Mr Peter John Pike

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW33604

Interim Order: Imposed on 17 Jul 2018

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 09:00 16/07/2018 End: 16:00 18/07/2018

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

Amended allegation

Whilst registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) as a Social Worker;

1. With regard to Service User A, you did not maintain professional boundaries, in that you:

a) gave Service User A your mobile phone number;             
b) permitted Service User A to stay with you for longer than the Nightstop Policy allowed;
c) took Service User A on holiday to Turkey during 2013;
d) paid for Service User A’s holiday to Turkey;
e) shared a room with Service User A whilst on holiday in Turkey;
f) engaged in sexual activity with Service User A whilst on holiday in Turkey;
g) no evidence offered;
h) attempted to perform and/or performed oral sex on Child Service User A on more than one occasion.

2. With regard to Service User B, on the 28 September 2012, you accessed their personal records on the RIO database without authorisation and/or professional reasons.

3. The matters set out in paragraphs 1c) and/or 1d) and/or 1e) and/or 1f) and/or 1g) and/or 1h) were sexually motivated

4. The matters set out in paragraphs 1, 2, and 3 constitute misconduct.

5. By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.

 

Finding

Preliminary Matters

1. Notice
i) The Panel heard that notice in respect of this hearing was sent by first class post and email to the Registrant’s registered address on 16 April 2018 in accordance with Rules 3 and 6 of the Conduct and Competence Procedure Rules 2003.

ii) The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and determined that the notice had been served in accordance with the Rules.

2. Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant

i) Mr Ferson, on behalf of the HCPC, invited the Panel to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. He drew the Panel’s attention to the Registrant’s letter to the HCPC attached to an email dated 28 April 2018: “Thank you for the Notification of Conduct and Competence Meeting that will be convened on 16th-19th July 2018. I regret that I shall not be attending as my … health are in a poor state and have been in constant decline over the 2 years and 10 months that I have had to endure the destructive and deliberate lies that service user A or whatever you are now defining A as, made his vindictive and destructive allegations.” 

                                                          
ii) Mr Ferson referred the Panel to the guidance contained in the HCPTS Practice Note on Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant and submitted that it was appropriate for the Panel to exercise its discretion to proceed on the basis that the Registrant had chosen not to attend the hearing and had waived the right to appear. He pointed out that although there had been no request from the Registrant for an adjournment, he had set out his detailed account of matters for the benefit of the Panel, which the Panel could take into consideration if it proceeded in his absence. Mr Ferson submitted that the public interest in expeditious disposal of the allegation outweighed any disadvantage to the Registrant in proceeding in his absence.

iii) The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who advised that it should have careful regard to the communication referred to above, and ask itself three questions: 

a) Is the Registrant aware of today’s hearing?

b) Has the Registrant determined not to attend the hearing?
c) Is the Registrant content for the Panel to proceed in his absence?

iv) The Panel took the view that a proper reading of the communication from the Registrant left no room for doubt he is aware of the hearing, had determined not to attend and is content for the Panel to proceed in his absence. The Panel noted that two witnesses were in attendance. In the Panel’s view the public interest would best be served by proceeding. For all these reasons, the Panel agreed to proceed with the hearing.

3. Application to Offer No Evidence / Amend Particulars
i) At the outset of the hearing, Mr Ferson applied to offer no evidence in respect of Particular 1 (g) on the basis that the evidence available to the Panel did not support this Particular and that there would be no unfairness if it was withdrawn.

ii) The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

iii)  In the circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that the proposed offering of no evidence was appropriate and would not prejudice the Registrant or the public interest. The Panel allowed the application.

iv)  At the outset of the hearing, Mr Ferson also applied to amend all the references in Particular 1 to Child A, replacing them with Service User A, on the basis that the individual concerned had been a Service User but not a child at the times in question. He made a similar application in respect of Particular 2 to amend the reference to Child B to Service User B. Mr Ferson submitted that the proposed amendments were communicated to the Registrant by letter dated 1 February 2018 and that the Registrant had made no objection. Mr Ferson submitted that   the amendments would more accurately reflect the case against the Registrant, would cause no substantial change to the overall strength of the Allegation and would not prejudice the Registrant.

4. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

5. The Panel was satisfied that the proposed amendments to Particular 1 would more accurately reflect the case against the Registrant, would cause no substantial change to the overall strength of the Allegation and would not prejudice the Registrant. The Panel allowed the application.

