Mr Laurence Andrew D'Annunzio

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW24601

Hearing Type: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 01/03/2019 End: 17:00 01/03/2019

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

During the course of your employment as a Social Worker at Wigan Council, you:

1. [NOT PROVED]

2. Contacted Service User A on or around 13 August 2015, without a professional reason to do so.

3. Met with Service User A on or around 14 August 2015 without a professional reason to do so.

4. [NOT PROVED]

i) [NOT PROVED]

a) [NOT PROVED]

b) [NOT PROVED]

c) [NOT PROVED]

d) [NOT PROVED]

ii) [NOT PROVED]

iii) [NOT PROVED]

5. Travelled within close proximity of Service User A’s home address without a professional reason to do so:

a) on around 3 September 2016

b) on 4 September 2016

6. [NOT PROVED]

7. The matters as described in paragraphs 1 - 6 constitute misconduct.

8. By reason of your misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Service

1. The Panel was satisfied that notice of today’s hearing had been served on the Registrant at his home address. The Panel was provided with a signed certificate as proof that the Notice of Hearing had been posted to the address on the register.

Proceeding in Absence

2. The Registrant did not appear nor was he represented. He had sent an email to the HCPC on 13 February 2019 in which he made detailed submissions for the Panel to consider at this review hearing and indicated that he was aware of the time and date of the hearing.  He had also spoken to his Case Manager on 15 February 2019 and confirmed that he would not be attending the hearing. Ms Dyas for the HCPC produced a note of her telephone conversation with him on 28 February 2019, the day before this hearing, in which he confirmed that he did not wish to attend the hearing.

3. On behalf of the HCPC, Ms Dyas applied for the hearing to be conducted in the absence of the Registrant on the basis that the Registrant had been notified of the date, time and location of the hearing at his registered address. Ms Dyas submitted that the Registrant had confirmed his awareness of the hearing and had waived his right to attend or to be represented. She submitted that adjourning today was not likely to result in the Registrant’s attendance at a later date and that it was in the public interest for the hearing to proceed expeditiously.

4. Having considered the revised HCPTS Practice Note on proceeding in absence and the advice of the Legal Assessor on the case of GMC v Adeogba [2016] EWCA Civ 162 (“the fair, economical, expeditious and efficient disposal of allegations against medical practitioners is of real importance”), the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had received reasonable notice of today’s hearing.

5. The Panel noted that the Registrant had not applied for an adjournment. There was no indication that he would attend at a later date if today’s hearing were to be adjourned. The Panel noted that the Registrant had voluntarily absented himself and that he had chosen to make his submissions in writing rather than by attending the hearing. He had made it clear in his communications with the HCPC that he did not intend to attend the hearing. The Panel reminded itself of the overriding public interest in dealing with matters in a timely manner and that this was a mandatory review that had to be held within a short period of time. In balancing the Registrant’s interests and the public interest, the Panel decided that the matter should be heard in the absence of the Registrant.

Background

6. The Registrant was employed as a Social Worker in the Social Care Department at Wigan Council (‘the Council’) from 2009 to 2014.  He was then employed as a Senior Social Worker within the Young People’s Team at the Council. He was responsible for young people aged from 14 years old.  He had management responsibility for up to 10 members of staff. He became Team Manager in 2015.

7. The Registrant was the Social Worker for Child A, the daughter of Service User A.  In December 2014, there was an investigation after an allegation was made that the Registrant had a sexual relationship with Service User A. No further action was taken at that stage because Service User A denied the sexual relationship when interviewed. The Registrant was not informed of the allegation.

8. On 13 July 2015, a Guardian, KJ, met with Service User A to discuss care proceedings for her other two children, Child B and Child C. Service User A then alleged that she had been in a sexual relationship with the Registrant. An internal investigation revealed other concerns regarding his conduct in relation to Service User A.  The Registrant was suspended from his position at the Council on 3 September 2015.

