Ian G Murfitt

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW29366

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 14/11/2018 End: 17:00 16/11/2018

Location: Health and Care Professions Council, 405 Kennington Road, London, SE11 4PT

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

Whilst registered with the HCPC as a Social Worker, and employed as an Education Outreach Worker at Visyon Ltd, you:

1.  Did not adequately safeguard Service User A and/or Service User B, in that:

(a)  On or around 12 January 2017, you:

(i) Did not alert Visyon's Safeguarding Team about Service User A's disclosure of a potential safeguarding concern and/ or log a cause for concern.

(ii)  Did not inform Service User A's Social Work team of the concern.

(iii)  Did not inform Service User A's school and/or an appropriate Local Authority Agency about the concerns and/or record doing so.

(b)  On or around 19 January 2017, you:

(i)  Did not alert Visyon's Safeguarding Team about the concerns raised by Person C and/or log a cause for concern.

(ii) Did not inform Service User B's Social Work team of the concerns.

(iii) Did not inform Service User B's school about the concerns and/or record doing so.

2.  Did not disclose to your manager that you had a pre-existing professional relationship with Person C.

3.  The matters set out in paragraphs 1 - 2 constitute misconduct.

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

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Service of Notice

1. The Notice of this hearing was sent to the Registrant at his address as it appears on the HCPC Register on 21 August 2018. The Notice contained the date, time and venue of the hearing.

2. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, and was satisfied that Notice of today’s hearing has been served in accordance with Rule 6(1) of the Conduct and Competence Committee Rules 2003 (the “Rules”).

Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant

3. The Panel then went on to consider whether to proceed in the absence of the Registrant, pursuant to Rule 11 of the Rules. In doing so, it considered the submissions of Ms Mond-Wedd on behalf of the HCPC.

4. Ms Mond-Wedd submitted that the HCPC had taken all reasonable steps to serve the Notice of Hearing on the Registrant. She drew the Panel’s attention to the email from the Registrant, dated 22 August 2018, responding to the above-mentioned notice of hearing. The Registrant stated in his email, “As I have previously said, I am unable to attend the hearing I have no witnesses to send and I won’t be represented.” Ms Mond-Wedd submitted that an adjournment would serve no useful purpose in these circumstances. She further submitted that there would be no injustice in proceeding in the absence of the Registrant as he had provided a response to the Allegation in the above-mentioned email which could be put to the HCPC witness for her comment. Ms Mond-Wedd reminded the Panel that there was a public interest in this matter being dealt with expeditiously.

5. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. He drew the Panel’s attention to the HCPTS Practice Note entitled “Proceeding in the Absence of a Registrant”. He advised that, if the Panel was satisfied that all reasonable efforts had been made to notify the Registrant of the hearing, then the Panel had the discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. He cautioned the Panel that the discretion was to be exercised with care and caution as set out in the case of R v Jones [2002] UKHL 5.

6. The Legal Assessor also referred the Panel to the case of GMC v Adeogba and Visvardis [2016] EWCA Civ 162 and advised the Panel that the Adeogba case reminded the Panel that its primary objective is the protection of the public and of the public interest. In that regard, the case of Adeogba was clear that “where there is good reason not to proceed, the case should be adjourned; where there is not, however, it is only right that it should proceed”.

7. It was clear, from the principles derived from case law, that the Panel was required to ensure that fairness and justice were maintained when deciding whether or not to proceed in a Registrant’s absence.

8. The Panel was satisfied that all reasonable efforts had been made by the HCPC to notify the Registrant of the hearing. It was also satisfied that the Registrant was aware of the hearing.

9. In deciding whether to exercise its discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant, the Panel was aware of its overarching objective of protecting the public and the public interest. The Panel weighed its responsibility for public protection and the expeditious disposal of the case with the Registrant’s right to a fair hearing.

10. In reaching its decision, the Panel took into account the following:

• The Registrant had not made an application to adjourn today’s hearing, and implicit in his email dated 22 August 2018 was an expectation that proceedings today would proceed in his absence;

• The Registrant included some responses to the Allegation, which the Panel was able to take into consideration;

• The HCPC had offered the Registrant the opportunity of participating in these proceedings by way of telephone link;

• There was a public interest that this substantive hearing proceed expeditiously, as the HCPC witness, SM, had attended and was ready to give her evidence.

11. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had voluntarily absented himself from the hearing. There was a distinction between a case where the Registrant is clearly aware of the hearing date, and one where there has been no response from the Registrant. It determined that there was no good reason for adjourning this matter today. Having weighed the public interest for expedition in cases against the Registrant’s own interest, the Panel decided to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.

12. The Panel would not draw any adverse inference from his absence.

Amendment of the Allegation

13. Ms Mond-Wedd, on behalf of the HCPC, applied to amend the Allegation. She submitted that the amendment sought was consistent with the evidence, and that it served to clarify the Allegation by giving further and better particulars. The amendment sought was to add particular 1(a)(iii) to the Allegation, which is to read “Did not inform Service User A’s school and/or an appropriate Local Authority Agency about the concerns and/or record doing so.”

14. Ms Mond-Wedd also drew the Panel’s attention to the letter sent to the Registrant dated 15 March 2018, which notified the Registrant of the amendment being sought. The Panel was informed that the Registrant had not objected to the amendment being made.

15. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, who advised that it was open to the Panel to amend the Allegation and its particulars, provided no injustice would be caused by the amendment. The Panel considered that the amendment sought did not change the substance of the Allegation. The proposed amendment clarified the Allegation and would not cause injustice. Furthermore, the Registrant had been given notice of the amendment sought and had not made any objection. The Panel therefore allowed the amendment to be made.

Background

16. The Registrant was employed as a Family Support Worker at Visyon, a children and young people's mental health charity, from 1 January 2013. As part of his role he worked with families, focusing on the children's needs.

17. On 20 April 2017, the Registrant passed a letter of complaint that he had received from the paternal grandfather of Service User A and Service User B to a Senior Manager at Visyon. The investigation into the complaint letter, which was completed by SM, uncovered concerns regarding the Registrant's management of the cases of Service User A and Service User B.

18. These matters were referred to the HCPC.

Decision on Facts

19. The Panel considered all the evidence in this case together with the submissions made by Ms Mond-Wedd on behalf of the HCPC, and the representations made by the Registrant in his email dated 22 August 2018.

20. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, who reminded the Panel that the burden of proof rests with the HCPC, and that the Registrant need not disprove anything. The Legal Assessor also reminded the Panel that the standard of proof is the civil standard, namely the balance of probabilities.

21. The Panel heard oral evidence from SM, who is the Business Development Manager for Visyon Limited, and who carried out the employer’s investigation into these matters.

22. The Panel also received a bundle of evidence which included:

• the policy and procedure documents of Visyon relating to safeguarding and child protection;

• the relevant notes of Service User A and Service User B;

• the notes of interviews of the Registrant carried out by SM;

• the investigation report of SM in relation to these matters.

23. The Panel found SM’s evidence to be clear, cogent and credible. Her evidence was based upon the documentary evidence, which consisted of the notes made by the Registrant himself, as well as the notes of interviews conducted with him and supervision meetings of the Registrant. The bundle of evidence had been served upon the Registrant and he has not contested the accuracy of the contents of the abovementioned documents.

24. SM told the Panel that Visyon is a children and young people's mental health charity that provided a range of different support services to children and young people (from the ages of 4 to 25) who are struggling with mental health challenges, and their families. She told the Panel that this support included counselling, group work, mentoring, creative activities, family support, and training.

25. SM told the Panel that the Registrant was employed by Visyon as a Family Support Worker, and that his responsibilities included working with families who had been referred to them by Nantwich Education Partnership schools. She told the Panel that in April 2017, the Registrant had passed to his manager a letter of complaint he had received from Grandfather A, who was the paternal grandfather of Service User A and Service User B. The complaint included an Allegation that the Registrant had a conflict of interest in relation to Service User A and Service User B, as the Registrant had a prior personal relationship with their mother.

26. SM told the panel that she was appointed as the Investigating Officer to look into this complaint. She said that as part of her investigation she had looked at the records for Service User A and Service User B.

