Mr Steven Edward Williams

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW42567

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 30/04/2019 End: 17:00 03/05/2019

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

Panel:
Outcome: Struck off

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Allegation

Whilst registered as a Social Worker, you:

1. In relation to the Conditions of Practice Order imposed on your registration by the Conduct and Competence Committee on 24 March 2016, you breached:

a. Condition 2, in that you did not supply details of your supervisor to the HCPC within 28 days of commencing the role of Independent Reviewing Officer.

b. Condition 3, in that you did not work with your supervisor to formulate a Personal Development Plan designed to address the deficiencies in the following areas of your practice:

i. Professional Boundaries

ii. Communication with Colleagues

c. Condition 4, in that you did not provide the HCPC with a copy of your Personal Development Plan.

d. Condition 5, in that you did not meet with your supervisor on a monthly basis to consider your progress towards achieving the aims set out in your Personal Development Plan.

e. Condition 6, in that you did not provide a report from your Supervisor which focuses on

i. Your progress in developing and maintaining professional boundaries

ii. Your progress in developing and maintaining effective communication with colleagues

f. Condition 7, in that you did not inform the HCPC when you started employment as an Independent Reviewing Officer.

g. Condition 9, in that you did not inform your employer (North Yorkshire County Council) that your registration was subject to conditions before applying for an commencing the role of Independent Reviewing Officer.

2. On the following dates you Obtained references / feedback from your managers without informing them that the purpose of the reference was to support your representations for the Substantive Review hearing from your managers on:

a. 31 January 2017

b. 2 February 2017

3. On 23 March 2017 at the Substantive Review hearing, you:

a. Presented that you had yet to start the role of Independent Reviewing Officer

b. Presented that the practice areas of Professional Boundaries and Communication with Colleagues had been addressed with your Supervisor within monthly supervision.

4. The matters alleged in particulars 1f, 1g, 2a, 2b, 3a and 3b are dishonest.

5. The matters alleged in particulars 1-4 amount to misconduct.

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

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Service

1. The Panel was satisfied that the notice of hearing dated 26 February 2019 had been sent to the Registrant’s registered address by first class post. The Legal Assessor advised that the notice complied with rules 3 and 6 of the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003 as amended (‘the Rules’), because it specified the date, time and venue of the hearing and gave the required period of notice of the hearing. The Panel found that proper service of the notice of hearing had taken place.

Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant

2. Ms Ryan made an application for the hearing to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. She said that the Panel’s power to do so should be exercised with great caution. She referred in particular to the Registrant’s completed ‘Response Pro Forma’ received on 11.02.19 in which he stated that he would not be attending the hearing and to the Registrant’s letter dated 21 March 2019, which referred to the hearing date and was accompanied by written representations made in response to the allegations. She submitted that it was clear from both documents that the Registrant had chosen not to attend the hearing and had decided to voluntarily absent himself from it.

3. The Panel directed itself in accordance with the advice given by the Legal Assessor, who referred to the content of rule 11 of the Rules and to the guidance given by the Court of Appeal in GMC v Adeogba [2016] EWCA Civ 162, as explained in the HCPTS’ Practice Note, Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant, September 2018.

4. The Panel concluded that the Registrant had made clear that he would not be attending the hearing in both documents and had voluntarily absented himself from it. He had made no request for an adjournment. He had responded in detail to each part of the allegation and in the circumstances, there would be no unfairness to the Registrant in proceeding in his absence. Therefore, the Panel decided to do so.

Amendment

5. Ms Ryan applied to amend paragraph 2 of the allegation in the respects set out in the heading of this decision. Notice of the proposed amendment had been sent by post to the Registrant on 17 January 2019. Ms Ryan submitted that, the amendment provided clarification and the words, ‘by dishonest means’ were not required because the allegation of dishonesty had already been advanced in paragraph 4 of the allegation. The Panel directed itself in accordance with advice given by the Legal Assessor and decided that there would be no injustice in allowing the amendment. The amendment was therefore granted.

Background

6. The Registrant commenced employment at North Yorkshire County Council (‘NYCC’) on 14 December 2015 as a Family Outreach Worker, a post that did not require qualification as a Social Worker At the time he took up that post, he had been working for over 10 years in various social work roles in Safeguarding Children and Young Adults including managing complex children protection and child in need cases and as a social work team manager.

