Miss Melanie J Karran

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW98700

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 19/11/2018 End: 17:00 20/11/2018

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Caution

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Allegation

 Allegation:

During  the  course  of  your  employment  as  a  Registered  Manager  in  Children's  Social Care with Knowsley Borough Council, you;


1)  claimed  overtime  payments  to  cover  a  residential  unit  duty  [which  you  were  not entitled to during your normal working hours on or around the following dates:


a) 24 May 2013;
b) 17 July 2013,
c) 30 July 2013;
d) 1 August 2013;
e)  7August 2013;
f) 15August 2013;
g) 20 August 2013;
h) 4 September 2013;
i) 24 September 2013;
j) 2 October 2013;
k) 8 October 2013;
I) 16 October 2013;
m) 25 October 2013;
n) 2 January 2014;
o) 24 January 2014;
p) 29 January 2014'
q) 4 February 2014;
r) 7 February 2014;
s) 18 February 2014;
t) 20 February 2014;
u) 20 March 2014;
v) 24 March 2014;
w) 28 March 2014;
x) 7 April 2014; and/or
y) 30 April 2014;


2)  claimed  overtime  payments  for  work  which  you  did  not  undertake  on  or around the following dates:


a) 2 January 2014;
b) 28 March 2014; and/or
c) 29 March 2014


3)  on  or  around   20  December  2013,  claimed  an  overtime  payment  for  additional hours worked when you were 'on call';


4)  authorised  the  payment   of  your  own  overtime   claims   in  respect  of  'sleep  ins' between around January and- June 2014;


5) could not account for:


a) cash  withdrawal  discrepancies  between  around  November  2013  and  June  2014  of £1,130  identified  in  the  Imprest  Account  at  James  Holt  Avenue,   which  you  were responsible for;


b) financial discrepancies in reimbursement claims of around:


i) £300; ii)243.49;
iii) 300; iv) 523.46
v) £138.71; and/or vi) 193.07


between around November 2013 and May 2014, identified in the Imprest Account at James Holt Avenue, which you were responsible for;


c)   the   sum   of   around    £380   cash   you   held   on   your   person   from   the  Imprest Account  for James Holt Avenue; and/or


d) A shortfall of around £394.38 in the Imprest Account at James Holt Avenue, which you were responsible for.


6) could not account for:


a) cash withdrawal discrepancies between around November 2013 and May 2014 of around £1,010 identified in the Imprest Account at Shaldon Close, which you were responsible for;


b) financial discrepancies in reimbursement claims of around: i) £306.39;


ii) 55.00; and/or
iii) £147.99


between around November 2013 and March 2014 identified in the Imprest Account at Shaldon Close, which you were responsible for;


c)the sum of around £345 cash you held on your person from the Imprest Account for Sha/don Close; and/or


d) a shortfall of around £584.26 in the Imprest Account at Shaldon Close, which you were responsible for.


7) The matters set out in paragraphs 1 - 6 are dishonest;


8) The matters set out in paragraphs 1 - 7 constitutes misconduct;


9) By reason of that misconduct, ---your fitness to practise as a Social Worker is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters:

Service

1.The Notice of Hearing dated 10 May 2018 was sent to the Registrant by special delivery post and by email.  The Panel had sight of a signed Proof of Service certificate dated 10 May 2018 and confirmation that the Notice of Hearing had been sent to the Registrant’s address held by the HCPC.  The Panel was satisfied that service had been made in accordance with the HCPC (Conduct and Competence Committee)(Procedure) Rules 2003 (“the Rules”).

Proceeding in absence
 
2.The Panel considered the submissions on behalf of the HCPC.  It accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel's attention had been drawn to the HCPTS Practice Note on proceeding in absence and to the guidance as to the factors the Panel should consider in the cases of R v Jones (Anthony) [2004] 1 AC 1HL  and GMC v Adeogba and GMC v Visvardis [2016] EWCA Civ 162.

3.Applying that guidance, the Panel was careful to remember that its discretion must be exercised with the utmost caution and with the fairness of the hearing at the forefront of its mind.

4.The Notice of Hearing dated 10 May 2018 informed the Registrant of the date and details of the Conduct and Competence Committee hearing, and of her right to attend and be represented.  The Registrant was also advised of the Panel’s power to proceed with the hearing in her absence if she did not attend and of how she could apply for an adjournment of the hearing. She was informed of the sanctions available to the Panel, should it find her fitness to practise to be currently impaired.

5.The Registrant had not responded to the Notice of Hearing. The Panel noted that she had also not responded to documents sent to her earlier in July 2018 concerning a preliminary application by the HCPC in respect of its witness.  The last contact from the Registrant was when she responded to correspondence from the HCPC stating that she would not be attending a preliminary hearing scheduled to take place on 5 January 2016.  At that time she also said she could not afford to travel to London and that she believed her future lay away from social care.    The Panel had also noted from the papers that earlier, at the time of her employer’s local investigation, the Registrant had stated that she no longer wished to maintain her HCPC registration.

6. Taking all the above circumstances into account, the Panel drew the conclusion that the Registrant had disengaged from the HCPC process.  She had neither requested an adjournment of the hearing today, nor communicated to the HCPC any reason why she was unable to attend. The Panel concluded that it was unlikely in all the circumstances that an adjournment would secure the Registrant’s attendance on a future date. It took the view that the Registrant had voluntarily waived her right to attend and adjourning the hearing would serve little purpose.  
    
7. The Panel was also mindful that it must take into account fairness to the HCPC.   The HCPC’s witness was ready to proceed today.  Furthermore, there is a public interest in the expeditious resolution of disciplinary allegations.  Given that there was no good reason to adjourn the hearing, the Panel decided it was in the public interest to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. 

 Documents

8. The Panel received a bundle of documents from the HCPC comprising 491 pages with a further 12 pages of written submissions sent by the Registrant to the HCPC prior to a preliminary hearing on 5 January 2016. 

9. No further submissions had been received from the Registrant for the purposes of this hearing.

Background:

10. The Registrant was employed by Knowsley Borough Council (“the Authority”) between December 1986 and December 2014.  In the period 2013/2014, the Registrant worked as a Registered Manager at two children's residential homes operated by the Authority. 

11.  On 18 June 2014, the Registrant was suspended from her employment pending an investigation by the Authority into allegations of financial irregularities at the two homes concerning the Registrant and two other Registered Managers.

12.  The Council’s investigation was led by Witness 1, Senior Auditor in the Authority’s Counter Fraud and Internal Audit department.   She produced an internal audit report following her investigation, dated 24 September 2014 (“the Report”).  This set out details of the irregularities found at the two homes, James Holt Avenue and Shaldon Close, in respect of which the Registrant was the Registered Manager and was responsible for their financial management. The irregularities concerned the Registrant’s own salary and overtime claims, and issues in relation to the management of the finances of the two homes.  Annexed to the Report prepared by Witness 1 were copies of the documentary evidence obtained during her investigation.  Also annexed were notes of investigatory interviews conducted with relevant employees of the Council, including with the Registrant on 6 October 2014. At this interview, the Registrant was accompanied by her union representative.  Witness 1 was present at this interview, with Ms H, Business Transformation Director, representing the Authority. 

13. Following the consideration of the Report, the Authority determined that a disciplinary investigation should be undertaken concerning the Registrant.  This was led by Ms H, assisted by Witness 1.  On 18 June 2014, the Registrant was suspended pending the investigation and the HCPC was informed of the matter. 

14. When the investigation was completed, it was decided that a disciplinary hearing should be held on 8 December 2014.  However, the Registrant submitted her resignation to the Authority on 7 December 2014.  

15. Financial irregularities identified in the Report concerning the Registrant are now the subject of the allegations brought by the HCPC in these proceedings. 

Evidence

16. The HCPC called one witness, identified in the proceedings as Witness 1.  

17. Following a preliminary direction given by the Panel Chair shortly prior to the commencement of this hearing, Witness 1 gave evidence by video link and by telephone, as she had recently undergone surgery and was still in her recovery period and so was unable to travel to the hearing. 

18. Witness 1 is Senior Auditor in the Counter Fraud and Internal Audit Department of the Authority and has been in this role for 15 years.  

19. Witness 1 confirmed the truth of her witness statement dated 5 October 2015.  This exhibited the internal audit report dated 24 September 2014, together with the documentation referred to in the internal audit report, including the notes of the investigatory interview with the Registrant on 6 October 2014.  

20. The oral evidence of Witness 1, her written statement and the exhibited documents from the Authority’s local investigation constituted the evidence relied upon by the HCPC in support of the factual allegations. 

 Particular 1. (a) to (y)

21. Witness 1 stated that during the period July 2013 to June 2014, the Registrant submitted 25 overtime claims. Each of these claims included hours which Witness 1 said were within the Registrant’s normal working hours which, as a manager of a residential unit, were 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.  She said the Registrant worked a 35 hour week. 

22. Witness 1’s evidence was that these overtime claims meant that the Registrant received remuneration for these overtime hours in addition to her normal working hours.  Witness 1 was asked about the discrepancy in the Registrant’s contract which stated that her ‘normal working week is one of 37 hours Monday to Sunday’.  She explained that this was an anomaly within HR.  Witness 1 was asked about the Registrant’s representations in which she stated that ‘managers were never asked to work 9-5 and to use their hours across the week to meet the needs of the service.’ Witness 1 said that this was not a process or policy followed by the Council and there was no evidence to support it.  She stated that in order to be entitled to claim overtime, the Registrant would have to show she had worked over 35 hours. 

23. In the record of the investigatory interview, as amended by the Registrant, Witness 1 stated ‘there are 31 different occasions when you have claimed overtime during the week from 2pm’.  The Registrant responded ‘I would have to see the forms, so I take your word for this.’ She then amended the interview notes to say ‘I did say that I believed I only claimed from 2pm on Sat/Sun and Bank Holidays’. The Panel was referred to a spreadsheet (exhibit 2, appendix A20) which showed the hours claimed for the ‘duplicate’ number of hours and total number of overtime hours claimed. 

Particular 2 (a- c) 

24. Witness 1’s evidence was that her investigation showed that there were three occasions where the Registrant claimed overtime to cover a duty, but when the duty rota was reviewed it was apparent that another team member was on duty that day.  Witness 1 accepted that she had not spoken to the team members recorded as being on duty and she said that she had looked at the documentary evidence.  Witness 1 had prepared a spreadsheet setting out the time period claimed for, the total number of hours of overtime and the reason for the claim.  She also produced the relevant rotas.  

Particular 3

25. Witness 1 stated that on the relevant date, 20 December 2013, the Registrant had been due to work her normal hours, 9am to 5pm.   The rota showed the on call manager was Colleague A. She confirmed that “on call” related to hours after 5pm and staff would have to submit a claim form for on call hours.  Her understanding from interviews conducted with staff was that “on call” meant being available after hours to support the team with any issues they may have, normally by telephone. 

26. The Registrant submitted an on-call claim form for 20 December 2013.  She claimed an overtime payment for the hours 3.30pm to 7pm, with her reason cited as “Take Young Person to Hospital”.  The concerns were first, that part of the claim related to normal working hours, i.e. from 3.30pm to 5pm and secondly, how could she be on call if she were not on the premises.  Further, both the Registrant and Colleague A submitted a claim for being on call on this date. 

27. As the Registrant was already on call, she was not entitled to claim for this, as it amounted to a duplication.  Witness 1 confirmed that in the investigatory interview, the Registrant stated that while she was at the hospital Colleague A covered the on call, and she took over on her return.  Witness 1’s evidence was that this was not acceptable and did not add up as Colleague A was recorded as being on call.  
    

Particular 4

28. Witness 1 referred to claim forms in the HCPC bundle for sleep-in claims for the period January to June 2014.  On these forms, the Registrant had completed other staff’s claims, which she was entitled to authorise, but she had also included claims in respect of herself.  Witness 1 confirmed that the Registrant should have completed a separate claim form and sought the appropriate authorisation from her own manager. 

29. Witness 1 referred to the notes of the investigatory interview, in which the Registrant accepted it was her signature on the forms and said this was an oversight on her part.  She said it was not a deliberate act that the form was time-consuming and it was easier to put the information on the other staff’s form.  She stated that she “appreciates it should not have been done like that”. 
    
Particular 5(a)

30. Witness 1 explained that the Registered Manager for each unit is responsible for the management of the Imprest account for that unit.  The amount of monies held in the Imprest account was £1500 and that total sum should always be accounted for by the cash held, the petty cash vouchers and money held in the bank account.  As the Registered Manager for Shaldon Close and James Holt Avenue, the Registrant was responsible for the Imprest accounts of those two units. 

31. Witness 1 confirmed that the Imprest account was investigated during an unannounced inspection, on site at the James Holt Avenue unit.  The cash held on site, receipts and vouchers were examined and compared with the bank account balance and a reconciliation prepared.    Witness 1 referred to the schedule she had prepared by referring to and cross referencing dates and amounts from the Imprest ledger at James Holt Avenue and the statements from the Imprest bank account.  Copies of the documents were exhibited to Witness 1’s statement and were gone through in her oral evidence. 

32. Witness 1 confirmed after investigation, the reconciliation identified a total cash shortfall of £1,130. 
    
Particular 5 (b) (i-vi)

33. In the investigation Witness 1 identified the discrepancies set out in particulars (i) to (vi) in claims submitted in respect of James Holt Avenue between November 2013 and March 2014. She compiled a table setting out the findings.  Witness 1 said she had examined the DF002 claim forms, which had been certified for payment by the Registrant.  She examined the ledger entries for the Imprest account for James Holt Avenue and compared the receipts available and identified the discrepancies. 

34. In respect of (i) and (ii), the DF0002 forms were not legible and clearer copies could not be made available to the Panel.  Witness 1 said she was confident the figures in her table had been entered from the documents she had sight of during the investigation and that they were accurate.  At the investigatory interview, these issues were put to the Registrant and her response was that she questioned whether further receipts were in existence but had not been found.

35. In respect of (iii), Witness 1 confirmed that the matter had not been put to the Registrant at the investigatory interview.  Witness 1 said no receipts had been found during the investigation to account for the discrepancy.  In respect of (iv) to (vi), no documentation was available in evidence.  Witness 1 confirmed she believed the figures she had entered in her table were accurate.  She accepted that these matters had not been put to the Registrant at the investigatory interview.     
    
Particular 5(c)

36. Witness 1 confirmed that on 1 August 2014, after the Registrant was suspended from duty, she contacted the interim service manager informing him that she held cash on her person relating to the Imprest account for James Holt Avenue in the sum of £380.  Witness 1 confirmed that all monies belonging to the Authority should be kept in the appropriate safe and should not be kept or taken home.  In the investigatory interview, the Registrant stated she had forgotten about this cash due to having been suspended.  
   
Particular 5(d)

37. During the unannounced audit of the Imprest account for James Holt Avenue, a reconciliation was undertaken.  The total of cash, receipts and the bank balance should total the amount of the Imprest which was £1,500.  At the audit, the sum of £188.13 cash was found, £214.70 in receipts, £402.79 bank balance and £300 cash in bag.  This amounted to a total of £1105.62, meaning that there was a shortfall of £394.38.

38. The receipts or bank statements in relation to these calculations were not presented in evidence.   Witness 1 stated she was confident that the figures were accurate as she would have seen the documentation at the time.  Witness 1 stated that there was no explanation for the shortfall and that the Registrant was responsible for the James Holt account and ensuring its accuracy and that there was an audit trail.  
    
Particular 6(a)

39. Witness 1 confirmed that the Imprest account was investigated during an unannounced inspection, on site at the Shaldon Close unit.  The cash held on site, receipts and vouchers were examined and compared with the bank account balance and a reconciliation prepared.

40. Witness 1 referred to the schedule she had prepared by referring to and cross referencing dates and amounts from, the Imprest ledger at Shaldon Close, and the statements from the Imprest bank account.  Copies of the documents were exhibited to Witness 1’s statement and were gone through in her oral evidence. 

41. It was identified in going through the documents in detail that the evidence bundle omitted 1 page of a sequence of bank statement sheets and 1 page of the ledger. Witness 1 was confident that she had sight of these pages when completing her schedule and that the figures on her schedule were correct. Witness 1 confirmed that after her investigation, the reconciliation identified a total cash shortfall of £1,010.
   
Particular 6 (b) (i-iii)

42. In the investigation Witness 1 identified the 3 discrepancies set out in claims submitted in respect of Shaldon Close between November 2013 and March 2014. She compiled a table setting out the findings.   Witness 1 said she had examined the DF002 claim forms, which had been certified for payment by the Registrant.  She examined the ledger entries for the Imprest account for Shaldon Close and compared the receipts available and identified the discrepancies.  

43. In respect of (i), Witness 1 explained that two pink petty cash vouchers were found which in total amounted to the sum of the discrepancy, £306.39.  These were not in the Imprest ledger and had no corresponding receipts.  In the investigatory interview the Registrant could not explain why there were no receipts for the items referred to, namely trainers for a child and provisions. 

44. Witness 1 similarly identified the discrepancies at (ii), although the claim from was not available to the Panel, and (iii), although the ledger was not available to the Panel.  Neither of these matters was put to the Registrant in the investigatory interview, but Witness 1’s evidence was that the Registrant was responsible for the home’s finances and therefore accountable for the discrepancy.  
    
 Particular 6 (c)

45. Witness 1 confirmed that on 1 August 2014, after the Registrant was suspended from duty, she contacted the interim service manager informing him that she held cash on her person relating to the Imprest account in relation to Shaldon Close in the sum of £345.00.   Witness 1 confirmed that all monies belonging to the Authority should be kept in the appropriate safe and should not be kept or taken home.  In the investigatory interview, the Registrant stated she had forgotten about this cash due to having been suspended. 
 

Particular 6 (d)

46. Witness 1 confirmed that during the announced audit of the Imprest accounts, based on the information provided and the bank statements, it was established that there was a shortfall of £584.26 in the Shaldon Close Imprest account. The receipts or bank statements in relation to these calculations were not presented in evidence.   Witness 1 stated she was confident that the figures were accurate as she would have seen the documentation at the time. 
    
 Legal Advice on facts

47. The Panel received the following advice from the Legal Assessor.

48. The burden of proof was upon the HCPC which brought the allegations. It was not for the Registrant to prove her innocence.

49.The standard of proof in HCPC proceedings is the civil standard, on the balance of probabilities, meaning that before finding a fact proved the Panel must be satisfied it is more likely than not that it occurred. As explained in Re H and Ors (Minors) (Sexual Abuse: Standard of Proof) [1996] AC 563, in assessing probabilities, the Panel should have in mind that, whilst the civil standard of proof is a single unvarying standard, the more serious the allegation the less likely it is that it occurred and hence the stronger should be the evidence before the Panel concludes that the allegation is proved on the balance of probabilities.

50. Dishonesty was alleged in respect of each of the six factual particulars.  In relation to the allegation of dishonesty, the Panel was reminded of the test in respect of set out in the case of Ivey (Appellant) v Genting Casinos (UK) Ltd. t/a Crockfords (Respondent) [2017] UKSC 67, where Lord Hughes, giving judgment, stated as follows:
   
     “…The fact finding tribunal must first ascertain (subjectively) the actual state of the individual’s knowledge or belief as to the facts.  The reasonableness or otherwise of his belief is a matter of evidence (often in practice determinative) going to whether he held the belief, but it is not an additional requirement that his belief must be reasonable; the question is whether it is genuinely held.  When once his actual state of mind as to knowledge or belief as to facts is established, the question whether his conduct was honest or dishonest is to be determined by the fact-finder by applying the (objective) standards of ordinary decent people. There is no requirement that the defendant must appreciate that what he has done is, by those standards, dishonest.”

51. Dishonesty was alleged in Particular 7 in relation to all the factual particulars. The Registrant’s credibility was therefore in issue and the Panel should take into account her previous good character.
  
 Decision on Facts

52. The Panel accepted the advice given by the Legal Assessor.

53.  The HCPC case relied upon the evidence of Witness 1 and the documentary evidence which she produced concerning the internal audit investigation which she undertook in 2014.  The documentary evidence presented to the Panel was detailed and complex.  The Panel found some of the documents not to be sufficiently legible to rely upon.  In several instances, documents which appeared to have been available to Witness 1 during her investigation were not in the hearing bundle, for example some pages of bank statements and some receipts.  
 
 Witness 1

54. The Panel found Witness 1 to be a candid and credible witness who did her best to assist the Panel during her evidence. The Panel formed the view that she was competent in her area of expertise and was able to provide detailed analysis of the relevant information.  She was able to recall detail, although the matters which are the subject of the allegations occurred four years ago.

55 Witness 1 had prepared schedules based on the direct source documents to demonstrate the financial irregularities and shortfalls she had identified in her investigation. Witness 1 was taken carefully through the various items of documentary evidence which underlay her schedules to establish whether these source documents did support her findings.  In some instances, the copy documents were unclear or not currently available.  Witness 1 maintained that her findings were accurate and where the underlying documents were not exhibited, she had seen the documents at the time of her audit and she was confident that the figures she had recorded in the relevant schedule were correct. 
  
The Registrant

56. The Registrant did not attend the hearing and so did not give evidence and was not cross-examined.  The Panel was therefore not able to assess her evidence or credibility. The Panel took into account the responses the Registrant gave at the investigatory interview on 6 October 2014, the record of which she had had the opportunity to amend and approve.  The Panel was mindful, as explained further below, that not all the matters which are now within the HCPC allegations were put to her at that time.  The Panel also took some account of the undated submissions she sent to the HCPC before the preliminary hearing of 5 January 2016.  
  
 Particular 1 (a) to (y)

57. The Panel found Particular 1 not proved, in respect of all sub-particulars (a) to (y).

58. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant did claim overtime on these dates.  However, the evidence as to her normal working hours was unclear.  Her contract stated Monday to Sunday. It did not specify hours of 9 am to 5pm. 

59. From the evidence, there appeared to be custom and practice that two other residential unit managers, Colleague A (page 137) and Colleague B (page 181), had on occasions submitted overtime claims for hours before 5 pm.

60. There appeared to be no system in place to record staff hours worked. There was no proof that the Registrant had not worked the hours for which she claimed. It was accepted that the Registrant would be able to claim for hours worked in excess of 35 hours per week, but needed authorisation to do so.

61. The Panel concluded that there was an absence of clear protocols and thus a lack of certainty about the requirements.  The evidence relied largely upon Witness 1 stating what the requirements were: but the documentary evidence available was conflicting.  Overall, the Panel was not satisfied to the required standard that it was proved that the Registrant was not entitled to submit these overtime claims.  
    
 Particular 2 (a) to (c)

62. The Panel found this not proved in respect of all sub-particulars (a) to (c). 

63. The issue of claims of overtime payments for work which the Registrant did not undertake on these three dates was not put to the Registrant at the time of the Authority’s investigation, so she did not have an opportunity to provide an explanation.  Witness 1 accepted that she had not checked the duty rotas which she said would indicate the hours staff had worked.  In her witness statement (paragraph 39, page 46), Witness 1 stated that due to poor record-keeping, it was unclear whether or not the Registrant had undertaken the overtime for which she claimed. The Panel was not satisfied that the HCPC had established to the required standard that the Registrant had not undertaken these overtime hours.

 Particular 3

64. The Panel found this not proved.

61. The Registrant provided an explanation during the investigation, that she took a resident to hospital and that she took over the on call duty again upon her return to the home.  The Panel considered that her explanation was reasonable. The Authority had not disputed that she had, as she claimed, taken the resident to hospital.  The Panel also noted that there were other examples in the documents (page 114) of two members of staff having been on call at the same time. 
    
 Particular 4

62. The Panel found this proved. 

63. At the investigatory interview of 6 October 2014, the Registrant accepted as alleged that she did authorise her own overtime payments in respect of sleep-ins.  She accepted that this was not the correct method and that she should not have put her claim on the same form as other staff.  This method appeared to have become custom and practice during a period when there was no senior manager and other staff did the same.  Witness 1 accepted there was no evidence that the Registrant had actually not worked the overtime hours she claimed. 

Particular 5 (a)

64. The Panel found this proved.

65. The evidence demonstrated there was a discrepancy.  In her role the Registrant was responsible for the home’s finances.  This matter was put to her at the investigatory interview and she was not able to account for the discrepancy in the Imprest account.  
 
Particular 5 (b)(i) to (vi)

66. The Panel found this particular, including all the sub-particulars, not proved.

67. The Panel found there were gaps in the source documentary evidence, as a result of which it was unable to be satisfied to the required civil standard of proof.  Whilst Witness 1 was a careful and credible witness, these were detailed matters, being recalled from four years ago, where the Panel recognised it was easy inadvertently to make a mistake when speaking from recollection alone.  Where the sole evidence relied upon was Witness 1’s recollection of documents she saw at the time, rather than copies of the actual documents, or where copy documents were illegible, the Panel was not satisfied to the required civil standard of proof. 

68. In respect of (i) and (ii), the Panel found the relevant copy documents not to be legible.

69. In respect of (iii) this issue was not put to the Registrant at the investigatory interview and so she did not have any opportunity to account for the sum. The Panel was not able to conclude that the document was signed by the Registrant. The Panel was mindful that Particular 5 alleges that the Registrant “failed to account”.

