Miss Samantha Allison Girt

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW06735

Interim Order: Imposed on 28 Nov 2016

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 09:00 22/05/2018 End: 16:00 25/05/2018

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Struck off

Please note that the decision can take up to 5 working days to be uploaded onto the HCPTS website. Please contact one of our Hearings Team Managers via tsteam@hcpts-uk.org or +44 (0)808 164 3084 if you require any further information.

 

Allegation

Allegation :


Whilst registered as a Social Worker with the Health and Care Professions Council and during the course of your employment with Milton Keynes Council, you:


 


1)    Were the allocated Social worker for Family A between 13 June 2016 and August 2016, and you:


 


a)    on an unknown date, hugged Service User A and/or placed your hand on her knee;


b)    on or around 12 August 2016, conducted an unrecorded personal visit to Service User A’s home and advised her that her partner, Person C, could go on holiday with the family.


 


2)    Following your removal as the allocated social worker for Family A in August 2016, maintained an inappropriate relationship with Service User A, in that you:


 


a)    between 12 September 2016 and 14 October 2016, exchanged inappropriate personal communications of a sexual nature with Service User A, which consisted of:


 


i)      ‘Whatsapp’ messages;


ii)     a video of yourself masturbating.


 


b)    asked Service User A to keep your relationship a secret, or words to that effect.


 


3)    Were instructed to prepare a Section 7 report by the Family Court and between 10 August 2016 and 28 September 2016, established an inappropriate personal relationship with Service User B, in that you:


 


a)    sent him inappropriate e-mails of a personal nature;


b)    provided him with assistance in completing a statement for The Family Court in support of his application for a Child Arrangements Order;


c)    drafted a letter on Milton Keynes Council headed paper, dated 29 November 2016, relating to Service User B and his partner stating or using words to the effect of:


 


i)      that you will be making the recommendation to Court that the children of Service User B should live with you.


ii)     that you would be keeping one of Service User B’s children in their current school for the remainder of the year before relocating him to one near you;


iii)   that you get what you want and you want to look after Service User B’s boys.


 


4)    The actions described in Paragraphs 1(a) and/or 2 and/or 3 were sexually motivated.


 


5)    The actions described in Paragraph 2 (b) and/or 3 (b) were are dishonest.


 


6)    The actions described in Paragraphs 1 to 5 constitute misconduct.


 


7)    By reason of your misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.


 


 

Finding

Preliminary Matters


Service of Notice


1. The Panel had sight of information that Notice of today’s hearing was sent by first class post to the Registrant’s registered address on 24 January 2018. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and was satisfied that good service had been effected in accordance with Rules 3 and 6 of the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee)(Procedure) Rules 2003 (the Rules).

Proceeding in Absence
2. Miss Mond-Wedd, on behalf of the HCPC, applied for the hearing to take place in the absence of the Registrant. She informed the Panel that the Registrant has provided no explanation for her absence and that she has not requested an adjournment. Miss Mond-Wedd submitted that therefore an adjournment would be unlikely to secure the Registrant’s attendance in the future. Miss Mond-Wedd referred to the public interest in not delaying the hearing particularly in light of the two witnesses who were in attendance today, with one expected tomorrow.
 
3. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, considered the principles set out in R v Jones [2002] UKHL 5 and the HCPTS Practice Note entitled “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”. The Panel took into account that notice of hearing had been properly served. The Panel noted the absence of any communication from the Registrant regarding to Notice of today’s hearing and decided that she has voluntarily absented herself. In the absence of any contact from the Registrant there is no indication that an adjournment would secure her attendance. The Panel was mindful of the effect of delay on the memories of the witnesses who were in attendance. The Panel also took into account the potential disadvantage to the Registrant if it were to proceed today and took into account fairness to the Registrant. However, the Panel weighed these considerations with the public interest in proceeding, and decided that in the circumstances, the balance fell on the side of the need to proceed expeditiously.

Application to Amend the Allegation
4. Miss Mond-Wedd, applied to amend the Allegation, and informed the Panel that notice of this intention had been given to the Registrant in a letter dated 15 November 2017. Miss Mond-Wedd submitted that the proposed amendments did not change the nature of the allegation, rather they just clarified the references to parties.
 
5. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and decided to allow the amendments which were clarificatory and did not change the nature of the Allegation. The Registrant had had advance notice of the application and had not objected. The Panel therefore decided that it was fair to allow the application.

