Mr Gavin S Hutchison
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During the course of your employment as a Social Worker with Portsmouth City Council, you:
1. On or around 01 December 2015, signed a Child Protection Report for Child C with a signature which you purported to be that of your Practice Leader.
2. Between 2 July 2015 and 16 October 2015, did not make any statutory Looked After Child home visits to Child A
3. On 18 August 2015, recorded that you had completed a statutory Looked after Child home visit to Child A when this was not the case.
4. In the case of Child B, did not undertake a pre-arranged visit on or around 25 November 2015 to Child B as agreed during your visit on 11 November 2015.
5. In the case of Child B recorded that you had completed a Child Protection visit on 25 November 2015, when you had not done so.
6. The matters set out in Particulars 1, 3 and 5 are dishonest.
7. The matters described in Particulars 1, 3, 5 and 6 constitute misconduct.
8. The matters described in Particulars 2 and 4 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.
9. By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence your fitness to practise is impaired.
Proof of Service
1. The Panel was provided with a signed certificate as proof that the Notice of Hearing had been sent in a letter, by first class post on 27 February 2018, to the address shown for the Registrant on the HCPC register. The Notice of Hearing had also been sent to the Registrant by email on the same date. The Panel was satisfied that Notice had been properly served in accordance with Rule 3 (Proof of Service) and Rule 6 (date, time and venue) of the Conduct and Competence Committee Rules 2003 (as amended).
Proceeding in absence of the Registrant
2. Mr Millin, on behalf of the HCPC, made an application for the hearing to proceed in the Registrant’s absence as permitted by Rule 11 of the Conduct and Competence Rules. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and took into account the guidance as set out in the HCPC Practice Note ‘Proceeding in Absence’.
3. The Panel determined that it was reasonable and in the public interest to proceed with the hearing for the following reasons:
a) The Panel noted that the Registrant in an email, dated 16 May 2018, stated, ‘I can confirm I do not feel confident in attending the hearing in any capacity aside from my written statement.’ The Panel understood this to mean that the Registrant would not be attending the hearing. The Panel also noted that the Registrant’s email was consistent with his written response on the HCPC proforma following service of the papers. The proforma is dated 16 April 2018, and in response to the question ‘Do you intend to appear in person at the hearing? the Registrant and written ‘No’. In these circumstances the Panel was satisfied that it was reasonable to conclude that the Registrant’s non-attendance was voluntary and therefore a deliberate waiver of his right to attend and participate in person.
b) There has been no application to adjourn and no indication from the Registrant that he would be willing or able to attend on an alternative date and therefore re-listing this final hearing would serve no useful purpose.
c) The HCPC has made arrangements for four witnesses to give evidence during this hearing. In the absence of any reason to re-schedule the hearing the Panel was satisfied that the witnesses should not be inconvenienced by an unnecessary delay.
d) The Panel recognised that there may some disadvantage to the Registrant in not being able to give evidence or make oral submissions. However, the Panel noted that he had provided the Panel with written submissions which mitigated any potential disadvantage.
e) As this is a substantive hearing there is a strong public interest in ensuring that it is considered expeditiously. It is also in the Registrant’s interest that this hearing is considered as soon as possible.
Application to amend the Particulars
4. At the outset of the hearing Mr Millin made an application to amend Particulars 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. The Registrant had been put on notice of the original proposed amendments in a letter dated 23 August 2017. In response to a query from the Panel, Mr Millin made an application for two additional amendments to the proposed Allegation, (i) re-insertion of the word ‘statutory’ before ‘Looked After Child’ in Particulars 2 and 3 and (ii) re-insertion of ‘on or around 25 November 2015’ in Particular 4.
5. The proposed amendments were therefore as follows:
• Particular 1 insertion of ‘for Child C’
• Particular 2 amendment of the dates to ’2 July 2015’ and ‘16 October 2015’ and re-insertion of ‘statutory’.
• Particular 3 amendment of the date to ‘18 August 2015’ and re-insertion of the word ‘statutory’.
• Particular 4 re-insertion of ‘on or around 25 November 2015’ and insertion of the words ‘to Child B as agreed during your visit on 11 November 2015.’
