Mrs Khush Thapar

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW107951

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 23/01/2018 End: 17:00 23/01/2018

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Struck off

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Allegation

1. On 26 September 2016 at Croydon Crown Court, you were convicted of “furnishing false information relating in accounts.”

 

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

Finding

Background

1. The Registrant was employed by Croydon County Council (the Council). She was in receipt of Direct Payments to cover her assessed needs related to her physical health during the time she was working for the Council. Concerns were raised in relation to the payments being made to her. This led to an investigation being instigated. The Registrant received a total of £43,837.50p in direct payments from the Council. It was discovered that, of that, a total sum of £6,365 was received dishonestly. As a result of this investigation the Registrant was charged with criminal offences of False Accounting. On 26 September 2016, she pleaded Guilty at Croydon Crown Court to a charge of Fraud by False Accounting. On 28 October 2016 she was sentenced to 16 weeks custody suspended for 2 years and ordered to pay £1000 costs, and a victim surcharge, to be paid within 6 months. The trial Judge, in sentencing, made the following remarks:

“Khush Thapar, you were employed as a social worker. It is a job of great responsibility; it is a job that demands absolute honesty and integrity from those who practice it. I accept that in the past you have shown exactly those qualities. The character references make that completely plain. I also accept that you have had terrible difficulties in your life with your health and with the health of your children, and also that you were placed in financial difficulties because your marriage was in trouble, albeit your estranged husband continued to make the mortgage payments on your house. Nonetheless, what I am absolutely sure of is that in this case you spotted an opportunity of which you were aware because of your employment to take money dishonestly and that is what you did, and, indeed, that is what you pleaded guilty to. The amount that you took dishonestly was £6,365. What you did was you applied for direct payments, to most of which you would have been entitled, but you dishonestly topped it up and then tried to cover your tracks and lied about it. Eventually you pleaded guilty and I will accept that there was considerable delay in bringing this matter to court and that meant it was hanging over your head for longer than it should have been and I consider you are entitled to credit for your plea, but I do consider that abuse of the sort of position that you held to obtain benefits payments of which you were aware because of your specialist professional knowledge, that is a very real breach of trust indeed, and one that has to be deterred. In those circumstances I am of the firm view that the custody threshold is passed but I am going to give you full credit for your plea, and I also bear in mind in sentencing you that all (or virtually all, I will treat it as all) the money that was taken dishonestly has been repaid.”

2. The employing Council instituted a Disciplinary investigation. This was due to be heard on 14 December 2016. The Registrant resigned on 13 December 2016 and no hearing was held. The matter was reported to the HCPC on 26 September 2016.

Decision on Facts

3. The allegation was read out. The Registrant admitted the facts. The Panel then considered the individual Particular. The Panel bore in mind the burden and standard of proof.

Particular 1 - Proved

4. The Panel found this Particular proved. In making this decision it relied on the certificate of conviction certifying that the Registrant was convicted at Croydon Crown Court on 26 September 2016 of 1 count of Furnishing false information relating in accounts.

Decision on Grounds

5. The Panel determined that the Registrant had been convicted of “furnishing false information relating in accounts”, a matter admitted by the Registrant. 

Decision on Impairment 

6. Having found that the matters found proved amounted to a conviction, the Panel went on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. It bore in mind the evidence given by the Registrant, the submissions made by Mr Millin, the advice of the Legal Assessor and the HCPTS practice note of ‘Finding that Fitness to Practise is impaired’.

7. The Panel considered the two component parts relating to impairment, the ‘personal component and the ‘public’ component. It first considered the ‘personal component’ whether the conduct was remediable, whether it had been remedied and whether it was likely to be repeated.

8. The Registrant gave evidence. She appeared to have difficulty in accepting that her actions at the time had been dishonest although she did accept that she had pleaded guilty. Her evidence was that she accepted in hindsight that she acted wrongly and therefore would be perceived as dishonest but she did not accept that she knew she was acting wrongly at the time.