27. SM told the panel that she had not been aware of any safeguarding issues until she looked at the Registrant's notes as part of her investigation into the above complaint.

Particular 1(a)

On or around 12 January 2017, you:

(i) Did not alert Visyon's Safeguarding Team about Service User A's disclosure of a potential safeguarding concern and/ or log a cause for concern.

(ii)  Did not inform Service User A's Social Work team of the concern.

(iii)  Did not inform Service User A's school and/or an appropriate Local Authority Agency about the concerns and/or record doing so.

28. It was clear from the undisputed evidence that there were procedures in place that should have been followed if a 'cause for concern' arose in relation to a child for whom Visyon was providing support. Therefore, the first question for the Panel was whether the evidence proved that a cause for concern did arise in relation to Service User A at that time.

29. SM drew the Panel's attention to the notes dated 13 January 2017 for Service User A, entered onto Visyon’s system by the Registrant. The Registrant had made a note that Service User A had told him that she did not want to go to her father’s home again, and that she had told her father so. The Registrant also noted that Service User A did not expand on what she meant other than to say, “a young girl and an old man together??”

30. SM told the Panel that such a statement would raise a clear cause for concern that should have been explored further by safeguarding officers.

31. SM told the Panel that when this note was put to the Registrant in interview, he was asked if he thought this was a potential safeguarding concern. The Registrant replied that he did not feel that Service User A was at any immediate risk because she was not about to go and see her father. The Registrant said that there was no contact arranged at that point, and because there were no plans for Service User A to go again, he did not think that she would be in any further danger.

32. SM told the Panel that a cause for concern did not require there to be immediate danger.

33. The Panel was satisfied that the evidence demonstrated that, on or around 12 January 2017, there was a cause for concern raised by Service User A’s comments (as set out in paragraph 29 above), which should have engaged the child protection procedures of Visyon.

34. SM told the Panel that when she went through the notes that the Registrant had put onto the system, it was clear that he had not followed Visyon’s child protection policy and procedure. The policy required him to bring the cause for concern to the attention of the safeguarding officers of Visyon and other relevant parties. She stated that he had not used Visyon’s electronic notification system for its own safeguarding officers, nor had he informed any other relevant safeguarding parties such as the Social Work Team or the school.

35. SM drew the Panel's attention to the relevant sections of Visyon’s child protection policy and procedure documents, which set out the people whom the Registrant should have informed when a cause for concern was raised. The said policy document states:

“It is the responsibility of each staff member and volunteer to be aware of who the SOs [Safeguarding Officers] are. When working in schools or other agencies the worker must communicate with a Visyon SO in the first instance, however, it is their responsibility to identify the safeguarding lead in the school or agency. All staff, volunteers, and trustees made aware of suspicions, Allegations or actual safeguarding issue, have a responsibility to ensure that this procedure is followed.”

36. SM said that there was a hierarchy of responsibility, and in such a situation the Registrant should have informed someone else of the cause for concern, so that it could be properly investigated and the child safeguarded against any risk.

37. SM also referred the Panel to the interview conducted by her with the Registrant. In that interview the Registrant accepted that he had not shared with anyone the information regarding the cause for concern raised.

38. Based upon the evidence before it, the Panel found particular 1(a) proved on the balance of probabilities.

Particular 1(b)

On or around 19 January 2017, you:

(i)  Did not alert Visyon's Safeguarding Team about the concerns raised by Person C and/or log a cause for concern.

(ii) Did not inform Service User B's Social Work team of the concerns.

(iii) Did not inform Service User B's school about the concerns and/or record doing so.

39. SM told the Panel that she had identified another cause for concern in relation to Service User B, when she examined the entries made by the Registrant in the records for Service User B. She drew the Panel's attention to the entry made by the Registrant which stated: “[Service User B] and [Service User A] have again refused to see dad and apparently [Service User B] was hiding under the desks in the after-school club saying he didn’t want to go because he did not feel safe.”