Background

6. In December 2011, the Registrant, a registered Social Worker, became a volunteer with Community Housing Aid, a homeless charity. He participated in their Nightstop scheme whereby volunteer hosts provided spare rooms for typically one or two nights to young people aged 16-25 who were at risk of homelessness. It is alleged that the Registrant did not maintain professional boundaries with one of these young people, Service User A, in that: he gave him his mobile number, allowed him to stay for longer than the Nightstop policy permitted, took him on holiday to Turkey for which he paid, shared a room with him whilst on holiday, engaged in sexual activity with him and attempted to perform oral sex on him on more than one occasion.

7. In relation to Service User B, it is alleged that the Registrant looked him up on the work RIO database prior to consenting to him staying with him, thus breaching data protection rules.  

8. SO, Integrated Community Mental Health Team Manager, was appointed as Investigating Officer. Following her investigation, the matter was referred to the HCPC.

Decision on Facts

9. In considering the particulars, the Panel applied the principles that the burden of proving the facts is on the Council, that the Registrant is not required to prove anything and that a fact alleged is only to be found proven if the Panel is satisfied on the balance of probabilities that it is correct.

10. In reaching its decisions, the Panel had careful regard to all the evidence put before it and to the submissions of Mr Ferson on behalf of the HCPC as well as to the written representations of the Registrant.

11. The documentary evidence before the Panel included:

• Witness statements from SO, RB and SH

• Summary of Police Interview dated 20 September 2015 with Service User A

• Disciplinary Hearing outcome letter to Registrant dated 12 December 2016

• Minutes of Strategy Meetings on 29 September 2015 and 20 April 2016

• Police Email to ED dated 12 July 2016 with entries from crime report

• Notes of Telephone Interview dated 28 July 2016 between Torbay Council and SH

• Email dated 3 August 2016 re audit trail from Devon Partnership NHS Trust to Torbay and South Devon NHS Trust

• Notes of Investigation Meeting with EDS Service manager dated 17 August 2016 + emails re amendments

• Notes of Investigation Meeting with the Registrant

• Torbay Council Policies on Information Policy, Non-Compliance Penalties & Personal Liability and Corporate Information Security

• Torbay Council Data Protection Principles

• Data Protection Act information from Torbay Council Intranet

• DPT Information Governance, Policy and Strategy
• South Devon Healthcare NHS FT Information Governance Policy

• Torbay Council Employees Code of Conduct

• EDS Training Records for the Registrant

• Email dated 15 September 2016 from Devon Partnership NHS Trust to Torbay and South Devon NHS Trust reSystem Warnings Data Protection

• Article on the Registrant and Nightstop published in the Guardian Newspaper on 7 February 2015

• Torbay Council Disciplinary Procedure

• Photo of handwritten note from Service User A to the Registrant

• Registrant’s response to  the Disciplinary Investigation Report

• Notes of Disciplinary Hearing dated 5 December 2016
• Registrant’s Job Description

• Transcript of Service User A’s police interview

• Letters sent to Service user A and his brother on 26 October 2017 and 10 November 2017 by Kingsley Napley re HCPC Investigation

• Registrant’s Nightstop Enquiry Form, signed Consent Form and Host Volunteer Agreement

• Nightstop Policy & Procedure Pack and Boundaries Policy

• Notes in relation to the Registrant’s involvement with Nightstop

• Notes of support visit to the Registrant on 13 March 2012

• Written representations from the Registrant  

12. The Panel heard oral evidence from:

i) SO, Investigating Officer. Although her memory was at times diminished by the passage of time, the Panel found SO to be a clear, consistent and credible witness.

i) SH, Director of the charity, Community Housing Aid. The Panel found Mr SH to be a clear and reliable witness.

13. The Panel heard from Mr SH that the Registrant was accepted as a Nightstop volunteer in December 2011. It noted that the Registrant had signed the Nightstop Host Volunteer Agreement on 21 December 2011. This document included the Registrant’s agreement to “work within Community Housing Aid’s / Nightstop’s Policies and Procedures.”

14.  The Panel noted that the Nightstop Boundaries Policy, dated May 2012, stated “Care should be taken by volunteers over how much personal information they divulge to clients and, in particular, should not disclose their email and private telephone numbers.” The Policy also stated “We strongly recommend that volunteers do not have ongoing contact with clients outside of the Nightstop framework.”