Proceeding partly in private

6. Miss Mond-Wedd applied for the parts of the hearing dealing with the Registrant’s health to be heard in private on the basis that it would protect the Registrant’s private life. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and considered the HCPTS Practice Note entitled “Conducting Hearings in Private”. The Panel was satisfied that it was appropriate to accede to the application pursuant to Rule 10(1)(a) of the Rules, on the basis in order to protect the Registrant’s private life.

Redactions of witnesses’ names

7. Miss Mond-Wedd drew to the Panel’s attention the concerns of Witness 1 (W1) and Witness 2 (W2)  that if their names were not anonymised in any journalistic reporting of the case, this could adversely impact on their work in that they could face hostility from families they work with which already can be difficult to engage with. As a result this could affect the provision of services to families at a high risk of being affected by safeguarding issues. Miss Mond-Wedd informed the Panel that both witnesses had attended in the knowledge that their names would be redacted from the Panel’s final determination, as is the usual practice when Panels’ decisions are disseminated, and that therefore their anonymisation in any reporting should also follow on the basis of the Panel’s power to hear matters in private pursuant to Rule 10(1)(a) of the Rules.

8. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and referred to the HCPTS Practice Note entitled “Conducting Hearings in Private”.

9. During the hearing as an administrative measure, the Panel was of the view that the names of all witnesses should be anonymised during the hearing and therefore in any reporting, in order to ensure the privacy of the witnesses and also in the interests of justice so that their work and relationships with service users are not jeopardised.  

Direction of the Panel regarding reporting

10. On the first day of the hearing, a member of the press was in attendance. The Panel was concerned that any reporting of the first witness’s evidence could create a potential risk of contamination of subsequent witnesses. The Panel indicated that it was minded to direct that no reporting of any details of the evidence of any witness should take place until the conclusion of the evidence of the final witness. The Panel gave the member of the press who was present the opportunity to make representations, and heard submissions from Miss Mond-Wedd who stated that the Panel’s suggested course of action was appropriate. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, and in order to safeguard against the potential contamination of witnesses evidence, as well as to ensure the administration of a justice and the fairness of the hearing process, the Panel directed that no press reporting of any details of the evidence of any witness should take place until the conclusion of the evidence of the final witness.

Background

11. The Registrant is a registered Social Worker. At the material time, the Registrant was employed by Milton Keynes Council (“the Council”) as a Senior Practitioner. 

12. During her employment the Registrant was allocated the case of Family A  on 13 June 2016. This included Service User A (SUA) who was in a relationship with Person C. Person C was under investigation by the police for accessing online material about the sexual abuse of children. SUA was pregnant and also had 3 other children. It is alleged that during the time that the Registrant was allocated to Family A, she acted inappropriately towards SUA by breaching professional boundaries. Following the removal of the Registrant from Family A,   SUA disclosed “Whatsapp” messages exchanged with the Registrant, some of which were sexual in nature.

13. The Registrant was allocated the case of Service User B (SUB) and his children. Following the completion of a Section 7 report, in respect of the family, the Registrant allegedly engaged in an inappropriate relationship with SUB in that she sent him inappropriate emails of a personal nature, drafted an inappropriate letter to SUB on Council headed paper, and provided him with assistance in completing a statement for the Family Court in support of his application for a Child Arrangements Order.  

Decision on Facts
14. The Panel heard live evidence from W1, Senior Practitioner at the Council, W2, Team Manager at the Council, and Witness 3 (W3),  a Detective Constable who carried out a Police investigation into the Registrant’s alleged conduct.

15. The Panel has received no written statement or representations from the Registrant. In coming to its decision on facts, the Panel has not drawn any adverse inference from the Registrant’s absence.

16. The Panel heard the submissions of Miss Mond-Wedd and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was mindful that the burden of proof in respect of the Allegation rests entirely on the HCPC and that the standard of proof is the balance of probabilities. The Panel also took into account the Registrant’s previous good character in accordance with the Legal Assessor’s good character direction.

17. The Panel was of the view that both W1 and W2, the professional colleagues of the Registrant, were credible and reliable witnesses. The Panel had no reason to be of the view that either had any reason to fabricate or had any animosity towards the Registrant. They were factual, and balanced. Similarly, the Panel also found W3 to be credible and balanced, being clear about what he could remember and what he could not.