7. On 24 March 2016, a panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee imposed conditions of practice on the Registrant’s registration for a period of 12 months following a fitness to practise hearing (‘the Conditions of Practice Order’). Those conditions (‘the Conditions’), so far as relevant, stated as follows, -
‘……….

(2) You must place yourself and remain under the supervision of a supervisor who is registered with the HCPC, or other appropriate statutory regulator and supply details of your supervisor to the HCPC within 28 days of commencement of any employment as a Social Worker. You must attend upon that supervisor as required and follow their advice and recommendations.

(3) You must work with your supervisor to formulate a Personal Development Plan designed to address the deficiencies in the following areas of your practice:

i. Professional boundaries

ii Communication with [c]olleagues.

(4) At least 14 days prior to the review of this [o]rder you must forward a copy of your [P]ersonal Development Plan to the HCPC.

(5) You must meet with your supervisor on a monthly basis to consider your progress towards achieving the aims set out in your Personal Development Plan.

(6) You must provide a report from your [s]upervisor to the HCPC 14 days prior to the review of this order, which focuses on:

• Your progress in developing and maintaining professional boundaries

• Your progress in developing and maintaining effective communication with colleagues.

(7) You must promptly inform the HCPC when you start employment as a Social Worker or take up any other or further employment as a Social Worker.

………..

(9) 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 as a Social Worker;
…………..’

8. On 13 February 2017 the Registrant began work with NYCC as an Independent Review Officer (‘IRO’). On 23 and 24 March 2017 a review hearing of the Registrant’s case (‘the Review Hearing’) took place and the reviewing panel decided that no further order was necessary. That panel decided that the appropriate course of action was to allow the Conditions to remain in place and to expire, which they did on 21 April 2017. From that point on there was no longer any restriction on the Registrant’s registration as a Social Worker.

9. However, the existence of the Conditions of Practice Order came to the attention of NYCC as a result of information provided by sources other than the Registrant. NYCC considered that the Registrant had not informed it of the existence of that order. A disciplinary investigation was carried out by NYCC later in May 2017. The person tasked to carry out that investigation was JH, a Service Manager. The Registrant worked in one of her Area Prevention Teams. In carrying out her investigation, JH interviewed SC, the Registrant’s former line manager, his former Team Manager DF and subsequently DT, the line manager for the Registrant in his work as IRO. Following the investigation and hearings, the Registrant was dismissed.

Decision on Facts

The HCPC’s Case

10. The HCPC’s case before this Panel centres on the Registrant’s applying for and accepting employment as an IRO. In summary, it is alleged that this concerned ‘employment as a Social Worker’ and required him to take certain further steps, as set out in the Conditions, and that he failed to do so in relation to a number of those Conditions. It is also alleged that the Registrant was dishonest, by (in the various respects alleged) concealing the existence of the Conditions of Practice Order from his employer, obtaining references from two of his colleagues without revealing that his only purpose was to use them in the Review Hearing, and by deliberately misleading the review panel at that hearing.

11. Ms Ryan clarified that each of the particulars in paragraph 1 (including those not specifically referring to the post of IRO) was concerned with the Registrant’s employment in that post and did not include earlier periods in 2016.

The Registrant’s Case

12. The Registrant’s position was that the post of IRO did not constitute social work in that he maintained ‘that the role [of IRO] was not a social work role’. Therefore, there was no obligation on him to adhere to the Conditions or share them with his employer and because of this there was no dishonesty.

The Evidence and the Panel’s Approach

13. The Panel heard oral evidence from two witnesses for the HCPC, who were –

• JH - formerly, Integrated Services Manager at NYCC and Divisional Manager with the Families Prevention Team;

• DT – registered Social Worker and IRO Manager for East & Selby at NYCC since 2004.

14. The HCPC also relied on a witness statement of AM of the HCPC. She produced various documents, including those provided by the Registrant for the Review Hearing.

15. The Registrant relied on the written representations provided with his letter dated 21 March 2019.

Assessment of the Oral Evidence and Other Matters

16. Before JH gave evidence, the Legal Assessor advised that, within her investigation records in the bundle there was some information in interviews with witnesses which were not relevant to these proceedings. He submitted that as long as the Panel disregarded those sections it would not be unfair to allow those interviews to be admitted in evidence, even though they were not being called as witnesses. The Panel accepted that advice.

