Mr David Harris
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Whilst registered as a practitioner psychologist, you:
- On 21 September 2017 were cautioned for an offence of assault
occasioning actual bodily harm.
- By reason of the caution your fitness to practice is impaired.
Hearing in private
1. Matters relating to the health of the Registrant’s partner form part of the background circumstances of the incident that led to the Registrant accepting a caution for a criminal offence. His partner’s health was also relevant to his personal mitigation. Mr Henry for the Registrant submitted that her health condition was part of the Registrant’s own private life, and that any part of the hearing that related to it should be held in private in order to protect the private life of the Registrant. Ms Mond-Wedd for the HCPC agreed with that submission.
2. The Panel considered the HCPTS Practice Note on conducting hearings in private and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor that Rule 10 of the Conduct and Competence Committee Rules enabled whole or part of the hearing to be held in private in the interests of justice or for the protection of the Registrant’s private life. The Panel therefore determined that any reference to the health of the Registrant’s partner should be held in private for the reasons agreed by both parties
3. Ms Mond-Wedd for the Registrant set out the background facts. The Registrant has been employed as an Educational Psychologist at Sheffield City Council (‘the Council’) since 9 January 2005. He works with children and young people, staff, parents and professionals in a variety of settings. He works closely with a team based in Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
4. On 9 September 2017, the Registrant was involved in an altercation with his neighbours, a married couple (Neighbours A and B), which resulted in him punching Neighbour B once and causing a cut lip.
5. The neighbours called the Police who conducted an investigation. The Registrant was interviewed under caution on 19 September 2017. He admitted causing the cut lip with one punch. In his interview, he described his conduct as ‘a complete loss of control…it was a loss of temper.’
6. The police were satisfied that the Registrant had made a full and frank admission to assaulting his neighbour by punching him in the face and causing visible injury. A Police Inspector recommended that the Registrant be cautioned rather than charged with the offence because of the absence of any previous convictions or cautions, the low level nature of the offence which was a one off, his full and honest admission at interview and his high level of remorse. On 21 September 2017, the Registrant accepted a formal police caution for the offence of Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm, contrary to Section 47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.
7. The Registrant reported what had happened to his employers on the next working day. He also referred himself to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) at the first opportunity.
8. The Registrant subsequently attended a Verification Meeting with his employer on 30 November 2017 in order to establish the exact circumstances of the incident and to listen to his version of events. The Registrant explained that he lived next to neighbours who would make regular noise arising from various DIY projects. He had asked them to be quiet on frequent occasions but to no avail. The neighbours had previously completed DIY work on a fireplace with the result that the Registrant’s bedroom filled with smoke when they lit a fire. On the occasion of the argument over the wheelie bins, he had lost his temper and punched his neighbour in the face, causing an injury to his mouth. He admitted that his behaviour was wholly inexcusable but said that he had snapped under pressure. He accepted full responsibility for his actions.
9. Having considered the matter and the Registrant’s explanation, his employer decided to take no further action. The Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) had no concerns about safeguarding of service users or others in relation to the Registrant’s professional duties.
The Substantive Hearing
10. The Registrant admitted Particulars 1 and 2 of the Allegation. He submitted his own written statement, various testimonials from professional colleagues and other documents.
11. In his statement dated 22 March 2019, the Registrant accepted that his fitness to practise was impaired on public interest grounds and that his conduct fell below the standard to be expected of a practising Psychologist in a way that would undermine public confidence in the profession. He expressed profound remorse for what he had done and regretted the impact on his neighbour’s family and his own family. He had never committed any violent act before and he had made full disclosure of the incident to his employer. In mitigation, he outlined the personal circumstances that had placed him under significant pressure and strain. He also acknowledged that he had been under some stress at work.
12. The Registrant had written to his neighbours on 30 January 2018 to express his regret and shame. He had also reflected on his actions and how he might avoid any repetition by taking steps to reduce or avoid further conflicts. He provided a copy of a written reflective statement in which he acknowledged that he was under personal stress and outlined how he proposed to prevent any recurrence of the incident. He has undertaken monthly supervision sessions with a senior psychologist to monitor his emotional health. He has completed courses in Managing Stress and Anger Management.