The Stem of the Allegation
Whilst registered as a Social Worker with the Health and Care Professions Council and during the course of your employment with Milton Keynes Council, you:

18. The Panel found proved on the basis of the witness statements and oral evidence of W1 and W2 that the Registrant, as a registered Social Worker, was employed by the Council. The witness statement of W2 states that the Registrant was employed by the Council between April 2015 and 31 October 2016

Particular 1a)
1)    Were the allocated Social worker for Family A between 13 June 2016 and August 2016, and you:
 
a)    on an unknown date, hugged Service User A and/or placed your hand on her knee;

19. The witness statement of W2 states that the case of Family A was transferred to the Registrant on 13 June 2016 and that on 15 August 2016, as explained in W2’s oral evidence, the Registrant was found not to have followed a management direction in respect of Family A.  W2’s statement further confirms that the case was subsequently transferred to W1 in August 2016. The  Panel was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the Registrant was the allocated Social Worker for Family A between June 2016 and August 2016.

20. The witness statement of W3 makes it clear that he interviewed SUA as part of his investigation into the Registrant’s conduct. As explained in his oral evidence, he took a statement from SUA on 1 November 2016 in which SUA states that on one occasion, the Registrant visited her at home and came over to the sofa on which she was sitting, knelt down in front of her, and gave her a hug and put her hand on her knee. The Panel was mindful of the fact that SUA’s evidence was hearsay and decided what weight to place on that evidence. The Panel took into account that the hearsay evidence is contained in a witness statement given to a police officer and is signed by SUA. The statement confirms that it is true to the best of her knowledge and belief and that she is aware that she could be liable to prosecution if she has stated anything false or which she does not believe to be true.  The last sentence of the statement confirms that she would attend court to give evidence if necessary. In the Panel’s view, the circumstances in which the evidence was provided adds to its weight including her awareness that she may need to give her evidence in court. Further, W3 confirmed that SUA gave her statement to him on her own without anyone else in the room, and therefore there was no collaboration with or influence by another person when making her statement. The Panel also considered whether it could find any indication that SUA has any motive to misrepresent or exaggerate, and in this regard bore in mind that the statement also refers to text messages of an overtly sexual nature including a video which the Registrant took of herself masturbating and sent to SUA. In the context of other overtly sexualised behaviour by the Registrant as related by SUA in the same witness statement, the Panel did not find that the evidence in relation to the hug and touching of the knee was exaggerated or given in order to malign the Registrant. The Panel therefore was satisfied that the evidence of SUA regarding the hug and touching the knee could be given significant weight.

21. The Panel was therefore satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the Registrant on an unknown date hugged SUA and placed her hand on her knee.

22. The Panel therefore found this Particular proved.

Particular 1b)
1)    Were the allocated Social worker for Family A between 13 June 2016 and August 2016, and you:
 
b)    on or around 12 August 2016, conducted an unrecorded personal visit to Service User A’s home and advised her that her partner, Person C, could go on holiday with the family.
 

23. The evidence in respect of this Particular is the hearsay evidence of SUA contained in the witness statement which she gave to W3 referred to above in respect to Particular 1a). In that statement SUA states that the Registrant came to her house on 12 August 2016 to discuss whether Person C could go on holiday with the rest of the family. SUA further states that she told Social Services that “Sam had said that he could” but they told her that they had no record of that or that the Registrant was working that particular day.

24. The Panel gave weight to this evidence for the same reasons set out in relation to Particular 1a), and found that there was no indication that the SUA was exaggerating or misrepresenting events, for the same reasons as set out above.

25. The Panel was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the Registrant acted as set out in Particular 1b and finds this Particular proved.

Particular 2ai
  Following your removal as the allocated social worker for Family A in August 2016, maintained an inappropriate relationship with Service User A, in that you:
 
a)    between 12 September 2016 and 14 October 2016, exchanged inappropriate personal communications of a sexual nature with Service User A, which consisted of:
 
i)      ‘Whatsapp’ messages;

26. As explained by W2 in her oral evidence, the Registrant failed to follow a management direction in respect of Family A, by informing SUA that Person C could accompany the rest of the family on holiday in August. W2’s statement further states that the case was subsequently taken from the Registrant and transferred to W1. As such it is clear from the evidence of W2 that the Registrant was removed as the allocated social worker for Family A in August 2016.

27. W3 states in his witness statement that on 28 October 2016 he took possession of a memory stick from W2  which contained images of screenshots taken on another Team Manager’s work Ipad of “Whatsapp” communications between SUA and the Registrant. W3 also states in his witness statement that on 1 November 2016 he took possession of SUA’s mobile phone so that its content could be downloaded. W3 viewed “Whatsapp” messages between SUA and the Registrant on 2 November 2016. He found 1424 messages spanning the period 12 September to 14 October 2016. The messages which were downloaded from SUA’s mobile phone by the police are contained in Exhibit 13. Having read these messages, the Panel is satisfied that between 12 September and 14 October 2016 the Registrant, having been removed from the case of Family A, maintained an inappropriate relationship with SUA, in that she exchanged inappropriate personal communications of a sexual nature with SUA. The messages include references to sexual acts and other sexualised references.