• Particular 5 insertion of the words ‘In the case of Child B’, ‘a Child Protection’ and ‘on 25 November 2015, when you had not done so.’
6. The Panel granted the application to amend. The Panel was satisfied that the amendments were for clarification purposes only and did not materially alter the substance or meaning of the Allegation as originally drafted. The Panel concluded that no injustice would be caused by making these amendments as they more accurately reflect the HCPC’s case.
7. The Registrant was a Social Worker in the Protection and Court Team 3 at Portsmouth City Council (the Council). He commenced this role, as a newly qualified Social Worker, on 24 July 2014 and completed the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment programme (ASYE). However, as result of concerns, the Registrant was placed on an Informal Performance Development Plan on 23 September 2015.
8. A management investigation was instigated following an allegation that the Registrant had submitted a child protection conference report purportedly signed by Witness KL, but which she had not signed. Witness MB was appointed as the investigating officer and during her investigation additional concerns came to light relating to the Registrant’s making and recording of visits to Child A and Child B.
Assessment of witnesses
Witness MB – Investigating Officer
9. Witness MB was up until her retirement on March 2016 a Safeguarding Monitoring Commissioning Manager at the Council. She informed the Panel that until her retirement she had been in management roles since 1997 and had conducted many investigations.
10. The Panel found Witness MB to be a credible and reliable witness. She was independent of the Registrant’s line management and the Panel had no reason to doubt her recollection of events. Her oral evidence was consistent with her witness statement, measured and balanced. If she was unable to recollect a particular event she said so and she provided reasons for any views she expressed.
11. The Registrant was the allocated Social Worker for Person B’s son, Child B. The Panel found Person B’s evidence to be inconsistent and unreliable in a number of respects and this undermined the whole of her evidence.
12. Person B stated in her witness statement and in her oral evidence that the Registrant did not attend her home on 25 November 2015 to visit Child B. In her written statement and in her oral evidence to the Panel, Person B said that she was sure about this because she had attended a dance class on that day and did not get home until 10pm. However, Witness MB stated in her witness statement and during her oral evidence that Person B told her, in the course of two telephone calls on 11 January 2016, that she was at work until 5.30pm and sent a text message to her partner at 6.35pm saying that she had not seen the Registrant. Person B stated in her witness statement that in discussion with Witness MB with regard to the 25 November visit she told her that she would take a screenshot of the text message that she had sent to her partner relating to the fact that the Registrant had not attended a visit. The indication was that the text message related to the Registrant’s non-attendance on 25 November 2015. However, during her oral evidence Person B stated that it could have been sent several weeks later and was a more general complaint.
13. The Panel noted that Witness MB found Person B’s account in her HCPC witness statement with regards to the time she got home to be ‘troubling’ because it conflicted with what she had been told at the time of her investigation. The Panel took the view that it was unlikely that MB had misunderstood what she was told by Person B.
14. The Panel noted that Person B had given different reasons for not sending a screenshot of the text message to Witness MB. Furthermore, she gave differing accounts of whether anyone else, including Child B, had been at home that day.
15. The multiple inconsistencies in Person B’s evidence meant that the Panel was unable to rely on her account when it was the sole, or main, source of evidence.
Witness KL – Former Independent Reviewing Officer
16. Witness KL was the Registrant’s line manager from 14 September 2015 until 1 December 2015.
17. The Panel found Witness KL to be a credible witness. Her evidence was clear and helpful. She provided the Panel with a balanced and fair account of her interactions with the Registrant during supervision and a vivid account of the events leading up to his forgery of her signature on the Child Protection Report for Child C.
18. Witness KL was able to recall the Registrant’s strengths in addition to his weaknesses. The Panel also noted she expressed concern for the Registrant’s well-being when she thought that he had been affected by a particular case and had suggested counselling.
Foster Carer A
19. Foster Carer A was the carer of Child A.
20. The Panel found Foster Carer A’s evidence to be credible and reliable. She answered the questions she was asked to the best of her knowledge and there was no attempt to exaggerate or embellish her evidence. Her recollection of events was good despite the passage of time. Her oral evidence was consistent with her witness statement and was consistent with her diary and the contact sheets.