15.  The Panel noted that the Registrant first met Service User A when he was his host as a Nightstop volunteer. SO told the Panel that Service User A was provided with a drug and alcohol support services placement shortly after the Nightspot placement. The Panel noted the evidence as to how Service User A had variously stayed with the Registrant as a Nightstop Placement, a Crash Pad placement and as a lodger. It was clear to the Panel that while Service User A was at times a Service User, he was vulnerable throughout the duration of the period in question.

16. In his responses to his employer and to the HCPC, the Registrant has maintained the position that “My intentions were of offering Service User A a home to give stability and security, That was my only intention…I was there to enable and give support only…It was a positive enabling relationship.”

17. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
Particular 1a

With regard to Service User A, you did not maintain professional boundaries, in that you:

1a) gave Service User A your mobile phone number; Found proved.

18. The Panel had careful regard to the Registrant’s written response to his employer’s allegations. It noted that the Registrant stated: “I confirm that I gave Service User A my number, and that Night stop were aware of this as evidenced in Support visit notes 13th March 2012…Service User A had requested that I stay in touch with him when he went to Amber because he was fearful and anxious of running away from the project. Hence why my mobile number given, to try and support Service User A in remaining at placement, so that he would work through the difficulties and issues in his life.”

19. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had given Service User A his mobile phone number. It considered that as a Social Worker of many years’ experience he must have been aware of the inappropriacy of blurring the boundaries between the provider and receiver of social care. In this instance, the Panel had no doubt that the Registrant had not maintained professional boundaries.

Particular 1b
With regard to Service User A, you did not maintain professional boundaries,
in that you:

1b)  permitted Service User A to stay with you for longer than the Nightstop Policy allowed; Found not proved.

20. The Panel had careful regard to the Nightstop documents put before it, but was unable to discern any statement of policy as to maximum length of stay. However, it was clear to the Panel that the general expectation was that Nightstop placements would run for one or two nights at a time. Longer periods were covered by Crashpad placements. The Panel was informed that Service User A had stayed with the Registrant under both placement systems before going on to stay with him as a lodger.  The Panel noted that, during the course of his evidence, SH had accepted that there had been no evidence that any of Service User A’s Nightstop stays with the Registrant had exceeded the Nightstop expectation of duration. While the Panel noted that there had been some concern that Service User A had been permitted to return to live with the Registrant as a lodger, it also noted that there has been no charge in respect of this.

Particular 1c
With regard to Service User A, you did not maintain professional boundaries,
in that you:
1c) took Service User A on holiday to Turkey during 2013; Found proved.

21. The Panel noted that the Registrant had never denied taking Service User A on holiday to Turkey.  During interview with SO the Registrant was asked: “On reflection as a professional can you see any concern others might have about you taking a vulnerable person on holiday with you?”

22. The Panel noted that the Registrant is reported to have responded:

”On reflection yes it was not my best decision. The intention was for Service User A to gain self-esteem and self-worth.”

23. The Panel considered that as a Social Worker of many years’ experience the Registrant must have been aware of the inappropriacy of blurring the boundaries between a social worker and a vulnerable adult. In this instance, the Panel had no doubt that by taking Service User A on holiday with him the Registrant had not maintained professional boundaries.

Particular 1d
With regard to Service User A, you did not maintain professional boundaries,
in that you:
1d) paid for Service User A’s holiday to Turkey; Found proved.

24. The Panel noted that the Registrant has never denied paying for Service User A’s holiday. For the same reasons set out in its decision in respect of Particular 1c), the Panel considered that in paying for Service User A’s holiday to Turkey the Registrant had not maintained professional boundaries.

Particular 1e
With regard to Service User A, you did not maintain professional boundaries,
in that you:
1e) shared a room with Service User A whilst on holiday in Turkey; Found proved.

25. The Panel noted that the Registrant has never denied sharing a room with Service User A whilst on holiday in Turkey. For the same reasons set out in its decision in respect of Particular 1c) and 1d), the Panel considered that in sharing a room with Service User A the Registrant had not maintained professional boundaries.

Particular 1f
With regard to Service User A, you did not maintain professional boundaries,
in that you:
1f) engaged in sexual activity with Service User A whilst on holiday in Turkey; Found not proved.