17. The Panel found JH to be a credible witness. Her oral evidence was of limited assistance. It was based on her work, as investigator, carried out in the disciplinary investigation. She produced documents that were of assistance, including contemporaneous notes of interviews with witnesses.

18. DT was a credible and helpful witness. He gave evidence on the role of the IRO and as to his dealings as the Registrant’s supervisor in the short period with which this hearing is concerned between 13th February – 21st April 2017. The Panel found his evidence to be convincing and accepted it.

The Panel’s Approach

19 The Panel has taken into account all the evidence in the case, so far as relevant, as well as the submissions of Ms Ryan and the Registrant’s written representations. The Panel also received advice from the Legal Assessor and has directed itself in accordance with that advice. So far as necessary, the principles and sources of law referred to in that advice are set out below. The Panel has ignored matters, especially those in the documents placed before it, that did not concern the allegation in this case.


Findings


Whilst registered as a Social Worker, you:

1. In relation to the Conditions of Practice Order imposed on your registration by the Conduct and Competence Committee on 24 March 2016, ..;

20 The Registrant was a registered Social Worker during the period to which the allegation relates. As set out above, the Conditions of Practice Order was imposed on 24 March 2016. Therefore, the main stem of the allegation has been proved.

… you breached;

a. Condition 2, in that you did not supply details of your supervisor to the HCPC within 28 days of commencing the role of Independent Reviewing Officer.

21. The Panel accepted DT’s evidence that the IRO is always a Social Worker role and is a statutory role as stated in the Care Planning, and Placement Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 that an IRO must not only be a registered Social Worker but also have been qualified for at least 5 years. In addition, the Panel accepted DT’s evidence that all the IROs in his team were qualified Social Workers and this requirement is stated in the person criteria for the position. The Panel also heard that DT had had a detailed discussion with the Registrant prior to him applying for and commencing the position of IRO about the nature of the role.

22. As DT pointed out in his oral evidence, an IRO still has to visit service users. The fact that all the work of an IRO is not concerned with visiting service users as a Social Worker does not mean that the work of an IRO is not that of a Social Worker. All aspects of the role require decision-making and activities directed at the care and protection of service users.

23. Therefore, the Panel determined that working as an IRO was ‘employment as a Social Worker’ for the purposes of Condition 2.

24. DT became the Registrant’s supervisor once he started work as an IRO on 13 February 2017. The Registrant accepted that he did not send details of his supervisor to the HCPC. These were to have been supplied within 28 days of starting work as an IRO. Therefore, the Registrant acted in breach of Condition 2 and sub-paragraph 1a of the particulars has been found proved.

a. Condition 3, in that you did not work with your supervisor to formulate a Personal Development Plan designed to address the deficiencies in the following areas of your practice:

i Professional Boundaries

ii Communication with Colleagues

25. The Registrant stated that he did not work to formulate a Personal Development Plan (‘PDP’), because this was not required, as his employment as an IRO was not employment as a Social Worker. DT’s evidence was that he did not work with the Registrant to develop a PDP to address either of these areas as he did not know that this was required. He was unaware of the existence of a Conditions of Practice Order. Having preferred DT’s evidence over the Registrant’s argument as to whether the IRO is a social work role (‘the IRO/Social Worker Argument’), the Panel found that the Registrant acted in breach of Condition 3. Therefore, the Panel found this sub-paragraph to have been proved in both respects.

b. Condition 4, in that you did not provide the HCPC with a copy of your Personal Development Plan.

26. The Registrant’s written evidence was that he did not provide a PDP for the Review Hearing. No such document was in the bundle of documents produced by AM or in the bundle of documents before the Panel. The PDP was to have been provided at least 14 days prior to the Review Hearing (Condition 4). Having rejected the Registrant’s case on the IRO/Social Worker Argument, the Panel concluded that the Registrant acted in breach of Condition 4 and this part of the allegation has been found proved.

c. Condition 5, in that you did not meet with your supervisor on a monthly basis to consider your progress towards achieving the aims set out in your Personal Development Plan.