Decision on facts
Particular 1 – found proved
‘During the course of your employment as a Social Worker with Portsmouth City Council, you:
On or around 01 December 2015, signed a Child Protection Report for Child C with a signature which you purported to be that of your Practice Leader.’
21. There was no dispute that the Registrant was employed by the Council as a Social Worker. There was also no dispute that the Registrant was Child C’s allocated Social Worker and signed a Child Protection Report with a signature that purported to be that of Witness KL who was the Registrant’s Practice Leader.
22. Witness KL informed the Panel in her witness statement that a Child Protection Report is a report prepared by the child’s allocated Social Worker for the child’s Protection Review Conference. A review conference first takes place 3 months after the initial child protection conference and then every 6 months thereafter. The purpose of the report is to inform those attending the conference, including the parents, of the child’s needs and review the plan and the progress of the child to assess whether the plan is still appropriate or whether it needs to be amended. She stated that once the report has been completed by the allocated Social Worker it must be submitted to the Practice Leader for quality assurance. The report must be provided to the Practice Leader five days before the conference in order to provide time for the report to be reviewed and returned to the Social Worker if necessary if any changes are required. The report, once approved, is then submitted to the Service Quality Team (SQT) who are tasked with scheduling and organising Child Protection Conferences. It is the Social Worker’s responsibility to ensure that the report is submitted in time for the quality assurance process before the conference.
23. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness KL that the Review Child Protection Conference of Child C was scheduled to take place on 3 December 2015. She stated that on 1 December 2015 she realised that she had not received the report from the Registrant and that it was due to be submitted to the SQT that day. When Witness KL returned from a supervision meeting with her line manager the report had still not been sent to her. Witness KL telephoned the SQT to warn them that the report would be late and was informed by a member of the team that it had already been received. The report was subsequently emailed to Witness KL and she informed the Panel that she was shocked that the report appeared to bear her signature.
24. The Panel accepted that Witness KL had not signed the report and that it had in fact been signed by the Registrant. The Panel noted that the Registrant admitted that he had signed the document when he had a meeting with Witness KL and Team Manager JS. He also admitted signing the document during Witness MB’s investigation and on the HCPC response proforma. The Panel noted that the signature represented an attempt to replicate Witness KL’s actual signature.
25. Accordingly, Particular 1 was found proved.
Particular 2 – found not proved
‘Between 2 July 2015 and 16 October 2015, did not make any statutory Looked After Child home visits to Child A’
26. Child A was a Looked After Child, placed with Foster Carer A on 31 March 2015. Foster Carer A informed the Panel that she kept a diary and contact sheets to record various appointments relating to her foster children. She stated that she completed the diary every night when the children were in bed and that the records would reflect future appointments and appointments or events after they had already taken place. Foster Carer A stated in her witness statement that the Registrant completed a visit on 1 July 2015. This was recorded in her diary and timed at 5.15pm. She had also recorded a medical appointment for Child A in her diary on 19 August 2015 and was able to recall that the Registrant attended that appointment with her.
27. Foster Carer A informed the Panel that, after 1 July 2015, there were no home visits made by the Registrant recorded in her diary. However, she said there had been an unannounced visit which occurred when she was not at home. Foster Carer A was told about the visit by her husband who stated that the Registrant had stayed longer than usual. Foster Carer A stated that she would normally have added the visit to her diary, but this was one of the rare occasions when she forgot. She was unable to recall precisely when the unannounced visit had taken place but her best recollection was that it occurred after the family had visited Lego Land in August 2015 and after the children had returned to school. She therefore thought it was most likely to be in September 2015..
28. The Registrant’s contact with Child A during the medical appointment on 19 August 2015 was not a statutory visit, because it did not take place at the child’s home. However, the Panel noted that the unannounced visit could be regarded as statutory visit, even though it had not been arranged in advance, as Child A was present and it took place in his home environment. As there was a realistic possibility that the Registrant made this visit during September 2015 the Panel concluded that the allegation that there was no such visit between 2 July 2015 and 16 October 2015 could not be found proved.
