registrant; and

•The ‘public’ component: the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession.

Panel’s Decision

17.The Panel considered the Registrant’s current fitness to practise firstly from the personal perspective and then from the wider public perspective.

18.The Registrant’s conviction, for driving with excess alcohol, demonstrated a course of conduct, which represented a significant breach of the high standards of personal conduct and behaviour expected of a registered practitioner. However, the Panel was impressed by the depth of the Registrant’s insight into the factors which contributed to her conviction and concluded that she demonstrated not only a constructive and positive attitude but also a commitment to ensuring that such behaviour is firmly in the past and will not be repeated. Although the Registrant’s written representations in her emails, dated 17 July 2017 and 2 June 2018, emphasised the personal consequences of her conviction, during her oral evidence, she demonstrated that she fully appreciated the wider impact of her conviction on her profession as a whole and the risk of harm to others. The Registrant took full responsibility for her actions and made no attempt to minimise the seriousness of her conviction.

19.It was clear to the Panel that the Registrant has learnt meaningful lessons from her experience and has taken the opportunity to reflect on immediate changes she could make and future changes she could implement in the workplace to prevent personal pressures from accumulating. She also demonstrated a selflessness in deciding to wait until the outcome of these proceedings before planning a return to practice. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant has expressed genuine remorse and regret.

20.The Panel concluded that, for these reasons, the Registrant’s fitness to practise is not currently impaired based on the personal component.

21. In considering the public component, the Panel had regard to the important public policy issues which include the need to protect the public, maintain confidence in the profession and declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour.

22.The Panel considered the HCPC Standards of Conduct and Ethics and was satisfied that the Registrant’s conduct and behaviour represented a significant departure from the following standard:

9.1 - ‘You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession.

23.The Panel noted that Social Workers occupy a position of trust and the role necessarily involves demonstrating high standards of personal conduct at all times. The Registrant’s conduct on 16 June 2017 fell far below the standard expected of a registered Social Worker, breached a fundamental tenet of the profession and brought the profession into disrepute. The Panel was mindful of the duty to uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour and concluded that a finding of impairment was required to publicly declare that it is unacceptable for a social work professional to commit a serious criminal offence.

24.The Panel also concluded that a reasonable and well-informed member of the public would be concerned by the Registrant’s conviction and her disregard on 16 June 2017, for the safety and well-being of others. Notwithstanding the Registrant’s very high degree of remorse, insight and remediation, the Panel was satisfied that public confidence in the profession and in the HCPC as a regulator would be undermined if a finding of impairment of fitness to practise was not made, given the nature and seriousness of the Registrant’s conviction.

25.The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired solely on the basis of the wider public interest and therefore the HCPC’s case is well-founded.

Decision on Sanction

Panel’s Approach

26.The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was mindful that the purpose of any sanction is not to punish the Registrant, but to protect the public and the wider public interest. The public interest includes maintaining public confidence in the profession and the HCPC as its regulator and by upholding proper standards of conduct and behaviour. The Panel applied the principle of proportionality by weighing the Registrant’s interests with the public interest and by considering each available sanction in ascending order of severity.

27.The Panel had regard to the Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP) and took into account the submissions made by both parties.

Panel’s Decision

28.The Panel considered the aggravating and mitigating factors in determining what sanction, if any, to impose.

29.The Panel identified the following mitigating factors:

•the Registrant is of previous good character;

•she made full admissions during the criminal proceedings and fully admitted her wrongdoing during these proceedings;

•she has demonstrated full insight into the impact of her conviction on her professional standing and the profession as a whole;

•she has expressed remorse and apologised for her actions which the Panel accepted as genuine;

•the Registrant’s challenging personal circumstances contributed to an isolated lapse of judgement.

30.The only aggravating factor the Panel identified was the fact that the Registrant’s conduct placed other road users at risk of harm.

31.The Panel first considered taking no action.

32.The Panel recognised that a finding of impairment in relation to a serious criminal offence would usually merit some action being taken. However, the Panel concluded that in this case the wider public interest has been fully satisfied by the finding of impairment and that imposition of any sanction would be purely punitive. In reaching this conclusion, the Panel took into account the significant mitigating circumstances and fact that the Registrant would be required to declare her criminal conviction to any prospective employer.

33.The Panel noted that sanctions should only be imposed when it is necessary to do so, to safeguard the public and to maintain public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. There are no public safety concerns in this case and, whilst the Panel found impairment on public interest grounds, it was unable to identify any reason why public trust and confidence required further action to be taken. The Panel noted that paragraph 28 of the ISP states:

“A caution order is an appropriate sanction for cases, where the lapse is isolated, limited or relatively minor in nature, there is a low risk of recurrence, the registrant has shown insight and taken appropriate remedial action. A caution order should also be considered in cases where the nature of the allegation means that meaningful practice restrictions cannot be imposed but where the registrant has shown insight, the conduct concerned is out of character, the risk of repetition is low and thus suspension from practice would be disproportionate. A caution order is unlikely to be appropriate in cases where the registrant lacks insight.’

34.The Panel concluded that the conduct underlying the Registrant’s conviction was isolated and limited. There is a very low risk of recurrence and, in addition to taking appropriate remedial action, the Registrant has demonstrated substantial insight into the factors which led to her error of judgement and the wider implications of her conviction. The Panel was also satisfied that the Registrant’s conduct was completely out of character. The Panel noted that a Caution Order would impose no restriction on the Registrant’s practice.  In these circumstances the Panel concluded that such an order would provide no additional assistance in upholding public trust and confidence in the profession, over and above the public declaration that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on the basis of the public component.

35.The Panel also concluded that a Suspension Order would be disproportionate and punitive.  As there are no public safety concerns, the Panel was satisfied that there was no reason for the public to be deprived of the services of a competent and committed social worker. 

36.The Panel was satisfied that the compelling nature of the Registrant’s remorse and highly developed insight, in addition to the finding of impairment, was sufficient to justify taking no further action.

37.Accordingly, the Panel concluded that, given the exceptional circumstances of this case, no further action should be taken.

Order

The Panel decided to take no further action.

Notes

No notes available

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Miss stephanie marie capper

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
17/08/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing No further action