Miss Cherry Williams

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW117748

Interim Order: Imposed on 01 Jun 2018

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 28/05/2019 End: 17:00 29/05/2019

Location: The health and Care Professions Council Tribunal Service 405 Kennington road London SE11 4PT

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Struck off

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Allegation

Whilst registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) as a Social Worker:

1. On 18 April 2018, a Fitness to Practise Panel of the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) determined that your fitness to practise as a Social Worker was impaired, and removed you from their Register.

2. You did not inform the HCPC that you were subject to fitness to practise proceedings with the SSSC and / or had been removed from the SSSC Register.

3. Your actions as described in paragraph 2 were dishonest.

4. The matters set out at paragraphs 2 – 3 amount to misconduct.

5. By reason of this determination by another regulator, and / or by reason of your misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Service

1. The Panel had before it evidence that a letter of notice had been sent to the Registrant at her registered address using the appropriate postal means. That letter set out the correct information relating to the time, place and venue of this hearing and had been sent sufficiently far in advance of this hearing, on 7 March 2019.

2. The Panel noted the evidence it had of the address of the Registrant as recorded in the HCPC Register and that this was the same address shown on the evidence of posting. The Panel was aware that it was incumbent on the Registrant to ensure that her registered address is kept up-to-date. The Panel further noted that the letter of notice had also been sent by email.

3. Having taken the advice of the Legal Assessor, and having considered the evidence before it carefully, the Panel concluded that the HCPC had discharged its duty to ensure that notice was effected in accordance with the rules.

Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant

4. The HCPC made an application to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. It referred to the following factors as supporting that application:

• The last email contact received from the Registrant was on 8 May 2018. The last phone contact received from the Registrant was on 21 May 2018.

• The Registrant had contacted the HCPTS on 1 June 2018 by telephone when she informed the panel of an Interim Order Application hearing listed that day that she wanted an adjournment. The ground for the adjournment was that she had had pre-planned surgery the day prior and was not well enough to participate in the hearing but would like to participate on a future date.

• Having been granted an adjournment the Registrant did not attend the reconvened hearing, and nothing more has been heard from her since.

• The hearing bundle which was posted to her on 28 March 2019 has been returned unopened to Kingsley Napley.

• The Registrant has not provided an explanation for her absence.

• The case of Adeogba states that there is an onus on a Registrant to engage with their regulator.  In this instance there is evidence that the Registrant has failed to do so.

• The Panel may assume from her conduct that the Registrant has made an informed decision to not attend this hearing and has voluntarily absented herself.

• There is no application for an adjournment and no information to support the view that she may attend at a future date.

• There is public interest in this matter proceeding without delay.

5. The Panel noted that the Registrant had not signed for the hearing bundle. It also noted that the letter identifying the outcome of the Investigating Committee Panel had been sent by first class post on 6 December 2018 and notice of today’s hearing had also been sent by first class post. Proof of postage was sufficient to support the Panel’s decision on service but it was not evidence of successful receipt and therefore actual knowledge of today’s hearing. The Panel had been told that emails had been sent to the Registrant and had not bounced back to sender. It was also told that the Registrant had failed to confirm her email address with Kingsley Napley when requested her to do so, therefore documentation had not been sent through secure email means. The Panel was concerned that, notwithstanding that the HCPTS had taken all reasonable steps to ensure that these proceedings and this hearing were brought to the attention of the Registrant, this may in fact not be the position.

6. The Panel was also concerned that the Registrant may be unaware of the further sworn statement of MW which had been sent by special delivery on 23 May 2019, only a few days before the Bank Holiday weekend preceding this hearing.

7. Having raised these concerns with the HCPC, further enquiry was undertaken as to whether the Registrant had received the HCPC’s latest communication. The Panel was informed that the letter of 23 May 2019 had been signed for on 24 May 2019 with a signature of ‘CHWRR’. Further, this letter had repeated the date, time and venue of the hearing today. Given this information, the Panel was content that the Registrant had actual knowledge of this hearing and so went on to consider the HCPC application to proceed in her absence.