29. Accordingly, Particular 2 was found not proved.
Particular 3 – found proved
‘On 18 August 2015, recorded that you had completed a statutory Looked after Child home visit to Child A when this was not the case.’
30. The Registrant had recorded on the case records of Child A that he had undertaken a home visit on 18 August 2015. However, Foster Carer A was adamant that no such visit took place. She stated that if the visit had taken place she would have recorded it in her diary. Foster Carer A had recorded in her diary for that date a health visitor appointment at 8.30am and on 19 August 2015 a medical appointment for Child A which she attended with the Registrant.
31. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness MB that during the internal investigation the Registrant made it clear that he knew the difference between a medical visit and a statutory visit and that he had not mistakenly recorded the wrong type of visit. However, the Panel noted that the Registrant, in his written representations prepared for this hearing stated, ‘I do acknowledge that there is an error in my recording of the visit as it could not have taken place on the date recorded as I was in a meeting with senior management...I admit I am unable to offer the exact date and time of this visit’.
32. The Panel was satisfied based on the evidence of Foster Carer A, Witness MB and the Registrant’s own ‘admissions’ that no statutory visit took place with Child A on 18 August 2015.
33. Accordingly, Particular 3 was found proved.
Particular 4 – found not proved
‘In the case of Child B, did not undertake a pre-arranged visit on or around 25 November 2015 to Child B as agreed during your visit on 11 November 2015.’
34. Child B was a child subject to a Child Protection Plan, living with his mother, Person B. The Panel was provided with a copy of the case notes relating to Child B and read the case note of a visit to Child B’s home on 11 November 2015. The Panel noted that in this Case Note the Registrant had recorded that he would next see Child B ‘in school on Friday’ but the section relating to the date of the next visit was left blank. The Panel understood that section of the form to relate to the date of the next required visit. The Panel noted that the Council policy was that all children subject to a child protection plan should be visited at intervals of no more than 10 working days. Therefore, following the visit which took place on 11 November 2015, Child B was due a visit by 25 November 2015. However, there was no evidence before the Panel that such a visit had been pre-arranged and no evidence that there had been an agreement with Person B to make such a visit. Person B informed the Panel that she did not know when her next appointment with the Registrant was due to take place.
35. The Registrant stated that he had attended a Child Protection Plan visit with Child B on 25 November 2015. Person B said that no such visit had taken place. However, for the reasons noted above, the Panel felt unable to rely on her account alone and therefore looked to the other sources of evidence. The Panel noted that Witness MB was doubtful about the visit because of the lack of content in the Registrant’s case note and the absence of an expense claim for the Registrant’s travel expenses for such a visit. However, the Panel took the view that these two factors were not sufficient to prove, to the required standard, that a visit had not taken place. The Panel noted that concerns had been raised about the quality of the Registrant’s record keeping for a significant period of time and it was equally possible that the note of the 25 November 2015 was another example of his poor record keeping. In reaching this conclusion the Panel noted that the visit took place towards the end of the Registrant’s employment with the Council and at a time when the quality of his work was deteriorating. The Panel also concluded that the absence of an expense claim was not significant as Witness MB had recorded in her investigation report that the Registrant’s managers had said that he did not always claim travel expenses.
36. In these circumstances the Panel concluded that there was insufficient evidence that the recorded visit relating to 25 November 2015 did not take place.
37. Accordingly Particular 4 was found not proved.
Particular 5 – found not proved
‘In the case of Child B recorded that you had completed a Child Protection visit on 25 November 2015, when you had not done so.’
38. The Panel took into account its findings in relation to Particular 4. As the Panel had already determined that there was insufficient evidence that the recorded visit relating to 25 November 2015 did not take place there was insufficient evidence to support an adverse finding in relation to Particular 5.
39. Accordingly, Particular 5 was found not proved.
Particular 6 – found proved (in relation to Particular 1 and 3)
40. The Panel, having found Particulars 1 and 3 proved went on to consider the issue of dishonesty. As Particular 5 had been found not proved it was completely disregarded.