70. In respect of (iv) to (vi), no source documents were produced. The Panel, for the reasons stated, did not feel it could be satisfied to the required standard solely by the recollection of Witness 1 as to the content of documents seen at the time of her investigation.  
 
 Particular 5 (c)

71. The Panel found this proved.  The Registrant accepted this issue during the Authority’s investigation and said she had “forgotten” about the cash.  

 Particular 5 (d)

72. The Panel found this not proved. 

73. The allegation was based on the audit of the Imprest account.  The documentary evidence to support the allegation was insufficient, as no receipts were presented nor evidence of the bank account balance.  The Panel was not satisfied to the required civil standard that the shortfall was proved. 
 
Particular 6

73. This particular alleged that the Registrant could not account for a number of financial discrepancies.

 Particular 6 (a)

74. The Panel found this not proved.  The Panel found the documentary evidence to prove the cash discrepancy lacking: there were missing bank statement sheets and missing ledger pages: 4 of the withdrawals were not evidenced by bank statements, and 1 page from the Imprest account ledger was not produced.  
    
 Particular 6 (b)(i)

75. The Panel found this proved.

76. This matter was put to the Registrant at the investigatory interview. She was not able to produce receipts for petty cash vouchers for the sum relating to the purchase of trainers or account for the absence of any ledger entries. She was not able to explain what provisions she had purchased.  The Panel was satisfied that she was not able to account for the sum alleged, £306.39. 
  
Particular 6 (b)(ii)

77. The Panel found this not proved. 

78. This matter was not put to the Registrant during the investigation so she was not asked to and did not have an opportunity to account for the sum of £55.00. 
 
Particular 6 (b)(iii)

79. The Panel found this sub-particular not proved.  This matter was not put to the Registrant during the investigation so she was not asked to and did not have an opportunity to account for the sum of £147.99.  The ledger was not available to check.  
 
Particular 6 (c)

80. The Panel found this proved. 

81. The Registrant accepted this issue and said she had “forgotten” about the cash. 

 Particular 6 (d)

82. The Panel found this not proved.

83. The Particular was based on the audit of the Imprest account.  The documentary evidence to support the allegation was insufficient, as no receipts were presented nor evidence of the bank account balance.  The Panel was not satisfied to the required civil standard that the shortfall was proved.
   
Particular 7 - Dishonesty

84. The Panel considered whether the Registrant’s conduct in respect of the factual particulars it had found proved was dishonest.  The Panel considered the test in the Ivey case (see above). The Panel was also mindful that an allegation of dishonesty is serious and that it should look for cogent evidence before being satisfied on the balance of probabilities.

85. In respect of Particular 4, there was no suggestion that the Registrant did not work the sleep-ins claimed for.  The issue was that the person who authorised the claim should have been a manager rather than the Registrant herself. The Registrant’s explanation was that this was a matter of convenience or expediency. 

86. Particular 5(a) concerned irregularities in managing the Imprest account for which the Registrant was responsible in her role.  The evidence indicated that several individuals in addition to the Registrant were involved in the entries in the ledger and in the bank transactions.  The Panel was not satisfied by the evidence that the Registrant had a dishonest intention.

87. In respect of Particular 5(c), there was evidence before the Panel that there was fluid practice in the unit regarding the holding of cash by staff.  The Panel noted that Colleague A said that on occasions he also kept back money.

88. In relation to Particular 6(b)(i), the Registrant had presented the two petty cash vouchers, but did not produce receipts for the trainers she said she had purchased or for the provisions.  The matters were not investigated further by the Authority, for example by asking the young person concerned about the trainers. The evidence was the documents and the Registrant’s statement in interview.  The Panel acknowledged there were legitimate questions to be asked about this matter, but considered there were a number of possible alternative explanations.  The Panel was not satisfied by the evidence presented, or any inference that could properly be drawn from it, that the Registrant’s conduct was dishonest.

89. Concerning Particular 6(c), as found in respect of Particular 5(c), there was evidence before the Panel that there was fluid practice in the unit regarding the holding of cash by staff.  The Panel noted that Colleague A said that on occasions he also kept back money.

90. In the light of the Panel’s conclusions as to the Registrant’s actual state of mind as to knowledge or belief as to facts in the above particulars, the Panel did not consider that the Registrant’s actions were dishonest applying the objective standards of ordinary decent people. 
       
