Mr Alexander Buckley

Profession: Paramedic

Registration Number: PA34596

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 30/10/2019 End: 17:00 30/10/2019

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Struck off

Please note that the decision can take up to 5 working days to be uploaded onto the HCPTS website. Please contact one of our Hearings Team Managers via tsteam@hcpts-uk.org or +44 (0)808 164 3084 if you require any further information.

 

Allegation

Allegation

 

While registered with the Health and Care Professions Council as a Paramedic:

1. On 28 February 2019, at Margate Magistrates’ Court, you were convicted of:

(a) Distributing an indecent photograph, namely a moving indecent image of children.

 

(b) Possessing indecent photographs, namely 1900 indecent moving images of children (Category A images).

 

(c) Possessing indecent photographs, namely 2887 indecent images of children (Category A images).

 

(d) Possessing indecent photographs, namely 781 indecent moving images of children (696 Category B images and 85 Category C images).

 

(e) Possessing indecent photographs, namely 13,959 indecent images of children (4,396 Category B images and 9,563 Category C images).

 

(f) Possessing a prohibited image of a child.

 

(g) Possessing a prohibited image of a child.

 

(h) Possessing an extreme pornographic image which portrayed, in an explicit and realistic way, a person performing an act of intercourse with a live unknown animal and which was grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character.

 

(i) Possessing an extreme pornographic image which portrayed, in an explicit and realistic way, a person performing an act of intercourse with a live unknown animal and which was grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character.

 

(j) Possessing 1.9 grams of Methyl amphetamine Hydrochloride, a controlled drug of Class A.

 

2. By reason of your convictions, your fitness to practise as a Paramedic is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters:

Service of Notice

1. The notice of this hearing was sent to the Registrant at his address as it appeared on the register on 21 August 2019. The notice contained the date, time and venue of today’s hearing.

2. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, and is satisfied that notice of today’s hearing has been served in accordance with Rule 6(1) of the Conduct and Competence Committee Rules 2003 (the “Rules”).

Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant

3. The Panel then went on to consider whether to proceed in the absence of the Registrant pursuant to Rule 11 of the Rules. In doing so, it considered the submissions of Mr Bridges on behalf of the HCPC.

4. Mr Bridges submitted that the HCPTS has taken all reasonable steps to serve the notice on the Registrant. Mr Bridges further submitted that the Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC, nor with the HCPTS, and that an adjournment would serve no useful purpose. Mr Bridges reminded the Panel that there was a public interest in this matter being dealt with expeditiously.

5. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. He advised that, if the Panel is satisfied that all reasonable efforts have been made to notify the Registrant of the hearing, then the Panel had the discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. He cautioned the Panel that the discretion was to be exercised with care and caution as set out in the case of R v Jones [2002] UKHL 5.

6. The Legal Assessor also referred the Panel to the case of GMC v Adeogba and Visvardis [2016] EWCA Civ 162 and advised the Panel that the Adeogba case reminded the Panel that its primary objective is the protection of the public and of the public interest. In that regard, the case of Adeogba was clear that “where there is good reason not to proceed, the case should be adjourned; where there is not, however, it is only right that it should proceed”.

7. It was clear, from the principles derived from case law, that the Panel was required to ensure that fairness and justice were maintained when deciding whether or not to proceed in a Registrant’s absence.

8. The Panel was satisfied that all reasonable efforts had been made by the HCPTS to notify the Registrant of the hearing.

9. In deciding whether to exercise its discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant, the Panel took into consideration the HCPTS practice note entitled ‘Proceeding in the Absence of a Registrant’. The Panel weighed its responsibility for public protection and the expeditious disposal of the case with the Registrant’s right to a fair hearing.

10. In reaching its decision the Panel took into account the following:

• The Registrant has not engaged with this process;
• The Registrant has not made an application to adjourn today’s hearing;
• The Registrant was sentenced to a period of imprisonment of 46 months on 27 September 2019 and therefore he is unlikely to be able to attend any hearing in the near future.
• There is a public interest that this matter proceeds expeditiously.

11. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had not engaged with the process. It determined that it was unlikely that an adjournment would result in the Registrant’s attendance at a later date, in the light of the non-engagement of the Registrant. Having weighed the public interest for expedition in cases against the Registrant’s own interest, the Panel decided to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.


Background:

12. The Registrant is registered with the HCPC as a Paramedic.

13. On 28 February 2018, the HCPC received a referral from the Registrant’s employer advising that he had been arrested for possession and distribution of indecent images of children and possession of a Class A drug.

14. On 12 February 2019 the National Crime Agency (NCA) confirmed to the HCPC that the Registrant had been charged with 10 offences of distributing and possessing indecent images of children, indecent moving images of children and other extreme pornographic material, as well as the possession of a Class A drug.

15. On 28 February 2019, the Registrant pleaded guilty to the above mentioned offences at Margate Magistrates Court and was committed to Canterbury Crown Court for sentencing, which occurred on 27 September 2019.

Decision on Facts:

16. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

17. The Panel had before it the Memorandum of Conviction from East Kent Magistrates’ Court that sets out the offences to which the Registrant pleaded guilty on 28 February 2019. The Panel also had before it the Certificate of Conviction from the Crown Court sitting at Canterbury setting out that the Registrant was sentenced to a period of imprisonment of 46 months for the above offences on 27 September 2019. The above documents set out clearly the offences for which the Registrant was convicted and the sentence imposed upon the Registrant.

18. Accordingly the Panel finds the fact of the conviction proved.

Decision on Grounds:

19. The Panel then went on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of the conviction.

Submissions

20. Mr Bridges outlined the background facts of the conviction and submitted that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired in that that the convictions are a serious matter, and the Public Interest requires that a finding of impairment be made so as not to undermined the public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. The Registrant is still serving his sentence of imprisonment which started on 27 September 2019. He submitted that the relevant considerations in this case are the seriousness of the charge, the nature of the sentence, the public perception of such criminal offences and of Registrants convicted of such offences.

Legal Advice

21. The Legal Assessor reminded the Panel that its role was not to go behind the conviction nor was it to seek to retry the criminal case. The Legal Assessor advised the Panel that its task was to determine whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired, based upon the nature, circumstances and gravity of the criminal offences concerned. The Panel should consider whether the Registrant’s actions had brought the Paramedic profession into disrepute or had undermined public confidence in that profession, and if so, whether any sanction needs to be imposed.

22. The Legal Assessor also advised the Panel that it should bear in mind the principle of public protection in its broadest sense.  In doing so, the Panel was entitled to adopt a 'retrospective' approach and consider the conviction as if the Registrant was applying for registration with the HCPC.

23. The Panel was advised that it could take into consideration whether the Registrant pleaded guilty to the offence and if he did, at what stage in the criminal proceeding proceedings. A guilty plea entered at the first reasonable opportunity is indicative of greater insight on the part of the Registrant than one entered at the last moment.

24. The Legal Assessor also advised the Panel to have regard to the sentence received, but also to bear in mind that the sentence imposed is not necessarily a good indicator of the seriousness of the offences when considered in a regulatory context. This is because the prime consideration of regulatory tribunals is the protection of the public and of the wider public interest. As Dame Janet Smith noted in the Fifth Shipman Inquiry Report,

“The fact that the court has imposed a very low penalty or even none at all should not lead the [regulator] to the conclusion that the case is not serious in the context of [its own] proceedings The role of the [regulator] in protecting [service users] involves different considerations from those taken into account by the criminal courts when passing sentence. What may well appear relatively trivial in the context of general criminal law may be quite serious in the context of [professional] practice.”

Decision on Impairment:

25. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. In reaching its decision, the Panel had regard to all the evidence before it. It took account of the submissions of Mr Bridges on behalf of the HCPC.

26. In considering whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of his conviction, the Panel adopted the approach formulated by Dame Janet Smith in her fifth report of the Shipman inquiry by asking itself the following questions:

“Does the Registrant’s conviction, and the facts relating to the conviction show that his fitness to practise is impaired in the sense that he:

a) has in the past acted and/or is liable in the future to act so as to put patient or patients at unwarranted risk of harm; and/or
b) has in the past brought and/or is liable in the future to bring the paramedic profession into disrepute; and/or
c) has in the past breached and/or is liable in the future to breach one of the fundamental tenets of the paramedic profession?; and/or

27. The Panel noted that the Registrant had co-operated with the police investigation and had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity. The Panel determined that this demonstrated some level of insight on the part of the Registrant, but, given the seriousness of the matter before this Panel, this is of little relevance.

28. The Panel determined that by this conviction, the Registrant had breached a fundamental tenet of the profession, namely that it is incumbent on members of the profession not to behave in this manner and not to transgress the laws of the land. The Panel determined that the conviction of the Registrant related to very serious criminal offences and had clear implications in terms of the wider public interest in maintaining public confidence in the profession. The Panel determined that other practitioners would consider that the Registrant’s actions were abhorrent and would attract public opprobrium.

29. The Panel determined that the conviction was such that the need to uphold professional standards and public confidence in the professions would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made. Therefore, Panel determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of his conviction.

Decision on Sanction:

Submissions on Sanction

30. Mr Bridges, on behalf of the HCPC, reminded the Panel of the wider public interest in the imposition of a sanction. He submitted that any sanction must be proportionate and that it was important to note that the purpose of a sanction is not to punish the Registrant for a second time.

31. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. He advised the Panel that the full range of sanctions is available to the Panel as this was a case involving a criminal conviction, and he reminded the Panel that it was not to go behind the conviction. He reminded the Panel of its over-arching objective.

32. The Legal Assessor advised that, whilst the Panel was entitled to take into consideration the sentence that the Criminal Court imposed upon the Registrant, the sentence imposed is not necessarily a good indicator of the type of sanction that should be applied in this case.