41. In regard to Particular 1, the Registrant suggested during the internal investigation that his motivation for forging Witness KL’s signature was that he did not want the conference to be cancelled as he was ‘already receiving criticism for timescales.’ According to Witness MB’s report the Registrant also stated, ‘I admit a moment of madness and I did not want the Case Conference to be cancelled’ and that ‘I didn’t want to face more criticism so I sent it. I felt guilty as soon took the decision (sic).’
42. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant knew that the Child Protection Conference Report had to be checked and signed by Witness KL as she was his Practice Leader. The Panel was also satisfied that he knew that the report had to be signed on 1 December 2015, otherwise it would not be ready in time for the conference. The Registrant’s actions in signing the report were not only an error of judgement but were also dishonest because he was well aware that the signature was not a mere formality. The signature was a deliberate and conscious attempt to mislead the recipient of the report into believing that the contents had been quality checked by his Practice Leader. The standard and quality of the Registrant’s case work was a cause for concern at that time and the Registrant was aware that there was a real risk of further criticism. Witness KL informed the Panel that when she received the report it contained ‘mistake after mistake after mistake.’ For example, although the Panel was only provided with a redacted copy she informed the Panel that the names of the child’s parents on the front sheet of the report were wrong. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant was motivated by a desire to bypass the quality assurance process in the hope of avoiding criticism.
43. The Panel noted that the Registrant had consciously and deliberately produced a signature which closely resembled Witness KL’s actual signature. It was such a good forgery that although Witness KL knew that she had not signed the document, she was initially concerned that she would not be able to prove that the signature was not hers.
44. Witnesses KL and MB both said that there are no circumstances in which it would be acceptable for a Social Worker to sign a document, in the name of another Social Worker, with the intent of passing off that signature as being genuine. Therefore, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s actions were dishonest.
45. In respect of Particular 3 the Panel noted that the Registrant suggested that the recording of a visit with Child A on 18 August 2015, was an administrative error. The Registrant accepted that he could not have made a visit on 18 August 2015 as he was in other meetings on that day, but he was not able to provide the actual date of the visit he says he made around this time. The Panel did not accept that as a viable explanation.
46. The case records for Child A indicated that the note relating to the visit of 18 August 2015 was created on 20 August 2015. The Panel had no reason to doubt the accuracy of the ‘created date’. Therefore, the Registrant created the record of a visit, which the Panel has already decided did not take place, the day after he attended a medical appointment with Child A and Foster Carer A on 19 August 2015. The Panel took the view that it was highly improbable that the Registrant mistakenly made reference to ‘LAC Medical to be held tomorrow – 19/08/2015’. By referring to 19 August 2015 as ‘tomorrow’, the Registrant was deliberately presenting the visit as having taken place on 18 August 2015. The Panel viewed that as a deliberate action, not a mistake.
47. The Panel took the view that it was much more likely that the Registrant wanted to give the impression that he had conducted a visit with Child A in the knowledge that a statutory visit was due. The Panel concluded that the Registrant knew that he should have conducted a statutory visit with Child A by the middle of August at the latest and attempted to conceal the fact that this had not been done by making a false entry in the records. Witness KL informed the Panel that every Monday she would receive a spreadsheet for her ‘pod’. She stated that that on the spreadsheet ‘green’ indicated that the task was within timescale and ‘red’ indicated that the task was overdue. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant was aware that if he made the entry in the case records it would no longer appear as an outstanding activity on the weekly spreadsheet. The Panel was satisfied that this was dishonest.
48. Accordingly, Particular 6 was found proved in relation to Particulars 1 and 3.
Decision on grounds
49. Having found Particulars 1, 3 and 6 (in relation to Particulars 1 and 3) proved, the Panel went on to consider whether the Registrant’s conduct amounted to misconduct.
50. The Panel took into account the written submissions of the Registrant and the oral submissions made by Mr Millin on behalf of the HCPC. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
51. In considering the issue of misconduct, the Panel bore in mind the explanation of that term given by the Privy Council in the case of Roylance v GMC (No.2)  1 AC 311 where it was stated that:
“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. The misconduct is qualified in two respects. First, it is qualified by the word ‘professional’ which links the misconduct to the profession ... Secondly, the misconduct is qualified by the word ‘serious’. It is not any professional misconduct which will qualify. The professional misconduct must be serious.”
52. The Registrant as a qualified Social Worker had a professional obligation to safeguard and protect the well-being of vulnerable children. Service users, their families and the public have the right to expect that the Registrant in performing his professional role, would act with honesty and integrity at all times, as important decisions are made based on the assessments and records completed by Social Workers.
53. The Registrant chose to create a note in Child A’s case records in order to give the impression that a visit had taken place when he knew that no such visit had had taken place. Four months later, in Child C’s case, the Registrant forged the signature of Witness KL, on a Child Protection Review report in an attempt to avoid the quality assurance procedure and any criticism that may have resulted, had Witness KL seen the report in advance. Both acts of dishonesty represented a fundamental breach of trust.
54. The Panel considered the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics applicable at the relevant time and was satisfied that the Registrant’s conduct breached:
Standard 1 You must act in the best interests of service users.
Standard 7 You must communicate properly and effectively with service users and other practitioners.
Standard 10 You must keep accurate records.
Standard 13 You must behave with honesty and integrity and make sure your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession.
55. The Panel was aware that breaching the standards alone does not necessarily constitute misconduct. However, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s conduct and behaviour fell far below the standards expected of a registered Social Worker. The Registrant knew what he was doing was wrong, but he chose to do it anyway. Although the Registrant suggested that with regard to forging Witness KL’s signature his motivation was to avoid cancellation of the conference, the Panel accepted the evidence of Witness KL and MB that there are no circumstances in which such dishonest behaviour would be acceptable.
56. The Registrant’s conduct had the potential to pose a risk to service users and to adversely affect colleagues within his team, the wider profession and the reputation of the Council.
57. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s conscious and deliberate dishonesty amounts to serious misconduct.
Decision on impairment
58. Having found that the Registrant’s dishonesty amounts to misconduct, the Panel went on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. The Panel took into account the HCPTS Practice Note on ‘Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired’. The Panel also took into account the Registrant’s written submissions, the oral submissions of Mr Millin, on behalf of the HCPC and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Legal Assessor advised that in determining current impairment the Panel should have regard to the following aspects of the public interest:
i) The ‘personal’ component: the current behaviour of the individual Registrant; and
ii) The ‘public’ component: the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession.
59. The Panel took the view that the factual findings raise significant concerns. The Registrant abused his position of trust and demonstrated a serious lack of judgment on two separate occasions.
60. The Panel considered the Registrant’s current fitness to practise firstly from the personal perspective and then from the wider public perspective.
61. The Panel appreciated that demonstrating remediation following a finding of dishonesty is inherently difficult. However, the Panel took the view that provided that there is meaningful reflection and a commitment to addressing the underlying behaviours, the dishonesty is remediable. The Panel noted that the false entry in Child A’s case records occurred during the Registrant’s ASYE and the forged signature occurred whilst he was subject to an informal Performance Development Plan. The Panel took the view that these circumstances did not excuse the Registrant’s behaviour. However, the Panel was mindful that the Registrant was a Newly Qualified Social Worker under a considerable degree of scrutiny and it appeared that he had not yet acquired the skills and experience to be able to cope with a demanding caseload. The Panel concluded that in this context there is likely to be the potential for remediation provided that the Registrant is willing and able to accept responsibility for his dishonest behaviour and demonstrate that he has taken steps to ensure that it is not repeated.
62. In considering whether the Registrant has remediated his conduct the Panel carefully considered his written representations. The Panel noted that the Registrant expressed remorse in relation to the forged signature and apologised for his conduct and behaviour. He outlined the work he has been doing as a support worker, the academic studies that he commenced at the University of Bristol and courses that he has completed, including on decision-making and succeeding in the workplace. The Registrant also made reference to the positive benefits he has gained from attending counselling sessions.