28. The Panel therefore found this Particular proved.

Particular 2aii
2)    Following your removal as the allocated social worker for Family A in August 2016, maintained an inappropriate relationship with Service User A, in that you:
 
a) between 12 September 2016 and 14 October 2016, exchanged inappropriate personal communications of a sexual nature with Service User A, which consisted of:

ii)     a video of yourself masturbating.


29. In his witness statement, W3 states that in addition to the “Whatsapp” messages, he located a video on SUA’s mobile phone sent to her on 4 October 2016. W3 watched this video which, he states in his witness statement is a close up of a female’s genitals, with a person’s left hand being used to masturbate and on that hand W3 saw a tattoo of rosary beads. W3 states in his witness statement that having met (and also interviewed the Registrant on 2 occasions), the tattoo in the video is identical to the one which the Registrant has on her hand. W3 also stated that the video was sent  from the contact “Sam”. The Panel noted that the “Whatsapp” messages in Exhibit 13 from the Registrant are also from the contact “Sam” which indicates clearly on the balance of probabilities that the video, like the “Whatsapp” messages was from the Registrant. The Panel noted that when giving oral evidence, W3 was able to describe the tattoo and stated that the tattoo on the video and on the Registrant’s hand are “identical”.

30. In her witness statement, W1 states that on 25 October 2016, during a visit to SUA  at the maternal grandparents house, SUA showed W1 the video on her mobile phone. In her witness statement, as confirmed in her oral evidence, W1 confirmed that the tattoo on the hand being used in the video was the same as the Registrant’s tattoo.

31. In her witness statement W2 states that she viewed a video on SUA’s mobile phone, and in oral evidence confirmed that she thought the tattoo on the hand in the video was the same as  that on the Registrant’s hand.

32. There is also reference to the video in the “Whatsapp” conversations between the Registrant and SUA.

33. On the basis of the above, the Panel was satisfied that the  Registrant maintained an inappropriate relationship with the Registrant in that, as well as the “Whatsapp” messages, on 4 October 2016 the Registrant sent SUA a video of  herself masturbating which was an inappropriate personal communication of a sexual nature. 

34. The Panel therefore found this Particular proved.

Particular 2b
2)    Following your removal as the allocated social worker for Family A in August 2016, maintained an inappropriate relationship with Service User A, in that you:
 
b)    asked Service User A to keep your relationship a secret, or words to that effect.

35. In her witness statement given to W3 dated 1 November 2016, SUA states the Registrant told her that their relationship

“would have to be our secret as she …would get in trouble with her work. She said we would need to hide it until the end of October as her managers would be watching her every move”.

36. The Panel gave weight to this hearsay evidence for the same reasons as set out above in relation to Particulars 1a and b. In addition, the Panel noted from the “Whatsapp” messages in Exhibit 13 that on a number of occasions, the Registrant stated that their relationship should be a secret or words to that effect. For example, “It has to be our secret”, “you won’t tell anyone about this conversation”, and “work can’t find out about me”.

37. Therefore, the Panel was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that following her removal from the case of Family A in August 2016, the Registrant maintained an inappropriate relationship with SUA by asking her to keep their relationship a secret.

38. The Panel therefore found this Particular proved.

Particular 3a
 
3)    Were instructed to prepare a Section 7 report by the Family Court and between 10 August 2016 and 28 September 2016, established an inappropriate personal relationship with Service User B, in that you:
 
a)    sent him inappropriate e-mails of a personal nature;


39. In her witness statement, W2 confirms that the Registrant’s role was to undertake enquiries in order to compose a Section 7 report in respect of SUB’s children, which the Family Court directed to be undertaken. W3 also confirms that on 21 July 2016 the case was closed following the conclusion of the court case.

40. W3 confirmed in his witness statement that he attended the Council’s offices  and he reviewed the Registrant’s emails in her Outlook folders and identified all emails between the Registrant and SUB which are contained in Exhibit 5. These emails span the period referred to in the Allegation, namely 10 August – 28 September 2017.

41. The emails refer to  the Registrant’s requests to see SUB outside of work, referring to having a relationship with him which goes beyond a professional relationship. The Registrant also requests to see SUB’s children, and expressed a desire to spend time with them and give them presents. Having read these emails, the Panel was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that between these dates the Registrant established an inappropriate personal relationship with SUB in that she sent him inappropriate emails of a personal nature.