The Substantive Hearing

9. A panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee of the HCPC on 5-7 March 2018 found that the testimony of Service User A was unreliable in relation to the allegation that she had had a sexual relationship with the Registrant. The panel noted that she had previously given dishonest evidence on oath in care proceedings. Particulars 1 and 6 of the Allegation were therefore found not proved.

10. The Registrant attended the substantive hearing but he did not give evidence. The panel drew no adverse inference from his failure to give sworn evidence but they noted that he initially denied contacting Service User A. The panel also noted other inconsistencies in his internal investigation interview and his reflective piece in relation to his reasons for accessing records. His conduct in attending locations near Service User A’s home after becoming aware of her complaint also undermined his credibility. The panel therefore found his account to be generally unreliable.

11. Particulars 2 (contacting Service User A on 13 August 2015) and 3 (meeting her on 14 August 2015), were admitted by the Registrant at the outset of the hearing, so the panel found them proved.  The Registrant’s case was that he had met her in order to ascertain whether her mother was the source of the allegation.

12. The Registrant admitted accessing the relevant records (particular 4) on the dates stated, but his case was that he had a legitimate professional reason for doing so as their allocated Social Worker. The panel found that the HCPC had failed to adduce evidence to rebut this explanation so found all elements of particular 4 not proved.

13. The Registrant admitted particular 5 (a) relating to travelling within close proximity of Service User A’s home on or around 3 September without a professional reason for doing.  His case was that he was distressed after having been suspended from his job and that he pulled over onto a quiet road, but had no intention of making contact with Service User A.  The panel did not accept this explanation for his presence at the location because he drove to the roads where Service User A and her aunt lived.  The panel therefore concluded that he was trying to make contact with Service User A in relation to the investigation. 

14. In relation to particular 5 (b), the panel accepted Service User A’s evidence that she had seen the Registrant on 4 September 2015.  The panel concluded that he made contact with her to encourage her to deny the complaint or to find out why the complaint had been made.

15. The panel concluded that the Registrant had pursued a course of conduct in which he repeatedly made contact or attempted to make contact with a vulnerable service user in relation to a complaint that had been made in respect of his conduct towards her.

16. The panel found that the Registrant had breached the following three standards of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics 2012:-

1. You must act in the best interests of service users

3. You must keep high standards of personal conduct

13.  You must…make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in your profession.

17. As an experienced Social Worker, the Registrant was aware of his duty to maintain professional boundaries and his conduct in contacting her was in breach of his manager’s instructions following his suspension.   The Registrant’s actions were ill-judged and inappropriate. He had undermined public confidence in his profession. The facts as proved therefore amounted to misconduct.

18. In relation to impairment, the panel found that the Registrant’s conduct fell far short of that which would be expected of a registered Social Worker because he had reacted inappropriately when told that he was the subject of a serious allegation in relation to a vulnerable service user. He therefore breached a fundamental tenet of his profession in putting his own needs above those of the service user.  He had thereby brought his reputation into disrepute. The panel considered that the Registrant’s failings were “easily remediable” and noted that he had reflected upon his conduct and demonstrated a degree of insight.  However, the panel found that he had not fully remediated his failings or demonstrated full understanding of the impact of his actions.  In particular, the panel noted that he retained a degree of anger and had not been entirely open or honest with his line manager.  There was insufficient reflection on maintaining professional boundaries and a lack of appreciation that service users are entitled to make complaints against Social Workers.  He had failed to demonstrate the self-control and objectivity that was to be expected of a Team Manager in the situation.  The panel found that remediation and insight were not yet fully developed and that there remained a risk of repetition.  The Registrant’s fitness to practise was therefore impaired on the personal component.

19. The panel also found that the Registrant’s conduct was such as to undermine public confidence in his profession and that a finding of impairment was required to uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour.