63. Although the Panel acknowledged that the Registrant has partly recognised his wrongdoing it was not satisfied that he has demonstrated any meaningful insight into the consequences of the dishonest choices he made and the impact on service users, their families, his former colleagues and his former employer. The Registrant’s acknowledgement of fault lacked depth and any qualitative analysis of why he had acted as he did, what he had learned from the experience and what steps he had taken to ensure that it did not happen again in the future. The Registrant made a series of decisions which necessarily involved a degree of premeditation. Instead of focussing on his own actions the Registrant emphasised in his written representations the environment that he was working under whilst employed by the Council and his view that he was not provided with enough support. The Panel noted that although the Registrant stated that these circumstances were not offered as an excuse, the Panel formed the view that he attributed blame to others rather than accept responsibility for, and address the concerns relating to, his dishonest behaviour. As a consequence, the Panel concluded that the Registrant had demonstrated minimal insight.
64. In the absence of sufficient insight and meaningful reflection the Panel concluded that there is a risk of repetition. In particular, the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s actions exposed service users to the risk of harm, brought the profession into disrepute, breached a fundamental tenet of the profession and demonstrated that his integrity could not be relied upon. The evidence before the Panel indicated that the Registrant had not fully and appropriately reflected on these issues. The Panel therefore took the view that there is an ongoing risk of repetition.
65. The Panel concluded that for these reasons the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired based on the personal component.
66. In considering the public component the Panel had regard to the important public policy issues which include the need to maintain confidence in the profession and declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour.
67. In the Panel’s view the Registrant’s dishonest conduct demonstrated a blatant disregard of his professional obligations. Members of the public would be extremely concerned to learn that a registered Social Worker had forged a colleague’s signature and made a false entry in a child’s case record. It is critically important that safeguarding policies and procedures have integrity and the ability to trust the word and actions of a professional Social Worker is a vital part of that process.
68. A significant aspect of the public component is upholding proper standards of behaviour. The Registrant’s conduct fell far below the standard expected of a Social Worker. The Panel concluded that public confidence would be undermined if a finding of impaired fitness to practise was not made, given the seriousness of the Registrant’s dishonest conduct and behaviour.
69. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired on the basis of both the personal component and the wider public interest and therefore the HCPC’s case is well-founded.
Decision on sanction
70. 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 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.
71. The Panel had regard to the Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP) and took into account the submissions made by Mr Millin, on behalf of the HCPC and the written representations made by the Registrant.
72. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness KL and MB that, for a significant period of time, the Registrant appeared to continuously have difficulties in making the transfer towards being an autonomous social work practitioner. The Panel noted that during this period the Registrant was also experiencing challenging personal circumstances. In the Registrant’s written representations, dated 14 April 2018, he stated, ‘I would ask that, whilst not mitigating [the allegations] the context of the situation be given due consideration. I would like it placed on record that I AM NOT trying to excuse my actions, nor am I trying to mitigate my actions.’ The Panel took this to mean that the Registrant acknowledged that his personal circumstances and work environment were not mitigating factors. The Panel noted that, as the Registrant prepared his written representations prior to the hearing, he was unaware of what, if any, findings would be made by the Panel. The Panel, having determined that the Registrant acted dishonestly on two separate occasions, acknowledged that the Registrant’s personal circumstances and work-related difficulties provide relevant contextual information. However, the Panel was satisfied that these circumstances did not mitigate the dishonesty.
73. The Panel identified the following aggravating factors:
• the dishonest behaviour was repeated;
• there was a potential risk of direct harm to service users;
• there was an absence of full and meaningful insight;
• there is an ongoing risk of repetition;
• the Registrant attributed blame to others.
74. The mitigating factors identified by the Panel were as follows:
• The Registrant admitted forging Witness KL’s signature at the time, during the internal investigation and in the HCPC response proforma;
• He has engaged with the HCPC proceedings;
• He expressed remorse and apologised in his written representation;
• No other adverse findings have been recorded against him;
75. The Panel first considered taking no action. The Panel concluded that in view of the nature and seriousness of the Registrant’s dishonest behaviour and in the absence of exceptional circumstances, to take no action on his registration would be inappropriate. Furthermore, it would be insufficient to protect the public, maintain public confidence and uphold the reputation of the profession.