8. The Panel accepted the information supplied by the HCPC and the grounds on which the HCPC considered that it was fair and in the public interest to proceed today. The Panel noted that the Registrant had failed to engage in the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) proceedings and had not been present at the SSSC hearing on 16 to 18 April 2018. For these reasons and those made by the HCPC above, the Panel has determined that the Registrant has made an informed decision not to attend and has voluntarily absented herself. This being the case, the Panel has decided that it will proceed with the hearing today.


Background

9. The Registrant was removed from the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) register on 12 May 2018 following a Fitness to Practise Hearing held on 16 to 18 April 2018. Those proceedings had been commenced following an event in 2011. The Registrant had been informed of the start of its investigation by SSSC on 7 March 2011. This event in 2011, together with incidents that had taken place between 7 July 2015 and 14 October 2015, formed the basis for the Registrant’s fitness to practise hearing taking place before the SSSC. The matters raised in 2011 and 2015 involved dishonesty and had resulted in the Registrant’s removal from the SSSC register.

10. The Registrant applied to be registered with the HCPC as a Social Worker on 25 May 2017 by means of an application for registration form. The Registrant was registered with the HCPC on 26 September 2017 as a Social Worker.

11. The HCPC wrote to the Registrant on 3 May 2018 informing her that it had been notified of her removal from the SSSC register, to which she replied that she was going to appeal that determination. No appeal was lodged. The Registrant had not informed the HCPC of the hearing or its outcome prior to 3 May 2018.

Evidence

12. The HCPC relied upon the statements made by two HCPC employees, one from the Registrations Department and the other a Case Manager in the Fitness to Practise Team. Those statements and the documentation they exhibited formed the whole of the HCPC’s case.

HCPC Submission on Facts

Particular 1

13. It was submitted that the determination of the hearing that took place on 16 to 18 April 2018 was conclusive evidence of the SSSC’s finding of fitness to practise and removal from the SSSC’s register. Whilst the Panel cannot go behind this decision, it was able to take note of the matters on which the finding of lack of fitness to practise and removal had arisen. It was stressed that the Registrant’s behaviour had been found to be dishonest, and that this included the falsification of documents.

Particular 2

14. The Registrant had been informed by the SSSC of her removal from the SSSC register on or soon after 18 April 2018. The Registrant should have immediately informed the HCPC of this finding.

15. The HCPC indicated that it would not be relying on the existence of a question on the HCPC application form for registration specifically concerned with the existence of investigations by another regulatory body.

16. However, the HCPC brought the Panel's attention to Standard 9.5 of the HCPC “Standards of conduct, performance and ethics” which states that:

“9.5 You must tell us as soon as possible if…

–  another organisation responsible for regulating a health or social-care profession has taken action or made a finding against you; or

–  you have had any restriction placed on your practice, or been suspended or dismissed by an employer, because of concerns about your conduct or competence.”

It was argued that the term “action” used in this standard should be construed as a continuing process, which started with a complaint and continued through investigation to a final hearing. The Registrant had been aware that the SSSC fitness to practise process had started in 2011 and was continuing at the time she completed her HCPC application.

Particular 3

17. The HCPC noted the blocking out of the box relating to “being disciplined by a professional body or your employer” on the application for registration form in Section 3. It was unclear who had done this and what it sought to convey. No adverse inference could be drawn from this. However, the lack of candour shown in the latter part of Section 3, where the Registrant was invited to give any additional information was highly relevant. The Registrant had considered it important to mention that she had three points on her driving licence and that the evidence of her no claims bonus status had not been received by her new car insurer. It was argued that the Registrant had made an informed decision not to mention in this part of the section the matters which the SSSC was investigating. This was information that was clearly relevant to her new regulator.