20. In relation to sanction, the panel found a number of aggravating factors in this case. The Registrant’s misconduct was repeated and had caused a vulnerable service user to feel threatened and distressed. The Registrant had fallen short of the standards that were commensurate with his position as a Senior Social Worker. The panel accepted that the Registrant was of previous good character and that this was an isolated instance of misconduct.  The panel concluded that workable and practicable conditions could be formulated to address the misconduct and remedy the failings that had been identified.

21. A Conditions of Practice Order of 12 months’ duration was imposed as a sanction on 12 March 2018. The order required the Registrant to formulate a Personal Development Plan to address the development of his insight and understanding in relation to the impact on his profession, how he would behave differently in the future and the importance of professional boundaries and transparency with professional colleagues.

22. The panel also advised the Registrant that this Review Panel would be assisted by a report from his workplace supervisor on the development of his insight and any references and testimonials.

Submissions

23. This Panel considered the Registrant’s written submission, described as his reflective update, dated 13 February 2019. He has not worked as a Social Worker since his suspension on 3 September 2015. He stated, ‘My reason for this is the appalling manner in which I have been treated not only by my employer but also by the HCPC’. He described all the allegations as ‘malicious and an attempt by Service User A to deflect from the horrendous situation she was in at the time’. He said that she had lied under oath at the substantive hearing.  He rejected the panel’s finding that he had attended Service User’s home address in Wigan on 4 September 2015 ‘as I did NOT’. He then added that he had no ill feelings towards her and he understood the reasons behind her ‘malicious allegations’. He accepted that he had negative feelings towards his former employer because they were responsible for the ‘appalling stressful situation I was placed in towards the end of 2015’.

24. The Registrant added, ‘… I also believe I have been treated appallingly by the hearing panel and the HCPC barrister at the conclusion of the hearing after I had stated that I did not feel I could give evidence due to the significant stress I was suffering from at the time.’ He complained that he had been compelled to reveal scars on parts of his body in order to refute the allegations.  In relation to his employer, he stated ‘Wigan Council destroyed my professional career that I worked extremely hard for’ after ’14 years of unblemished service’.  He concluded by stating that he felt unable to continue to practise social work now or in the future.

25. Ms Dyas for the HCPC reminded this Panel of the history of the case and its powers as to extending, continuing, varying or revoking the order or imposing another order. Ms Dyas submitted that the Registrant remained angry and resentful of his former employer and the HCPC. There was no evidence that the Registrant had produced a Personal Development Plan and there was no update or any other information about his current employment. There was therefore no evidence of improved insight or remediation. The Registrant had failed to take the opportunity to engage or remedy his failings or to show commitment to the profession.

26. Ms Dyas further submitted that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remained impaired in the absence of evidence of improved insight or remediation. She contended that the current conditions served no useful purpose in the circumstances, but made no specific submission as to an alternative sanction because that was a matter for the Panel.
 
Decision

Decision on Impairment

27. A substantive review is a two-stage process. The first task of the Panel is to decide whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired and if so, to then consider what sanction to impose, if any. In reaching its decision, the Panel has considered all the relevant material and had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on Impairment. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor on the principles of proportionality and fairness in considering impairment.

28. The Panel had firmly in mind that the purpose of this hearing was to conduct a thorough appraisal of the Registrant’s current fitness to practise, including changes of circumstances and an assessment of future risk, and that this was not a rehearing of the original case.

29. The Panel considered the two components relating to impairment; the personal component and the public component. It first considered the personal component: whether the conduct was remediable, whether it had been remedied and whether it was likely to be repeated.

30. In relation to personal impairment, the Panel noted that the Registrant does not accept the findings of the panel at the substantive hearing, but reminded itself of the principle confirmed in Yussuf v GMC [2018] EWHC 13 (Admin) that a Registrant is entitled not to accept the findings of a panel or tribunal and that his lack of acceptance does not prevent a review panel from determining that his fitness to practise is no longer impaired. The Registrant was entitled to contest the allegations in this case and he had been partially successful. The Panel did not therefore draw any adverse inference from his refusal to accept the other factual findings for the purpose of this review.