27. The Registrant did have supervisions with DT on 9 March 2017 and 4 April 2017, as set out in the supervision records. However, DT’s evidence was that neither of the required aspects of the Registrant’s work (boundaries and communication) was discussed in either session. The supervision records do not mention these matters either. Having rejected the Registrant’s contention on the IRO/Social Worker Argument, the Panel concluded that the Registrant acted in breach of Condition 5 and this part of the allegation has been found proved.

d. Condition 6, in that you did not provide a report from your Supervisor which focuses on

i Your progress in developing and maintaining professional boundaries

ii Your progress in developing and maintaining effective communication with colleagues

28. The Registrant referred to reports he had provided from two managers while working as a Family Outreach Worker, a role that did not require qualification as a Social Worker. Therefore, these were not relevant. The Panel accepted DT’s evidence that he did not prepare a report, because he did not know that one was required. Having rejected the Registrant’s case on the IRO/Social Worker Argument, the Panel found that the Registrant acted in breach of Condition 6 by failing to provide this document to the HCPC 14 days prior to the Review Hearing. This part of the allegation has been found proved in both respects.

a. Condition 7, in that you did not inform the HCPC when you started employment as an Independent Reviewing Officer

29. In the bundle of documents provided by the Registrant for the Review Hearing there was a statement that he was to start work as an IRO on 13 February 2017. Therefore, this part of the allegation has been found not proved.

b. Condition 9, in that you did not inform your employer (North Yorkshire County Council) that your registration was subject to conditions before applying for an[d] commencing the role of Independent Reviewing Officer.

30. The Registrant’s case appears to be that he did not inform NYCC of the Conditions because he did not consider the IRO role to be that of a Social Worker so the conditions would not apply. The Registrant stated in his written submissions that the wording of Condition 9 does not refer to ‘employment as a Social Worker’ as do Conditions 2 and 7, but to ‘undertak[ing] professional work as a Social Worker.’ The Panel considers that there is no difference of substance in the wording. The Panel has already rejected the Registrant’s argument on that aspect of the case.

31. The Registrant does not assert that he did inform NYCC of the Conditions of Practice Order. DT’s evidence was that he was not told of this at any stage and both SC and DF told JH that they were unaware of the Conditions of Practice Order. Therefore, the Registrant has acted in breach of Condition 9 and this part of the allegation has been found proved.

2. On the following dates you obtained references / feedback from your managers without informing them that the purpose of the reference was to support your representations for the Substantive Review hearing from your managers on:

a. 31 January 2017

b. 2 February 2017

32. The HCPC has not established the nature of the Registrant’s purpose when obtaining the references on those two dates. There was a genuine role (as a Practice Educator) to which these related, which did interest the Registrant at about that time. Although the Registrant did go on to use the references at the Review Hearing without informing his managers that he was going to use them for this purpose, the HCPC has not established that when he obtained them on either of those two dates, his sole purpose was to use them for the hearing. Therefore, this part of the allegation has been found not proved in both respects.

3. On 23 March 2017 at the Substantive Review hearing, you:

i Presented that you had yet to start the role of Independent Reviewing Officer

33. The Panel was not satisfied that the Registrant made this presentation to the review panel. It is mentioned in an appraisal document provided by the Registrant that he was to start in the role on 13 February 2017. Other parts of the transcript of the Review Hearing showed that the Registrant did talk about the role in the present tense, sometimes suggesting he was already working in the role (p.285 of the transcript, lines 4-6). Viewed in context, therefore, the two passages in the transcript relied on by the HCPC do not establish the representation alleged. Therefore, this part of the allegation has been found not proved.

ii Presented that the practice areas of Professional Boundaries and Communication with Colleagues had been addressed with your Supervisor within monthly supervision.

34. The HCPC relies on parts of the transcript of the Review Hearing containing answers given by the Registrant to questions put by the Presenting Officer. These included the following (p. 283 lines 16-19) –

‘Q. ….. were these practice areas of professional boundaries and communication with colleague specifically addressed in the supervision, and what further comment can you provide regarding this ….

A. It was in my supervision but also in my EDR [?] – my appraisal. …’

Having considered this exchange in the context of the transcript as a whole on this topic, the Panel concluded that the Registrant did represent to the reviewing panel that he had addressed those two areas in his supervision. Therefore, this part of the allegation has been found proved.