18. The Panel was taken to the matters which had been found by the SSSC. Allegations 1 and 3 had alleged dishonesty and falsification of documentation which had been found proven by the SSSC.

19. These were:

“1.  on or around 16 February 2011, while employed by Highland Council as a Social Worker, and during the course of that employment, you did:

a. tell the family of service user AA that her case had been referred to the Resource Allocation Panel and that funding had been refused when it was not in fact referred

b.  your behaviour in 1.a was dishonest in the you deliberately sought to mislead the family by providing false information”

“3.  Between 7 July 2015 and 14 October 2015 while registered with the SSSC on the part of the Register for Social Workers, you did:

a.  alter and falsify a NonStop Care Employment Reference by ZZ, Project Co-ordinator PEEP, Aberdeen City Council dated 7 July 2015 requested by Sanctuary Personnel, in particular:

i.  change your rating for “work performance” from “unsatisfactory” to “satisfactory”

ii.  change your rating for “ability to work unsupervised” from “unsatisfactory” to “satisfactory”

iii.  remove comments from the section “comment on this person’s working practices”

iv.  change “in your opinion does this person display a high degree of honesty & integrity?” from “no” to “yes”

v.  insert “yes” into “if appropriate, would you re-employ this person?” when this section was blank

vi.  change comments in the section “if appropriate, would you reemploy this person?” to state that you would be re-employed in a Family Resource worker role

vii.  your actions in allegation 3.a.i – vi were dishonest in that you deliberately sought to mislead Sanctuary Personnel by providing false information and in light of the above, your fitness to practise is impaired through your misconduct.”

20. It was stressed that these findings were serious and showed clearly that the Registrant had previously been found to have acted dishonestly on a number of occasions.  In relation to the completion of the application form for registration she had again been dishonest: she knew that she was concealing relevant information from the HCPC.

21. The Panel was reminded by the HCPC of the test for dishonesty as set out in Ivey and Genting Casinos. It was stated that whether or not the Registrant had considered that she was being dishonest in not declaring this information, a decent member of society would construe what the Registrant did as dishonest, notwithstanding a belief by the Registrant that she was not.


Decision on Facts

22. The Panel appreciated that at this factual stage the onus was upon the HCPC to provide evidence to support the allegations. The standard of proof was the civil standard based on the balance of probabilities. In making its decisions the Panel has taken into account the advice of the Legal Assessor and the guidance issued by the HCPTS.

23. The Panel accepted into evidence all documents before it, including the recently prepared statement of MW, which helpfully set out some of the time line of events and formally produced documentation relied on by HCPC.

Particular 1 – Found Proved

24. The Panel accepted as conclusive the evidence of the SSSC findings of fitness to practise and removal from the SSSC register.

Particular 2 – Found Proved (on both bases)

25. The Panel addressed its decision in two parts. First, it addressed whether in the first instance the Registrant had failed to inform the HCPC of the SSSC proceedings. Secondly, the Panel assessed the alleged failure to inform the HCPC of her removal from the SSSC register.

26. The Panel accepted that there was a duty of candour as set out in Standard 9 of the “Standards of conduct, performance and ethics”. This being the case, the lack of a specific question relating to knowledge of a complaint or an investigation did not absolve the Registrant from providing information relating to these matters. The Panel accepted the HCPC submission that “action” in relation to regulatory proceedings had a wider meaning and was not limited to a final hearing determination. The Panel considered that once the complaint had been received by the SSSC its disciplinary process had commenced and the investigation had been undertaken to bring the matter to a final hearing. The Panel finds that the Registrant failed to inform the HCPC of the SSSC proceedings when she completed her form on 30 March 2017, or at any point thereafter.

27. The Panel has also found that after the final determination by SSSC on 18 April 2018, the Registrant had failed to inform the HCPC of that determination and her removal from the SSSC register.

Particular 3 – Found Proved

28. The Panel noted the previous SSSC finding of dishonesty. This demonstrated that the Registrant’s dishonest actions had been repeated and were not confined to one incident.