40. SM told the Panel that the above entry raised a clear cause for concern and that, as a result, the Registrant should have followed the above-mentioned child protection policy and procedures. She told the Panel that there was no recording in Service User B's notes to indicate that the Registrant had done so. She again drew the Panel's attention to the above-mentioned interview, in which the Registrant accepted that he had not informed anyone of this cause for concern. She said when she asked the Registrant if he had shared the information about Service User B not feeling safe in school, he had replied that it was the school who told him about it. The Registrant went on to say that the arrangement was that Service User B's father would pick him up from school and that this behaviour would sometimes happen when Service User B's father came to school to pick him up.

41. SM said that when the Registrant was specifically asked whether he recalled sharing with anyone the information about Service User B not feeling safe, the Registrant stated that he did not know, and also accepted that there were no notes to indicate that he had told anyone.

42. The Panel noted that in the Registrant’s email dated 22 August 2018, he asserted that the issues with Service User B had been managed by the Safeguarding Officer at the school in question. He also stated that “the family issues were Sub Judice and I was attempting to contact the CAFCAS [sic] officer”.

43. However, the Panel noted that the Registrant did not make mention of the school's Safeguarding Officer in Service User B's records, although he did mention Cafcass.

44. Based upon the evidence before the Panel, it was satisfied that particular 1(b) was proved on the balance of probabilities.

45. The Panel then went on to consider whether the Registrant’s failure to comply with Visyon’s child protection policy and procedures demonstrated that he had not adequately safeguarded Service User A or Service User B. The Panel was aware that social work involving child protection issues is varied and each case depends on the circumstances of the family and child/children, the resources available, and other variables. The Panel was conscious that, when assessing the Registrant’s actions, it must determine whether or not they fall within the spectrum of reasonable decisions open to a Social Worker in the same circumstances.

46. The Panel determined that in this case, where there was a clear cause for concern in relation to two siblings, where they had voiced their concerns about their father, and where there was a clear-cut policy and procedure designed to safeguard children in such a situation (which the Registrant had read), he did not adequately safeguard Service User A and Service User B.

47. Therefore the Panel determined that particular 1 was proved in its entirety.

Particular 2

Did not disclose to your manager that you had a pre-existing professional relationship with Person C.

48. SM told the Panel that the Registrant told her that, at the time of the interview conducted on 26 April 2017, he had had a professional relationship with Person C for five years. SM stated that the Registrant said he could not think of any reason why someone might think he had a social relationship with Person C.

49. SM told the Panel that she had investigated the Registrant’s relationship with Person C and found no evidence that there had been a personal relationship between them. She said that the Registrant had a professional relationship with Person C, in that she worked in one of the schools that the Registrant worked with. She said that the Registrant and Person C would often meet and discuss pupils. She confirmed that the Registrant did not disclose that relationship to Visyon when he took on Person C and her children as clients.

50. The Panel also noted that the Registrant had recorded in Service User B's record the following note, “I will remain available to the family and will pop in on mum on an ad hoc basis as she is a head of year in [the school] and we meet frequently.”

51. Based upon the evidence before it, the Panel was satisfied that particular 2 was proved on the balance of probabilities.

Decision on Grounds

52. The Panel then went on to consider whether the factual particulars found proved amounted to misconduct. The Panel heard the submissions of Ms Mond-Wedd on behalf of the HCPC.

53. Ms Mond-Wedd submitted that the Registrant’s actions breached the HCPC’s Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers in England (2017), specifically 1, 1.1, 1.3, 1.5, 2, 2.2, 2.3, 2.5, 2.6 and 10, and the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (2016), specifically 1, 1.7, 6, 6.1, 7, 7.1, 7.3 and 10. She submitted that the Registrant’s actions in the circumstances were so serious that they did amount to serious misconduct.

54. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. He referred the Panel to the decisions in the following cases:

• Roylance v GMC (2000) 1 AC 311

• Hindmarsh v NMC [2016] EWHC 2233 (Admin)

• Nandi v GMC [2004] EWHC 2317 (Admin)

55. The Panel was aware that misconduct is “a word of general effect, involving some act or omission, which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances.” It was also aware that it was stressed that Misconduct is qualified by the word “serious”; it is not just any professional misconduct which will qualify.

56. The Panel reminded itself that not every instance of falling short of what would be proper in the circumstances, and not every breach of the HCPC standards, would be sufficiently serious such as to amount to misconduct in this context. Therefore, the Panel had careful regard to the context and circumstances of the matters found proved.