The matters alleged in particulars 1(f),.. 2(a), 2(b), 3(a) … are dishonest.

35. Having concluded that paragraphs 1f, 2(a), 2(b) and 3(a) have been found not proved, it follows that the Panel has found paragraph 4 to have been not proved in respect of those paragraphs. Therefore, the Registrant was not dishonest in respect of those matters and paragraph 4 is not proved to that extent.

The matters alleged in particulars..1(g) .. are dishonest.

36. The proper approach to the meaning of dishonesty was authoritatively stated by the Supreme Court in Ivey v Genting [2017] UKSC 67, where Lord Hughes giving the judgment of the court stated, at [74] –

‘…. When dishonesty is in question 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.’

37. A finding of dishonesty requires cogent evidence and a very careful consideration of all relevant factors must be undertaken by the Panel before such a finding is made: In re H (Minors) (Sexual Abuse: Standard of Proof) [1996] AC 563 at 586D – H, In re B [2008] UKHL 35 at [70] and Quereshi v GMC [2015] EWHC 3729 (Admin) at [65].

38. Did the Registrant hold an honest belief that working as an IRO was not employment as a Social Worker? At the time when the Registrant commenced work as an IRO with NYCC, he was an experienced Social Worker as set out in paragraph 6 above. The Registrant had worked for several years in Children and Families social work settings and in Child Protection work, both as a frontline Social Worker and as a team manager.

39. In the conversation DT had with the Registrant prior to his job interview DT concluded, as he told the Panel, that the Registrant had a good understanding of the role of an IRO and that he had worked with IRO’s in previous roles. The Panel also took into account DT’s evidence that all IRO’s are experienced Social Workers and the statutory requirements and guidance that an IRO has to be a Social Worker, who has been qualified for 5 years and possesses the necessary experience.

40. Further, the Registrant was well aware of the position from an email dated 3 January 2017 from DT to the Registrant and received by him. In the email DT stated that, -

‘.. we have a six month secondment for a qualified Social Worker with management experience to chair Child Protection Conferences and possibly Review meetings for Looked After Children in the Scarborough, Whitby, Ryedale areas.’

41. The Panel does not accept that the Registrant genuinely believed that there was a distinction between the qualification and the work to be undertaken in the role. He well knew that the requirements and duties of the post concerned employment or work as a Social Worker. As DT pointed out, an IRO still has to visit service users. The fact that all the work of an IRO is not concerned with visiting service users as a Social Worker does not mean that the work of an IRO is not that of a Social Worker. All aspects of the role require decision-making and activities directed at the care and protection of service users. As an experienced Social Worker, the Registrant knew this.

42. The Panel is satisfied that the Registrant understood that the secondment was for a Social Worker role for a registered Social Worker. The Panel has concluded that he did not hold a genuine belief that work as an IRO was not employment as a Social Worker. The Panel has also concluded that the Registrant knew he was under an obligation to disclose the Conditions to NYCC.

43. The Panel asked itself why the Registrant would take what was a serious risk in not informing his employer of the Conditions. The Panel heard evidence from DT that becoming an IRO would mean a substantial increase in salary and status for the registrant. The Panel concluded therefore that the Registrant was motivated by the increase in status and remuneration that would come with the secondment. He knew that by declaring the existence of the Conditions he would jeopardise his prospects of securing the post.

44. Ordinary decent people would conclude that the Registrant’s failure to disclose the Conditions to his employer in those circumstances was dishonest. Therefore, this part of the allegation has been found proved.

The matters alleged in particulars ..3(b) .. are dishonest.

45. As the Registrant had concealed the existence of the Conditions from his employer when he applied for and started the role of IRO, DT was unaware of the restrictions on the Registrant’s practice which required DT to work with him to address specific deficiencies in the Registrant’s practice. As a result, the Registrant knew that DT, his supervisor, was not specifically addressing those areas of deficiency in supervision sessions whilst he was working as an IRO.

46. The purpose of the substantive review was to ensure that the Registrant had properly addressed the deficiencies as outlined in the Conditions of Practice Order. This was not the case. The Registrant misrepresented to the review panel that relevant supervision had taken place. This could not have been the case because his supervisors, SC and DT were unaware of the existence of the Conditions of Practice Order and therefore could not properly have addressed the relevant deficiencies. The Panel considered that this misrepresentation was deliberate.

