Mrs Samantha J Shaw

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW101008

Interim Order: Imposed on 30 Nov 2018

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 28/11/2018 End: 17:00 30/11/2018

Location: ETC Venues, Avonmouth House, 6 Avonmouth Street, London, SE1 6NX

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Conditions of Practice

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Allegation

 

Whilst registered as a Social Worker, you:

 

1. Shared Islamophobic messages and images on the social media website Facebook.

 

2. Your actions at paragraph 1 constitute misconduct.

 

3. By reason of your misconduct, your fitness to practice is impaired.

Finding

Application to amend the Allegation

1. Ms Mond-Wedd on behalf of the HCPC applied to amend Particular 1 of the Allegation in two ways. She referred the Panel to a letter dated 8 June 2018 sent by the HCPC to the Registrant which gave her notice of the intention to apply at the start of this hearing to amend “messages” and “images” to “message(s) and images(s)”.  Ms Mond-Wedd  referred to a letter sent to the Registrant by email yesterday, 27 November 2018,  which indicated a further application would be made today to add the words “and/ or inappropriate” after the word “Islamophobic”. Ms Mond-Wedd submitted that the amendments sought are minor, do not change the nature or gravity of the charge and do not cause prejudice.

2. Ms Hurd on behalf of the Registrant did not object to the application.

3. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

4. The Panel took into account the late notice given to the Registrant of the application by way of the letter emailed only yesterday. However, taking into account the Registrant’s position, as well as the nature of the amendment sought which does not increase the gravamen of the Particular, the Panel was of the view that no prejudice will be caused to the Registrant and decided that it would be fair to allow the amendment.

5. The Panel therefore allowed the application.

Background

6. The Registrant was employed as a Band 6 Social Worker at Thurrock Council (the Council). During her probationary period of employment, the Council was notified by the HCPC of an anonymous referral which had been made against the Registrant in respect of two posts which the Registrant was said to have shared on her Facebook Account. The referrer wrote a letter of complaint attaching screenshots of the posts. An internal investigation was carried out during which the Registrant was suspended and a probation hearing was held.

Decision on Facts
7. The Panel heard live evidence from FL, Principal Social Worker and Strategic Lead of Safeguarding and Complex Care at the Council. The Panel also read the hearing bundle submitted on behalf of the HCPC.

8. The Panel heard live evidence from the Registrant, and read her two undated reflective statements as well as two character references submitted on her behalf.

9. The Panel was of the view that FL was a straightforward and credible witness in so far as her evidence went, although she did not work with the Registrant, was not her line manager and her involvement was as an investigator. The Panel was of the view that she gave her evidence in a fair manner and there was no indication of any bias towards the Registrant.

10. The Panel formed the view that the Registrant tried to assist the Panel in giving her evidence, but there were some inconsistencies in her evidence. An example was as to when she found out that it was her son, who she said, shared the second Facebook post on her Facebook account and whether she knew about that when she wrote her first reflective statement for her probation hearing which states that she herself posted it. There was also some vagueness in her answers, and on a number of occasions she was not clear on the chronology of events.

11. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who reminded it that the burden of proof rests entirely on the HCPC and that the standard is the civil standard.

Particular 1

12. The Registrant admitted this Particular and the Panel took her admission into account.

13. The Panel saw the screenshots of the two posts in question which are reproduced in the anonymous referral letter which is dated 26 May 2017 and is stamped as having been received by the HCPC on 30 May 2017. The first post shows that the Registrant shared a post from “Britain First” which is in the form of a photograph of two women wearing burkas which is captioned “Share if you think Britain should ban the Burka…”. The second post shows that the Registrant shared a post which is entitled “Scum of the earth” and is in the form of a photograph which is divided into two halves. The top half is a picture of war graves and is captioned with “they died…”, and the second half is a picture of Muslims kneeling in prayer in a street and is captioned “for this?”

14. The Panel had regard to Ms Mond-Wedd’s reference to the Oxford Dictionary definition of Islamophobia as a “dislike or prejudice against Muslims especially as a political force”. The Panel decided on the balance of probabilities both posts were Islamophobic both individually and taken together.  The first post has as its source “Britain First” which is a political movement and the Panel took judicial notice of its nature and sympathies which have, in the past, been anti-Muslim. The photograph, when read in that context, is clearly Islamophobic. The second post’s heading, “Scum of the earth” makes clear that the post demonstrates a dislike or prejudice against Muslims.

15.  The Panel also decided on the balance of probabilities that the posts were inappropriate because they were Islamophobic. They were also inappropriate because they implied that the Registrant held such views and in this regard the Panel took into account that on the Registrant’s Facebook page she identified herself as “Social Worker at Thurrock Community Hospital”.   According to the evidence of FL, such views are a breach of a number of the Council’s policies. Considering this evidence, the Panel was satisfied that the posts were inappropriate on the basis that they breached the following:

Section 23.1 of the Council’s Employee Code of Conduct states

“All staff have a duty to ensure that policies relating to equality issues as agreed by the Council, are complied with in addition to the requirements of the law. All members of the local community, service users and colleagues have a right to be treated with respect fairness and equality.”

Section 3.6.3 of the Council’s “Social Media Management and Usage” policy which states:
“Posting material that is in any way…racist or derogatory in nature is strictly prohibited…”

Appendix 2 of the same policy states:

“Employees must not publish any material or comment that could undermine the public confidence in themselves as an employee of the council, or a position of trust in the community”.

16. FL referred to breaches of other policies as having occurred by the Registrant’s posts, however, the Panel determined that these policies related to treatment of others such as service users and colleagues with a lack of respect and discrimination, and the Panel decided that these were not directly relevant.
 
17. The Panel considered the Registrant’s evidence that it was her son who shared the second post and not her. The Panel did not consider that it was necessary for the Panel to make a finding of fact in this regard, as it applied a wide interpretation to the word “shared”, the material point being that the post was published from her account. The Registrant’s admission and acceptance of responsibility accorded with the Panel’s interpretation of the word “shared”.

18. The Panel therefore found Particular 1 proved.

Decision on Grounds

19. The 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.

20. In considering misconduct, the Panel had regard to the submissions of Ms Mond-Wedd who submitted that the Panel should find misconduct in the circumstances of the case. Ms Hurd accepted on behalf of the Registrant that the matters found proved constitute misconduct.  The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who referred to the case of Roylance v GMC (No. 2) [2000] 1 AC 311.

21. The Panel was of the view that by posting the two Facebook posts, the Registrant breached the following provisions in the HCPC 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 (2016)

Social media and networking websites
2.7 You must use all forms of communication appropriately and responsibly, including social media and networking websites.
9 Personal and professional behaviour
9.1 You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession.
Standards of proficiency. Social Workers in England (2017)
3 be able to maintain fitness to practise

3.1 understand the need to maintain high standards of personal and professional conduct.

22. The Panel was of the view that by breaching these standards in the manner found proved, the Registrant fell far below what was expected of her as a registered Social Worker. Such posts demonstrated a dislike or prejudice against Muslims which strikes at the very heart of the required attitude and approach required of a social worker which is to be removed from any discrimination on the basis of religion or race, and all social workers must be seen to have this attitude. Although the Registrant is not charged with acting in a discriminatory manner in relation to any individual, social workers must be seen to have no prejudices on the basis of religion or race which may bring into question their impartiality as professionals. On this basis, the Panel found the posts to be sufficiently serious so as to constitute misconduct.
 
Decision on Impairment

23. The Panel then considered whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. It was aware that impairment is a matter for its own professional judgment.
24. The Panel heard the submissions of Ms Mond-Wedd who submitted that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired. Ms Hurd submitted that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is not currently impaired and submitted that the Registrant has demonstrated insight and remediation.  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 who referred to CHRE v (1) NMC (2) Grant [2011] EWHC 927.

25. In determining whether fitness to practise is impaired, the Practice Note suggests that 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.
26. The Panel considered the personal component.

27. The Panel considered the Registrant’s oral evidence in which she expressed that she had been embarrassed and horrified when she had been made aware of the posts by the Council, when it in turn received the referral from the HCPC. She stated that in respect of the first post, which she received on her Facebook feed and shared, she did this in an unthinking way, and was concerned about the oppression of women who wear the burka rather than any intention to be offensive. She stated that following significant research and reflection, it was now clear to her that there are other deeper issues to consider in respect of the wearing of the burka, such as that some Muslim women may be forced to wear it and therefore they may need to be supported, and that others may themselves choose to wear it. In respect of the second post, the Registrant’s evidence was that although her son admitted to her that he posted it, she took full responsibility for it as it was shared on her Facebook account and that she was horrified by it. The Registrant reiterated that she always treats all those under her care with equal respect and that it is irrelevant to her what their background or race or what beliefs they hold. She spoke of her work as a Social Worker in Tower Hamlets, which followed her employment with the Council, and stated that she was able to take into account and appreciate the needs of those from other backgrounds when conducting her home visits.  She apologised several times for the posts and expressed remorse and regret.

28. The Panel took into account the Registrant’s admissions, and listened to the Registrant’s oral evidence and considered the two reflective statements written by her, and took into account the two character references which attest to her skills as a social worker. The Panel was mindful that there is no evidence to suggest that the Registrant is not a good social worker. The Panel noted that the Registrant had continued to work within the social care sector and demonstrated a commitment to this area of work.

29. With regard to the Registrant’s insight, the Panel accepted that the Registrant herself accepts that what she did was wrong. The Panel carefully considered her oral evidence as well as the reflective statements, and while there is evidence of some insight into why what she did was wrong, the Panel was of the view that this insight remains underdeveloped. There is a lack of sufficiently deep reflection and understanding which would be appropriate for a registered professional. In her oral evidence, several of the Registrant’s answers to questions seeking her views about the posts led to answers which focused on the loss of her career aspirations and loss of a job she enjoyed, rather than a wider consideration of the impact of her actions. The Panel was of the view that the reflection demonstrated in the Registrant’s oral evidence as well as in the two reflective statements was superficial. Both statements, as well as her oral evidence referred in some detail to the reasons for the wearing of the burka, and a large part of the evidence of the research undertaken by the Registrant related to the burka as a mode of dress, why it is worn, and the effect it has on women and society. In the Panel’s view, this was not particularly relevant with regard to the issues the Panel was considering. In addition, in the Registrant’s oral evidence, as well as the second reflective statement, much was said about the Registrant’s son, his motivation in sharing the post, as well as family discussions with him. Again, this was not relevant in the Panel’s view, although the Panel does not go so far as to accept the HCPC’s suggestion that the Registrant sough to deflect blame onto her son. Several of the Registrant’s answers in her oral evidence focused on the problems with social media and the negativity associated with it in general. In the Panel’s view, these responses to a large degree missed the point, and deeper reflection by the Registrant into her own actions would have been more appropriate.

30. The Panel was of the view that it would have been appropriate for the Registrant to demonstrate a far deeper awareness of her role as a social worker and how the content of the posts impacted on the requirements of her role and the wider profession. The Panel decided that any research undertaken should have been more focused on these issues. The Panel noted there was no independent or objective evidence of the development of the insight which the Registrant claimed. The Panel further noted that the Registrant has not undertaken any training in respect of how to project a professional image which embraces the commitment expected of social workers to equality and diversity thus creating confidence in service users and the wider public. The Panel therefore decided that the Registrant has demonstrated insufficient insight and remediation.