57. The Panel took into account SM’s evidence in relation to the training and supervision received by the Registrant when he was working for Visyon.

58. The Panel considered each of the factual particulars in the light of the following circumstances demonstrated by the evidence:

• The Registrant was a Social Worker with the required training and knowledge dealing with child protection issues; and

• There were no issues raised regarding the Registrant’s practice prior to these matters.

Particular 1

59. In relation to Particular 1, the Panel took the Registrant’s training record into account. He had received safeguarding training on 30 April 2014, in June 2014, and in September 2016. Furthermore, he had signed the confirmation in August 2015 that he had read and understood Visyon’s safeguarding policy. SM told the Panel that when the Registrant joined in January 2013, he would have received safeguarding training as part of his induction into the charity.

60. In his interview with SM, the Registrant confirmed that he was familiar with the safeguarding policy and procedures of Visyon. He also confirmed that he remembered discussing causes for concern during supervision with his line manager. This included discussions about when causes for concern should be submitted, the importance of logging causes for concern, and completing follow-ups even if the case had been passed to another agency.

61. In his email dated 22 August 2018, the Registrant stated that the statement made by Service User A “was ambiguous and local services were not interested. As the child was not at that point seeing her father I felt safe in spending a little more time “putting more meat on the bones of the issue” before proceeding. Issues with the younger brother had been managed by the safeguarding officer at his school. The family issues were Sub Judice and I was attempting to contact the CAFCAS [sic] officer.”

62. The Panel did not accept that either Service User A or Service User B were ambiguous when they indicated that they did not feel safe with their father. Furthermore, there were no records to demonstrate that the Registrant had in fact “put more meat on the bones” before deciding what action to take, if any. There was also no evidence that the Registrant had made any attempt to contact the Cafcass officer. No record was made of the above decisions in the notes of Service User A or Service User B, nor did the Registrant proffer the above explanations in his interview with SM.

63. The Panel noted that there was no evidence of actual harm being suffered by either Service User A or Service User B by the actions of the Registrant. Nevertheless, the Panel was aware that safeguarding policies and procedures are designed to safeguard service users against the risk of harm. The Registrant’s actions in the circumstances exposed Service User A and Service User B to a risk of harm.

64. The Panel determined that the Registrant's actions were serious enough to amount to misconduct. Fellow practitioners would consider his failure to notify safeguarding officers of what he had been told by Service User A and Service User B to be deplorable. It was not a momentary lapse of concentration, but rather a conscious decision that safeguarding officers did not need to be notified. That decision was not within the spectrum of reasonable decisions that social workers in the same situation should make.

Particular 2

65. Particular 2 primarily concerns conflict of interest. There was nothing inherently wrong with the Registrant having a professional relationship with Person C. However, it was clear from Visyon’s policy document that the Registrant should have told his manager of this relationship when he took Person C and her children, Service User A and Service User B, as clients. The policy document states:

“7.2 Where a relationship with a colleague, internally or externally, service user or a friend could cause a conflict of interest, or bring Visyon into disrepute, this relationship must be declared to the manager”

66. In this particular case, the Registrant’s professional relationship with Person C gave the impression to the grandfather of Service User A and Service User B that a court report prepared by the Registrant was biased in favour of Person C. This led to the complaint being made by him, which gave rise to the investigation carried out by SM. SM told the Panel the allegation that the court report was biased was not upheld at the disciplinary hearing conducted by Visyon.

67. SM told the Panel that the Registrant would have known about the requirement to disclose relationships through his Professional Boundaries training.

68. The Panel considered that the failure on the part of the Registrant to disclose his professional relationship with Person C to his manager in the circumstances was not at the extreme end of a breach of professional boundaries. However, the Panel determined that when his failure was set against a background of his training, it was serious enough to amount to misconduct. Independence is at the core of social work of this nature, and the Registrant's actions exposed the work he had done in Person C's case to a complaint, and the impression of lack of independence on his part.