33. The Legal Assessor advised the Panel that any sanction it imposes must be the least restrictive sanction that is sufficient to protect the public and the public interest. It should take into consideration the aggravating and mitigating factors in the case. He reminded the Panel that the purpose of a sanction is not punitive, although it may have that effect. The purpose of a sanction is to protect members of the public and the wider public interest, weighing the Registrant’s interest against the public interest. 


Decision

34. The Panel had close regard to the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy document in reaching its decision on sanction. The Panel reminded itself that the purpose of a sanction is not to punish. Rather, a sanction should only be imposed to the extent that it is required to protect the public, to maintain a proper degree of confidence in the profession and the regulatory process, and to declare and maintain proper standards among fellow professionals. To ensure this approach the Panel reminded itself to first consider whether its findings require the imposition of any sanction all. If they do, then the available sanctions must be considered in ascending order of seriousness until one that satisfies the factors already identified is reached. The Panel confirms that it has followed this approach in the present case.

35. The Panel took into account the following aggravating features of this case:

• The offences were of the most serious of its kind by the very nature of the category of images found.
• There was a very large number of images found in the possession of the Registrant across all official categories of such images.
• The convictions related to seven charges of indecent images (stills and moving) of children and bestiality.
• There was also a conviction for possession of Class A Drugs.

36. The Panel took into account the following as mitigating features of this case:

• The Registrant had cooperated with the police investigation and pleaded guilty at the first available opportunity. The Panel also noted that he made admissions during his interview with the police.

37. In this case, the aggravating factors significantly outweigh the mitigating factors.

38. The Panel determined that the Registrant had been convicted of a number of serious criminal offences. Furthermore, the Panel could not be satisfied that there was a low risk of repetition as it has not had any communication or evidence from the Registrant to enable it to determine otherwise.

39. In considering the matter of sanction, the Panel started with the least restrictive moving upwards.

40. The Panel first considered taking no action but concluded that, given the seriousness of the criminal offences, this would be wholly inappropriate and insufficient to declare and affirm proper standards of conduct and behaviour, or to maintain public confidence in the profession.

41. The Panel then considered whether to make a caution order. The Panel determined that circumstances of the criminal offence are such that a caution order is not appropriate for the same reason as set out above.

42. The Panel next considered the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order. However, this is not a case that is suitable for the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order. There are no concerns with the Registrant’s clinical practice or competency as a Paramedic. In any case, the serious nature of the criminal offences makes a Conditions of Practice Order inappropriate as a sanction for the same reasons as set out above.

43. The Panel then considered whether a period of suspension would be a sufficient and proportionate response in order to maintain a proper degree of confidence in the profession and the regulatory process, and to declare and maintain proper standards among fellow professionals. As stated above, taking the circumstances of the criminal offences into consideration, the Panel has determined that the Registrant had been convicted of a number of serious criminal offences and the general principle is that he should not be permitted to resume his practice until his has satisfactorily completed his sentence.

44. The Panel also considered the public interest in allowing a skilled Paramedic to return to practice at the completion of his criminal sentence. It noted that there is current shortage of Paramedics nationwide.

45. Having weighed all the above considerations, the Panel determined that the matter before it was so serious that a Suspension Order, even for the maximum duration, would not be sufficient to maintain and declare proper standards of conduct and behaviour, nor to maintain the reputation of the profession, nor to maintain public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process.

46. This case involves such extreme indecent images of children that the imposition of a suspension order, even for the maximum duration of one year, would undermine public confidence in the regulatory process as well as in the profession.

47. The Panel therefore went on to consider striking the Registrant’s name off the HCPC Register of Paramedics. The Panel took into account the impact that such an order would have on the Registrant in terms of his finances and his reputation. However, it concluded that this was such a serious departure from the standard of behaviour expected from a Paramedic that only a striking off order would be sufficient to maintain and declare proper standards of conduct and behaviour, to maintain the reputation of the profession, and to maintain public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. The seriousness of the Registrant’s convictions demands the ultimate sanction of a striking off order.

48. In the light of the above, the Panel is satisfied that the appropriate and proportionate response to protect the public and otherwise in the public interest in these circumstances is to make a Striking-Off Order.

 

Order

Order:  That the Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mr Alexander Buckley from the Paramedic part of the Register on the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

Interim Order:

1. Having heard submissions from Mr Bridges, on behalf of the HCPC and having taken advice from the Legal Assessor, the Panel decided to make an Interim Suspension Order.

Interim Suspension Order:

The Panel makes an Interim Suspension Order, for a period of 18 months, 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.
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, subject to a maximum period of 18 months.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Alexander Buckley

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
30/10/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off
31/07/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
09/05/2019 Investigating Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
14/02/2019 Investigating Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
21/11/2018 Investigating committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
04/06/2018 Investigating committee Interim Order Application Interim Suspension