31. The Panel at the substantive hearing found that the Registrant had reacted inappropriately to a complaint by a vulnerable service user and that he had failed to meet the standards commensurate with his senior position and experience. He had shown some insight but he had retained a degree of anger and needed to develop his insight if he were to remedy his deficiencies. This Panel has received no information to persuade it that the risk of repetition has been reduced. The Registrant’s reflective update shows that his anger has intensified and he does not wish to return to the profession.

32. The Panel found little evidence of reflection in the ‘reflective update’ of 13 February 2019 that was submitted by the Registrant. In particular, the Registrant continues to lack a proper appreciation of the imbalance of power between a senior and experienced social worker and a vulnerable service user, in the circumstances of this case.

33. The Registrant was encouraged by the substantive hearing panel to provide evidence of insight and remediation. He did not do so. The risk of repetition of his misconduct therefore remains high. His fitness to practise therefore remains impaired on the personal component.

34. The Panel reminded itself of the public component in Cohen v GMC [2008] EWHC 581: “the need to protect the individual and the collective need to maintain confidence in the profession as well as declaring and upholding proper standards of conduct and behaviour which the public expect…and that the public interest includes, amongst other things, the protection of service users and the maintenance of public confidence in the profession.”

35. The Panel also determined that a finding of impairment was necessary in the wider public interest to protect the public and to maintain public confidence in the profession. A reasonable and informed member of the public would expect such a finding, in the absence of evidence of engagement or insight.

Decision on Sanction

36. The Panel considered the Indicative Sanctions Policy of the HCPC and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor that a sanction should be the least that is necessary to ensure public protection. The Panel reminded itself that the purpose of a sanction is not to punish the Registrant and that a sanction must be reasonable and proportionate.

37. The Panel determined that the nature of the lack of competence and misconduct in this case was too serious to make no order.

38. The Panel considered whether to impose a Caution Order, but decided that it was inappropriate. It noted that the previous panel had considered that a Caution Order would not provide sufficient public protection or uphold the public interest. There was no change of circumstances that would enable this Panel to take a different view.

39. The Panel considered that the current Conditions of Practice Order was no longer appropriate because the Registrant showed no interest in returning to the profession at this stage. The continuation of the order would serve little further purpose in the absence of improved engagement or insight on the part of the Registrant and it was no longer in the public interest to extend that opportunity, when it had been disregarded.

40. The Panel went on to consider whether a Suspension Order would be a proportionate and appropriate measure and concluded that this would protect the public. The Panel determined a Suspension Order was the appropriate measure. In doing so, it considered that the Registrant should be afforded a further opportunity to demonstrate insight and reflection and to decide whether he wished to re-engage with his profession or whether he wished to pursue voluntary removal from the register.

41. The Panel determined that the Suspension Order should be imposed for a 6 month period because the case should not remain in the review cycle for longer than is necessary, if there is no change of circumstances.

42. The Panel also considered the sanction of Striking Off. However, the Panel had in mind that it was the sanction of last resort and that there was a public interest in retaining qualified practitioners. The Panel concluded that it was disproportionate at this stage. The Registrant should however be aware that a future review panel may well consider the sanction of Striking Off if there is no progress towards re-engagement, or alternatively should there be no action by him in relation to seeking voluntary removal from the register.

43. A future review panel may be assisted by a focused reflective update, including his views generally on the imbalance of power between a senior social worker and a vulnerable service user facing care proceedings. The Panel may also be assisted by any update on the Registrant’s present circumstances and employment, including any testimonials or references.

Order

Order: Suspension Order for 6 months upon the expiry of the current Order.

Notes

The Order imposed today will apply from 4 April 2019.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Laurence Andrew D'Annunzio

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
01/03/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended
05/03/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Conditions of Practice