31. The Panel considered 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.

32. In line with the questions as set out in Grant the Panel concluded that there was no evidence that the Registrant put service users at an unwarranted risk of harm in the past nor was she liable in the future to do so. The Panel however decided that the Registrant had brought the profession into disrepute. In the Panel’s view there is an indication of this as evidenced by the concern shown by the anonymous referrer that the social work profession was linked to “such prejudice and discriminatory views”. The Panel took into account in this respect that the Registrant stated clearly on her Facebook page that she was a Social Worker with Thurrock Community Hospital. The Panel was also of the view that the Registrant had breached fundamental tenets of the profession as set out above. Despite the lack of sufficient insight and remediation, the Panel decided, having heard the Registrant’s oral evidence that the risk of repetition of the misconduct is low as a result of the salutary effect which the professional and regulatory consequences of the posts have had on the Registrant personally. 

33. The Panel took into account the wider public interest. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s misconduct struck at the heart of the fundamental attributes required of a social worker, namely a need to disregard racial and religious differences, and to be seen to have an attitude which is not affected by prejudice or discrimination.  The Panel had no doubt that a reasonable member of the public, in possession of all the facts and information about this case, would be very concerned if no restriction was applied to the Registrant’s practice due to the nature of the posts, the source of the first post (namely the organisation Britain First), and the phrase “scum of the earth’ applied to Muslims in the second post. As such, the Panel was satisfied that the need to uphold proper professional standards and maintain public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in the circumstances of the case.

34. For the reasons set out above, the Panel decided that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired on both the personal and public components.

Decision on Sanction  

35. Having determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired, the Panel went on to consider what sanction, if any, should be imposed.

36. Ms Mond-Wedd referred the Panel to the Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP) and emphasised the need to protect the public and to act proportionately. Ms Hurd informed the Panel that the Registrant wished to thank the Panel for a fair judgment, that she understands the decision, and finds useful guidance within it for her to progress. Ms Hurd suggested some possible conditions of practice to the Panel.

37. The Panel took into account the Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP) and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

38. The Panel bore in mind that the purpose of a sanction is not to punish the Registrant but to uphold the public interest, and that in imposing any sanction, it must act proportionately. The Panel bore in mind that that there are no issues of public protection in this case arising from the Registrant’s registration, rather the purpose of any sanction imposed would be to uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour, and to maintain public confidence in the profession.

39. The Panel was of the view that the following were mitigating factors in this case:

i. the Registrant’s admissions and expressions of regret and remorse;
ii. no previous regulatory concerns;
iii. her record of good practise as a social worker.

40. The Panel was of the view that the following was an aggravating factor in this case:

i. insufficient insight and remediation to date.

41. The Panel first considered taking no action. The Panel concluded that, in view of the nature and seriousness of the Registrant’s misconduct which has not been remedied and in the absence of exceptional circumstances, it would be inappropriate to take no action. Furthermore, it would be insufficient to maintain public confidence and uphold the reputation of the profession.

42. The Panel then considered a Caution Order. The Panel noted paragraph 28 of the ISP which states:

“A caution order is an appropriate sanction for cases, where the lapse is isolated, limited or relatively minor in nature, there is a low risk of recurrence, the registrant has shown insight and taken appropriate action.”

43. Although there is low risk of repetition, the Registrant’s misconduct was not minor in nature, it breached fundamental tenets of the profession and brought the profession into disrepute. Therefore, the Panel concluded that a Caution Order would be inappropriate and insufficient to meet the public interest.

44. The Panel went on to consider a Conditions of Practice Order. It was apparent from the Registrant’s probation assessment document completed by her line manager at the Council in 2017 that she was at the time noted to be a practitioner who “takes on board advice and improves her practice with guidance and support”. The Panel noted the Registrant’s willingness to return to practise and to undertake further training and development. The Panel was of the view that there is no persistent or general failure which would prevent the Registrant from addressing the concerns, and in the light of the Registrant’s attitude and demeanour demonstrated to the Panel, she can be expected to comply with conditions.

45. The Panel was of the view that there are workable conditions which can safeguard the public interest, while allowing the Registrant to develop her understanding and insight and safely return to the profession. It is thus the most proportionate outcome. The Panel noted that the Registrant is not currently working as a registered social worker. The Panel decided that proportionate conditions could be drafted which would allow the Registrant to return to practise but would emphasise that the conditions apply regardless of whether the Registrant is actually practising as a registered social worker.

