Mr Martin Douglas Weinbren

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW37937

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 21/01/2019 End: 17:00 25/01/2019

Location: The Derby Conference Centre, London Road, Derby DE24 8UX

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Struck off

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Allegation

Whilst registered as a Social Worker:

  1. You engaged in inappropriate contact via Facebook Messenger and/or email with Person A, a former service user, between October 2013 and May 2017.
  2. Your actions as described at paragraph 1 amount to misconduct.
  3. By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired. 

Finding

Background

1. The HCPC states that the Registrant was Person A's Social Worker for approximately 4 years from February 1980, at which time Person A was aged between 11 and 15. When cross examined by Ms Sheridan, the Registrant stated that his memory was that he was Person A’s social worker for 2 years whilst she was aged 12-13.

2. In 2012, Person A made subject access requests to view the social work records from her childhood. She had concerns about the accuracy of the records and contacted the Registrant via Facebook Messenger requesting that it would be really helpful if “I could ask you a few general off the record questions”. The HCPC's case is that thereafter, between October 2013 and May 2017, the Registrant had repeated and inappropriate contact with Person A by way of Facebook Messenger and/or email.

3. A schedule of inappropriate messages on which the HCPC rely is attached as Schedule A.


Decision on Facts

Assessment of witnesses


4. The Panel firstly considered the credibility of the witnesses who had given live evidence. Person A was subject to nearly two days of detailed cross-examination and the Panel found her to be a credible and consistent witness. She recognised and accepted her role in instigating and maintaining correspondence with the Registrant and that at times her messaging was rude. The Panel considered that her evidence was open and balanced and not prone to exaggeration.

5. The Panel also heard from witness SF, a Community Psychiatric Nurse with Devon Partnership NHS Trust (the Trust), who at the relevant time, was Person A’s CPN and Care Coordinator within the Trust’s Mental Health Team. She gave evidence as to her assessment of the impact of the Registrant’s conduct on Person A and her own concerns about the tone of the messaging. The Panel considered her to be credible and consistent, and not prone to malice or exaggeration.

6. The Panel considered the evidence of the Registrant. He admitted the fact of having sent the relevant communications. However, save for the limited admissions made as set out below, the Registrant denied the allegation that those communications were inappropriate on the basis that they had been taken out of context, and that he was merely responding to correspondence from Person A. It was his case that he did not appreciate that Person A was vulnerable or had mental health issues. He stated that he had no intention to hurt or upset Person A. Save for his emails of 2 and 10 July 2016 to Person A regarding having had a sexual relationship with her mother, he denied that his communications were inappropriate. He had simply been naïve, polite and responsive and that it was “just chat”.

7. The Panel considered his evidence to be less credible than those of the HCPC witnesses. His explanations were on occasions, implausible, and inconsistent with the documentary evidence before the Panel. The following is a non-exhaustive list of examples when the Panel concluded his evidence lacked credibility:

a. The Registrant stated that he was not aware that Person A was vulnerable. The Panel did not consider this to be credible. He was an experienced Social Worker who recalled that Person A was a “wild” and abusive child, who had been parented without effective boundaries. Her case had been memorable. Given this background and her presentation in some of her messages, it is not credible that the Registrant was not alerted to her potential vulnerability. In addition, Person A had chosen to send the Registrant her drawings of herself in tears when she was aged 16 and 26. She had sent the Registrant a video of herself, bruised. She made references to her Art Therapy. In all the circumstances, the Panel did not consider it credible that, given his experience, he would not have been aware of Person A’s vulnerability.

b. He stated that he was uncomfortable with some of Person A’s communications, that he did not use endearing or flirtatious language towards her. However, the Panel considered that this was inconsistent with the messages sent. The Registrant repeatedly made reference to meeting Person A for a meal or a drink and made flattering comments about her. Examples of such communications are:

i. 24 August 2014, the Registrant’s message of (referring to Person A as “such a lovely woman”),
ii. 8 May 2015 (referring to Person A as a “stunner”),
iii. 12 May 2015, in which he wrote that Person A was “you know you’re welcome any time with or without Seb for as long as you like I’d pick you up from the station and give you a lovely bedroom”,
iv. 7 August 2015 (referring to Person A as “a real sweetie”),
v. 8 October 2015 in which he wrote “I often wonder how you're doing. What about you? And I’d like to buy you a drink or a meal”,
vi. 14 December 2015 in which he wrote “I’m down your way in the next couple of weeks do you fancy a drink?”,
vii. In his message sent at 11.20am on 16 January 2016, he stated “Perhaps I’ll take the 2 hour drive to buy you a drink or a meal? What do you think?”
viii. In his message at 6.19pm on 19 January 2016, he stated “for what it’s worth, I think fondly of you”.
ix. 13 February 2016 stating “Who knows perhaps we’ll have that drink eventually…”,
x. 24 February 2016 in which he wrote “in answer to question: what is on ur bucket list?.......”I’d love to buy you that drink or meal…”,
xi. 19 June 2016 in which he wrote “you're welcome to come here or alternatively I’ll meet you somewhere”,

c. He sent conflicting messages to Person A: his emails of 2 and 10 July 2016 indicating that he had had a sexual relationship with Person A’s mother, but denying the same in his email of 11 July 2016. The Panel considered that one of those communications must therefore have been untrue. The Panel considered that his willingness to lie to Person A undermined the credibility of his evidence generally.

Panel’s Approach

8. The Panel was aware that the burden of proving the facts was on the HCPC. The Registrant did not have to prove anything and the individual particulars of the Allegation could only be found proved if the Panel was satisfied on the balance of probabilities.

9. In reaching its decision the Panel took into account the oral evidence of the HCPC witnesses, the Registrant, the documentary evidence contained within the hearing bundles as well as the oral submissions made by Ms Sheridan on behalf of the HCPC, and those made by the Registrant.

10. The Panel also had regard to the fact that the Registrant admitted two of the message sent were inappropriate and took those admissions into account when determining the facts of the case.

11. The Panel also accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

Findings of fact

Particular 1

12. The panel finds the facts of particular 1 proved for the following reasons.

13. At the outset, the Registrant accepted that he sent the various messages / emails as set out in the attached schedule. In respect of the email dated 2 July 2016, and the various emails of 10 July 2016, in which he spoke of his sexual relationship with Person A’s mother, he accepted that they amounted to inappropriate contact.

14. In reaching its decision on the facts, the Panel has looked at the messages in context, and in the round. The Panel notes that the parties were agreed that not all messages sent between them had been put before the Panel. However, it has made its findings based on such evidence as is before the Panel and it has not speculated as to what messages have not been put in evidence. The Panel was not however satisfied that Person A deliberately deleted messages so as to support her case against the Registrant.

15. The Registrant was an experienced Social Worker. The Registrant accepted that Person A’s case had been a memorable one, there being a number of issues in her childhood. The Panel concluded that for the reasons stated above, the indicators were present that Person A remained a vulnerable adult. In the circumstances, the Panel does not accept the Registrant’s evidence that he did not believe her to be vulnerable and that there was no basis for considering Person A was vulnerable.

16. The Panel notes the Registrant’s acceptance that his emails of 2 and 10 July 2016 were inappropriate. Given the background to the relationship between the Registrant and Person A, in the Registrant stating that he had a sexual relationship with her mother, the Panel has no difficulty in concluding that such emails were inappropriate. The Panel accepts both Person A’s and SF’s evidence that this disclosure had an adverse effect on her, SF stating that she believed that Person A was negatively affected by the messages and subsequently engaged less with her. Person A stated, and the Panel accepts, that the disclosure caused “chaos” in her life. She stated that “any structure I had for what was true was breaking down faster than I could process it”.

17. Looking at the communications in the round, the Panel notes that the Registrant sent Person A a large number of personal messages, repeatedly discussing meeting for food or drink and discussing the possibility of staying at his address. A number of messages, as set out above, were over familiar and flirtatious. The Panel did not accept the Registrant’s evidence that his communications were innocuous responses to Person A’s requests for contact. The Panel notes that it was open to the Registrant to terminate the correspondence (for example by blocking Person A on Facebook), but he chose not to. The Panel considered that the Registrant sought to facilitate continued contact with Person A. Given his position as Person A’s former Social Worker, whilst she was a child, and given her vulnerability, the Panel considered that there was a significant imbalance of power and therefore such communication was wholly inappropriate.

18. The Panel has also had regard to the letter dated 3 May 2017 sent to the Registrant by the HCPC. Whilst that letter states that on the basis of the information then before it that his contact with Person A was “not entirely inappropriate” the letter raised concerns about further communication by the Registrant with Person A in view of her potential vulnerability and the effect of continued contact on her. He subsequently emailed her twice. On 28 May 2017, the Registrant emailed Person A in response to her suggestion that she may take action against him by stating ”I know you love a puzzle, so I’ll leave you to work out where I moved to last year”. The Registrant accepted that he was mocking Person A but stated that he regretted it, and that he was angry when he sent the messages.

19. Looking at the Registrant’s communications in the round, the Panel finds that they were flirtatious, sought inappropriate contact with Person A, made an inappropriate disclosure, and were subsequently threatening and mocking. In the circumstances, the Panel finds that in respect of all those messages / emails as set out in the attached schedule, the Registrant engaged in inappropriate contact with Person A as alleged.

20. The Panel therefore finds the facts of particular 1 proved.

Decision on Grounds

21. On the basis of the facts found proved, the Panel went on to consider whether the Registrant’s conduct amounted to misconduct. It took into account the submissions made by Ms Sheridan on behalf of the HCPC, and it had regard to the submissions of the Registrant.

22. In considering this matter the Panel exercised its own judgement. The Panel also took into account the public interest which includes protection of the public, maintenance of public confidence in the profession and the declaring and upholding of proper standards of conduct and behaviour.

23. The Panel considered whether the facts found proved amount to misconduct. It noted that not all breaches of the HCPC’s Standards of Performance, Conduct and Ethics need to amount to a finding of misconduct.

24. Ms Sheridan invited the Panel to bear in mind the explanation of that term given by the Privy Council in the case of Roylance v GMC (No.2) [2000] 1 AC 311 where it was stated that:

“Misconduct is a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. The standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required to be followed by a … practitioner in the particular circumstances. The misconduct is qualified in two respects. First, it is qualified by the word ‘professional’ which links the misconduct to the profession ... Secondly, the misconduct is qualified by the word ‘serious’. It is not any professional misconduct which will qualify. The professional misconduct must be serious.”

25. In Nandi v GMC [2004] the Court referred to Roylance v GMC [1999] where the Court had described misconduct as ”a falling short by omission or commission of the standards of conduct expected among medical practitioners, and such falling short must be serious” …. Such that it would be “regarded as deplorable by fellow practitioners”.

26. Ms Sheridan submitted that it would have been obvious to the Registrant that Person A was a vulnerable individual. She highlighted that the Registrant’s communications with Person A were over-familiar and flirtatious. His messages referring to whether he had had a sexual relationship with Person A’s mother, were wholly inappropriate and “the implications on her wellbeing could have been disastrous”. As a result, she submitted, the Registrant’s conduct marked a serious departure from the standard expected of a registered Social Worker and was sufficiently serious to amount to misconduct.

27. She further submitted that conduct such as the Registrant’s, albeit strictly outside his clinical practice, is capable of amounting to misconduct and that his actions had the potential to impact adversely on the reputation of the profession. Even though the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics make no specific reference to ex-service users, the Registrant’s professional obligations extend beyond his clinical practice.

28. Ms Sheridan submitted that the Registrant’s stated intention not to return to social work as he had retired from the profession, was irrelevant to the Panel’s findings. The issue for the Panel to determine was whether the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired, not whether he had any intention to return to practice.

29. Given the time scale of the events in question, she reminded the Panel that the Registrant’s conduct spanned two versions of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics. She invited the Panel to conclude that the Registrant had breached the following standards of the 2012 Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics:

3 – you must keep high standards of personal conduct;
13 - You must behave with honesty and integrity and make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or the profession.
30. She further submitted that the Registrant breached the following standards of the 2016 Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics:
2.7 – you must use all forms of communication appropriately and responsibly, including social media and networking websites

9.1 – You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession.
31. She further submitted that the Registrant’s actions breached the following Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers:
2.9 – recognise the power dynamics in relationships with service users and carers, and be able to manage those dynamics appropriately;
2.10 – understand what is required of them by the Health and Care Professions Council
3.4 – be able to establish and maintain personal and professional boundaries.
32. Ms Sheridan submitted that the breaches of the above standards represented conduct that was seriously short of that which was expected of a registered Social Worker, and that they amounted to misconduct.

33. The Registrant submitted that no finding of misconduct should be made. He reminded the Panel had the matter had previously been referred to the HCPC and that it had concluded that they would not be taking the matter forward. He accepted that he had sent Person A two “wind up” messages but that this was prior to asking Person A not to contact him again. He stated that he did not consider the messages in question to be inappropriate as there was no intention to cause harm. He stated that he was simply naïve. He also informed the Panel that in another first instance decision by the HCPC involving similar allegations, no finding of misconduct was made. He also asked the Panel to bear in mind guidance issued by the General Medical Council for Doctors regarding contact with ex-service users.

34. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor which included reference to the cases of: Roylance v General Medical Council (No 2) [2000] 1 A.C. 311, Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence v (1) Nursing and Midwifery Council (2) Grant [2011] EWHC 927 (Admin) and Cohen v GMC [2008] EWHC 581, Remedy UK v GMC [2010] EWHC 1245, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons v Samuel [2014] UKPC 13 and GOC v Clarke [2018] EWCA Civ 1463 .

35. The Panel adopted a two-step process in its consideration. Firstly, the Panel considered whether the facts found proved amount to misconduct. Secondly, only if the facts found proved amount to misconduct, the Panel would go on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired as a result of that misconduct.

36. The Panel has carefully considered all the evidence and submissions presented to it and has considered the facts of the case in the round.

37. Given the Panel’s findings of fact in relation to the content of his communications with Person A, the Panel has concluded that the Registrant has breached the paragraphs of the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics and Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers as set out by Ms Sheridan in her submissions.

38. However, the Panel is mindful that a finding of misconduct does not necessarily follow as a result.

39. The Panel, on the advice of the Legal Assessor, concluded that it was inappropriate to take into account the guidance of other regulators. The Registrant should be judged by the standards of his own profession alone. Additionally, it accepted that, whilst consistency of decision making was desirable, the Panel was only bound by legal precedent. The findings of another Panel were irrelevant to its decision making because they were specific to the facts of that case.

40. The Panel has carefully considered the seriousness of his failings. In doing so, it has identified the following:

a. Both Person A and SF gave evidence regarding the impact of the Registrant’s actions on Person A. SF stated that Person A became evidently more distressed and anxious. In her statement dated 28 August 2018, she said “the contact between Person A and (the Registrant) has had a significant psychological impact on Person A…. Person A has not advanced in terms of her mental health recovery since this point”. Person A too spoke of the negative impact the Registrant’s actions had had on her, causing chaos and trauma, the structure she had put together as a child had been “smashed to pieces”.

b. The Registrant sent a large number of inappropriate messages over an extended period of time. A number of those messages referred to having had a sexual relationship with Person A’s mother, and others were flirtatious, threatening and mocking.

41. In the circumstances, the Panel concludes that the Registrant’s conduct and subsequent breaches of the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics and Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers marks a sufficiently serious departure of the standards expected of a registered Social Worker to amount to misconduct. The Panel therefore finds the Registrant’s behaviour amounts to misconduct.

Decision on Impairment

42. The Panel next went on to decide if as a result of his misconduct the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. In doing so, it had regard to all the evidence presented in this case and the submissions of both Ms Sheridan and the Registrant. It heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and took into account the HCPC’s Practice Note on Finding of Fitness to Practise is “Impaired”.

43. Social Workers are expected at all times to act in a professional manner. They must make sure that their conduct at all times justifies both service users’ and the public’s trust in the profession. In this regard the panel considered the judgement of Mrs Justice Cox in the case of Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence v (1) Nursing and Midwifery Council (2) Grant [2011] EWHC 927 (Admin) in reaching its decision. In paragraph 74 she said:

“In determining whether a practitioner’s fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct, the relevant panel should generally consider not only whether the practitioner continues to present a risk to members of the public in his or her current role, but also whether the need to uphold proper professional standards and public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in the particular circumstances.”

44. Mrs Justice Cox went on to say in Paragraph 76:

“I would also add the following observations in this case having heard submissions, principally from Ms McDonald, as to the helpful and comprehensive approach to determining this issue formulated by Dame Janet Smith in her Fifth Report from Shipman, referred to above. At paragraph 25.67 she identified the following as an appropriate test for panels considering impairment of a doctor’s fitness to practise, but in my view the test would be equally applicable to other practitioners governed by different regulatory schemes.”

Do our findings of fact in respect of the doctor’s misconduct, deficient professional performance, adverse health, conviction, caution or determination show that his/her fitness to practise is impaired in the sense that s/he:

a. has in the past acted and/or is liable in the future to act so as to put a patient or patients at unwarranted risk of harm; and/or

b.  has in the past brought and/or is liable in the future to bring the medical profession into disrepute; and/or

c.  has in the past breached and/or is liable in the future to breach one of the fundamental tenets of the medical profession; and/or

d. ……...”

45. Given its findings regarding ‘seriousness’, the Panel considered that limbs a, b and c were engaged by the Registrant’s past actions.

46. Whilst the Panel considered that there was no evidence of any concerns with the Registrant’s clinical practice, the Panel was mindful of the effect of the Registrant’s actions on a former service user. The Panel notes that the Registrant has made partial admissions to the facts alleged against him. He said that if any of this upset Person A, he was sorry.

47. However, he has not demonstrated meaningful insight into his behaviour, other than to state that in future, he would not communicate with ex-service users through social media. However, there is insufficient evidence before the Panel of insight into his ability to identify vulnerability of service users, his behaviour or its impact on the reputation of the profession generally. The Panel noted that the Registrant was “angry” that he had been brought before the Panel. In addition, the Registrant had not sufficiently demonstrated that he had taken steps to prevent a recurrence of his behaviour given his reluctance to appreciate that his communications were inappropriate.

48. Whilst the Panel considered that his failings were capable of remediation, the Panel considered that, given his lack of insight and remediation, there remained a high risk of his inappropriate behaviour being repeated in similar circumstances. Should that occur, the Panel considered that there remained an ongoing risk of harm to service users. The Panel therefore determined a finding of impairment was necessary on public protection grounds.

49. The Panel has also taken into account the overarching objectives of the HCPC to protect, promote and maintain the health safety and wellbeing of the public and patients, and to uphold and protect the wider public interest, which includes promoting and maintaining public confidence in the social work profession and upholding the proper professional standards for members of the profession. The Panel considered that, given the Registrant’s repeated inappropriate conduct, the significant impact on the mental wellbeing of Person A and the lack of demonstrable insight and remediation that public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in all the circumstances. 

50. In reaching its decision, given the Legal Assessor’s advice, the Panel did not consider that the Registrant’s stated intention to retire from social work precluded it from reaching its finding of current impairment.

51. Having regard to all of the above, the Panel finds that Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired on both the personal and public components of Impairment.

Decision on Sanction

HCPC’s submissions

52. Ms Sheridan made submissions to the Panel on the issue of sanction. She referred to the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP) and reminded the Panel it ought to start from the least restrictive sanction, bearing in mind the need to act proportionately. Miss Sheridan submitted that the Panel was also required to consider the Registrant’s insight. 

53. Ms Sheridan reminded the Panel that its role was not punish a Registrant but to protect the public and the public interest. It was, she submitted, an exercise in addressing public safety and managing the risk to those who use the Registrant’s services. She submitted that the Panel should have regard to the wider public interest, the deterrent effect of any sanction, the reputation of the profession and confidence in the regulatory process. She set out the available sanctions open to the Panel, reminding it that it should consider these in an ascending order of seriousness. In doing so, the Panel should balance the public interest with the Registrant’s interests.

54. Ms Sheridan submitted that a caution order would not address the risks identified by the Panel. She also referred to the relevant paragraphs of the HCPC’s ISP when determining whether a Conditions of Practice Order, a Suspension Order or a Striking Off Order were appropriate. She submitted that in reaching its decision, the Panel should be mindful that it has found that the Registrant has not demonstrated meaningful insight or taken demonstrable steps to address his failings.

Registrant’s Submissions

55. The Registrant accepted that there was no basis to argue that it was not appropriate to impose a sanction. He stated that he deeply regretted his actions and that a Caution Order would be sufficient as he understood and accepted his failings. He stated that he had no intention of returning to practice, and as a result, the risk of repetition of his failings was ‘highly unlikely’ and ‘extremely low’.

56. So far as a Conditions of Practice Order was concerned, he stated that he would abide by any conditions imposed. He proposed a condition not use social media to communicate with a service user or ex-service user. He stated that he was genuinely committed to resolving his problems, and that he accepted he had done wrong, and that his behaviour would not be repeated.

57. He then addressed the question of a Suspension Order. He submitted that would be an inappropriate sanction to impose as there would be no way of checking if he had remediated his failings if he were not able to practise.

58. In addressing a Striking Off Order, the Registrant submitted that his misconduct was not so serious that such a sanction would be justified. His failure to identify Person A’s vulnerability was not deliberate or reckless and that striking his name off the register in these circumstances would be disproportionate. He submitted that he had now gained insight into his failings.

Sanction

59. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who referred it to HCPC ISP. He reminded the Panel it should consider any sanction in ascending order, and to apply the least restrictive sanction necessary to protect the public and the public interest. It should also consider any aggravating and mitigating factors and bear in mind proportionality. He reminded the Panel that the primary purpose of imposing a sanction was protection of the public and the public interest and that there was a need to balance those interests with the interests of the Registrant.

60. The Panel considered all the information before it. In doing so, the Panel identified the following aggravating factors:

• There was a significant power imbalance, the Registrant being an experienced Social Worker and Person A a vulnerable adult;
• The previous professional relationship between the Registrant and Person A took place when she was a vulnerable child and his role was to safeguard her;
• As an experienced Social Worker, he should have been particularly alive to the risk to Person A’s wellbeing that his behaviour posed;
• The Registrant started communicating with Person A without having considered her level of vulnerability despite being aware of her history as a child;
• The Registrant sent a large number of inappropriate messages over an extended period of time;
• His sending of the messages to Person A about a sexual relationship with her mother whilst he was Person A’s Social Worker was deliberate, and done in the knowledge that it would cause Person A upset. Its content was particularly incendiary, especially in the light of the fact that the Registrant subsequently stated that the content was not even true;
• After receiving the HCPC’s letter of 3 May 2017 regarding its concerns about ongoing contact with a vulnerable ex-service user, the Registrant nevertheless sent two further messages, which he accepts he knew would “wind up” and “mock” Person A;
• There was a substantial and long-lasting impact on Person A’s wellbeing.

61. The Panel identified the following mitigating factors:

• The Registrant has had a lengthy and unblemished career;
• He stated that he “deeply regretted” his actions;
• He admitted that the two messages regarding a sexual relationship with Person A’s mother whilst he was Person A’s Social Worker, were inappropriate at the outset of the hearing;
• He has engaged in the regulatory process;
• He has provided a positive reference from JH attesting to his good character and professionalism whilst working with him for the British Association of Social Workers.

62. The Panel noted that the Registrant stated that he has developed insight into his failings. However, this expression of insight, in the Panel’s view, has come late in the day, and was not in keeping with his position throughout the hearing. Until this juncture, his stated position was that he was just “naïve”, and the communications were just “chit chat”. Even at this stage of the hearing, the Registrant considers that he has just been “stupid”. The Panel considered that he had no meaningful understanding of the impact of his behaviour on Person A or on the reputation of the profession. As such, the Panel was not satisfied that he fully appreciates why his conduct was inappropriate.

63. The Panel approached the issue of sanction starting with the least restrictive first, bearing in mind the need for proportionality. Taking no further action would not reflect the nature and gravity of the misconduct and would not restrict the Registrant’s ability to practise in circumstances where it has identified an ongoing risk to service users. The Panel therefore concluded that taking no action would not be adequate given the wider public interest of maintaining confidence in both the profession and the regulatory process. Such an outcome was therefore neither appropriate nor proportionate in the circumstances.

64. The Panel considered mediation, but having had due regard to the ISP, considered that this was not an appropriate outcome given the facts of this case.

65. The Panel then considered whether to impose a Caution Order but considered this to be inappropriate for the same reasons for discounting taking no further action. The misconduct found proved was not minor in nature, the Registrant had not demonstrated significant insight into his failings, and the Panel has identified that there remained a high risk of repetition of his misconduct. Mindful that a Caution Order would not restrict the Registrant’s practice, it concluded that such a sanction would neither be appropriate nor proportionate to protect the public or the public interest.

66. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order. It has had regard to paragraphs 30-38 of the ISP. The allegation found proved is serious and relates to persistent failings by the Registrant. His behaviour created an obvious risk of harm and, in fact, did cause significant harm to Person A. The Panel has reservations as stated above concerning the Registrant’s submissions that he has now developed insight into his failings, yet he maintained that he had just been stupid. As such, the Panel was not satisfied that the Registrant can be trusted to make a determined effort to address his shortcomings. In any event, the Registrant has unequivocally stated that he does not wish to return to social work practice. In these circumstances the Panel does not consider that a Conditions of Practice Order would be an adequate or proportionate sanction and would not satisfy the public interest or public protection concerns. Furthermore, the Panel was not able to devise realistic, workable, proportionate or appropriate conditions that would address the behaviour that led to the finding of misconduct and the risk represented by the Registrant.