9. The conviction is an offence of dishonesty. The Registrant received sums of money over a period of nearly 2 years to which she was not entitled. In the course of his sentencing remarks the Sentencing Judge, His Honour Judge Ainley, referred to the dishonesty:

"what I am absolutely sure of is that in this case you spotted an opportunity of which you were aware because of your employment to take money dishonestly and that is what you did, and, indeed, that is what you pleaded guilty to. The amount that you took dishonestly was £6,365. What you did was you applied for direct payments, to most of which you would have been entitled, but you dishonestly topped it up and then tried to cover your tracks and lied about it.”

10. The Panel determined that the Registrant has shown limited insight into her behaviour. She still says it was an accounting error rather than recognising it as dishonest behaviour in the terms to which she had pleaded guilty. She had previously worked helping others to fill out benefit claim forms and understood the importance of accuracy and honesty. She referred to her financial and other difficulties and said that she is not in the same situation now. The Panel noted that her dishonesty occurred before she was registered as a social worker.  However, because of her lack of insight there is a risk of repetition of dishonesty. The Panel is of the view that if faced with a similar situation in the future, the Registrant might again be tempted. The Panel is of the view that dishonesty is very difficult to remediate and in this case has not been remediated and it finds her fitness to practise is currently impaired on the basis of the personal component.  

11. The Panel then looked to the ‘public’ component of impairment. It notes the passage in the practice note of ‘Finding that Fitness to Practise is impaired’ it is important for Panels to recognise that the need to address the “critically important public policy issues” identified in Cohen - to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession - means that they cannot adopt a simplistic view and conclude that fitness to practise is not impaired simply on the basis that, since the allegation arose, the Registrant has corrected matters or “learned his or her lesson”.

12. The conviction is serious. It is an allegation of dishonesty and is so serious that it has the potential of undermining public confidence in the profession if no action were taken.

13. The Panel considered the Registrant’s responsibilities as outlined in the HCPC ‘Standards of performance and ethics’. The Panel particularly noted the passage outlined in: Personal and professional behaviour, 9 - Be honest and trustworthy and 9.1 - You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession.

14. This standard was emphasised by the sentencing judge when he said that the role of social workers “is a job of great responsibility; it is a job that demands absolute honesty and integrity from those who practice it”.

15. The Registrant is currently subject to a sentence of 16 weeks imprisonment, suspended for 24 months until 28 October 2018. The Panel takes particular note of the reported case of CHRP v GDC and Fleischmann [2005] EWHC 87(Admin) where the court held that where a registered professional has been convicted of a serious criminal offence and is still serving their sentence, normally the tribunal should not allow them to return to practice until the sentence has concluded.  (February 2005).

16. The Panel took this into account in deciding whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired, it also took the view that because of the serious nature of the conviction public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in this case. The public should be confident that social workers, who work with vulnerable people, can be trusted. A conviction for dishonesty in the circumstances of this case undermines that public confidence. For similar reasons, the conviction undermines the professional standards: the message to the profession must be that honesty and integrity are fundamental values.

17. For all of these factors the Panel finds that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is also currently impaired on the basis of the ‘public component’ in this case.

Decision on Sanction

18. Having found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of her conviction, the Panel went on to consider the question of sanction. It heard submissions from Mr Millin. Before reaching its decision, the Panel considered the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

19. In deciding what sanction, if any, to impose, the Panel has reminded itself that the purpose of sanctions is not to be punitive but to protect service users and the public interest, although a sanction may have a punitive effect. The Panel has taken into account the principle of proportionality, balancing the interests of the public with those of the Registrant.

20. There is a need to demonstrate to the public and to practitioners the importance of adhering to the fundamental requirement of keeping high standards of personal conduct by declaring and upholding proper standards of professional behaviour.

21. There is also a need to maintain public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process.

22. The Panel identified aggravating features as a breach of trust where the Registrant had seen an opportunity to take some money from the public purse over an extended period of time.