76. The Panel then considered a Caution Order. The Panel noted paragraph 28 of the ISP which 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.’
77. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s actions could not be described as minor in nature or isolated. The Panel noted that although a Caution Order would be matter of record it would not place any restriction on the Registrant’s registration. In view of the Panel’s findings that the Registrant has demonstrated only limited insight into his misconduct, the risk of repetition and given the serious nature of his conduct and behaviour, the Panel concluded that a Caution Order would be inappropriate and insufficient to meet the public interest.
78. The Panel went on to consider a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel noted that the ISP states at paragraph 33:
‘Conditions will rarely be effective unless the registrant is genuinely committed to resolving the issues they seek to address and can be trusted to make a determined effort to do so. Therefore, conditions of practice are unlikely to be suitable in cases:
• where the registrant… lacks insight or denies any wrongdoing;
• where there are serious or persistent overall failings; or
• which involve dishonesty [or] breach of trust….’
79. The Panel acknowledged that forging a senior colleague’s signature and dishonestly making an entry in a service user’s case record will not usually be amenable to a Conditions of Practice Order, as the basis for this type of misconduct, is an attitudinal failing. However, the Panel recognised that there may be circumstances where a Conditions of Practice Order for such dishonest behaviour may be justified. In his written submissions, the Registrant asks the Panel to ‘engage [him] in a support plan’ which implies a willingness to comply with a Conditions of Practice Order.
80. However, the Panel concluded that in the circumstances of this case, given the repeated nature of the Registrant’s conduct and the absence of meaningful insight, a Conditions of Practice Order would not adequately address the serious nature of the Registrant’s misconduct and so would undermine public confidence in the profession and undermine the need to uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour.
81. The Panel next considered a Suspension Order. A Suspension Order would send a signal to the Registrant, the profession and the public re-affirming the standards expected of a registered social worker and therefore to that extent would provide a degree of public protection. However, the Panel noted paragraph 41 of the Indicative Sanction Policy which states:
‘If the evidence suggests that the registrant will be unable to resolve or remedy his or her failings then striking off may be the more appropriate option. However, where there are no psychological or other difficulties preventing the registrant from understanding and seeking to remedy the failings then suspension may be appropriate.’
82. The Registrant has demonstrated only minimal insight into his dishonest behaviour and has not taken sufficient remedial action to the extent that there remains an ongoing risk of repetition. He described the forgery of the signature as a ‘moment of madness’. However, there was evidence to the contrary that he planned this action. He has failed to properly address this behaviour. Additionally, he has been unable to suggest a relevant plan for remediation. Therefore the Panel concluded that there was no evidence that the Registrant was either willing or able to satisfactorily resolve or remediate the underlying attitudinal failures which culminated in his dishonest behaviour. Furthermore a Suspension Order would not be sufficient to maintain public trust in the profession and the regulatory process and would not have a deterrent effect on other registrants.
83. Having determined that a Suspension Order does not meet the wider public interest the Panel determined that the Registrant’s name should be removed from the Register. A Striking Off Order is a sanction of last resort and should be reserved for cases where there is no other means of protecting the public or the wider public interest. The Panel decided that the Registrant’s case falls into this category. The Registrant’s dishonest behaviour involved a gross breach of trust and he has failed to take the opportunity to demonstrate the degree of insight necessary to justify a lesser sanction. The Panel does not consider that there is any way to protect the public other than through a Striking Off Order. Any sanction short of a Striking Off Order would fail to declare and uphold proper standards and would fail to maintain public confidence in the profession and the HCPC as its regulator.
84. The Panel had regard to the consequential impact a Striking Off Order would have on the Registrant but concluded that his interests were significantly outweighed by the Panel’s duty to give priority to the significant public interest concerns raised by this case.
85. The Panel decided that the appropriate and proportionate order is a Striking Off Order.
That the Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mr Gavin S Hutchison from the Register on the date this order comes into effect.
No notes available
History of Hearings for Mr Gavin S Hutchison
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