13. The Panel read positive testimonials from six professional colleagues, all of whom were aware of the nature of the regulatory proceedings brought by the HCPC. They all confirmed that the Registrant is a highly regarded, respectful, courteous, professional and diligent practitioner and that the incident in September 2017 was isolated and wholly out of character.
14. The Registrant gave oral evidence at the substantive hearing. On the day after the incident, he disclosed what had happened to the Principal Educational Psychologists at the Council and had referred himself to the DBS. He had reflected at great length on his actions using the ‘Gibbs Reflective Cycle’ and he provided written evidence of his reflections. He had re-evaluated his thinking and his reactions and had developed better skills to deal with stress and anger. He had written a letter of apology to his neighbours and he gave a recent example of how he was trying to resolve an issue with his neighbour without causing any further conflict. He accepted that he was under stress at the time of the incident and that he should have done more beforehand to alleviate his heavy workload and to remove potential causes of stress involving his neighbour.
15. The Panel found the Registrant to be a frank and honest witness. He showed humility and dignity in acknowledging his failure to control his temper during the incident. The Panel noted that he was acutely aware of the fact that he had assaulted another man in the presence of teenage children when his own professional role was to safeguard children and young persons from that kind of conduct. He conveyed his profound personal shame that he had allowed the incident to get out of control in that way. He knew that he had done wrong from the outset and had made fulsome and unqualified admissions to the police and to his employers. The Panel was impressed at the extent of the action that the Registrant had taken to remedy his failings and to acquire greater insight.
16. Article 22 (1)(a)(iii) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001 provides that a criminal conviction or police caution constitutes grounds for finding that fitness to practise may be impaired.
17. The Registrant had admitted that he was cautioned for the offence of Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm for the reasons that are set out above. The Panel relied on his admission and the documentary evidence of his admissions in his police interview and the police record of their decision to administer a formal caution in this case. The Panel had in mind that a caution is only given when there is strong evidence of an offence and the person concerned makes an unequivocal admission. The fact of the police caution, as alleged in Particular 1 of the Allegation, was therefore found proved.
Submissions on Impairment
18. Ms Mond-Wedd for the HCPC submitted that the police caution was for an offence of violence that was serious in its nature. She acknowledged that the Registrant had admitted and disclosed the facts of the incident as soon as it was over and that his conduct was wholly out of character when set against an otherwise unblemished career. She also accepted that the Registrant’s written representations showed remorse, insight and remediation. She did not therefore make any submission that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was currently impaired on personal grounds.
19. However, Ms Mond-Wedd submitted that a finding that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired was necessary in the public interest in order to uphold public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. She relied on the judgment of Mrs Justice Cox (Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence v Nursing and Midwifery Council and Grant  EWHC 927 (Admin) 76) to the effect that the Panel should consider not only whether the practitioner continues to present a risk to the public, but also whether the public interest would be undermined if a finding of impairment was not made.
20. Whilst accepting that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was likely to be found to be impaired on public interest grounds, Mr Henry for the Registrant accepted that impairment was a matter of judgment for the Panel to determine on the evidence before it.
Decision on Impairment
21. In making its decision on impairment, the Panel had regard to the submissions of the parties and the oral and written evidence. The Panel took into account the HCPTS Practice Note on Impairment and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel had firmly in mind that the purpose of this hearing was to conduct a thorough appraisal of the Registrant’s current fitness to practise.
22. The Panel considered the two components relating to impairment: the personal component and the public component. It first considered the personal component: whether the conduct was remediable, whether it had been remedied and whether it was likely to be repeated. In that regard, the Panel took account of the evidence of remorse, insight and remediation.
23. The Panel found that the Registrant’s conduct in the incident outside his home on 9 September 2017 fell short of that which would be expected of a Practitioner Psychologist. However, the Panel considered that the Registrant’s failings were remediable and found that he had reflected extensively upon his conduct, demonstrated strong insight and had remedied his actions by apologising to his victim and undertaking courses to ensure that there was no repetition.
24. The Panel determined that the Registrant had accepted full personal responsibility by making admissions to the police and his employer. He had demonstrated insight from the outset into the impact on others, in particular his neighbours and the teenage children who had witnessed the incident. He had undertaken a course of in-depth reflection. He had thereby acquired insight into his shortcomings and how to avoid any recurrence of the incident by recognising potential stress points. He had taken a stress management course and had reduced the risk of recurrence by improving his physical state through exercise and the quality of his sleep. He had learned how to identify and better manage his thought processes in order to prevent any such incident occurring in the future.