42. The Panel therefore found this Particular proved.

Particular 3b
3)    Were instructed to prepare a Section 7 report by the Family Court and between 10 August 2016 and 28 September 2016, established an inappropriate personal relationship with Service User B, in that you:
 
b)    provided him with assistance in completing a statement for The Family Court in support of his application for a Child Arrangements Order;


43. The Panel noted the wording of the stem of Particular 3 which alleges that the Registrant was instructed to prepare a Section 7 report and (Panel’s emphasis) between 10 August and 28 September 2016 the Registrant established an inappropriate relationship with SUB “in that…” (Panel’s emphasis). Particular 3b goes on to complete the charge by alleging the Registrant provided SUB with assistance in completing his statement for the Family Court  in support of his application for a Child Arrangements Order.

44. The Panel took into account the witness statement of W2 which stated that on 21 July 2016, the case of SUB was closed as matters had concluded at court. Therefore, the statement which is the subject of this Particular was drafted and utilised at court prior to the range of dates set out in the stem, in which the behaviour alleged must fall. The Registrant’s assistance on the statement occurred prior to the range of dates in the stem.

45. On this basis, the Panel found this Particular not proved.

 

Particular 3c
3)    Were instructed to prepare a Section 7 report by the Family Court and between 10 August 2016 and 28 September 2016, established an inappropriate personal relationship with Service User B, in that you:
 
c)    drafted a letter on Milton Keynes Council headed paper, dated 29 November 2016, relating to Service User B and his partner stating or using words to the effect of:
 
i)      that you will be making the recommendation to Court that the children of Service User B should live with you.
ii)     that you would be keeping one of Service User B’s children in their current school for the remainder of the year before relocating him to one near you;
iii)   that you get what you want and you want to look after Service User B’s boys.


46. The Panel took into account the wording of the stem of Particular 3 which alleges that the Registrant was instructed to prepare a Section 7 report and (Panel’s emphasis) between 10 August and 28 September 2016 the Registrant established an inappropriate relationship with SUB “in that…” (Panel’s emphasis). Particular 3b goes on to complete the charge by alleging that the Registrant drafted a letter dated 29 November 2016. In his witness statement, as well as in his oral evidence, W3 stated that when searching the Registrant’s work folder on the Council Server, he discovered the draft letter on Council headed paper addressed to SUB and his wife. It was dated 29 November 2016 but W3 explained in his oral evidence that this date was “auto-filled” when he opened it on the computer, and that the file identification suggested it had been written on 23 March 2016. Therefore, the draft letter which is the subject of this Particular was drafted prior to the range of dates set out in the stem, in which the behaviour alleged must fall.

47. On this basis, the Panel found this Particular not proved

Particular 4
4)   The actions described in Paragraphs 1(a) and/or 2 and/or 3 were sexually motivated.
48. The Panel considered sexual motivation in the ordinary meaning of the words and was of the view that it connoted acts, words or behaviour designed or intended to arouse or gratify sexual impulses or desires.

49. The Panel decided, when approaching this allegation, that any sexually motivated act must be intentional and not accidental. The Panel does not consider that sexual motivation exclusively requires an intent for sexual intercourse to result.

In respect of Particular 1a

50. With regard to the Registrant’s actions of hugging and touching of the knee, the Panel considered them in the context of the Registrant’s later actions in terms of the content of the “Whatsapp” messages and the video sent by her to the SUA. Taking this context into account, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s actions were sexually motivated.

51. The Panel therefore found Particular 4 in respect of Particular 1a proved.

In respect of Particular 2a i and ii

52. With regard to the “Whatsapp” messages, many of them were of a sexual nature, detailing explicit sexual comments including references to sexual acts. The Panel was satisfied that these messages were clearly sexually motivated.

53. With regard to the video, by virtue of its very content, the Panel was satisfied that the creation and sending of the video was sexually motivated.

54. The Panel therefore found Particular 4 in respect of Particular 2a i and ii proved.

In respect of Particular 2b

55. In considering the Registrant’s motivation in relation to this Particular, the Panel took into account that in her witness statement to the police SUA’s stated that the relationship would have to be a secret as she would get into trouble at work. The Panel also took into that on a number of occasions in the “Whatsapp” messages the Registrant referred to the relationship having to be secret otherwise she would get into trouble at work, or using words to that effect. The Panel was therefore not satisfied that the motivation for her action in Particular 2b was sexual, because of the references in the evidence to the Registrant’s concern about repercussions at work and the need to keep the relationship secret to prevent trouble at work.

