Mrs Julie Bradley
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Whilst employed at Southend Council in the capacity of a Social Worker, you
1. Engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with Service User A
2. Shared a photo of Service User A holding Child A with Person 1
3. You made contact with Service User A against direct instructions provided in a letter from your employer dated 24 August 2017
4. On 26 September 2017, you were verbally abusive and/or threatended Person 2
5. The matters set out in pargraphs 1-4 constitute misconduct
6. By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.
Special Measures application
1. At the beginning of the hearing on 7 January 2019 the Chair asked that it be formally recorded that, on 20 December 2018, prior to the hearing and having received the advice of the Legal Assessor, she had made a decision on the papers allowing a Special Measures application by the HCPC that Person 2 give her oral evidence by video or telephone link on the ground that Person 2 had reported that she felt intimidated by the Registrant. The full written reasons for that decision had been communicated to the HCPC and to the Registrant.
2. In addition, there were various preliminary and procedural matters that had to be dealt with by the Panel at the start of and during the course of the hearing. On each occasion the Panel heard submissions from Mr Dite, received advice from the Legal Assessor and considered the appropriate Practice Notes.
Service and Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant
3. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had been properly served with notice of the hearing. The Notice of Hearing had been sent to her address on the register by letter dated 18 September 2018 and had also been sent to her e-mail address. In addition, the Panel noted that the Registrant had responded, by e-mail to the HCPC also dated 18 September 2018, confirming that she would not be attending the hearing.
4. Mr Dite therefore made an application for the Panel to proceed with the hearing in the Registrant’s absence. He submitted that the Registrant had voluntarily absented herself from the hearing and had made no application for an adjournment. He stated that it was in the interests of justice that the case, involving allegations from 2016, be expeditiously dealt with. Finally, he advised that at least one HCPC witness was present and ready to give evidence.
5. In reaching its decision the Panel took into account the HCPTS’s Practice Note on Proceeding in the Absence of a Registrant and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel noted that the Registrant had engaged with the HCPC but had made no application for an adjournment. The Panel also took account of the fact that the Registrant appeared to have made a considered decision not to attend and had indicated in her e-mail of 18 September 2018 that “This whole business has gone on far too long and I cannot allow it at all to affect my health and wellbeing again”.
6. The Panel also noted that there had been subsequent e-mails from the Registrant in December 2018 in relation to the Special Measures application in which she had reiterated that she would not be attending the hearing “for my own wellbeing”. It therefore concluded that the Registrant had voluntarily absented herself from the hearing. The Panel also noted that these were serious allegations which were approaching three years old (it being in the public interest to deal expeditiously with regulatory matters) and that a witness had travelled to attend. Taking all these factors into account the Panel decided to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.
Amendment of the Particulars of the Allegation
7. Mr Dite then applied to amend the Particulars of the Allegation in respect of which notice had been given to the Registrant by letter sent to her address on the register dated 4 July 2018. In addition, a copy of that letter had been sent on 23 August 2018 to an alternative correspondence address supplied by the Registrant. Mr Dite stated that the reason for the application to amend was to better reflect the evidence and that there was no significant change to the case because of of the proposed amendments. He submitted that there was no prejudice to the Registrant by the application to amend as she had been given notice of this some five to six months’ earlier and some of the proposed amendments sought to withdraw parts of the allegation against the Registrant. In addition, the Registrant had not made any objection to the proposed amendments and had in fact made some admissions, albeit in relation to the unamended particulars.
8. The Panel noted that there had been no formal response from the Registrant in relation to this application. The Panel asked itself whether, if the amendment was allowed, it would result in prejudice to the Registrant; and whether she had been given a proper opportunity to prepare her defence to the Allegation as amended. The Panel decided to allow these amendments as it could not see any discernible prejudice to the Registrant given that: significant notice of the intention to amend had been given; she had made no objections to them; none of the proposed amendments materially affected the nature of the Allegation; and that the proposed amendments arguably sought to better reflect the evidence relied upon by the HCPC.
Application to hear evidence by video-link
9. On 8 January 2019, the second day of the hearing, Mr Dite made an application that the witness SM be allowed to give her evidence by way of video-link. The witness had been due to attend the hearing and give her evidence in person on the first day of the hearing but had had advised Mr Dite that she was unwell and was intending to see her GP later that day. Mr Dite produced a copy of a prescription that had been issued to SM on 7 January 2019. Mr Dite indicated that the witness was able to attend the same video-conferencing centre from which Person 2 was due to give her evidence, as this was near to her home. He therefore maintained that SM was unable to attend the hearing in London because of her illness and consequently that it would be appropriate for her to give her evidence by video-link, and the Panel would still be able to see her and assess her demeanour whilst she gave her evidence.
10. The Panel took account of the Legal Assessor’s advice which was that, whilst SM strictly speaking did not fall into any of the Special Measures categories set out in Rule 10A, of HCPC Procedure Rules nonetheless there was abundant legal precedent which allowed a Panel to accept evidence by video-link if there was good reason to do so.
11. The Panel decided to allow the application. It noted that: SM had initially agreed to attend the hearing in person to give her testimony; she had provided some evidence (in the form of a prescription) of her illness; and that she was willing to make the shorter journey to the video-conferencing centre where the Panel would be able to see her whilst she gave her evidence. The Panel saw no reason not to accept that SM was ill (and her subsequent attendance by video-link confirmed that she appeared to be unwell) and therefore would struggle to make the journey to London. The Panel therefore concluded that requiring her to attend the hearing in person could adversely affect the quality of her evidence and therefore that there was a good reason to allow her to give her evidence by the alternative method proposed.
12. The Registrant is a registered social worker who, during the time in question, was employed by Southend on Sea Council (“the Council”) within the Child Protection and Support Team. She had started working at the Council as a Family Support Worker in 2005 and had qualified as a Social Worker in December 2012. She was subsequently employed as a Social Worker from February 2013. On 22 June 2016 the Registrant became a Senior Practitioner. SM became the Team Manager of the Child Protection and Support Team in June 2016 and was the Registrant’s line manager from that point onwards.
13. SM had been the allocated social worker for Child A, but by April 2016 the Registrant had been appointed as the allocated social worker for the case due to SM’s other commitments. The Council had previously initiated Care Proceedings in respect of Child A because of the mother’s inability to provide appropriate care. Late into the proceedings Child A’s grandfather, Service User A, stepped in and offered to be the carer of Child A. Consequently, a Special Guardianship Assessment, which is an in-depth assessment of his suitability to become the carer of Child A, had to be completed. The Registrant carried out this assessment in or around April to May 2016 and ultimately recommended Service User A as suitable to become the Special Guardian of Child A.
14. Person 1 was a friend of the Registrant who was not a social worker and did not work for the Council. On 30 May 2016 at 21.39 the Registrant sent Person 1 a Whatsapp message disclosing that she had embarked upon a sexual relationship with Service User A. The message stated: “Ive been very naughty. No one knows. I was asked to assess a grandad to have his grandaughter. It was a [foregone] conclusion…But I had to meet up with him quite a bit and he started flirting. I kept knocking him back. The assessments all gone thru and hes going to have her. But he then started coming on strong. Anyway the flirting got out of hand and…well stupidly we did. I know [I] know! But its happened and we both like the naughtiness of it. Its just sex…I know about and have met his girlfriend…Bitch aren’t I. But we click lol. Its so bad I know”.