23. The mitigating factors were the Registrant’s plea of guilty, although she has shown some difficulty in accepting the full extent of her dishonesty in this hearing. She was not a registered Social Worker at the time of the offence although she was working in Social Care and training to be a Social Worker.

24. She has engaged with the process, throughout attended today and produced testimonials. She has indicated her commitment to the profession and her wish to continue to practice as a Social Worker. The Panel have paid particular attention to her reflective statement.

25. The conviction is serious, the Registrant was sentenced to 16 weeks imprisonment wholly suspended for 24 months. This period of suspension does not conclude until 28 October 2018.

26. The Panel noted Paragraphs 16 and 17 in the HCPC’s Indicative Sanction Policy:

Sanctions and criminal convictions

16. A conviction or caution should only lead to further action being taken against a registrant by the HCPC if, as a consequence of that conviction or caution, the registrant’s fitness to practise is found to be impaired.   The Panel’s role is not to punish the registrant twice for the same offence, but to protect the public and maintain high standards among registrants and public confidence in the profession concerned.

17. Where a registrant who has been convicted of a serious criminal offence and is still serving a sentence at the time the matter comes before a Panel, normally the Panel should not permit the registrant to resume unrestricted practice until that sentence has been satisfactorily completed.

27. The Panel then looked at the available sanctions in graduating order of severity. The seriousness of this case meant that taking no action was not an option and a Caution Order, even for the maximum duration, was inadequate as such an Order is suitable for cases that can be regarded as being slightly more serious than those for which no action or mediation is appropriate. Such an outcome would not protect members of the public or provide the required level of public reassurance.

28. The Panel then considered and excluded the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order on the grounds that such an outcome was insufficient and unworkable based on the seriousness of this case and the sentence imposed on the Registrant by the Crown Court at Croydon. Such an Order would not adequately address the public reassurance requirements or act as a sufficient deterrent for others.

29. The Panel then went on to consider the imposition of a Suspension Order. The maximum order of suspension that the Panel could impose is a period of 12 months. There would have to be a review shortly before the end of that 12 months to assess the Registrant’s suitability to practise as a Social Worker. She has not been working as a Social Worker since the end of September 2016 when she was suspended by her employer.  The Panel carefully considered this sanction. The Panel has found that the Registrant has shown limited insight at this time. There is a risk of repetition. The Panel is concerned as to the length of time that has passed since the offence and the conviction after her plea of guilty. Given the amount of time that has elapsed the Panel has seen no change in the level of insight and there is no evidence to suggest that this will change in the future. The Panel therefore determined that if it were to impose a Suspension Order, public confidence in the regulatory process would be undermined because the public would consider that such sanction was imposed merely as a temporary measure making it possible for the Registrant to return to practice at some time, despite the serious nature of her conviction and the limited nature of her insight.

30. The Panel concluded that a sanction of suspension was not appropriate or proportionate in this case. The Panel considered Paragraphs 47 and 49 of the Indicate Sanctions Policy:

47. Striking off is a sanction of last resort for serious, deliberate or reckless acts involving abuse of trust such as sexual abuse, dishonesty or persistent failure.

49. Striking off may also be appropriate where the nature and gravity of the allegation are such that any lesser sanction would lack deterrent effect or undermine confidence in the profession   concerned or the regulatory process. Where striking off is used to address these wider public protection issues, Panels should provide clear reasons for doing so. Those reasons must explain why striking off is appropriate and not merely repeat that it is being done to deter others or maintain public confidence.

31. Because of the gravity and prolonged nature of the dishonest behaviour and continuing lack of insight shown by the Registrant, the Panel has concluded that the only available sanction that it can impose in this case is a striking off order.

32. The Panel took account of the fact that the Order is punitive in nature and that it will prevent the Registrant from practising in her chosen profession. However, this consideration was balanced against the need for public protection, the maintenance of public confidence in the profession and in the regulator, and the need to maintain professional standards.

Order

That the Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mrs Khush Thapar from the Register on the date this order comes into effect. 

Notes

No notes available

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mrs Khush Thapar

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
23/01/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off