Decision on Grounds

91.  The Panel concluded that the matters found proved amount to misconduct.

92.  In reaching its conclusion, the Panel has considered all the evidence and information before it, together with the submission of Ms Eales. It has had in mind the HCPC’s practice direction. It has accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

93. The Registrant was an experienced Social Worker, who had been employed by Knowsley Borough Council between December 1986 and December 2014. At the time relevant to the matters alleged and found proved, she was the Registered Manager at two children’s residential homes.

94.  As the Registered Manager, the Registrant, had direct responsibility for the financial management of the homes. This was an important aspect of her position and was set out in the person specification for her role.

95. In a statement made in the course of her employer’s investigation into alleged financial irregularities, the Registrant acknowledged that she had given inadequate attention to her financial management duties. This had occurred at a time in about November 2013 when the Registrant was managing the closure of the two residential homes and consequent staff redeployment and redundancies.

96. In her role, the Registrant was in a position of trust. Furthermore, as a Social Worker who held the position of Registered Manager, she had an obligation to conduct the financial management of the homes correctly and competently.

97. The failings found proved fall seriously short of the conduct that would be expected of a Social Worker in a managerial post and the Panel has concluded that they amount to misconduct.

Decision on Impairment

98.  This was a series of failings that occurred over a period of approximately 7 months involving relatively large sums of money. This misconduct might easily be remediable, but there is nothing to indicate that it has been remedied. Although the Registrant has accepted some of her failings in this important aspect of her role, the Panel cannot be satisfied that repetition is unlikely. The Panel has no information about the Registrant’s present employment situation to assess her current practice.  It has therefore concluded that in relation to the personal component her fitness to practise is currently impaired.

99. In regard to the public component, the Panel is satisfied that members of the public would be concerned if a finding of impairment were not made bearing in mind, in particular, that the Registrant was responsible for the management of public money that was intended for the benefit of vulnerable service users.

100. A finding of impairment is therefore necessary in the public interest to declare and uphold proper standards and to maintain confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. 
 
Decision on Sanction

101.The Panel has determined that a sanction is required on grounds of public interest. It has reached its decision in the light of all the information before it. The Panel has taken into account HCPTS’ Indicative Sanctions Policy. It has accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

102.The Panel first considered imposing no sanction but, given the seriousness of the findings which concern financial irregularities, it concluded this would be inappropriate.

103.The Panel then considered a Caution Order.  It has decided that a three - year Caution Order is sufficient, appropriate and proportionate as a sanction.

104.Although the Registrant’s failings were not isolated or minor, they spanned a relatively narrow time-frame, taken in the context of an otherwise lengthy (approximately 28 years) and unblemished career. The Panel acknowledged specific mitigating circumstances in that the failings occurred at an acutely difficult time when the Registrant was managing the closure of two residential homes and consequent staff redeployment and redundancies. During this time, there was limited senior management visibility and support.

105. In terms of insight, the Registrant has acknowledged that her financial management fell short during this period and that this was regrettable. She indicated in a statement prepared for her employer (but ultimately not delivered because she resigned) a willingness to receive training and any additional support or advice to improve her performance.

106. As to the risk of repetition, the Panel had regard to the particular pressures that the Registrant was experiencing when these failings occurred. The effect of the Caution Order would be a salutary reminder to the Registrant of the need to maintain appropriate financial control and would reduce the risk of any future repetition. Also a Caution Order would put the Registrant on notice that any further misconduct would probably lead to a higher sanction.  Moreover, it would highlight to a future employer that the Registrant had fallen short previously in the area of financial management. It would, in addition, send a message to other Registrants in a similar position of the importance of correct financial management. It would satisfy the public’s need for these failings to be marked with a proportionate sanction.

107. In reaching this decision, the Panel has reviewed all available options including Conditions of Practice, Suspension and Strike off. The Panel was satisfied that no meaningful conditions could be formulated because, to its knowledge, the Registrant is not practising as a Social Worker and has indicated an intention to move away from social care. Furthermore, a Suspension Order would be disproportionate given the findings and mitigating factors.

Order

ORDER: That the Registrar is directed to annotate the register entry of Melanie J Karran with a caution which is to remain on the register for a period of 3 years from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

 

 

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Miss Melanie J Karran

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
19/11/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Caution
23/07/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Adjourned part heard
19/09/2016 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Adjourned