56. The Panel therefore did not find Particular 4 in respect of Particular 2b proved.

In respect of Particular 3a

57. In considering the content of many of the emails which referred to a relationship with Service B, a wish to have a relationship with him, and a wish to meet with him outside work, the Panel was satisfied that those emails were sexually motivated.

58. The Panel therefore found Particular 4 in respect of Particular 3a proved.

In respect of Particular 3b

59. Having found Particular 3b not proved, this Particular falls away.

In respect of Particular 3c i – iii

60. Having found Particular 3c not proved, this Particular falls away.

Particular 5
5)    The actions described in Paragraph 2 (b) and/or 3 (b) were are dishonest

61. With regard to the issue of dishonesty, the Panel took into account the advice of the Legal Assessor who referred to the cases of Ivey v Genting Casinos [2017] UKSC 67, Lavis v NMC [2014] EWHC 4083,  Uddin v GMC [2012] EWHC 26 and Fish v GMC [2012] EWHC 1269

In respect of Particular 2b

62. In asking SUA to keep their relationship a secret, or words to that effect, the Panel found on the balance of probabilities that this was stated to SUA by the Registrant in order to prevent her colleagues at the Council discovering the relationship. The Panel was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that on this basis, the Registrant knew that the relationship was wrong because it breached professional boundaries and that she wanted to conceal it from her colleagues. The Panel was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that telling SUA to keep the relationship a secret was motivated by a desire to conceal the truth of the existence of the inappropriate relationship. The Panel was satisfied that there was no other explanation, such as an unthinking or careless approach. On this basis, taking account the state of mind of the Registrant, the Panel considered whether by the objective standards of ordinary decent people, the Registrant’s behaviour was dishonest. The Panel found that the application of those standards would find that the Registrant’s action, taking into account her desire to conceal an inappropriate relationship, was dishonest.

63. The Panel therefore found Particular 5 in respect of Particular 2b proved.

In respect of Particular 3b

64. Having found Particular 3b not proved, this Particular falls away.


65. Panel then considered whether the facts found proved constitute misconduct. It was aware that there is no burden of proof at this stage and that misconduct is a matter for its own professional judgment. The Panel was aware that a breach of professional standards such as those contained in the HCPC Standards of conduct, performance and ethics (“the Standards”) was not necessarily in itself determinative of whether there was misconduct.

Decision on Grounds

66. In considering misconduct, the Panel had regard to the submissions of Miss Mond-Wedd who submitted that the Panel should find misconduct in the circumstances of the case. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who referred to the case of Roylance v GMC (No. 2) [2000] 1 AC 311 and Shaw v General Osteopathic Council [2015] EWHC 2721.

67. The Panel was of the view that by her actions, as found proved, the Registrant breached the following provisions in the Standards. However, the Panel was aware that breaches of such Standards in themselves do not necessarily mean that the Registrant’s actions constitute misconduct.

Standards of conduct, performance and ethics:
1. Promote and protect the interests of service users and carers;
1.7 You must keep your relationships with service users and carers professional;
2 Communicate appropriately and effectively;
2.7 You must use all forms of communication appropriately and responsibly, including social media and networking websites;
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.

Standards of proficiency in Social Workers in England:

2. be able to practise within the legal and ethical boundaries of their profession;
2.2 understand the need to promote the best interests of service users and carers at all times;
2.3 understand the need to protect, safeguard and promote the wellbeing of children, young people and vulnerable adults;
2.7 understand the need to respect and uphold the rights, dignity, values and autonomy of every service user and carer;
2.8 recognise that relationships with service users and carers should be based on respect and honesty;
3.1 understand the need to maintain high standards of personal and professional conduct; and
3.4 be able to establish and maintain personal and professional boundaries.

68.  With regard to SUA, in relation to Particular 1b, 2ai and 2aii, and with regard to SUB in relation to Particular 3a, the Panel has found that that the Registrant’s actions were sexually motivated. This was, in the Panel’s view, a very serious breach of professional boundaries and trust. To engage in such activity falls so far below the standards expected of social workers in relation to service users, that the Panel had no hesitation in finding that such behaviour was serious enough to constitute misconduct. 

69.  The Registrant’s action in informing SUA that Person C could go on holiday with the family was in direct contravention of the Councils management direction. This action placed the children of SUA at potential risk of harm as Person C was still the subject of police investigation as he was allegedly accessing online child pornography. Her actions were motivated by her inappropriate relations with SUA.  The Registrant’s action flies in the face of what is expected of social workers, and was so serious so as to amount to misconduct.