47. The Panel has concluded that in those circumstances, ordinary decent people would consider that this misrepresentation to the review panel was dishonest.

48. Therefore, this part of the allegation has been found proved.

Decision on Grounds

49. Ms Ryan submitted that the facts, if proved, established misconduct. They constituted serious departures from professional standards, and in particular standard 9

50. The Panel received advice from the Legal Assessor on the issue of statutory ground and has directed itself in accordance with that advice. In summary, the facts proved will amount to the statutory ground of misconduct if they establish conduct that fell short of what would have been proper in the circumstances and if, in context, the conduct was sufficiently serious: Roylance v GMC [2000] 1 AC 311. That seriousness was described by Collins J. as ‘conduct which would be regarded as deplorable by fellow practitioners’: Nandi v GMC, [2004] EWHC 2317 (Admin).

51. The HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics, 26 January 2016 state, -

‘9. Be honest and trustworthy

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.’

The Registrant’s dishonest conduct in concealing the Conditions from his employer and in falsely representing to the panel at the Review Hearing that he had conducted remedial supervision in important areas of practice were a breach of the public’s trust and confidence in the Registrant and the profession.

52. The Panel concluded that those acts and omissions of the Registrant constituted conduct that fell below what was required of him in the circumstances and that the misconduct was serious.

53. The Panel is satisfied that the failings in 1g, 3b and 4 represent serious departures from the expected standards and constitute serious misconduct.

54. Although the other findings of fact might not have amounted to serious misconduct on their own, they were serious in the context of the Registrant’s dishonesty in failing to declare to his employer that his practice had been restricted (in breach of the Conditions) and in making dishonest misrepresentations to the review panel about the progress he had made in remedying the deficiencies in the two areas of his practice. They are therefore serious, because the full extent of the Registrant’s non-compliance with the Conditions was not apparent to the reviewing panel.

55. Therefore, paragraph 5 of the allegation has been established. The facts found proved constituted misconduct.

Decision on Impairment

56. Ms Ryan submitted that the Registrant’s conduct had brought the profession into disrepute and his fitness to practice is currently impaired.

57. The Panel directed itself in accordance with the advice given by the Legal Assessor, who referred in particular to the principles set out in Cheatle v GMC [2009] EWHC 645 (Admin) at [21] and [22], in CHRE v NMC & Grant [2011] EWHC 927 (Admin) at [64] – [76], to the guidance given in the HCPTS’ Practice Note, ‘Finding that Fitness to Practise is ‘Impaired’, 22 March 2017 and to the Overarching Objective contained in Art. 3(4) and 3(4A) and paragraph 18(10A) of Schedule 1, Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, as amended.

58. The Panel’s conclusions on the issue of current impairment are as follows. The Registrant has shown no insight into the professional shortcomings that constituted the misconduct. The deficiencies in his candour and trustworthiness are unremedied. The Panel considers that there is a real risk of repetition. The Registrant has acted dishonestly and has thereby breached one of the fundamental requirements of practice as a Social Worker, namely the requirement of honesty and trustworthiness. In view of the nature of his misconduct, he has brought the profession into disrepute and is liable to do so in the future as the misconduct has not been remedied.

59. Therefore, a finding of impaired fitness to practise is necessary in order to protect, promote and maintain public confidence in the social work profession and to promote and maintain proper professional standards and conduct for members of the profession.

60. Therefore, the Panel has concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired and paragraph 6 of the allegation has been established.

Decision on Sanction

61. Ms Ryan referred to the general principles regarding the issue of sanction as set out in the Indicative Sanctions Policy, 22 March 2017 (‘ISP’). She submitted that there was a risk of repetition of the dishonesty and there were a number of aggravating factors in the case. She put forward a number of points, based on case law. These were, -

61.1 a severe sanction was to be expected in cases of proven dishonesty: Igboaka v GMC [2016] EWHC 2728 (Admin);

61.2 persistent dishonesty is likely to result in erasure: Abbas v GMC [2015] EWHC 51 (Admin);

61.3 In R (SRA) v Imran [2015] EWHC 2572 (Admin) , the tribunal took into account ‘the extent of the dishonesty and the impact of that dishonesty both on the character of the particular solicitor concerned but, most importantly, on the wider reputation of the profession and how it impinges on the public's perception of the profession as a whole.’