26. The Panel noted that the only evidence it had received in support of this assertion had been the account of what Service User A had said during the course of a police interview. In the Panel’s view, upon close scrutiny, this account was at times inconsistent and lacked credibility. The Panel noted that, despite efforts from the HCPC, Service User A had not engaged with the HCPC process. Further, the police had not taken Service User A’s complaint forward. The Panel noted the Registrant’s firm denial that such activity had taken place, and took account of his explanation, set out in his written response to the HCPC case, as to why Service User A would have told such “destructive and deliberate lies”. The Panel also had careful regard to the handwritten note purportedly written by Service User A to the Registrant. In all the circumstances, the Panel attached only limited weight to the hearsay evidence as to what Service User A had said in police interview. It was not satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the Registrant had acted as alleged.

Particular 1g
With regard to Service User A, you did not maintain professional boundaries,
in that you:
1g) touched Service User A’s penis whilst on holiday in Turkey; Found not proved.

27. No evidence was offered.
Particular 1h
With regard to Service User A, you did not maintain professional boundaries,
in that you:
1h) attempted to perform and/or performed oral sex on Service User A on more than one occasion; Found not proved.

28. For the same reasons set out above in its response to Particular 1f, the Panel was not satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the Registrant had acted as alleged.

Particular 2
With regard to Service User B, on the 28 September 2012, you accessed their personal records on the RIO database without authorisation and/or professional reasons. Found Proved.

29. SH told the Panel that the Registrant had informed a Community Aid member of staff that he had looked Service User B up on a mental health database at work. The Panel recognised that the Registrant had only been able to look up Service User B’s record by reason of his employment as a Social Worker, which meant that he had access to the record system. The Panel noted that an audit of the system, revealed that the Registrant had accessed Service User B’s record on 28 September 2012 for 75 minutes. The audit detailed how long the Registrant had each document open.

30. The Panel had careful regard to the Registrant’s written response to the HCPC allegations. It noted that the Registrant stated:

“In relation to the breach of data protection…I state very clearly that I have no recall of this event. I also have no records available to establish how this error may have occurred… If I did make such an error then I can only sincerely apologise and reiterate that I have no recall of this event. The fact that the checks undertaken by Torbay’s IT  services against all other names supplied  to them by Nightstop, states their findings and is recorded in their report that there is no other evidence of other records having been accessed, clearly indicates that this was not a habitual activity.”

31. The Panel did not find it credible that the Registrant could have accessed Service User B’s record for 75 minutes, and informed a Community Aid staff member that he had done so, but have no recollection of the matter.

Particular 3
The matters set out in paragraphs 1c) and/or 1d) and/or 1e) and/or 1f) and/or 1g) and/or 1h) were sexually motivated; Found not Proved.

32. By reason of its findings that Particulars 1f), 1g) and 1h) were not proved these aspects of Particular 3 fell away and were not considered by the Panel. Accordingly they were not found proved.

33. In considering whether the matters set out in 1c) and /or 1d) and/or 1e) were sexually motivated, the Panel had regard to its findings in respect of 1f), 1g) and 1h). It noted that section 78 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 states that “…touching or any other activity is sexual if a reasonable person would consider that…because of its nature it may be sexual and because of its circumstances or the purpose of any person in relation to it (or both) it is sexual.”

34. Further, and in accordance with the guidance provided by Woolf LCJ in the case of R v Karl Anthony H [2005] EWCA Crim 732, the Panel first considered the question “do you, as reasonable people, consider that because of its nature what took place could be sexual?” The Panel considered that the answer in respect of each particular was yes.

35. The Panel then considered the question “Do you, as reasonable people, consider that in view of the circumstances and / or the purpose of the Registrant that it was in fact sexual?” The Panel considered, on the basis of the hearsay evidence before it and its findings in relation to that evidence, that it could not conclude on the balance of probabilities that the Registrant’s actions in taking Service User A on holiday to Turkey, paying for that holiday and sharing a room with Service User A whilst on holiday was in fact sexual. Accordingly, the Panel found the allegation that the Registrant’s actions had been sexually motivated was not proved.

Decision on Grounds

36. The Panel had careful regard to the submissions of Mr Ferson and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

37. Mr Ferson referred the Panel to the Privy Council case of Roylance v GMC (No2) [2001] 1 AC 311 in which Lord Clyde stated: “Misconduct is a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. The standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required to be followed by a …practitioner in the particular circumstances. “

38. Mr Ferson submitted that the Registrant had fallen seriously below the standards expected of a Social Worker set out in the 2012 edition of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics.