70. The Registrant’s actions in initiating inappropriate emails with SUB were of a personal nature and constitute a serious breach of professional standards and amount to misconduct.


71. The Registrant’s dishonest action in asking Service User to keep their relationship a secret as set out in Particular 2b breached the fundamental requirement of a social worker to be open and honest. The Registrant’s dishonesty was motivated by a desire to conceal an inappropriate relationship so that it  would not be discovered at work, and therefore she was seeking to obtain a personal benefit from the dishonesty. The Panel was of the view that such behaviour fell sufficiently below the standards expected to constitute misconduct.

72. The Panel therefore found misconduct in respect of all the Particulars found proved.

Decision on impairment

73. The Panel then considered whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. It was aware that there is no burden of proof at this stage and that impairment is a matter for its own professional judgment.

74. The Panel heard the submissions of Miss Mond-Wedd who submitted that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired. The Panel also had regard to the HCPTS  Practice Note entitled “Finding that Fitness to Practise is ‘Impaired’”. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

75. In determining whether fitness to practise is impaired, panels must take account of a range of issues which, in essence, comprise two components:

i. the personal component which includes insight, the risk of repetition, whether the matters raised are remediable and whether there has been remediation by the Registrant.
ii. the public component which includes the need to protect service users, maintain confidence in the profession, declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour.

76. The Panel considered the personal component, and due to a lack of any representations from the Registrant was faced with an absence of evidence in relation to any insight and remediation, which are relevant to an assessment of the risk of repetition. The Panel concluded therefore that there was a high risk of repetition.

77. The Panel then considered the public component of impairment and the questions formulated by Dame Janet Smith in the Fifth Shipman Report as set out in the case of CHRE v NMC and Grant [2011] EWHC 927 as follows;

Do the findings of fact in respect of misconduct show that fitness to practise is impaired in that the Registrant:

‘A) has in the past acted and/or is liable in the future to act ‘to put a patient of patients at unwarranted risk of harm; and/or
B) has in the past brought and/or  is liable in the future to bring the medical profession in disrepute; and/or
C) has in the past breached and/or is liable in the future to breach one of the fundamental tenets of the medical profession; and/or
D) has in the past acted dishonestly and/or is liable to act dishonestly in the future’

78. The Panel concluded that in the past the Registrant has put service users at unwarranted risk of harm, namely the children of SUA as a result of her contravening a management direction by informing SUA that Person C could attend the family holiday. The Registrant also put SUA and SUB at risk by initiating inappropriate relationships and breaching professional boundaries, particularly in the context when the Registrant was charged with responsibilities for the children of SUA and SUB.   Her actions, including her dishonesty and sexually motivated behaviour, brought the profession into disrepute and breached fundamental tenets of the social work profession.

79. The Panel bore in mind that the Registrant’s sexually motivated behaviour occurred in respect of a male and a female service user, in differing forms, and over a period of time. She has breached professional boundaries numerous times. There is no evidence that the Registrant has sought to address such behaviour and therefore the Panel was of the view that the Registrant is liable to repeat such behaviour in the future. In light of the absence of any evidence of insight or remediation, the Panel was of the view that the Registrant is liable in the future to put service users at unwarranted risk of harm, bring the profession into disrepute, breach fundamental tenets and act dishonestly.

80. The Panel also considered the wider public interest as set out in the case of Grant. It decided that in the circumstances of lack of full remediation and insight, as well as the risk of repetition of sexually motivated and inappropriate behaviour, the public interest is engaged. The Panel concluded that in the particular circumstances, the need to uphold proper professional standards and public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made.

81. In conclusion, the Panel found the allegation well founded.


Decision on Sanction

82. The Panel heard the submissions of Miss Mond-Wedd, read the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP), and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was aware that aim of sanction is not to be punitive. Rather, the aim is to uphold the public interest, which includes protection of the public. Sanction is a matter for the independent judgment of the Panel. The Panel took into account the principle of proportionality in coming to its decision on sanction.

83. The Panel identified the following mitigating factor:

i. the Registrant is of previous good character with no previous regulatory findings against her.

84. The Panel identified the following aggravating factors:

i. the sexually motivated “Whatsapp” messages and the video sent to SUA and the sexually motivated emails sent to SUB were part of a deliberate, persistent course of conduct indicative of an attitudinal issue;

ii. the Registrant’s breaches of professional boundaries exposed SUA and her children, and SUB and his children to the risk of harm;

iii. the Registrant breached professional boundaries in relation to two different service users;

iv. the Registrant’s dishonesty involved asking a service user, SUA, to conceal the truth of their relationship.