62. The Legal Assessor advised that the powers of the Panel are set out in Article 29(5) of the Health and Social Work Professions 2001 Order, as amended and that it must have regard to the statutory overarching objective in making its decision (paragraph 3(4) and (4A) and paragraph 18(10A) of the 2001 Order). He advised that aggravating and mitigating factors should be balanced with the public and private interests at stake and all other relevant factors, and a balance struck, bearing in mind the principle of proportionality. He advised that in considering case law concerning other regulators, it was important to bear in mind that the Panel was called on to consider the significance of the proven dishonesty in the context of the social work profession.

63. The Panel has taken into account the relevant parts of the ISP in reaching its decision, its earlier findings and the evidence before it at the earlier stages of the hearing. The Panel has also taken into account the submissions of Ms Ryan and has accepted the advice on the issue of sanction given by the Legal Assessor.

64. The Panel has taken into account the following as aggravating factors:

• The two instances of dishonesty were extremely serious, involving the Registrant’s deception of his employer and a regulatory tribunal reviewing his fitness to practise;

• In his written representations, there was a pattern of deflecting blame onto others, namely his employer, the HCPC (his regulator) and the review panel;

• There has been a complete lack of insight and remorse on the part of the Registrant.

65. As a mitigating factor, there was no evidence of any deficiency in the Registrant’s professional skills.

66. The Panel considered the available outcomes in ascending order of seriousness. This was clearly not a case where ‘no action’ would be appropriate, particularly in view of the Panel’s finding that the Registrant lacks insight. Mediation would be inappropriate in the circumstances. A caution would not meet the seriousness of the case, nor provide the necessary degree of public protection.

67. The Panel next considered whether a Conditions of Practice Order would be appropriate. The Panel considers that it is not possible to devise workable conditions to address the dishonesty in the particular circumstances of this case. Further, the Panel was not satisfied that the Registrant would comply with conditions. The findings made by the Panel show that there is a real risk that the Registrant would not comply with conditions. Furthermore, a Conditions of Practice Order is not a sufficient response to the impairment.

68. The Panel next considered whether a Suspension Order would be appropriate in this case. A Suspension Order would protect the public for a period of up to 12 months and could be reviewed and extended.

69. The Panel has concluded that the deficiencies in the Registrant’s candour and trustworthiness are unremedied and that there is a real risk of repetition of the misconduct. A repetition of that misconduct presents a risk to the public and to public confidence in the regulatory process and the reputation of the profession. There is also a risk of the Registrant acting dishonestly in a work environment if he were to consider that would be to his advantage.

70. In addition to the Registrant’s complete lack of insight into his dishonesty, there was no evidence before the Panel that the Registrant was willing to develop insight or attempt any remediation. The Registrant has produced no evidence about his current work activities, or any references or testimonials to attest to any steps taken to gain insight and learn from his misconduct. He has failed to show any remediation of what are fundamental professional shortcomings.

71. Therefore, the Registrant’s unremedied misconduct presents a serious and long-term risk to the public and to public confidence in the profession.

72. The Panel has given careful consideration to the seriousness of the dishonesty. The deception completely undermined the integrity of the regulatory process. For this to function properly, registrants must be open and honest in their dealings with the tribunals that regulate their fitness to practise. The effectiveness of that process is vital to public confidence in the social work profession as a whole. The dishonest misrepresentation by the Registrant about his supervision gave the panel reviewing his case an incomplete picture of the extent to which he had remediated the shortcomings in his practice. Further, the full extent of the Registrant’s non-compliance with the Conditions was not apparent to the reviewing panel.

73. The gravity of the Registrant’s dishonesty extended to his deliberate concealment of the Conditions from his employer. It is important for an employer to be aware of conditions so that they can assess any risk to service users and put measures in place to support a registrant to remediate any shortcomings in their practice. In addition, the Registrant obtained a senior post that he might not have been given had he been honest about the existence of the Conditions.

74. The Panel has borne in mind that the Registrant is a competent practitioner with a long record in practice and the very serious effect that any order more serious than suspension (i.e. striking off) might have on his ability to earn a living. However, the Panel has concluded that suspension would not be an adequate response in this case for the following reasons.