15. In the early hours of 31 May 2016, in the course of this continuing conversation with the Registrant, Person 1 sent a message asking for a picture of Service User A. The Registrant responded shortly after, at 00.06 stating: “I only have one of [Service User A] with his granddaughter lol. Im not supposed to have that !!”. At 00.07 the Registrant sent a further message stating “I have really overstepped boundaries!” The Registrant then proceeded to send the photograph of Service User A and Child A to Person 1 at 00.12 together with a further message at 00.13 stating “He aint all that to look at but hes bloody naughty lol”. Further messages sent by the Registrant to Person 1 on 8 June and 18 August 2016 indicated that she continued to have a sexual relationship with Service User A.
16. Although the Special Guardianship Assessment report prepared by the Registrant appears to have been finalised some time in May 2016, the final court hearing regarding Child A only took place in August 2016. At that hearing Service User A was appointed as Child A’s carer and guardian. The Registrant ceased to be Child A’s social worker in or about September 2016 and the Panel has seen the extract from the records which document a final visit on 2 September 2016.
17. Person 2 was a friend of the Registrant who worked as a Family Support Worker at the Council. In or around December 2016 the Registrant told Person 2 that she had a “secret lover”. Person 2 did not know at that time who the “secret lover” was, but she was subsequently told by the Registrant, some time prior to August 2017, that it was Service User A.
18. In early August 2017 the Registrant and Person 2 went on a holiday with Person 1 during which holiday Person 1 and Person 2 fell out with the Registrant. On Friday 18 August 2017, at a staff leaving party, Person 2 reported to colleagues, including her team manager, that she had information of concern about someone at work. The next week, on around 22 August 2017, Person 2 told her team manager and SM that the Registrant had been having a sexual relationship with a service user, Service User A.
19. SM relayed the information to a Group Manager and on 23 August 2017 the Registrant was suspended pending an investigation by the Council. That same day SE, an Adult Team Manager in another department at the Council, was appointed to conduct an investigation into the alleged inappropriate relationship between the Registrant and Service User A.
20. On 24 August 2017 the Registrant was sent a letter formally detailing her suspension, such being signed by JO’L, the Director of Children’s Services. Part of this letter stated:
“Throughout your suspension, you must not…attempt to contact members of staff or service users of Southend Borough Council without the prior permission of myself or another Director in the People Department”.
21. On 4 September 2017 the matter was referred to the HCPC by the Council. From 6 September 2017 onwards SE interviewed various people in the course of her investigation including: SM on 7 September 2017, with follow-up interviews on 20 September 2017 and 3 October 2017; Person 2 on 12 September 2017, with a follow-up interview on 19 September 2017; and Person 1 on 25 September 2017. Person 1 supplied SE with various electronic messages that the Registrant had sent to her.
22. SE interviewed the Registrant on: 26 September 2017, 27 September 2017 and 19 October 2017. In the 26 September 2017 interview, initially the Registrant denied having a sexual relationship with Service User A. When confronted with the messages that she had sent Person 1, the Registrant at first continued to deny the sexual relationship. However, when she was shown the photograph of Service User A and Child A that she had sent Person 1 on 31 May 2016 the Registrant then conceded that she did have a sexual relationship with Service User A. She then briefly attempted to assert that it had commenced at the end of 2016, but soon conceded it was earlier than that when it was pointed out that the messages to Person 1 dated from May 2016. The Registrant also admitted that she had sent the photograph of Service User A and Child A to Person 1.
23. After the interview on 26 September 2017 the Registrant passed by Person 2 in the car park outside the Council offices. As a result of that interaction, Person 2 made a complaint that same day about the Registrant, both verbally to SO (one of the Council’s Team Managers) and in a subsequent email to NV, the Council’s HR Advisor. SO sent an e-mail to NV at 11.12 that day stating: “Hi NV [Person 2] has just reported an incident to me. She said as she returned to the office from a visit just now and about to park her car, she bumped into Julie Bradley, she winded down her car window and said ‘You fucking bitch’. [Person 2] was shaking as she spoke to me…”
24. Person 2’s e-mail to NV, sent at 14.08 that day stated:
“Hi NV I was approaching the office about 11am this morning when Julie Bradley was just leaving. I had no choice but to walk past her, she stared at me with a very angry face, she called me a bitch and said I hope your [sic] fucking satisfied, then as I carried on walking she shouted you will get your comeuppance”.
25. In the second interview on 27 September 2017 the Registrant admitted that she had sworn at Person 2 the day before, adding: “I didn’t expect to bump into her…I was just so angry at her, I couldn’t help it, I just lost my temper”.
26. In that same interview the Registrant also admitted that she had spoken with Service User A both immediately before, and after, being suspended, stating that: she had seen him “a couple of weeks ago at a gig”; she had not spoken to him then about being suspended - “no he just knows I’m off sick so with stress so he knows I’m off work”; she had not talked to him at the gig “about [the] reason for being suspended” responding “No no, I told him I was off sick you know”; and that she had warned him that their relationship had been discovered in an earlier telephone call.
Decision on Facts
27. In considering this case the Panel bore in mind that the burden of proving the facts rests upon the HCPC and that the standard of proof is the civil standard of the balance of probabilities. It has taken account of all the evidence presented to it, namely the written and oral evidence of the witnesses detailed below, together with the documentary evidence provided by the HCPC and the Registrant. It has also considered the submissions of the representative of the HCPC, and has accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
28. The Panel particularly noted the Legal Assessor’s advice that, notwithstanding that the HCPC’s Procedure Rules do not have a specific provision which indicates that a panel can find the allegations proved by simply relying upon the Registrant’s admissions of those allegations, there was likewise nothing in the Rules to prevent it from doing so if it was satisfied that the admissions were well-informed, not made for reasons of expediency or duress and that they accorded with the evidence before the Panel in relation to that particular. Having said that, the Panel noted the Legal Assessor’s further advice that, although the Registrant had made a number of admissions, these were to the unamended particulars and therefore it would not necessarily be entitled to treat such admissions as determinative of the factual allegations.
29. The Panel heard evidence from the following witnesses on behalf of the HCPC:
SE, a Team Manager in the Adult Social Care Review Team at the Council, who investigated the matter
SM, the Registrant’s Line Manager and
Person 2, a family Support Worker employed by the Council.
30. The Panel also received into evidence a hearing bundle from the HCPC running to some 354 pages. In addition the Panel considered a number of e-mails sent by the Registrant to the HCPC in 2018.
31. The Panel made the following assessments of the witnesses:
32. The Panel found SE to be reliable and credible. She gave her evidence spontaneously; she reflected upon her answers; she accepted her limitations (such as not completely understanding how a Child Protection Team operated, as she dealt with Adults); and was measured in her approach. In addition, the Panel noted that she had compiled a very thorough report to the Council (interviewing a number of witnesses, some more than once, and collecting vital evidence such as texts and messages) which gave the Panel confidence in her reliability.