69. The Panel considered that, on the facts found proved, the Registrant had breached the following HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (2016):

1 Promote and protect the interests of service users and carers

6 Manage risk

6.1 You must take all reasonable steps to reduce the risk of harm to service users, carers and colleagues as far as possible.

7 Report concerns about safety

7.1 You must report any concerns about the safety or well-being of service users promptly and appropriately

7.3 You must take appropriate action if you have concerns about the safety or well-being of children or vulnerable adults.

10 Keep records of your work

70. The Panel also considered that the Registrant had breached the following HCPC Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers in England (2017):

1 be able to practise safely and effectively within their scope of practice

1.1 know the limits of their practice and when to seek advice or refer to another professional

1.3 be able to undertake assessments of risk, need and capacity and respond appropriately

1.5 be able to recognise signs of harm, abuse and neglect and know how to respond appropriately, including recognising situations which require immediate action

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, promote and prioritise the wellbeing of children, young people and vulnerable adults

2.5 be able to manage and weigh up competing or conflicting values or interests to make reasoned professional judgements

2.6 be able to exercise authority as a social worker within the appropriate legal and ethical frameworks and boundaries

10 be able to maintain records appropriately

71. The Panel determined that particulars 1 and 2 amounted to the statutory ground of misconduct.

Decision on Impairment

72. The Panel then went on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of his misconduct. The Panel heard the submissions of Ms Mond-Wedd, and it accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

73. The Legal Assessor drew the Panel’s attention to the approach set out in the case of CHRE v NMC and Grant (2011) EWHC 927 (Admin), and reminded the Panel that there was a personal and public component when considering whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise was currently impaired.

74. For this purpose, the Panel adopted the approach formulated by Dame Janet Smith in her fifth report of the Shipman inquiry (and affirmed in the case of Grant) by asking itself the following questions:

“Do our findings of fact in respect of the Registrant’s misconduct show that his fitness to practise is impaired in the sense that he:

a) has in the past acted and/or is liable in the future to act so as to put service users at unwarranted risk of harm; and/or

b) has in the past brought and/or is liable in the future to bring the Social Work profession into 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 Social Work profession?”

75. The Panel determined that the answers to all the above questions were in the affirmative in relation to past, and future possible conduct. The Panel took into account the Registrant’s representation that he has left the profession and has launched a career in another sector. However, the Panel reminded itself of the advice of the Legal Assessor, that the fact a registrant would not practice in that profession again could be of little or no consequence when deciding fitness to practise. The question was whether or not the Registrant had demonstrated sufficient insight and remediation to return to unrestricted practice if he were to change his mind and decide to return to the profession if no finding of impairment were made.

76. There is no evidence of any insight on the part of the Registrant and the Panel considered that the risk of repetition is high. This is a matter of misconduct, and there can only be very limited remediation without insight. In fact, the evidence before the Panel, which included the Registrant’s representations, demonstrated that there was no insight on the part of the Registrant. There was no evidence of remediation on his part, nor has he demonstrated any awareness of the risks that he had exposed the children to, nor that he was aware of the adverse impact his actions had upon the reputation of the profession. There was no evidence before the Panel that he was prepared to take responsibility for his actions. He attempted to minimise his culpability by stating that the school had been aware of the children's issues, that there were flaws in the safeguarding policy of Visyon, and that his actions were justified because he did not think the children were in immediate danger.

77. The Panel also determined that the Registrant’s misconduct was such that the need to uphold professional standards and public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in these circumstances.

78. Therefore, the Panel determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired on both personal and public interest considerations.

Decision on Sanction

79. The Panel heard the submission of Ms Mond-Wedd with regard to sanction. She submitted that the aggravating features of the Registrant’s misconduct was that his actions had placed Service User A and Service User B at risk of harm. She further submitted that the mitigating features are that the Registrant has no previous disciplinary matters and is of good character. Ms Mond-Wedd also drew attention to the partial admissions made by the Registrant during SM’s investigation.

80. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel had regard to all the evidence presented, and to the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy. The Panel reminded itself that the purpose of a sanction is not to be punitive, although it may have a punitive effect. The Panel bore in mind the principles of fairness and proportionality when determining what the appropriate sanction in this case should be.