75. There is a serious long-term risk presented by the Registrant’s unremedied misconduct both to the public and to public confidence in the profession. Further, in view of the gravity of the misconduct, suspension (even for the maximum period of 12 months) would be insufficient to maintain public confidence in the profession, because members of the public would be likely to conclude that a registrant could go back to work after a period of suspension, notwithstanding conduct of such seriousness, and they would be likely to lose trust in the profession as a result.

76. A further important consideration is the deterrent effect of a sanction. In view of the seriousness of the Registrant’s misconduct, a sanction of suspension would not provide sufficient deterrent to members of the profession nor support and uphold proper standards of professional conduct.

77. The Panel has concluded that the Registrant’s deliberate deception of both his employer and the regulator are fundamentally incompatible with continued registration as a Social Worker. Therefore, nothing less than a Striking-Off Order would be sufficient to protect the public, to maintain public confidence in the profession and to promote and maintain proper professional standards and conduct among members of the profession. In reaching these conclusions, the Panel has borne in mind paragraphs 41 of the ISP and 47-50 of the ISP as set out below;

41. “If the evidence suggests that the registrant will be unable to resolve or remedy his or her failings then striking off may be the more appropriate option ….

47. "Striking off is a sanction of last resort for serious, deliberate or reckless acts involving abuse of trust such as sexual abuse, dishonesty or persistent failure.

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

49. "Striking off may also be appropriate where the nature and gravity of the allegation are such that any lesser sanction would lack deterrent effect or undermine confidence in the profession concerned or the regulatory process….

50. "Striking off is a long term sanction. Article 33(2) of the Order provides that, unless new evidence comes to light, a person may not apply for restoration to the register within five years of the date of a striking off order being made and Panels do not have the power to vary that restriction.

78. Accordingly, the Panel has decided that a Striking-Off Order is the necessary, and only sufficient, sanction in this case.

Order


ORDER: The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Steven Edward Williams from the Register on the date this order comes into effect

Notes

Interim Order

Ms Ryan made an application for an Interim Suspension Order under Article 31(2) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001 on the grounds that it was necessary to protect members of the public and otherwise in the public interest. She first made an application to proceed in the absence of the Registrant and submitted that the Registrant had been given notice of the potential application in the notice of hearing dated 26 February 2019. The Panel received advice from the Legal Assessor for both applications.

The Panel decided that it would be fair to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. He had received notice of the application and had deliberately chosen not to appear at the hearing. Therefore, the Panel decided to hear the application in the absence of the Registrant.

The Panel was aware that the Registrant had not made submissions on this application in his written representations. In considering the application, it took into account matters that might be in his favour, as well as the submissions of Ms Ryan.

The Panel decided that such an order was necessary on both grounds sought, for the following reasons. The risk of repetition by the Registrant of his misconduct presents a real risk to the safety and wellbeing of service users and public confidence in the profession for the reasons set out in paragraphs 71 and 75 of the Panel’s decision. Even though the Striking-Off Order maintains public confidence in the profession, members of the public would be seriously concerned if the Registrant were to be allowed to practise without restriction in the interim period of 28 days, or were he to appeal, in what would be a much longer period. As a result, there is likely to be serious damage to public confidence in the profession if the Registrant were at liberty to practise without restriction in these periods.

Only an Interim Suspension Order would suffice to give the necessary protection (interim conditions being unworkable and otherwise inappropriate). Despite the adverse effect on the Registrant’s ability to earn a living as a Social Worker, such an order (for 18 months: see next sentence) is necessary, and proportionate to the risk of harm presented by the Registrant’s unremedied misconduct both to members of the public and to public confidence in the profession. The maximum period of 18 months is appropriate, to allow any appeal to be heard, should the Registrant appeal this decision.

Therefore, the Panel decided to impose an Interim Suspension Order of 18 months under Article 31(2) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001 on the grounds that it was necessary to protect members of the public and otherwise in the public interest.

This order will expire: (if no appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) upon the expiry of the period during which such an appeal could be made; (if an appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) the final determination of that appeal, subject to a maximum period of 18 months.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Steven Edward Williams

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
30/04/2019 Final Hearing Struck off
23/03/2016 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Conditions of Practice
18/01/2016 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Adjourned