33. The Panel found Person 2 to be generally consistent and reliable. She was open and straightforward when giving her evidence. The Legal Assessor put to her the Registrant’s suggestion that Person 2 had been motivated to report the Registrant due to vindictiveness after they had fallen out during their holiday together. However, Person 2 denied that she had been so motivated although she did accept that she had been concerned for a lengthy period about the Registrant’s revelation of the affair with Service User A. The Panel noted her denial but concluded that, whatever Person 2’s motivation was about the timing of her report, her oral evidence was entirely consistent with what she had stated before and with the contemporaneous e-mails and text messages. Further, the Panel did not gain any impression from her when she was giving her evidence that she was elaborating or seeking to score points.
34. The Panel found SM to be reliable and credible. She gave clear and considered answers and was balanced in her approach, making concessions, such as praising some of the Registrant’s qualities as a social worker and accepting that initially she was inexperienced in the role of managing a team of social workers which might have adversely impacted upon her interaction with the Registrant. In addition, she had previously been the social worker for Child A and knew Service User A so spoke from personal knowledge about that family. Generally, the Panel felt confident about accepting her evidence. Finally, the Panel noted that the Legal Assessor put to SM the Registrant’s suggestion that she had told SM that she was friends with Service User A but that SM had responded by saying that the Registrant was not to get too close and to “Leave it a while”. SM denied that any such conversation took place and stated that if it had she would have told the Registrant to stop such a friendship to avoid any boundary issues. The Panel was impressed by this explanation and therefore accepted it.
35. Although the Registrant did not appear before the Panel, it nonetheless made an assessment of her credibility insofar as it could. It noted that: some of her evidence was inconsistent (as detailed below, particularly about her encounter with Person 2); she had initially denied the affair with Service User A and only admitted to it when confronted by the evidence of her texts and messages (and therefore she had lied); she had at times resorted to minimising her responsibility for her actions; and, even as late as December 2018, was seeking to accuse other witnesses of vindictive motivation. Accordingly, the Panel concluded that her evidence was less reliable than the other witnesses who appeared before it and to treat her evidence with caution.
Decision on facts
“Whilst employed at Southend Council in the capacity of a Social Worker, you
1 Engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with Service User A” Found Proved
36. The Panel first considered whether the Registrant had engaged, as a fact, in a sexual relationship with Service User A and then went on to consider whether it was “inappropriate”.
37. The Panel noted that the Registrant had, albeit eventually, accepted during the Council’s investigation that she had embarked upon a sexual relationship with Service User A, and had admitted this part of the earlier unamended version of this Particular. The Panel therefore felt able to place weight upon this admission.
38. In addition, the Panel noted the unchallenged evidence that had been produced by the HCPC to the effect that:
1. On 30 May 2016 the Registrant sent Person 1 a Whatsapp message disclosing that she had embarked upon a sexual relationship with “a granddad” who she had been “asked to assess … to have his granddaughter”. The contents of that message indicated that the Registrant knew what she was doing was wrong (“Ive been very naughty. No one knows. …. Its so bad I know”).
2. Messages sent by the Registrant to Person 1 on 8 June and 18 August 2016 indicated that she continued to have a sexual relationship with Service User A.
3. Around December 2016 the Registrant told Person 2 that she had a “secret lover” and although Person 2 did not know at that time who the “secret lover” was, she was subsequently told by the Registrant at some stage before August 2017 that it was Service User A.
4. In her 26 September 2017 interview the Registrant, when confronted with messages she had sent to Person 1, conceded that she did have a sexual relationship with Service User A.
39. Accodingly, the Panel unhesitatingly finds that the Registrant engaged in a sexual relationship with Service User A.
40. In relation to whether such a relationship was “inappropriate” the Panel noted the Legal Assessor’s advice which stated: “…an on-line definition of “inappropriate” is “not suitable or proper in the circumstances”. I would suggest that “the circumstances” you should have regard to are those pertaining to what you understand is appropriate to a social worker/service user professional relationship”.
41. The Panel also noted Mr Dite’s submissions, which stated:
“In her 11 August 2018 email to the HCPC the Registrant stated: “I did have an inappropriate sexual relationship with service user A”. She went on to assert that this was after her “assessment was completed and in no way did this affect me decision regarding the best care for child A”. However she concedes that “This is no way excuses the fact that I acted inappropriately and made a serious error of judgment for which I am extremely sorry”.
It should be noted of course that the Registrant accepted [when interviewed by SE] that she was allocated the case of Child A in around February 2016, the case went to court in August 2016…and the case was closed in September 2016…The Registrant remained Child A’s social worker until the case was closed. The Registrant engaging in a sexual relationship from at least 30 May 2016 with Service User A was entirely inappropriate”.
42. The Panel agrees with Mr Dite’s submissions. Although the Registrant, in her message to Person 1 on 30 May 2016, stated that the assessment had gone through before she embarked upon the relationship with Service User A, the case nonetheless continued until around September 2016 during which time she continued to be Child A’s social worker. The Panel heard from SM that the Registrant would therefore have continued to have a duty of care to Child A and also a duty to the Court to update or amend her assessment of Service User A should anything of relevance have arisen, for instance before the final hearing in August 2016. The Registrant alone was Child A’s social worker and she alone had the responsibility for the preparation of the assessment. The fact that she was engaged in a sexual relationship with Service User A clearly could have impaired or compromised her impartiality and her duty to Child A. Indeed, an example of such a potential conflict of interest was provided by Person 2 who told SE that the Registrant had told her that she had been in bed with Service User A when Child A awoke and the Registrant had had to hide from Child A.
43. In addition, the Panel asked itself what the Court might have done if it had been advised that, prior to the final hearing in August 2016, the person who had carried out the Special Guardianship assessment was engaging in a sexual relationship with the person she had recommended to be Child A’s carer. The Panel concluded that the Court would have been very concerned about the issue of impartiality, particularly where a vulnerable child was concerned, and therefore the whole assessment process could have been jeopardised.
44. Finally, the Panel notes that the Registrant herself accepted that such a relationship was “inappropriate” and therefore feels entitled to place weight upon this admission.
45. Consequently, the Panel finds Particular 1 proved.
2 Shared a photo of Service User A holding Child A with Person 1
46. The Panel noted that the Registrant had accepted during the Council’s investigation that she had shared a photograph of Service User A holding Child A, with Person 1 by sending a copy of it to her in a message on 31 May 2016 and had admitted the earlier unamended version of this Particular. The Panel therefore felt able to place some weight upon this admission.
47. In addition, the Panel noted the unchallenged evidence that had been produced by the HCPC to the effect that:
1. At 00:01 on 31 May 2016 Person 1 sent the Registrant a message asking for a picture of Service User A. The Registrant responded shortly afterwards, 00:06 after stating: “I only have one of [Service User A] with his granddaughter lol. Im not supposed to have that !!”. The Registrant then proceeded to send that photograph of Service User A and Child A to Person 1 at 00:12. Although the photograph was redacted in the final hearing bundle the Panel heard from SE that she had seen the photograph and confirmed that it depicted Service User A holding Child A.
2. The Registrant, in her interview of 26 September 2017, admitted that she had sent the photograph of Service User A and Child A to Person 1 and repeated this admission in her interview of 19 October 2017. She stated that she had taken the photograph of Service User A holding Child A during the course of the Special Guardianship Order (SGO) assessment, for the purpose of including it in her SGO assessment.