39. The Panel bore in mind that not every breach of the Standards and not every falling short of what would be proper in the circumstances will constitute misconduct; the breach must be serious, or as Elias LJ put it in R (on the Application of Remedy UK Ltd) v GMC [2010] EWHC 1245 (Admin) “sufficiently serious.... that it can properly be described as misconduct going to fitness to practise.”

40. The Panel found that The Registrant was in clear breach of the following Standards of the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics:

“ 1.You must act in the best interests of service users.
 2. You must respect the confidentiality of service users.
 3. You must keep high standards of personal conduct.
 13. You must … make sure that your behaviour does not damage the  public’s confidence in you and your profession.”

41. The Panel also found that accessing Service User B’s records without authorisation and/or professional reasons breached the Service User’s rights under the Data Protection Act.

42. The Panel considered that, as a very experienced registered Social Worker, the Registrant must have been well aware of what was expected of him in terms of maintaining professional boundaries with Service User A. In the Panel’s view, the Registrant fell significantly short of those expectations. The Panel considered that, by his actions, the Registrant had put both himself and Service User A, whom he knew to be vulnerable, at unwarranted risk of harm. By blurring the boundaries between them the Registrant had also risked undermining Service User A’s confidence in and ability to maintain a professional relationship with any social care provider whose assistance he might need in the future.

43. The Panel considered that as a very experienced registered Social Worker, the Registrant must have been well aware of what was expected of him in terms of maintaining the confidentiality of Service Users. In the Panel’s view, the Registrant fell seriously below those expectations. His actions constituted a gross violation of Service User B’s rights and would inevitably damage the confidence of Service User B, other service users and the public in the confidentiality of private records. Access to Service User B’s records was only possible because of the Registrant’s privileged position as a registered Social Worker with access to the RIO database. By his actions, the Registrant had breached the trust placed in him by his employer and by the public.

44. In all the circumstances, the Panel had no doubt that the fallings short in relation to the matters found proved in Particulars 1 and 2 are so serious as to amount to misconduct going to fitness to practise.

Decision on Impairment

45. The Panel then went on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired by reason of his misconduct. It had careful regard to all the evidence before it and to the submissions of Mr Ferson as well as the Registrant’s written representations to his employer and to the HCPC. It accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had particular regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on Impairment.

46. Having found that the Registrant’s misconduct had put vulnerable service users at unwarranted risk of harm, had brought the profession into disrepute and had breached key standards of the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics as set out above, the Panel had no doubt that the Registrant’s fitness to practise had been impaired by reason of his misconduct.

47. The Panel then went on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of that misconduct. In addressing the personal component of impairment, the Panel asked itself whether the Registrant is liable, now and in the future, to repeat misconduct of the kind found proved. In reaching its decision, the Panel had particular regard to the issues of insight and remediation.

48. The Panel noted that in his written representations to the HCPC, the Registrant had stated in respect of his actions in respect of Service user A:

“In hindsight, I would not venture down this pathway again…The holiday was … a mistake, done to try to give Service User A positive learning opportunities and build a better platform for him to grow from.”

49. The Panel was concerned that beyond the recognition that his blurring of boundaries with Service User A had not been his “best decision,” the Registrant had demonstrated minimal insight into, and reflection about, his failings. Instead, his representations to the HCPC focus on the alleged negative motivation and actions of others and seek to place blame on them rather than on himself. In the Panel’s view, the matters found proved in respect of both Service Users were deliberate and occurred despite the inevitable awareness of such an experienced Social Worker that his actions were inappropriate and unacceptable.

50. The Panel noted the Registrant’s written representation to the HCPC that “to have had such an amazing career, for 27 years, with no complaints or concerns raised, I believe is testimony to my integrity, professionalism and compliance with frameworks of good practice.” It considered that the Registrant’s misconduct is remediable provided he is both willing and able, through careful and genuine reflection, to develop full insight into the unacceptability of his conduct, his personal responsibility for his actions and the potential impact of his failings on Servicer Users A and B, service users in general, colleagues, his employer and the public.

51. The Panel considered that it had received no evidence of any steps taken by the Registrant to remediate his misconduct or even how he would act in the future if faced with similar difficulties. In light of its findings in relation to insight and remediation, the Panel considered that there is currently a real risk that the Registrant would repeat matters of the kind found proved.