81. The Panel also bore in mind that its overarching duty is:

• to protect, promote and maintain the health, safety and wellbeing of the public;

• to promote and maintain public confidence in the professions regulated by the HCPC;

• to promote and maintain proper professional standards and conduct for members of those professions;

82. The Panel considered the aggravating factors in this case to be:

• The Registrant has not demonstrated any insight or remorse;

• His misconduct put two children at risk of harm.

83. The Panel considered the following to be mitigating features in this case:

• The Registrant is of good character;

• This is a single incident in an otherwise unblemished career.

84. In considering the matter of sanction, the Panel started with the least restrictive, moving upwards.

85. The Panel first considered taking no action but concluded that, given the seriousness of the Registrant’s misconduct and its finding that there was a high risk of repetition, this would be wholly inappropriate.

86. The Panel then considered whether to make a Caution Order. The Panel was mindful of its finding that the Registrant was likely to repeat his misconduct, and that these are serious matters that relate to safeguarding of children. The Panel determined that the matters are too serious for a Caution Order to be considered appropriate. A Caution Order would not place any meaningful restrictions upon the Registrant’s practice and would be incongruous with the Panel’s finding that there was a risk of repetition of the misconduct which had put service users at risk of harm. Furthermore, a Caution Order would not reflect the need to protect the wider public interest.

87. The Panel next considered the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel has found that the Registrant has not demonstrated insight into his misconduct. Whilst the Panel was of the view that conditions of practice could be formulated, it was mindful that this was not a case where the Registrant’s skills as a social worker are in question. There are no identifiable areas of his practice that might benefit from re-training. The Panel, having considered the Indicative Sanctions Policy, is of the view that, even if conditions of practice were identified, the Registrant has not demonstrated that he is genuinely committed to addressing the issues. The Panel has not received any evidence from the Registrant to demonstrate that he would make a determined effort to resolve the issues. The Panel is supported in this view by the contents of his response to the Allegation, in his email dated 22 August 2018. In this context, the Panel noted that the Registrant has said “I have no further use of an HCPC membership. In fact, I have not worked in a qualified role since the early 2000s … I look forward to the conclusion of this process so I can put it behind me and concentrate on my new career…”. The Registrant has demonstrated very limited insight into his misconduct and its effect on others. The Panel do not have confidence that he would comply with conditions imposed upon his practice as he has not engaged with these proceedings in any meaningful way.

88. Taking into account all of the above, the Panel concluded that conditions could not be formulated which would adequately address the risk posed by the Registrant, and in doing so protect patients, colleagues and the public during the period they are in force.

89. The Panel went on to consider whether a period of suspension would be appropriate in this case. The Panel was aware that the Indicative Sanctions Policy of the HCPC indicates that a period of suspension would be appropriate if the Registrant had demonstrated insight into his misconduct such that there was not a significant risk of repetition, and also if there was no evidence of deep seated-personality or attitudinal problems.

90. The Panel was of the view that, whilst the Registrant has not demonstrated insight into his misconduct such that there was not a significant risk of repetition, he may be able to gain the necessary insight if he reflected upon his behaviour.

91. The Panel determined that a period of suspension is the proportionate and appropriate sanction in this case. It would suffice to protect the public, declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and competence, and would allow the Registrant an opportunity to address his misconduct.

92. The Panel determined that these matters were not at the upper end of the spectrum of seriousness. It concluded, after careful consideration, that a suspension period of six months would be sufficient to achieve the overarching objective.

93. The Panel did consider the ultimate sanction of making a Striking Off Order. The Panel determined that the current circumstances do not merit the ultimate sanction, and to do so would be disproportionate.

94. The Panel considered that a further panel reviewing this sanction would be assisted by:

• the Registrant attending the review hearing;

• the submission of a reflective piece in advance. For guidance, such a reflective piece should include an understanding on the part of the Registrant as to the effect his misconduct had on others, and how he would act differently now; and

• evidence that the Registrant had maintained his CPD requirements.

Order

The Registrar is directed to suspend the name of Mr Ian G Murfitt from the Social Worker part of the Register for a period of 6 months.

Notes

This Order will be reviewed before it expires.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Ian G Murfitt

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
14/11/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended