Ms Christine Francis-Dennis

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW119865

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 11/02/2019 End: 17:00 11/02/2019

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

Panel: Investigating Committee
Outcome: Removed

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Allegation

1. Your entry onto the HCPC Register as a Social Worker was fraudulently procured in that, having been struck off the HCPC register at a final hearing of the Conduct and Competence Committee held between 3 - 5 October 2016, you applied to be admitted to the HCPC register using a different surname.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Service

1. The Registrant was neither present nor represented at today’s hearing (11 February 2019). In her absence, the Panel first considered whether the notice had been served on her in accordance with the Rules.

2. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was provided with proof of posting documentation. From this it was satisfied that a copy of the notice, dated 14 November 2018 was sent to the Registrant’s registered address by first class post. The notice contained the required particulars and was sent more than 28 days in advance of the hearing, as required by the Rules. The Panel noted that the notice incorrectly described the hearing as that of the Conduct and Competence Committee, rather that the Investigating Committee, however that Panel did not consider that this had the potential to cause such confusion as to invalidate the notice. In all the circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that notice had been served in accordance with the Rules.

Proceed in Absence

3. Ms Hill, on behalf of the HCPC, applied for the hearing to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who advised that the Panel’s discretion to proceed in the Registrant’s absence should be exercised with the utmost care and caution.

4. Ms Hill went through the chronology of attempted contact with the Registrant. On 27 September 2018, a verification email was sent by Kingsley Napley Solicitors, acting on behalf of the HCPC, to the ‘gmail’ email address which was the email address held on the HCPC Register. No response was received. On 4 December 2018, a verification email was sent by Kingsley Napley to the ‘outlook’ email address which had been provided as the Registrant’s email address to Morgan Hunt recruitment agency in April 2018. No response was received.

5. The Panel was satisfied that notice of this hearing was sent to the Registrant’s registered address by letter, dated 14 November 2018.  On 17 July 2018 the Registrant had been written to to inform her that a panel of the Investigating Committee would meet to consider the allegation of her entry being fraudulently procured onto the Register.

6. No communications have been received from the Registrant at any time in relation to these proceedings. She has not applied for an adjournment of this hearing, and the Panel had no reason to expect that an adjournment would secure the Registrant’s attendance in light of her non-engagement throughout the proceedings.

7. The Panel was satisfied that the HCPC had fulfilled its obligations and taken all reasonable steps to serve the notice of the hearing under Rule 6(3) on the Registrant. Further, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had been provided with the means of knowledge as to when and where this hearing was to take place, but had decided not to attend.

8. The Panel concluded that the Registrant had voluntarily waived her right to attend. It was satisfied that she was or ought to be aware of when and where the hearing was taking place and no request for an adjournment had been sought. This is a serious allegation of fraudulently procuring an entry on to the Register and the Panel was of the view that it was important for the matter to be heard expeditiously. In all the circumstances, the Panel determined to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.


Background

9. Between 3 and 5 October 2016, a panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee (CCC) conducted a substantive hearing in the case of a registered Social Worker under the name of Christine Stewart, who had been admitted to the Register in 2012. That panel made findings of fact in respect of multiple service users where the Registrant did not prepare or provide minutes of Looked After Children (LAC) Review meetings that she had chaired; did not attend LAC Review meetings she was due to chair; dishonestly claimed payment for work in connection with LAC Review meetings which were not completed; conducted LAC Review meetings over the telephone rather than attending in person and dishonestly asked social workers not to inform the service coordinator that she had not attended them. That panel found both misconduct and impairment. On 5 October 2016, that panel imposed a sanction of a Striking Off Order, meaning that Christine Stewart would not be eligible to apply for restoration until a period of 5 years had elapsed.

10. On 31 October 2017, an application for HCPC registration as a Social Worker, dated 17 October 2017, was received by the HCPC in the name of Christine Francis-Dennis. The application provided details of an approved programme of education of a Diploma in Social Work from Greenwich University, between 1993 and 1997 and details of practice outside the UK in America between 2001 and 2017. The application indicated that the applicant had not been disciplined by a professional or regulatory body, and the declaration confirming the accuracy of the information provided in the application was signed and dated. An accompanying covering letter stated that the applicant had not officially practised social work in the UK.

11. The application was processed by the HCPC and by letter dated 23 January 2018, the applicant was informed that she had been admitted to the Register as a Social Worker in the name of Christine Francis-Dennis for the period from 18 January 2018 to 30 November 2018.

12. On 25 April 2018, the HCPC received an email from the Divisional Manager of a Social Care Recruitment Agency. He raised concerns that the Registrant by the name of Christine Francis-Dennis, who had been added to the HCPC Register as a Social Worker on 18 January 2018, was the Social Worker Christine Stewart, who had been struck off the Register on 2 November 2016.

13. It is alleged that Christine Francis-Dennis and Christine Stewart are the same person, and that the registration of Christine Francis-Dennis has been fraudulently procured.


Decision on Facts

14. The Panel considered all the documentation before it. In relation to the documentation provided in the name of ‘Christine Stewart’, the Panel had: a passport; a letter confirming national insurance number; and an extract of the original application form to the HCPC, dated 8 October 2012, with bank details. In relation to the documentation provided in the name of Christine Francis-Dennis, the Panel had: the application form to the agency; the application form to the HCPC for entry to the Register together with covering letter; a CV; a photocopy of a driving licence and passport in the name of Christine Dennis; the HCPC confirmation of registration letter, dated 23 January 2018; a marriage certificate in the name Christine Francis to Stephen Dennis; a DBS in the name of Christine Dennis; and a utility bill.

15. The Panel heard submissions from Ms Hill on behalf of the HCPC. She took the Panel through the documentation identifying the similarities of middle name, date of birth, national insurance number, address and bank account details in the respective paperwork submitted by Christine Stewart and Christine Francis-Dennis. She submitted that they were one and the same person. She submitted that the Registrant had used the different name of Francis-Dennis, in order to conceal that she had been struck off in the name of Stewart, and therefore had fraudulently procured her entry on to the Register.

16. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It understood that the burden proof was on the HCPC and that the required standard of proof was that of the civil standard.

17. The Panel first considered whether the documentation before it satisfied it that Christine Francis-Dennis and Christine Stewart are the same person. The Panel had regard to the identification documentation which had been provided. The Panel was satisfied that all the documentation before it indicated that ‘Christine Stewart’ and ‘Christine Francis-Dennis’ were the same person, and that the Registrant had two legitimate names. The marriage certificate, dated 1993, recorded the Registrant’s father’s name as ‘Stewart’. It recorded the Registrant’s name as ‘Christine Francis (name changed by deed poll)’ and it recorded her husband’s surname as ‘Dennis’. The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) certificate, issued 18 February 2018 was in the name of ‘Dennis’ and recorded ‘other names’ as ‘Stewart’.

18. The Panel was satisfied that the national insurance number on the ‘Stewart’ documentation, namely a letter dated 6 February 2018, confirming national insurance number, was the same as that on the ‘Francis-Dennis’ documentation, namely the application form to the recruitment agency, dated 5 April 2018.

19. The Panel was satisfied that the date of birth and middle name on the ‘Stewart’ documentation, namely the passport, was the same as that of the ‘Francis-Dennis’ documentation, namely the driving licence.

20. The Panel was satisfied that the bank account number and sort code on the ‘Stewart’ documentation, namely the direct debit form submitted to the HCPC in 2012, was the same as that for the ‘Francis-Dennis’ documentation, namely the application form to the HCPC Register in 2017.

21. The Panel was satisfied that the address on the ‘Stewart’ documentation, namely the letter confirming national insurance number, was the same as that on the ‘Francis-Dennis’ documentation, namely driving licence, Recruitment agency application form, HCPC application form (2017), and proof of address by utility bill.

22. In light of the consistencies within the documentation of identifying details, the Panel was satisfied to the required standard that ‘Christine Stewart’, who had been struck off the Register in 2016, was the same person as ‘Christine Francis-Dennis’ who had applied for HCPC Registration in 2017.

23. The Panel next considered the circumstances surrounding the Registrant’s entry to the HCPC Register in 2018, to determine whether it had been fraudulently procured. In so doing, it considered the information provided within the application form itself, dated 17 October 2017, along with the covering letter of the same date.

24. In Section 1 of the form, in answer to the question ‘Have you ever previously applied for registration with the HCPC or the Health Professions Council (HCP), the box ‘Yes’ had initially been ticked and then crossed out and the box ‘no’ ticked. In Section 5 of the form, the section for ‘previous names’ had been left blank. In that same section, in the employment history, details had been provided of employment in America from 20 February 2001 to 17 April 2017. In Section 3 of the form, in answer to the question ‘Have you been disciplined by a professional or regulatory body or your employer?’ the answer ‘No’ had been written. The covering letter for the HCPC application form, dated 17 October 2017, stated: ‘I have not officially practised social work in the UK. However I have spent the last 10 yrs living and workin [sic] in New York, USA.’ In light of its finding that ‘Christine Stewart’ and ‘Christine Francis-Dennis’ were one and the same person, the Panel was satisfied that each of these answers or asser
tions was untrue.

25. The Panel was satisfied to the required standard that the Registrant’s motive for making untrue assertions within the HCPC application form and covering letter, dated 17 October 2017, was in order to conceal the fact that she had previously been struck off the HCPC Register in 2016, and therefore was not eligible for inclusion onto the Register in 2018. In all the circumstances, the Panel was satisfied to the required standard that the Registrant’s entry onto the HCPC Register from January 2018 was fraudulently procured.


Decision on Outcome

26. Ms Hill, on behalf of the HCPC, submitted that this was not a case where the entry on the Register could be amended to correct it, and that the only option available to the Panel was to remove the Registrant’s name from the Register.

27. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, who advised that the options available to the Panel were to take no action, to amend the entry or to remove the entry from the Register.

28. The Panel did not consider that this was a case in which to take no action. The Registrant had previously been struck off the Register in 2016 for misconduct relating to matters of public protection and dishonesty. At the time of her application for HCPC Registration, dated 17 October 2017, she was not eligible for admission to the Register, and had her previous regulatory history been appropriately disclosed and known, her application for admission would have been refused. Further, the Panel had found that the Registrant had deliberately sought to deceive the Registrar in her application, by applying in a different name and providing false information.

29. The Panel did not consider that this was a case in which the entry on the Register was capable of correction or amendment. It was a case in which a Registrant had deliberately sought to conceal her regulatory history, and the application was fraudulent from the outset.

30. In all the circumstances, the only option available was for the Registrant’s entry to be removed from the HCPC Register. The Panel determined to direct the Registrar to remove the entry and to inform the Registrant of her right to appeal against the decision.

Order

The Registrar is directed to remove the entry of Ms Christine Francis-Dennis from the Register on the date on which this Order comes into effect.

Notes

Interim Order

1. At the conclusion of the case, Ms Hill applied for an Interim Suspension Order of 18 months to cover the period before which the Order takes effect, or, in the event of an appeal, the period in which the appeal is finally disposed of. She submitted that the Registrant had been provided with sufficient notice of the application for an interim order, as the notice of 14 November 2018 informed her that the HCPC would make such an application if a ‘sanction which removes’ her right to practise were imposed. She further invited the Panel to proceed in absence with the application for the same reasons as before.

2. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It understood that its role was to undertake a risk assessment and consider whether it is necessary for the protection of the public, is otherwise in the public interest or is in the Registrant’s own interests to impose an interim order, pending the appeal period.

3. Firstly, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had been provided with sufficient notice that the HCPC may apply for an interim order if her entry were removed from the Register. Although the notice of 14 November 2018 referred to ‘sanctions’ in the event of a case being well-founded, the Panel was satisfied that the reference to an application in the event of removal of right to practise, when cross referenced with the correct information in the letter of 17 July 2018, provided sufficient notice to the Registrant.

4. Secondly, for the same reasons given for proceeding in absence in the substantive hearing, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had waived her right to attend, and that it was in the public interest to proceed with the application.

5. The Panel considered whether an interim order was necessary to protect the public and concluded that it was. The Panel has found that the Registrant fraudulently procured her entry on to the HCPC Register following having previously been struck off for matters of public protection and dishonesty. The Panel was satisfied that the original case had been serious. It had exposed service users to a risk of harm, and had found the Registrant to be dishonest within her practice. This was now compounded by the latest finding of fraudulently seeking admission to the Register when not entitled to be admitted.

6. The Panel also considered the wider public interest. In the Panel’s view, the public would expect the Regulator to take action at this stage, given its findings. The Registrant had previously been struck off the Register. The Panel considered that the integrity of the Register was of paramount importance and the public was entitled to expect that those appearing on the Register were eligible to be on it. The Panel was of the view that public confidence in the profession would be undermined if it took no action pending the appeal period.

7. Accordingly, the Panel concluded that an interim order is necessary to protect the public and is otherwise in the public interest to maintain confidence in the profession, the integrity of the Register and the HCPC as Regulator.

8. The Panel first considered an Interim Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel was of the view that in light the fact that the Registrant was not eligible to be on the Register, and that her entry had been fraudulently procured, there were no conditions which could be formulated to address this concern.

9. Accordingly, the Panel concluded that the only appropriate and proportionate order is an Interim Suspension Order.

10. The Panel determined to impose the Interim Suspension Order for a period of 18 months. In deciding to impose this length, it took account of the fact that if the Registrant were to appeal, this may be a lengthy process.

11. The Panel recognised that this Interim Order would prevent the Registrant from working as a Social Worker. However, the Registrant had previously been struck off the Register, and was therefore not entitled to work as a Social Worker, in any event.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Ms Christine Francis-Dennis

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
11/02/2019 Investigating Committee Final Hearing Removed