3. In addition, in her 11 August 2018 email to the HCPC the Registrant stated: “Yes. I did share a photo of service user A with person 1, who was my friend at that time and wanted to know what he looked like … In hindsight I know this too was a seriously stupid error of judgment”.
48. The Panel therefore unhesitatingly finds Particular 2 proved.
3 You made contact with Service User A against direct instructions provided in a letter from your employer dated 24 August 2017. Found Not Proved
49. The Panel considered three questions, first whether Service User A was, as at 24 August 2017, a “service user” of the Council; second whether the Registrant had made contact with Service User A after her suspension (which occurred on 23 August 2017); and third whether such contact was against the direct instructions of the letter dated 24 August 2017.
50. The Panel noted the fair submissions of Mr Dite, which stated:
“On 24 August 2017 the Registrant was sent a letter formally detailing her suspension…Amongst other things the letter stated: “Throughout your suspension, you must: … Treat the matter as confidential at all times … Throughout your suspension, you must not: … attempt to contact members of staff or service users of Southend Borough Council without … prior permission …”.
In the context of a discussion about Person 2 possibly disclosing the Registrant’s relationship with Service User A… the Registrant sent messages to Person 3, the daughter of a work colleague, that stated: “Ive warned him. Hes got my back. He ll do anything to protect me”…Person 3 sent the screenshots of her conversation with the Registrant to her mother at 14:55 on 24 August 2017 and when her mother asks when she got the messages, Person 3 responds “Saturday”…So it follows that these messages in which the Registrant says that she has warned Service User A were sent to Person 3 on the Saturday before the 24 August 2017. The contact between the Registrant and Service User A described in these messages would therefore not be covered by particular 3.
However, in her second interview on 27 September 2017 the Registrant admitted that she had in fact spoken with Service User A after being suspended…She admitted that she had spoken to him at a “gig” that had taken place a couple of weeks before the interview...
In her 11 August 2018 email to the HCPC the Registrant stated: “Yes, I did contact service user A to advise him that the relationship had come to light … Again, I regret this but wasn’t thinking clearly”. ”
51. The employers letter prohibited any “attempt to contact … service users”. So the Panel first considered whether Service User A was, at the time of the Registrant’s suspension, still a service user of the Council. The evidence before it appears to indicate that, as the Council ceased to be involved with Child A (following the court order in August 2016) in or around September 2016 when the Registrant stopped being Child A’s social worker, Service User A was no longer an existing service user of the Council but was a former service user. The question therefore arises whether Service User A (who is described as such in these proceedings for confidentiality purposes) was covered by the prohibition in the letter dated 24 August 2017. On the evidence before it the Panel finds that, on balance, Service User A was not covered by that letter.
52. However, on the basis that the Panel might be wrong on this point, it went on to consider whether the Registrant “made contact” with Service User A after receipt of the letter dated 24 August 2017.
53. The Panel reminded itself that in her interviews the Registrant admitted that she had been in contact with Service User A both before, and after, being suspended, stating that: she had seen him “a couple of weeks ago at a gig”; she had not spoken to him then about being suspended - “no he just knows I’m off sick so with stress so he knows I’m off work”; she had not talked to him at the gig “about [the] reason for being suspended” responding “No no, I told him I was off sick you know”; and that she had warned him that their relationship had been discovered in an earlier (unspecified and undated) telephone call (which would appear to be that referred to by Mr Dite in his submissions above as occurring prior to 24 August 2017). The Panel therefore concludes that there was contact between the Registrant and Service User A after 24 August 2017 but that this contact was confined to their meeting at “a gig” which the Registrant had stated she attended with her partner and that Service User A had been with his girlfriend. However, whether the Registrant had “made contact” with Service User A (in the sense of initiating such contact) or had merely reacted to him when he saw her at the “gig” is unclear.
54. Finally, the Panel considered whether such contact was “against direct instructions provided in a letter from your employer dated 24 August 2017”. This letter stated that the Registrant was not to “attempt to contact” any Service User. The Panel considers that there is no evidence before it to show that when she came into contact with Service User A at the “gig” she initiated such contact, so it follows that there can have been no “attempt to contact” him.
55. In addition, although there is evidence that the Registrant’s contact with Service User A prior to the letter of 24 August 2017 was initiated by her and that she then did discuss the reasons for her suspension, there is no evidence from her interviews to show that the Registrant discussed such matters after the letter – indeed, she specifically denied that such discussions had taken place and that all she had said to Service User A was that she was off sick. Accordingly, as she apparently did not discuss the reasons for her suspension with Service User A, the Panel finds that there was no breach of confidentiality as also prohibited by the employers letter.
56. Taking all these factors into account, the Panel concludes that the HCPC has failed, on balance, to discharge the burden of proof upon it.
1 On 26 September 2017, you were verbally abusive and/or threatended Person 2
57. The Panel noted Mr Dite’s submissions as follows:
“After her interview on 26 September 2017 the Registrant passed by Person 2 in the car park outside the Council offices. Person 2 complained that same day, both verbally and in an email, that the Registrant swore at her, called her a “bitch”, and said that she would get her “comeuppance”…Person 2 told the Panel that she felt intimidated by the Registrant.
In her second interview on 27 September 2017 the Registrant admitted that she had sworn at Person 2 the day before when she had left the interview…She stated: “I was just so angry at her, I couldn’t help it, I just lost my temper”.
In her 11 August 2018 email to the HCPC the Registrant stated: “Yes I admit I did swear at person 2 on leaving the Civic Centre after my first interview, but I was upset and she smirked at me. This I know doesn’t excuse my behaviour but I was distraught and she antagonised me. I was not threatening in any way”.
The Registrant was, it is submitted, clearly verbally abusive to Person 2. The Panel will have to consider whether her conduct also amounted to the Registrant having “threatened” Person 2. The Panel might think it relevant to note that in the interview on 27 September 2017, the day after the incident, the Registrant made a point of asking whether Person 2 was going to get reprimanded for not disclosing what she knew at an earlier stage....”
58. The Panel notes that this Particular alleges that the Registrant was “verbally abusive to…Person 2” and/or “threatened” her. It has considered each matter separately.
59. In relation to the Registrant being “verbally abusive”, the Panel notes that, as stated above by Mr Dite, the Registrant accepted when interviewed by SE that she had sworn at Person 2 the day before and thereafter has indicated consistently that she did swear at Person 2. On this basis alone, the Panel finds that the Registrant has admitted this matter.
60. In addition, the Panel notes the evidence relied upon by the HCPC, not least the e-mail sent by Person 2 to Nathalie Valentine on 26 September 2017 which specifically detailed what had occurred and what was said. This e-mail was sent about three hours or so after the encounter and therefore is more or less contemporaneous. The Panel therefore has little hesitation in finding that the Registrant was “verbally abusive to…Person 2”.
61. The Panel went on to consider whether the Registrant “threatened” Person 2. The Panel notes the near-contemporaneous e-mail sent by Person 2 (which was supplemented by her consistent oral evidence to the Panel) which records that the Registrant was “shouting you will get your comeuppance”. The Panel observes that in her interview with SE the day after, the Registrant was not asked about threatening Person 2 but in subsequent communications she has given a varied account of what happened that day. In her e-mail dated 11 August 2018 the Registrant maintained that she was “not threatening in any way. That is not the type of person I am” and in her e-mail dated 15 December 2018 she disputed that she had been threatening, stating “I…have said all along that all I said was ‘[I] hope youre happy with yourself for what you’ve done’. The Panel has not been referred to any evidence that suggests that the Registrant had earlier stated that this was all she had said and concludes that the Registrant has been inconsistent in her account in this respect.
62. Moreover, the Panel also notes that earlier in her e-mail of 15 December 2018 (in which the Registrant was responding to the HCPC’s request for Special Measures in relation to Person 2) the Registrant said: “I do not agree that person 2 needs to give evidence by other measures…I have never threatened her or have any intention of ‘coming for her’ I know where she lives and if that was the case would have done something before now. I am choosing to let karma do its work rather than take revenge on this nasty woman”. Later in the same e-mail the Registrant said: “It seems Southend BC and the HCPC have ignored the fact that person 2 knew about this brief affair for over a year yet didn’t ‘whistleblow. Instead she used the knowledge of it to get her revenge on me for falling out on holiday. She is a vindictive manipulative liar and hopefully the panel will see this when they question her. In no way is she a vulnerable person as anyone who works with her will tell you”.
63. The Panel considers that the strong emotions articulated in this e-mail indicate that the Registrant appears still to feel a significant amount of enmity towards Person 2 which is not commensurate with the Registrant suggesting that she has never threatened her and saying that she is not this type of person. The Panel therefore concludes that if the Registrant still apparently feels so strongly about Person 2 after over a year since the incident, it is more likely than not that she did say what Person 2 says she said and did so in a threatening manner.
64. The Panel also has taken account of the email from SO sent to NV at 11.12 that day stating: “Hi NV [Person 2] has just reported an incident to me. She said as she returned to the office from a visit just now and about to park her car, she bumped into Julie Bradley, she winded down her car window and said ‘You fucking bitch’. [Person 2] was shaking as she spoke to me…”. Although the described encounter is slightly different to that given by Person 2 (which could easily be accounted for by the fact that this was reported to Ms SO who did not witnesss the encounter) the e-mail does attest to Person 2 “shaking” which the Panel considers to be commensurate with Person 2 perceiving that she was being threatened.
65. The Panel has therefore decided to accept the more consistent and contemporaneous account of Person 2 over the somewhat variable accounts given by the Registrant. The Panel is therefore satisfied that the Registrant shouted at Person 2 that she would “get her comeuppance”. The Panel considers that such terminology and the way in which it was said (the Registrant was shouting and had just sworn at Person 2) amounts to a threat being made by the Registrant.
66. The Panel therefore concludes that the HCPC has proved its case on balance in respect of both aspects of this particular and therefore finds Particular 4 proved in its entirety.
Decision on Grounds
67. Having found three of the above facts proved in this matter, the Panel went on to consider whether the facts found proved, individually or collectively, amounted to the statutory ground of Misconduct.
68. The Panel noted the advice of the Legal Assessor who referred to the cases of Roylance v General Medical Council  1 A.C. 311, Cheatle v General Medical Council  EWHC 645 (Admin), Nandi v. General Medical Council  EWHC 2317, Spencer v General Osteopathic Council  EWHC 3147 (Admin), R v. Nursing and Midwifery Council (ex parte Johnson and Maggs) (No 2)  EWHC 2140 (Admin) and Schodlok v GMC  EWCA Civ 769. The Panel noted that misconduct must be serious and amount to a registrant’s conduct falling far below the standards expected of a registered social worker in such a way that fellow practitioners would find her behaviour “deplorable”.
69. For the benefit of the Registrant, who did not attend the hearing, the Panel has decided to reproduce Mr Dite’s submissions on the question of whether the registrant’s actions amounted to Misconduct. Mr Dite stated:
“If the Panel find any of the particulars of the allegation proved you must go on to consider whether those matters amount to misconduct. This is a question for the Panel’s judgement; the concepts of burden and standard of proof are not applicable at this stage.
70. The Panel is invited to have regard to the 2016 version of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics. In particular, the Panel’s attention is drawn to:
a. Standard 1.7 (You must keep your relationships with service users and carers professional);
b. Standard 5.1 (You must treat information about service users as confidential);
c. Standard 9.1 (You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession); and
d. Standard 9.4 (You must declare issues that might create conflicts of interest and make sure that they do not influence your judgement).
71. A definition of misconduct was provided by Lord Clyde in Roylance v GMC (No 2):
“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 case law is clear that this falling short of what would be proper must be serious.
In this case, it is submitted that the Registrant’s conduct did indeed fall seriously short of what would be proper. As a professional social worker, for the Registrant to cross that professional boundary and to have a sexual relationship with a family member of a child on her case load, in fact with a family member with whom she had conducted an in-depth SGO assessment, was entirely inappropriate. As was the sharing of the photo of the child and her grandfather with her friend, especially in the context of bragging about her sexual exploits. As a professional social worker her focus should have been on the best interests of the child. In fact her actions had a very real potential to negatively impact the interests of the child: the integrity of her professional assessment of Service User A’s suitability to care for his grandchild could have been called into question. She crossed lines which should not have been crossed and indeed she crossed those lines knowing that what she was doing was wrong: (“Ive been very naughty. No one knows. …. Its so bad I know” and: “I only have one of [Service User A] with his granddaughter lol. Im not supposed to have that !!”). This clearly amounts to misconduct.
It is relevant to note that in her 11 August 2018 email to the HCPC the Registrant stated: “I agree my actions constitute misconduct”.”
72. In relation to the Standards mentioned by Mr Dite, the Panel agrees that the Registrant’s actions have breached all of the Standards cited in his submissions. In addition, the Panel would add that the Registrant’s actions have also breached Standard 1.1 - You must treat service users and carers as individuals, respecting their privacy and dignity.
73. The Panel went on to consider each particular found proved individually.
74. In relation to Particular 1 (“Engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with Service User A”) the Panel finds that the Registrant’s actions are so serious as to amount to Misconduct. Not only do they breach all the standards mentioned by Mr Dite above but the Panel noted that, in her oral evidence, SM (herself a social worker) described her reaction to finding out about the affair with Service User A as being “gobsmacked” and “horrified”. This in itself is evidence that the Registrant’s fellow practitioners would find her actions deplorable. The Panel reminded itself that it had found that the Registrant had an ongoing duty of care towards Child A, who was herself a particularly vulnerable person since she had been the subject of an Interim Care Order due to difficulties in her upbringing (whereby the Local Authority had assumed parental responsibility for her). The Registrant was the main if not the sole source of information for the Guardianship panel and the court about Service User A and therefore the Panel considered that it would have been impossible for her to adhere to the appropriate standards of objectivity. Finally, even though it appears that other social workers and her seniors considered that the Registrant’s conclusions were appropriate (namely that it was in Child A’s best interests that she be cared for by Service User A) her behaviour nonetheless undermined the integrity of her Assessment Report and could have jeopardised Child A’s placement. The Panel therefore had little hesitation in concluding that her actions in relation to Particular 1 amounted to Misconduct.
75. In relation to Particular 2 (“Shared a photo of Service User A holding Child A with Person 1”) the Panel finds that the Registrant’s actions are so serious as to amount to Misconduct. In the Panel’s judgment the Registrant breached all the standards referred to earlier. The Panel also notes that Person 1 was a personal friend of the Registrant and was not a Council employee and that sharing the photograph was against a background of discussing the registrant’s sexual relationship with Child A’s grandfather. The Panel does not go so far as Mr Dite in considering that the Registrant was “bragging” about her sexual exploits, but nonetheless has taken account of this context in assessing the seriousness of this particular. In addition, the sharing of the photograph (which had been taken by the Registrant for professional purposes) represented an invasion of privacy for both Service User A and Child A – again, the Panel reminds itself that Child A was particularly vulnerable and that the Registrant had a specific duty of care towards her. Furthermore, the matter is compounded by her acknowledgment to Person 1 that she was aware that what she was doing was wrong (“I have really overstepped boundaries!”). Finally, it must not be forgotten that, whilst the photograph of Child A remained solely with the Registrant it remained within her control, once she had sent it to Person 1 she completely relinquished any control over this image, which is of particular concern given the acknowledged risks of circulating pictures of children on social media. The Panel therefore had little hesitation in concluding that the Registrant’s actions in relation to Particular 2 amounted to Misconduct.
76. In relation to Particular 4 (“On 26 September 2017, you were verbally abusive and/or threatened Person 2”) the Panel finds that the Registrant’s actions are so serious as to amount to Misconduct. In the Panel’s judgment they breach Standard 9.1 mentioned above. In addition, the Panel considered that abusing and threatening a fellow Council employee in this fashion was thoroughly unprofessional. Although Person 2 was not a social worker, she had been employed by the Council for some 30 years and at the time held the post of Family Support worker in the Child Protection team. She had not made any false allegation against the Registrant (who ultimately admitted what she had done) but had in fact revealed something that struck at the heart of what child protection was seeking to achieve. In addition, the Registrant by then had been promoted to the post of Senior Practitioner and Practice Educator and therefore should have acted more professionally in accordance with such roles.
77. The Panel noted SE’s evidence that, at the conclusion of the first interview with the Registrant on 26 September 2017, the Registrant was highly distressed and the Panel can therefore can understand the pressure that the Registrant was under. However, although she was clearly not at her best when she encountered Person 2, her behaviour was nonetheless unprofessional and amounted to a serious departure from the standards expected of a registered social worker. The Panel therefore concluded that the Registrant’s actions in relation to Particular 4 amounted to Misconduct.
Decision on Impairment
78. In reaching its decision on impairment, the Panel has taken account of the submissions of Mr Dite, the evidence before it and the advice of the Legal Assessor. It has also taken account of the HCPC Practice Note “Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired”.
79. The Panel is aware that, in determining whether fitness to practise is impaired, it must take account of a range of issues which, in essence, comprise two components, namely the ‘personal’ component (the current competence and behaviour of the individual Registrant) and the ‘public’ component (the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession). It appreciates that not every finding of misconduct will automatically result in a Panel concluding that fitness to practice is impaired. Moreover, it cannot adopt a simplistic view and conclude that fitness to practise is not impaired simply on the basis that, since the allegation arose, a Registrant has corrected matters or “learned his/her lesson”. Although the Panel’s task is not to punish past wrongdoings, it does need to take account of past acts or omissions in determining whether a Registrant’s present fitness to practise is impaired. In addition, when assessing the likelihood of a Registrant causing similar harm in the future, the Panel should take account of both the degree of harm if any, caused by a Registrant and the Registrant’s culpability for that harm. Finally, the Panel is to consider whether a Registrant has demonstrated insight into her failings.
80. Once again, for the benefit of the Registrant, the Panel has set out below part of Mr Dite’s submissions:
“In relation to the personal component the Panel will no doubt have regard to the degree of insight displayed, any remediation that has been undertaken, and the risk of repetition.
In terms of insight the Panel will of course note that although the Registrant now expresses remorse for her “serious error in judgment”, she did not disclose the relationship she had with Service User A to the Council herself, it only came to light because it was disclosed by others. Indeed, when initially asked about it she adamantly denied it and only admitted it when shown her own messages. Further, the Panel have no evidence before them of any remediation undertaken.
Moving on to consider the public component identified in the Practice Note, the Panel is invited to bear in mind the fundamental considerations emphasised by Mrs Justice Cox in the case of CHRE v (1) NMC and (2) Grant, namely 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.”
The Panel may think that finding that the Registrant’s failings do not amount to impairment would undermine confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. What would a member of the public think if a registered professional was found to have behaved in the way that the Registrant did and were then found not to be impaired?
In conclusion, on the basis of both the personal component and the public component the Panel may well feel that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired”.
The Personal component
81. The Panel first of all considered the Personal component and thus whether the Registrant’s failings could be remedied; whether there had been remediation of those failings (including whether the Registrant has developed insight into them); and whether there was a risk of repetition.
82. In relation to her actions regarding all three of the Particulars found proved, the Panel considered that her failings were capable of remediation. Particular 1 involved an error of judgment by responding inappropriately to sexual attraction and could be remediated by personal counselling and professional training in relation to boundaries and duties to service users; her failings in Particular 2 could be remedied by appropriate training in relation to privacy, confidentiality, boundaries and duties to service users; and those failings in relation to Particular 4 could be remedied also by appropriate training in anger management and duties to fellow professionals.
83. However, again in relation to all three matters, the Panel had little evidence from the Registrant in relation to whether she had remediated her failings. In relation to Particulars 1 and 2, the Panel noted that the Registrant (once she had admitted the allegations against her) regularly expressed remorse for what she had done and frequently apologised for her actions. She also acknowledged that she had done wrong.
84. However, the Panel was concerned that, even at this stage of the proceedings, she still sought to minimise her conduct, for instance by continuing to maintain that the outcome of her assessment was still the best option for Child A. Whilst that may ultimately have been deemed correct by the Council, the Panel remained concerned that the Registrant has not demonstrated (other than by saying that what she did had been wrong) that she appreciates the wider picture of the very serious potential impact her actions could have had upon Child A, Service User A, the Council and her profession.
85. Moreover, the Registrant has continued to argue that the relationship with Service User A commenced only after she had completed her assessment and has not acknowledged that her duty of care to Child A and to the court continued until the matter was eventually concluded in September 2016. Finally, the Panel noted that the Registrant still continued to apportion blame for her actions on those who revealed what she had done (Person 2); those who investigated her (her e-mail of 11 August 2018 maintains that SE’s report was “disgusting and full of lies and exaggerations. It portrays me in a very poor light and is very unfair”); and those who, she say’s, gave her poor advice (SM) – there is no real indication that she had accepted full responsibility for what she has done.
86. In relation to Particular 4, the Panel once again notes the content of the Registrant’s e-mail of 15 December 2018 and what she said about Person 2 and concludes that there is no evidence of remediation of this particular failing as the Registrant continues to blame Person 2 and has not demonstrated any acknowledgement of her own responsibilities.