25. The Panel therefore found that there was little, if anything else, that the Registrant could realistically have done in order to remedy his actions or to further demonstrate insight or remorse. The Panel also noted the six detailed and positive testimonials in the Registrant’s favour.
26. The Panel therefore found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was not currently impaired on personal grounds.
27. The Panel then reminded itself of the public component in Cohen v GMC  EWHC 581: “the need to protect the individual and the collective need to maintain confidence in the profession as well as declaring and upholding proper standards of conduct and behaviour which the public expect…and that the public interest includes, amongst other things, the protection of service users and the maintenance of public confidence in the profession.”
28. The Registrant had brought his profession into disrepute by acting as he did, albeit in a single moment of anger, on 9 September 2017. The Panel found that the Registrant’s conduct on that one occasion was such as to undermine public confidence in his profession and that a finding of impairment was required to uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour. The Panel noted that the Registrant himself admitted that his fitness to practise was impaired on this basis in his admission to Particular 2 of the Allegation. This was a serious matter that had to be marked by a finding of impairment in order to emphasise the standards that were applicable to a Registrant’s professional role. Applying the principles that were set out in Grant and Cohen, as set out above, the Panel determined that a reasonable and informed member of the public would expect such a finding.
Decision on Sanction
29. Ms Mond-Wedd for the HCPC invited the Panel to take into account the high level of insight and remorse. In the circumstances, she made no specific submission as to the appropriate level of sanction. Mr Henry for the Registrant submitted that the evidence of remorse, insight and remediation was such that the Panel did not need to consider any sanction more serious than a Caution Order of limited duration.
30. The Panel considered the Indicative Sanctions Policy of the HCPC and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor that a sanction should be the least that is necessary to ensure public protection. The Panel reminded itself that the purpose of a sanction is not to punish the Registrant and that a sanction must be reasonable and proportionate.
31. The Panel found there was one aggravating factor, in that the assault had taken place in front of his neighbour’s teenage child and his own teenage child. There were however strong mitigating factors in the Registrant’s favour. He was a respected and diligent practitioner who presented no risk of any kind to service users. The incident in September 2017 related to a neighbour dispute that had no direct bearing on his professional practice. He had admitted that he was at fault and had disclosed the matter to his employers at the earliest possible opportunity. He had provided impressive evidence of reflection, insight and remorse.
32. The Panel therefore considered whether a sanction was necessary. The Panel noted paragraph 8 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy which states no action may be taken where there is a finding of impairment on public interest grounds but where the Registrant has insight, has already taken remedial action and there is no risk of repetition.
33. There were exceptional factors that allowed the Panel to consider taking no action in this case. This was a single isolated incident, when set against the background of an unblemished professional career. The Registrant’s lapse in behaviour was wholly out of character and he had made fulsome admissions. He had fully engaged with the police and his employer, contacted the DBS immediately and engaged throughout with his regulator. His conduct had no direct bearing on his professional duties and his employer and the LADO had judged that there were no safeguarding concerns.
34. The Registrant had furthermore committed himself to a process of supervision and reflection. Six experienced professionals had written positive testimonials on his behalf, all of whom had described this incident as out of character. The Panel therefore determined that the Registrant had demonstrated exceptional insight from the outset. He had shown humility and understanding in his evidence to the Panel.
35. The Panel considered whether a Caution Order of short duration was appropriate but determined that it was not a necessary or proportionate sanction in these exceptional circumstances. Conditions of Practice were not required when the Registrant had demonstrated such impressive remediation. A more serious sanction would be wholly disproportionate in the circumstances.
36. The Panel therefore found that this was an exceptional case in relation to the extent and level of insight, remorse and remediation. The risk of recurrence was extremely low. In the circumstances, the Panel determined that no sanction was necessary and no further action was required.
Order: No further action.
A Panel of the Conduct & Competence Committee met in London on 23 April 2019. The Panel decided to take no further action.
History of Hearings for Mr David Harris
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|23/04/2019||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Impaired - no further action|