52. For all these reasons, the Panel determined that a finding of impairment is required with regard to the person component, including the need for public protection.

53. The Panel then went on to consider whether a finding of impairment is necessary on public interest grounds.  In addressing this component of impairment, the Panel had careful regard to the critically important public issues identified by Silber J in the case of Cohen when he said:
 “Any approach to the issue of whether .... fitness to practise should be regarded as ‘impaired’ must take account of ‘the need to protect the individual patient, and the collective need to maintain confidence in the profession as well as declaring and upholding proper standards of conduct and behaviour.”

54. The Panel considered that maintaining professional boundaries and respecting the confidentiality of service users are fundamental requirements of the profession of Social Work and that the public would be concerned to learn of these breaches in respect of vulnerable Service Users by a registered Social Worker. The Panel had no doubt that the need to maintain public confidence in the profession, and to declare and uphold proper standards, would be undermined if a finding of impairment of fitness to practise was not made in the circumstances of this case. 

55. For all the reasons set out above, the Panel determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired, both on the grounds of public protection and in the public interest. 

Decision on Sanction

56. The Panel next considered what, if any, sanction to impose on the Registrant’s registration.

57. Mr Ferson drew the Panel’s attention to the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy and submitted that the question of sanction is a matter for the Panel’s own independent judgment.

58. In reaching its decision the Panel had at the forefront of its thinking the principle of proportionality and the need to balance the interests of the Registrant with the protection of the public and the wider public interest in maintaining confidence in the profession and the HCPC, and declaring and upholding proper standards of conduct and performance.

59. The Panel had regard to all the circumstances, including the following mitigating and aggravating features of the case:

Mitigating

• The Registrant's previous good character

• His admissions to a number of the sub-particulars from the beginning

Aggravating

• The deliberate nature of the misconduct in the face of the Registrant's inevitable awareness as an experienced social worker that his actions were inappropriate and unacceptable;

• The real risk of repetition of the misconduct found proved;

• The Registrant's lack of insight;

• The Registrant’s awareness of the vulnerability of the Service Users concerned; 

• The misconduct involving boundary issues occurred over a      prolonged period of time;

• Boundary issues had been raised with the Registrant by Nightstop on a number of occasions.

60. The Panel first considered whether it would be appropriate to impose no sanction in this case. It gave careful consideration to Paragraph 8 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy. The Panel determined that in light of its findings that the Registrant has demonstrated minimal insight and no remediation and that there remains a real risk of repetition, the imposition of no sanction would neither protect the public nor serve the wider public interest in maintaining confidence and declaring and upholding proper standards.

61. The Panel next considered the potential for mediation in this matter. It gave careful consideration to Paragraphs 26 and 27 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy. It noted that such a course may only be used if the Panel is satisfied that the only other appropriate course would be to take no further action. The Panel had no doubt this is not such a case.

62. The Panel went on to consider the imposition of a caution order. It gave careful consideration to the factors set out in Paragraphs 28 and 29 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy.  The Panel considered that the risk of repetition is not low, the Registrant has demonstrated minimal insight and no remediation, and the misconduct was neither isolated nor minor in nature. For these reasons, the Panel determined that a caution order would be inappropriate. Further, it would neither protect the public nor be sufficient to mark the wider public interest.

63. The Panel then considered the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order. It gave careful consideration to Paragraphs 30-38 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy. In considering the suitability of a Conditions of Practice Order, the Panel kept in mind its finding that the Registrant’s misconduct is remediable. The Panel noted that the Registrant has engaged with this process, albeit that he has not attended the hearing and has demonstrated only minimal insight. His failings are not at the low end of seriousness; they occurred over a substantial period of time; involved vulnerable Service Users, and in the case of Service User B, deliberate breach of trust; and there is a real risk of repetition. Further, the Panel had received no information which might give it confidence that the Registrant is committed to remediation and therefore would comply with conditions. For all these reasons, the Panel determined that a Conditions of Practice Order would be neither appropriate nor sufficient at this time.

64. The Panel went on to consider the imposition of a Suspension Order. It gave careful consideration to Paragraphs 39-45 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy. Such an order would, in the short term, protect the public and would, in the Panel’s view, also satisfy the public interest in marking the unacceptability of the Registrant’s misconduct, as well as upholding proper standards and maintaining confidence in the profession of Social Work.

65. The Panel noted that paragraph 41 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy states: “If the evidence suggests that the registrant will be unable to… remedy his … failings then striking off may be the more appropriate option. However, where there are no … difficulties preventing the registrant from understanding and seeking to remedy the failings then suspension may be appropriate.”

66. The Panel noted its earlier finding that “the Registrant’s misconduct is remediable provided he is both willing and able, through careful and genuine reflection, to develop full insight into the unacceptability of his conduct, his personal responsibility for his actions and the potential impact of his failings on Servicer Users A and B, service users in general, colleagues his employer and the public.”

67. The Panel considered that the Registrant’s written representations to the Panel had been focussed on the allegations of sexual misconduct. In the Panel’s view, now that those allegations have been disposed of, the Registrant should be better able to reflect on the failings which were found proved and to focus on the issue of how he might achieve a return to work as a registered Social Worker.

68. In all the circumstances, the Panel decided that the information currently before it is not such that it could reasonably conclude that there are difficulties which would prevent the Registrant from developing full insight and remedying his failings. For these reasons, the Panel considered that a Suspension Order for a period of 12 months is the proportionate and appropriate response at this time.

69. The Panel did seriously consider whether the circumstances are such that a striking off order might be the appropriate sanction in this case. The Registrant’s current lack of insight rendered a striking off order a very real possibility. However, the Panel noted that a striking off order is a sanction of last resort. In light of its view that the Registrant should now be better able to reflect on the failings found proved, the Panel considered proportionality required that he be given the opportunity to do so, and that a striking off order would be disproportionate at this time.

70. For all these reasons, the Panel decided to impose a suspension order of 12 months duration. That order will be reviewed before its expiry.

71. The reviewing panel will have all options open to it.  It may be assisted by:

• The Registrant’s attendance;
• A reflective piece completed by the Registrant, reflecting on his failings and the potential impact of those failings on Service Users A & B, service users in general, the Registrant’s colleagues and employer, and public confidence in the profession; 
• Evidence that he has considered the August 2012 edition of the HCPC guidance document entitled “Returning to Practice”, together with evidence of any actions he has taken in response to that guidance including evidence of training and keeping his skills and knowledge up-to-date;
• Testimonials or references from paid or unpaid work,
• Details of current employment detailing any remedial action he may have taken in order to avoid repetition of those failings in the future.

Order

The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mr Peter John Pike for a period of 12 months from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

The Order will be reviewed before it expires.

Interim Order

72. The Panel heard an application from Mr Ferson to cover the appeal period by imposing an 18 month Interim Suspension Order on the Registrant’s registration. He submitted that such an order is necessary to protect the public and is otherwise in the public interest.

73. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

74. It had careful regard to Paragraphs 51-54 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy.

75. The Panel noted that the Registrant had been informed by first class post and email dated 16 April 2018 that if this Panel found proved the allegation against his and imposed a sanction of Conditions of Practice or a more restrictive sanction on his practice, the HCPC may make an application to the Panel to impose an interim order to cover any appeal period. For the reasons set out in its earlier decision to commence the hearing in the absence of the Registrant, the Panel determined that it would also be fair, proportionate and in the interests of justice to consider Mr Ferson’s application for the imposition of an interim order.

76. The Panel recognised that its power to impose an interim order is discretionary and that the imposition of such an order is not an automatic outcome of fitness to practise proceedings in which a suspension order has been imposed and that the Panel must take into consideration the impact of such an order on the Registrant. However, the Panel was mindful of its findings in relation to the lack of insight and remediation and that there remains a real risk of repetition. In the circumstances, it considered that public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process would be seriously harmed if the Registrant was allowed to remain in practice during the appeal period. The Panel considered that, given its substantive findings and order, it would be perverse not to grant Mr Ferson’s application.

77. For the reasons set out above, the Panel makes an Interim Suspension Order under Article 31(2) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, the same being necessary to protect members of the public and being otherwise in the public interest.  This order will expire: if no appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order, upon the expiry of the period during which such an appeal could be made; or, if an appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order, the final determination of that appeal, subject to a maximum period of 18 months.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Peter John Pike

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
16/07/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended
09/05/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
16/02/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
16/11/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
11/05/2017 Investigating committee Interim Order Application Interim Suspension