29. The Panel also noted that the answer tick box square against the question “Have you been disciplined by a professional or regulatory body or your employer?” was solidly blocked out. The Panel had drawn no inference as to what this blocking out was intended to cover, if anything. However, the Panel noted that the Registrant had considered it important to record that she had three points on her driving licence and that information about her no claims bonus not being received by her new car insurer. This indicated to the Panel that the Registrant had given some consideration to her responses in this section of the application for registration form.

30. The Panel also noted that within Section 7, the “Declaration of information” section on the application for registration form, the Registrant had declared that she had read, understood and would comply with the HCPC “Standards of conduct, performance and ethics”, and confirmed that the information she had provided in the form was correct.

31. The Registrant’s actions in 2011 and 2015 were to her benefit. Not making the HCPC aware of the matters which had occurred in 2011 and 2015, or the SSSC proceedings, was again to her benefit when making her application to the HCPC.

32. The Panel has therefore concluded that the Registrant knew that withholding information that may adversely affect her registration with the HCPC was wrong. Whether the Registrant considered what she did was dishonest is a matter on which this Panel has had to draw inference from the evidence before it, having not heard from the Registrant in person. The Panel has concluded from her actions, which shows a pattern of repeated dishonest behaviour, that the Registrant did know she was being dishonest when she failed to inform the HCPC of the SSSC investigation and hearing. Further, even if the Registrant did not consider herself as being dishonest, those assessing her behaviour in withholding this information, be it members of the public or fellow professionals, would, like this Panel, consider that her actions were dishonest.


Decision on Grounds

33. The Panel has accepted the evidence of the SSSC proceedings as conclusive evidence to support the Article 22(a)(v) ground of a determination by another UK body.

34. The Panel has considered whether Particulars 2 and 3 amount to misconduct. It noted the HCPC submissions that these matters amount to serious misconduct and are in breach of the standards expected of a professional social worker. The Panel appreciates that at this stage in the proceedings there is no onus on the HCPC and it is a matter for the Panel’s judgement.

35. The Panel has identified that the Registrant’s actions as found are in breach of:

“Standards of proficiency”

“2  be able to practise within the legal and ethical boundaries of their profession

2.10  understand what is required of them by the Health and Care Professions Council

3  be able to maintain fitness to practise

3.1 understand the need to maintain high standards of personal and professional conduct”

And “Standards of conduct, performance and ethics”

“9  Be honest and trustworthy

9.1 You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession.

9.5  You must tell us as soon as possible if…

–  another organisation responsible for regulating a health or social-care profession has taken action or made a finding against you; or

–  you have had any restriction placed on your practice, or been suspended or dismissed by an employer, because of concerns about your conduct or competence.”

36. The Panel accepted that breach of these provisions did not necessarily individually or collectively automatically amount to misconduct. The Panel noted that the Registrant’s dishonesty in not bringing her removal from the SSSC register, or the existence of proceedings to her new regulator’s notice, must have been motivated by self-interest. It allowed her the potential to continue practising when her fitness to practise had been shown to be impaired. The extent and impact of her dishonesty, was, in the Panel’s view, deplorable. Her actions had brought her, her profession, and this regulator into disrepute. The Panel has concluded that her actions amount to serious misconduct.


Decision on Impairment

37. The HCPC emphasised the seriousness of the matters found, which included dishonesty. The HCPC noted that there has been no real engagement by the Registrant. This being the case, there is no explanation for her actions, no evidence of remorse, no apology, no demonstration of insight and therefore no evidence of remediation. There remains therefore a likelihood of repetition of the misconduct in the future. The HCPC stated that this supported a finding of impairment on the personal component of the Panel’s decision.

38. The HCPC referred the Panel to the findings of the SSSC, the resultant finding of impairment and the removal of the Registrant’s name from the SSSC register. There is no new evidence that would undermine that finding of impairment. Further, that decision to remove the Registrant from the SSSC register was wholly inconsistent with her being able to retain her HCPC registration.  A member of the public would rightly be appalled if a registrant found unfit to practise in Scotland was then able to practise in an unrestricted manner in England. It was argued that this Registrant’s actions, including as it did a history of dishonest behaviour, were sufficiently serious to warrant a finding of impairment on the public component.

39. The Panel has reached the conclusion that the Registrant’s fitness to practise in relation to the grounds set out in Article 22(a)(i) and 22(a)(v) is impaired on both the public and the personal components. Its reasons are:

• The public would be rightly concerned if a practitioner who has been removed from professional practice in one part of the UK were allowed to work without any form of restriction in another jurisdiction.

• The Registrant has failed to provide any explanation or reason for her conduct either at the SSSC proceedings or here and so the SSSC finding of impairment remains unaddressed.

• The Registrant has failed to provide any evidence of remediation, although the Panel doubts what evidence can be produced where there is an appearance of a pattern of habitual dishonesty.

• Further, the Registrant’s lack of fitness to practise goes beyond the SSSC findings, her having been found to have compounded the dishonest behaviour with her failure to disclose those matters to the HCPC.

• There is evidence of a repetition of that dishonest behaviour. That dishonest behaviour was for her benefit, in covering up her poor professional performance. That conduct exposed service users to risk from continued deficient professional performance.


Decision on Sanction 

40. The HCPC stated that sanction is a matter for the Panel’s judgment. However, the HCPC emphasised that there had been no evidence of the Registrant’s insight into the seriousness of the matters alleged.  The Registrant had shown no remorse and there was very limited acknowledgement of her wrongdoing.  There was no admission or apology for her behaviour. The Registrant has not provided any reason for her conduct and there is no evidence of remediation. Given the Panel’s finding of the potential for repetition this should be reflected in the Panel’s decision on sanction. The HCPC reminded the Panel that removal of the Registrant from the HCPC Register should be the measure of last resort, but this is available to the Panel and may be appropriate given the likelihood of repetition. Any sanction should uphold standards of conduct and the reputation of the profession.

41. The Panel appreciated that in undertaking its consideration of the proportionate and appropriate sanction to impose, it should adopt the least restrictive sanction available, and one which balances the interests of service users, the Registrant and the wider public interest.

42. The Panel has accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and has referred to the guidance issued in the HCPC “Indicative Sanctions Policy”. At this stage there was no further information or documentary evidence to consider and no representations have been received from the Registrant.

43. The Panel started its consideration of this matter by identifying all mitigating and aggravating features. This task resulted in the Panel identifing that there were no mitigating features in this case, an unusual and concerning finding. In relation to aggravating factors the Panel identified the following:

• This was not an isolated incident and there was evidence of a repetition of dishonest behaviour.

• There had been no expression of remorse or regret by the Registrant for her actions.

• There was nothing before the Panel by way of apology or explanation for the Registrant’s conduct.

• The Registrant had not provided any evidence of insight into her actions.

• The Registrant had only engaged with the HCPC on one occasion when she sought an adjournment of an Interim Order Application hearing. This adjournment was granted but she did not attend the reconvened hearing.

• From the SSSC determination it appeared that the Registrant had not engaged with the SSSC disciplinary process.

• There is previous history of dishonest conduct.

• No personal reasons that may give an explanation for the Registrant’s conduct had been provided nor is there any information on her current circumstances.

• The Registrant’s actions were, in the Panel’s view, for her personal benefit.

• The Registrant’s actions had potentially exposed her regulator, the HCPC, to criticism and embarrassment.

• The Registrant’s actions had facilitated her being able to continue in practise when she was unfit to practise, and so had exposed service users to potential risk.