87. The Panel therefore concludes, in relation to all three Particulars, that the Registrant has failed to demonstrate any significant remediation of her failings (other than to express remorse and to acknowledge that she had done wrong) and therefore considers that she has limited insight into those failings.
88. Accordingly, the Panel is satisfied that there is a real risk of repetition in relation to all three Particulars found proved and that therefore the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired in relation to the Personal component.
The Public component
89. In relation to the Public component, the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s misconduct in relation to all three Particulars found proved was such that the need to declare and uphold professional standards and maintain public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in these circumstances. The Panel repeats the observations that it made in relation to its findings on Misconduct. It therefore considers that a right-minded member of the public, with full knowledge of all of the circumstances, would be concerned if a finding of current impairment were not made in relation to a Registrant who had engaged in a sexual relationship with a Service User whilst at the same time assessing his suitability to care for a vulnerable child; who had breached the right to privacy of a Service User and a vulnerable child by sharing their photograph with someone who was not entitled to see it; and by abusing a fellow employee because she had brought the Registrant’s inappropriate actions to the attention of her employer.
90. Accordingly, the Panel is satisfied that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is also impaired in relation to the Public component.
Decision on Sanction
91. In reaching its decision on sanction the Panel took account of Mr Dite’s submissions, the Indicative Sanctions Policy (“ISP”) document and the advice of the Legal Assessor, which it accepted. The Panel was mindful that the purpose of sanctions is not to be punitive, although they may have that effect. It appreciated that the primary purpose of any sanction is to address public safety from the perspective of the risk which the Registrant concerned may pose to those who use or need her services. It noted, however, that in reaching its decision, Panels must also give appropriate weight to the wider public interest, which includes: the deterrent effect to other registrants; the reputation of the profession concerned; and public confidence in the regulatory process. In addition, the Panel noted that it must act proportionately, which requires it to strike a balance between the interests of the public and those of the Registrant.
92. The Panel noted Mr Dite’s submissions. He drew the Panel’s attention to some parts of the ISP and suggested various mitigating and aggravating factors for the Panel to consider. Mr Dite concluded by submitting that this was a case where the choice of sanction might be between Suspension and Striking Off.
Mitigating and Aggravating factors
93. The Panel took account of the various mitigating factors namely:
• The Registrant was, in the opinion of SM, her line manager, a good social worker who had a fairly long career which had resulted in promotion;
• There was no information before the Panel to suggest that the Registrant was not of previous good character;
• She had made some admissions
• There was no evidence of any actual harm being caused either to Child A or Service User A as a result of her actions (although there could have been significant potential harm);
• The Registrant’s expressions of remorse and of her apologies (albeit without any appreciation of the wider effect, potential or otherwise, of her actions);
94. However, the Panel also noted the following aggravating features and in particular:
• Her admissions were made reluctantly and gradually and only in the face of evidence.
• The Registrant’s limited insight into her actions;
• Her failure to accept full responsibility for those actions, exhibited by her propensity to blame others;
• Her continuing unprofessional behaviour exhibited in her December 2018 e-mails, especially in her use of intemperate language in relation to Person 2;
• The lack of evidence of any remediation;
• The Registrant’s apparent lack of any appreciation as to how her actions potentially affected others or her profession;
• Her tendency to diminish what she had done coupled with her failure to acknowledge her continuing duty of care to Child A;
• The fact that, when embarking on the relationship with Service User A and disclosing the photograph of him and Child A to another, the Registrant indicated to Person 1 that what she was doing was wrong, but decided to do it anyway;
95. The Panel also noted the lack of any up to date testimonials or references.
Consideration of Sanction
96. Given the seriousness of the misconduct and the aggravating factors the Panel took the view that this was not a case that could be appropriately dealt with without a sanction. The Panel therefore went on to consider the various sanctions, beginning with the least onerous.
97. The Panel first considered the sanction of mediation and concluded that it was not appropriate - the matter was too serious to be resolved in this way.
98. The Panel next considered a Caution Order, which is deemed to be appropriate:
“where the lapse is isolated, limited or relatively minor in nature, there is a low risk of recurrence, the registrant has shown insight and taken appropriate remedial action. A caution order should also be considered in cases where the nature of the allegation means that meaningful practice restrictions cannot be imposed but where the registrant has shown insight, the conduct concerned is out of character, the risk of repetition is low and thus suspension from practice would be disproportionate. A caution order is unlikely to be appropriate in cases where the registrant lacks insight.”
99. Once again, the Panel considered that the Particulars found proved were so serious that such a sanction would be insufficient to address the Panel’s concerns in relation to the public interest grounds or to provide adequate protection to the public. In any event, the factors listed above which otherwise would support a Caution Order being made did not apply to the Registrant – for instance, the Panel did not consider that her inappropriate relationship with Service User A could be categorised as an isolated incident since it continued for several months. The Panel therefore concluded that such a sanction would be neither appropriate nor proportionate.
100. The Panel then considered the next most onerous sanction, that of a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel noted paragraph 31 of the ISP which stated:
“Before imposing conditions a Panel should be satisfied that:
• the issues which the conditions seek to address are capable of correction;
• there is no persistent or general failure which would prevent the registrant from doing so;
• appropriate, realistic and verifiable conditions can be formulated;
• the registrant can be expected to comply with them; and
• a reviewing Panel will be able to determine whether those conditions have or are being met.”
101. The Panel noted that, although all of the Registrant’s failings were “capable of correction” there was no evidence before the Panel to suggest that the Registrant would comply with any conditions imposed upon her practice. Although in her e-mail of 11 August 2018 the Registrant stated “I hope the HCPC accept that I am remorseful and fully regret my inappropriate behaviour, and will consider giving me the opportunity to show I have learnt from my mistakes and nothing like this will ever happen again,” the last communication from the Registrant (her e-mail of 17 December 2018) stated “I cant deal with this anymore. Do what you feel. I know the outcome anyway. I just want this over with”. This suggests to the Panel that at best the Registrant is ambivalent about seeking to remediate her failings and therefore it is led to the conclusion that, her non-participation in these these proceedings, it is unlikely that the Registrant would be willing or able to comply with any conditions.
102. Moreover, the Panel was not satisfied that a Conditions of Practice Order would adequately reflect the seriousness of the Registrant’s misconduct.
103. The Panel next considered imposing an order of Suspension.
104. The Panel noted the following paragraphs of the ISP:
“39. Suspension should be considered where the Panel considers that a caution or conditions of practice would provide insufficient public protection or where the allegation is of a serious nature but unlikely to be repeated and, thus, striking off is not merited…
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. However, where there are no psychological or other difficulties preventing the registrant from understanding and seeking to remedy the failings then suspension may be appropriate…”
105. The Panel doubted that paragraph 39 applied to the Registrant’s case since (the allegation being “of a serious nature”) it could not be said that it was “…unlikely to be repeated” given the Panel’s previous findings on Impairment.
106. The Panel appreciated that a Suspension Order would provide the necessary level of public protection for its duration, but the Panel considered that, in the light of the Registrant’s non-particpation in the hearing and her most recent e-mail (which fails to indicate any expression of continuing interest in remaining in the profession) it had no real confidence that allowing the Registrant time for reflection and remediation would likely achieve the desired result. Consequently, it appeared to the Panel that paragraph 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”) was more applicable to her case.