67. The Panel considered the submission by the Registrant that it would be appropriate to impose a condition that he does not contact any service user, or ex-service user through social media. However the Panel considered that this would be impracticable and unworkable as compliance with such a condition would not be verifiable.

68. The Panel next considered the sanction of suspension. The Panel has borne in mind that this would be an appropriate sanction to impose where, even though the allegation is serious, it is unlikely to be repeated, and hence, a striking off order is not merited. The Panel has borne in mind paragraph 41 of the ISP which states “If the evidence suggests that the Registrant will be unable to resolve or remedy his failings then striking off may be the more appropriate option”. The Panel is mindful that the misconduct found proved was serious and persistent. The Registrant sent emails to Person A stating that he had had a sexual relationship with her mother whilst he was Person A’s Social Worker. In doing so, he deliberately took a risk with Person A’s mental health, being reckless as to the consequences of his actions.

69. The Panel having found no significant evidence of remediation and that the Registrant has very limited insight, concluded that in light of those findings, there is little, if anything, to suggest that the Registrant is able to resolve or remedy his failings. The Panel was also mindful that sanction is primarily about public safety, that the public interest is important and that suspension is not an appropriate sanction merely to allow a Registrant more time to develop insight.

70. In all the circumstances, and given the identified risk of repetition of his misconduct, the Panel concluded that the imposition of a Suspension Order was neither the appropriate nor proportionate sanction to impose.

71. The Panel carefully considered paragraphs 47 – 49 of the ISP. Given the lack of insight, the Panel concluded that there was no other way to protect the public or the public interest, any sanction less than striking off would not be appropriate. The Panel also concluded that the nature and gravity of the matters found proved, particularly the Registrant’s conduct in relation to his emails regarding a sexual relationship with Person A’s mother whilst he was Person A’s Social Worker, were so serious that a lesser sanction would lack the necessary deterrent effect, and would undermine confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. In making this decision, the Panel had particular regard to the significant harm caused to Person A as an ex-service user.

72. The Panel has considered the Registrant’s interests. However, in light of its findings, the Panel considered that the need to protect the public and the public interest by sending a clear message upholding and declaring proper standards of conduct and behaviour, outweighs the Registrant's interests.

73. The Panel accordingly determined to impose a Striking Off order.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Order

ORDER: That the Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mr Martin Douglas Weinbren from the Register with effect from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

Interim Order

74. Ms Sheridan for the HCPC applied for an Interim Suspension Order for a period of 18 months in light of the Panel’s findings on the grounds that it was necessary for the protection of the public and was otherwise in the public interest to cover the appeal period. The Registrant made no submissions, and felt there was nothing to add. He stated that he anticipated that an Interim Suspension Order would be imposed. He again restated that he did not intend to practise as a Social Worker.

75. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor as to interim orders.

76. The Panel was mindful that when a substantive sanction is imposed, a Registrant’s entitlement to practise is unrestricted whilst their appeal rights against the substantive sanction remain outstanding. The Panel concluded that in view of its determination that a substantive Striking Off Order should be imposed, it would not be appropriate for the Registrant to return to unrestricted practice given the Registrant’s lack of insight and remediation and the ongoing risk of repetition of his misconduct identified.

77. The Panel therefore decided to impose an interim order, it being necessary to protect members of the public and being otherwise in the public interest, and which outweighs the Registrant’s personal and professional interests.

78. It first considered an Interim Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel concluded that this would not be an appropriate level of protection in light of its earlier findings. It considered that in light of those findings, that an Interim Suspension Order is necessary for protection of the public and is also in the public interest. It would be wholly incompatible with the Panel’s findings and its decision as to sanction not to impose an Interim Suspension Order.

79. The Panel concluded that the appropriate length of the Interim Suspension Order should be 18 months, as the interim order would continue to be required pending the resolution of an appeal in the event that the Registrant submits a Notice of Appeal within the 28-day period. This Interim Suspension Order will expire if no appeal is made against the Panel’s decision when the appeal period of 28 days has expired.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Martin Douglas Weinbren

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
21/01/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off