46. The Panel did go on to consider a Suspension Order but decided that this was would be disproportionate and punitive, because conditions could be formulated which would address the concerns as well as uphold the public interest.

47. The Panel decided to impose a Conditions of Practice Order for a period of 2 years.  The Panel decided that 2 years would be a proportionate length of time to allow the Registrant to comply with the conditions as well as reflect the need to protect the wider public interest.

Order

The Registrar is directed to annotate the Register to show that, for a period of 2 years from the date that this Order takes effect you, Mrs Samantha J Shaw, must comply with the following conditions of practice:

  1. Within 2 months of the date this Order takes effect, you must identify a senior and experienced registered Social Worker who will act as your mentor. Within 7 days of entering into an arrangement with your mentor, you must supply the details of your mentor to the HCPC and seek the agreement of the HCPC to that mentor.
  2. Once you have obtained the agreement of the HCPC to your mentor, you must make contact with your mentor as required by your mentor and follow your mentor’s advice and recommendations, but such contact should be not less than once a month. Your contact with your mentor should deal with developing your understanding of how to project a professional image which embraces the commitment expected of social workers to equality and diversity, and how to thus create confidence in service users and the wider public. You must supply to your mentor a copy of this full determination.
  3. You must submit to the HCPC a report from your mentor prior to the next review which addresses the extent to which you have developed your understanding of the issue set out in condition 2 above.
  4. Prior to the review of this Order you must submit to the HCPC a reflective piece of writing which outlines your insight into the impact on the social work profession and the wider public of your misconduct, as well as your reflection on your understanding of the issue set out in condition 2.
  5. Prior to the review of this Order, you must undertake training in respect of the issue set out in condition 2 and submit to the HCPC documentary evidence of completion of such training.
  6. You must promptly inform the HCPC if you cease to be employed by your current employer or take up any other or further employment.
  7. You must promptly inform the HCPC of any disciplinary proceedings taken against you by your employer.
  8. You must inform the following parties that your registration is subject to these conditions:A. any organisation or person employing or contracting with you to undertake professional work;B.any agency you are registered with or apply to be registered with (at the time of application); andC. any prospective employer (at the time of your application).

Notes

Interim Order


Application for an interim order to cover the appeal period

1. The Panel heard an application from Ms Mond-Wedd for an 18 month Interim Conditions of Practice Order to cover the appeal period. She submitted that such an order is in the public interest. Ms Hurd did not object.

2.  The Panel considered the HCPTS Practice Note entitled “Interim Orders” as well as Paragraphs 51-54 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

3. The Panel took into account its previous findings in respect of impairment and sanction, and the need to uphold the public interest. The Panel was aware that ordinarily interim orders on the basis of the public interest alone must meet a high threshold before they can be imposed. However, as a result of the stage of proceedings now reached, following a substantive hearing with consideration of all the evidence and issues, the Panel decided that it was appropriate and proportionate to impose an interim order on the basis of the wider public interest in order to maintain public confidence in the profession and to uphold proper standards. Public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process would be seriously harmed if the Registrant were not made subject to an interim order during the appeal period.

4. The Panel was mindful of its decision at the sanction stage and decided that not to impose an Interim Conditions of Practice Order in the same terms would be inconsistent with its finding on sanction.

5. The Panel recognised that the Panel must take into consideration the impact of such an interim order on the Registrant as part of the principle of proportionality, and must balance the impact on the Registrant with the need to uphold the public interest. The Panel was satisfied that the need to uphold the public interest outweighed the Registrant’s interests in this regard.

6. The Panel decided to impose an Interim Conditions of Practice Order for a period of 18 months, a duration which is appropriate and proportionate to allow any appeal which the Registrant may bring, to be concluded.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mrs Samantha J Shaw

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
28/11/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Conditions of Practice