44. As stated by the Panel at the impairment stage, the public would rightly be concerned if a registrant whose honesty and integrity had been called into question on several occasions were allowed to work without some form of restriction. The SSSC decision for removal from the SSSC register was a strong indicator of the seriousness of the Registrant’s dishonest behaviour. Further, the evidence of a pattern of dishonest behaviour has now been confirmed by these HCPC proceedings. The Panel therefore considered that taking no further action, offering mediation or the imposition of a Caution Order were inappropriate as they offered no level of service user protection and were insufficient as a mark of censure in this case.

45. The Panel gave careful consideration to the question of whether it could draft conditions of practice that would address the findings of this Panel. The Panel appreciated that conditions of practice should not impose any duty on an employer or prospective employer. Conditions should be capable of performance by the Registrant. However, there is no information before the Panel from the Registrant that would assist it in constructing conditions of practice, such as an indication of her willingness or ability to abide by any it may impose. Further, even if the Registrant had indicated that she was able and willing to comply with such conditions this Panel was unable to identify any conditions that would address the issue of repeated dishonest conduct. The Panel therefore concluded that it was unable to identify any suitable, workable or appropriate conditions of practice.

46. The Panel considered whether this was a case in which a period of suspension would be appropriate and proportionate. Such a measure could provide the Registrant with opportunities for potential remediation. The Panel considered however, that given that there is a long history of dishonesty it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the Registrant to demonstrate that there is no likelihood of a repetition of such dishonest behaviour. The Registrant has, in this Panel’s view, by her failure to engage in the SSSC and these proceedings, lost what slight opportunity she may have had of avoiding consideration of her removal from the HCPC Register. The Panel concluded that undertaking remediation during a period of suspension would, in this instance, serve no purpose.

47. Taking into account the wider public interest in maintaining standards and the profession’s reputation the Panel considered whether the Registrant’s repeated dishonest actions were fundamentally incompatible with remaining on the HCPC Register. Given the seriousness of these matters the Panel has concluded that in this regard, the wider public interest is paramount and a Striking Off Order is the only proportionate measure.

48. Although the Panel had no specific information before it as to the Registrant’s current circumstances, it accepted that in coming to this conclusion the personal and financial impact on her may be severe. This is however, warranted as it provides continued service user protection, maintains standards, has a deterrent effect and upholds the profession’s reputation.

Order

The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Miss Cherry Williams from the Register on the date this Order comes into effect.

Notes

Interim Order

Application for Order

49. The HCPC made an application for in Interim Suspension Order to run for the period of appeal or until any appeal lodged has been determined. Its application was for a period of 18 months.

50. It made an application for this matter of an Interim Suspension Order to be considered in the Registrant’s absence. In this respect, the HCPC drew the Panel’s attention to its previous decision to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. The HCPC stated that the Notice of Hearing had set out the process for an interim order and the Registrant had been put on notice that in the event of a finding that required consideration of this matter the HCPC would be making an application.

51. The HCPC confirmed that there is an Interim Suspension Order in place currently but that this order will automatically come to an end now that there is a substantive order in place. The interim order is required to cover the 28 day appeal period which starts with the handing down today of the Panel’s determination.

Panel Decision

52. The Panel has noted the HCPC’s submissions and has taken the Legal Assessor’s advice.

53. It has considered whether to proceed in the Registrant’s absence and has decided that it will. There is no indication that the Registrant would attend at a future date if the Panel adjourned to make its decision on this issue and there is public interest in this matter being considered today, when the protection of the current Interim Order is removed.

54. Given the Panel’s findings that the Registrant’s actions are fundamentally at variance with remaining on the Register and has imposed a Striking Off Order it would be inconsistent with that need for public protection and the wider public interest not to impose some form of order. The Panel, for the same reasons it identified above came to the conclusion that it is impracticable and inappropriate to formulate conditions of practice in this instance.

55. The Panel therefore makes an Interim Suspension Order under Article 31(2) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, the same being necessary to protect members of the public and being otherwise in the public interest. 

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

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Miss Cherry Williams

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
28/05/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off