85. The Panel was mindful of the lack of any representations or explanations from the Registrant before it. There is no evidence of understanding from the Registrant about what she did wrong nor evidence of any attempt to address the wrongdoing.

86. The Panel was of the view that mediation is not appropriate because it is not satisfied that the only other appropriate option would be to take no further action. Taking no further action would not address the high risk of repetition which the Panel has already found, nor would it satisfy the public interest in this case. The Panel considered and discounted a Caution Order on the basis that the sexually motivated misconduct was sustained and deliberate, the misconduct as a whole was not minor in nature, and that there is a high risk of repetition.


87. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order but was satisfied that no conditions could be formulated which would address the risk of repetition of the Registrant’s sustained sexually motivated behaviour in relation to service users, nor the risk of repetition of her dishonesty which occurred in the context of her inappropriate relationship with SUA. As such, a Conditions of Practice Order was not sufficient to protect the public and therefore could not satisfy the wider public interest. In this regard the Panel took into account para. 30 of the ISP which states:

“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 has failed to engage with the fitness to practise process, lacks insight or denies any wrongdoing;
•  where there are serious or persistent overall failings; or
•  which involve dishonesty, breach of trust or the abuse of service users.”
88. The Panel was of the view that all three of the above matters were features which exist in the case before it.

89. The Panel next considered a Suspension Order. Para. 39  of the ISP states that a Suspension Order may be appropriate where:
“the allegation is of a serious nature but unlikely to be repeated and, thus, striking off is not merited.”
90. The Panel has already found that there is a high risk of repetition. The Panel is also of the view that the Registrant has demonstrated attitudinal issues in respect to her sexually motivated misconduct, which was persistent and deliberate. Further, there is no evidence of insight.  The Panel was therefore of the view that a Suspension Order was not sufficient to protect the public nor was it sufficient to address the wider public interest and maintain public confidence in the regulatory process.

91. Paras. 47 – 49  of the ISP state that:


“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.
Striking off should be used where there is no other way to protect the public, for example, where there is a lack of insight, continuing problems or denial. A registrant’s inability or unwillingness to resolve matters will suggest that a lower sanction may not be appropriate.

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.”

92. In the Registrant’s case, not only was there dishonesty but also persistent and sustained sexually motivated conduct in breach of professional boundaries involving a breach of trust. A feature of this case is that there is no evidence of insight or remediation, and as such the Panel took the view that there is an unwillingness on the Registrant’s part to remediate her misconduct.  The Panel was also of the view that the Registrant’s sexually motivated conduct, with the implications it had for the safety of SUA, SUB and their children, was very serious, and due to its persistent nature, indicates an attitudinal problem. Further, the Panel is of the view that the dishonesty which it has found proved was of a serious nature due to the fact that it involved asking SUA to conceal the truth about their relationship for the Registrant’s benefit so that she would not get into trouble at work. These matters indicate a clear and persistent disregard for professional boundaries on the part of the Registrant as well as disregard of her duty to safeguard service users, in the pursuit of her own interests and benefit.

93.  The factors set out above in the previous paragraph lead the Panel to conclude that there is no other way to protect the public than to impose a Striking Off Order. The Panel was also of the view that the prolonged and deliberate sexually motivated behaviour with its repeated breaches of professional boundaries, as well as the seriousness of the dishonesty, meant that any lesser sanction than Striking Off would lack deterrent effect and would undermine confidence in the profession concerned or the regulatory process.

94. The Panel was aware of the need to consider proportionality, and took into account the effect that a Striking Off order will have on the Registrant and her right to practise. However, the Panel was satisfied that the need to protect the public and to maintain public confidence in the profession outweighed the Registrant’s interests in this regard. The Panel is satisfied that a Striking Off Order is the only proportionate sanction in the circumstances.

95. The Panel therefore decided to impose a Striking Off Order.

Order

 

Order:

 

That the Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mr Samantha Allison Girt from the Register on the date this order comes into effect.

 

Notes

The Panel imposed an Interim Suspension Order for a period 18 months to cover the appeal period.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Miss Samantha Allison Girt

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
22/05/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off
20/04/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
08/11/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
10/08/2017 Investigating committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
18/05/2017 Investigating committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
28/11/2016 Investigating committee Interim Order Application Interim Suspension