107. As such, the Panel finds that a Suspension Order would be neither proportionate nor appropriate in the circumstances of the case. In addition, the Panel considered that it would not be sufficient to maintain public confidence in the regulatory process or the profession.
108. The Panel therefore considered the sanction of Striking Off. It noted the following paragraphs of the ISP:
“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.”
109. The Panel finds that the Registrant’s behaviour is fundamentally incompatible with continued registration. It takes account of the fact that it would be in the public interest to retain an otherwise competent social worker, but considers that her actions fall into the provisions of paragraph 48, namely that they were “serious, deliberate or reckless acts involving abuse of trust [particularly in relation to her duty of care to Child A]” and also paragraph 48, especially as the Panel has found that “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”. Accordingly, having reminded itself of the need to act proportionally, nonetheless the Panel is led to the conclusion that a Striking Off Order is the appropriate sanction in this case.
110. In addition, the Panel also concludes that a properly informed and fair minded person would consider the Registrant’s misconduct to be most serious and any sanction less than a Striking Off Order would seriously undermine their confidence in the profession and in the regulatory process. The Panel also considers it essential to send a clear message to the profession that behaviour such as that shown by the Registrant will not be tolerated.
The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mrs Julie Bradley from the Register on the date this order comes into effect.
Right of Appeal:
You may appeal to the High Court in England and Wales against the Panel’s decision and the order it has made against you.
Under Articles 30(10) and 38 of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, any appeal must be made to the court not more than 28 days after the date when this notice is served on you.
European alert mechanism:
In accordance with Regulation 67 of the European Union (Recognition of Professional Qualifications) Regulations 2015, the HCPC will inform the competent authorities in all other EEA States that your right to practise has been prohibited.
You may appeal to the County Court against the HCPC’s decision to do so. Any appeal must be made within 28 days of the date when this notice is served on you. This right of appeal is separate from your right to appeal against the decision and order of the Panel.
Application for Interim Order
1. Having determined to conclude this case by imposing a Striking Off Order on the Registrant, the Panel heard an application by Mr Dite for an Interim Suspension Order for 18 months (to cover any appeal period).
Application to proceed in absence
2. However, before asking the Panel to consider such an application Mr Dite reminded the Panel that he had to make a further application to proceed in the Registrant’s absence, in accordance with the Practice Note on Interim Orders, which stated:
“If the registrant is absent, the HCPC will first have to make, and the Panel will have to determine, whether to proceed in the registrant’s absence with the HCPC’s application for an interim order and the HCPC will need to show that the registrant has been given notice that an application may be made. Such notice may be contained within the Notice of Final Hearing. As before, the overriding statutory objective of protecting the public and the wider public interest will weigh heavily in favour of an application to proceed in absence, particularly when the Panel has made a finding that fitness to practise is impaired.”
3. Mr Dite pointed out that the Registrant had been advised in the Notice of Hearing letter dated 18 September 2018 that such an application might be made if the Panel imposed a sanction which removed her right to practise, which the Striking Off Order did. He went on to say that the basis of the application to proceed in the Registrant’s absence was the same as for the identical application that he had made at the commencement of the hearing, with the additional factor that the Panel had now found most of the facts proved and had determined that the Registrant should be struck off.
4. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, who repeated his advice given at the commencement of the hearing. The Panel also had regard to the HCPC Practice Note entitled “Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant”.
5. The Panel decided to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. It noted that she had been given appropriate notice of the possibility of an Interim Order being applied for, such being an important part of what the Panel was required to do. Moreover, the Panel had now found most of the allegations against the Registrant proved and had determined that her fitness to practise was impaired and that she should be made the subject of a Striking Off Order. Accordingly, for the same reasons as previously indicated, which included the Panel’s earlier finding that the Registrant had voluntarily absented herself from the hearing, the Panel decided to proceed in her absence when considering the application for an Interim Order.
Application for Interim Suspension Order
6. Mr Dite submitted that such an order was necessary on both public protection and public interest grounds on the basis that the Panel had found that the Registrant was currently impaired due to her Misconduct and had considered that she should be made subject to a Striking Off Order since it had concluded that she posed an ongoing risk to the public and had acted in such a serious manner that the ultimate sanction had to be imposed upon her.
7. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, who referred it to paragraphs 51 to 54 of the ISP, which state:
“Interim Orders to give effect to decisions
51. If a Panel disposes of a case by making a striking-off order, suspension order or conditions of practice order, Article 31 of the Order provides the Panel with the discretionary power to impose an interim suspension or conditions of practice order which will apply during the time allowed for appealing against the final disposal order or, if such an appeal is made, whilst that appeal is in progress.
52. It is important to recognise that the power is discretionary and, consequently, Panels should not regard the imposition of an interim order as an automatic outcome of fitness to practise proceedings in which a striking-off, suspension or conditions of practice order is made.
53. If the Panel is considering imposing an interim order, before doing so it must give the parties a specific opportunity to address it on the issue of whether or not such an order should be made.
54. Whether an interim order is necessary will depend upon the circumstances in each case, but Panels should consider imposing such an order in cases where:
• there is a serious and on-going risk to service users or the public from the registrant’s lack of professional knowledge or skills; conduct or unmanaged health problems; or
• the allegation is so serious that public confidence in the profession or the regulatory process would be seriously harmed if the registrant was allowed to remain in practice on an unrestricted basis.”
8. The Panel first considered whether an interim order was necessary. It noted that the Registrant had not practised as a Social Worker for at least a year since she had been made subject to an Interim Suspension Order on 5 January 2018 for a period of 18 months. Moreover, it had found that she was currently impaired due to her Misconduct. The Panel was therefore satisfied that there was a serious and on-going risk to service users or the public and that for the same reasons public confidence in the profession or the regulatory process would be seriously harmed if the Registrant was allowed to remain in unrestricted practice.
9. Having determined that an interim order was necessary, the Panel then considered the appropriate form of that order, beginning with the least restrictive. It first considered whether an Interim Conditions of Practice Order would be sufficient to protect the public, meet the wider public interest and be in the Registrant’s own interests. For the same reasons as given when deciding not to impose a substantive Conditions of Practice Order on the Registrant (which included the Panel’s concerns about the Registrant being willing or able to comply with such an order) the Panel decided that such an Interim Order would not be appropriate to manage the risks identified by the Panel and that it would be perverse to impose an order inconsistent with the substantive order of Striking Off.
10. The Panel therefore concluded that an Interim Suspension Order was the appropriate and proportionate order. It also determined that it should be for a period of 18 months since, if there was an appeal, the substantive order would not come into effect until the appeal was heard or otherwise disposed of.
History of Hearings for Mrs Julie Bradley
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|07/01/2019||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Struck off|
|20/12/2018||Conduct and Competence Committee||Interim Order Review||Hearing has not yet been held|
|20/12/2018||Conduct and Competence Committee||Interim Order Review||Interim Suspension|
|05/10/2018||Conduct and Competence Committee||Interim Order Review||Interim Suspension|
|06/07/2018||Conduct and Competence Committee||Interim Order Review||Interim Suspension|
|05/01/2018||Investigating committee||Interim Order Application||Interim Suspension|