Mr Jack Nicholls

Profession: Paramedic

Registration Number: PA43913

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 11:00 03/02/2020 End: 17:00 03/02/2020

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Struck off

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Allegation

On 5th July 2018 at Wolverhampton Crown Court, whilst registered as a  Paramedic, you were convicted of:
1. Possess an offensive weapon in a public place
2. Dangerous Driving
3. Impersonate a Police Officer
4. By reason of your convictions, as set out at particulars 1-3, your fitness to practise is
impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters
Service
1. The Panel found that there had been good service of the notice of hearing by a letter dated 29 November 2019 sent by first class post, which informed the Registrant of the date, time and venue of the hearing.

Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant
2. Ms Sheridan submitted that the hearing should proceed in the absence of the Registrant. She referred the Panel to the correspondence from the Scheduling Officer at the HCPC, dated 25 November 2019, informing the Registrant that a provisional date had been identified for the final hearing on 17 January 2020. The Scheduling Officer invited the Registrant to provide an alternative date if this date was not suitable. In response to that letter the Registrant sent an email to HCPC Case Manager dated 26 November 2019 informing her that he did not intend to attend the hearing but that he would provide written representations once he had received the bundle. No further representations were received. Ms Sheridan submitted that it was in the interests of justice to proceed as the Registrant had voluntarily absented himself.

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

4. In deciding whether to exercise its discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant, the Panel took into consideration the HCPC Practice Note entitled ‘Proceeding in the Absence of a Registrant’. The Panel weighed its responsibilities to protect the public and to ensure the expeditious disposal of cases with the Registrant’s right to a fair hearing. The Panel was satisfied that all reasonable efforts had been made by the HCPC to enable the Registrant to participate in the hearing and that the Registrant had decided not to attend the hearing. In GMC v Adeogba and Visvardis [2016] EWCA Civ 162 the Court stressed that there is a responsibility on a Registrant to engage with the process. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had voluntarily absented himself from the hearing. The Panel therefore found that it was in the interests of justice to proceed with the substantive hearing.

Hearing in private
5. The Registrant asked for the entire hearing to be held in private.  Ms Sheridan on behalf of the  HCPC invited the Panel to hear the  case in public on the grounds that the starting point is that regulatory proceedings should be held in public based on the principle of ‘open justice’ and on the importance of public scrutiny. She reminded the Panel that the conviction was already in the public domain.

6. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and that Rule 10(1) of the HCPC Rules provides that:

“At any hearing ... the proceedings shall be held in public unless the Committee is satisfied that, in the interests of justice  or for the protection of the private life of the health professional, the complainant, any person giving evidence or any patient  or  client , the public should be excluded  from  all or part of the hearing..”

7. She also reminded the Panel that Article 8 of the ECHR provides for the right to private and family life and that those parts of a hearing which refer to a Registrant’s private life can be heard in private.

8. The Panel determined that the hearing should be held in public but that if there were references in the case to the Registrant’s health, private or family life that the Panel would move into private session.

Background
9. The Registrant is a registered Paramedic who was employed by West Midlands Ambulance Service.

10. On the 5 July  2018  he pleaded guilty  before His Honour Judge  Ward  at Wolverhampton Crown Court of:-
(i) Possession of an offensive weapon in a public place
(ii) Dangerous driving
(iii) Impersonating a police officer
(iv) False imprisonment

11. He was sentenced on the 25 September 2018 to sentences totalling 22 months imprisonment which were suspended for two years. The Judge also imposed rehabilitation activities, unpaid work, electronic monitoring for 6 months and disqualified the Registrant from driving for 2 years, requiring him to take an extended driving test.

12. The facts which led to the conviction were that in the early hours of the morning on the 6 June 2018, the Registrant was driving around in his car dressed like a police officer. He was wearing black clothes, namely a black polo shirt bearing the word “Police” and steel toe capped boots. He had with him what looked like a police radio, handcuffs and a police baton was later found in the footwell of his car. He stopped his car and approached a man (Victim 1), who was walking home after an evening out, telling him that he was wanted by the police. Victim 1 asked him how he knew he was wanted. The Registrant then tried to arrest Victim 1, by handcuffing him. He managed to get the handcuffs onto Victim1’s left wrist but a struggle ensued. Victim 1 asked the Registrant for his name and identification. The Registrant would not give his name or badge number. The Registrant dragged Victim 1 to the ground.  During the struggle the Registrant shouted “Stop resisting or I’m going to spray you”. The noise and the struggle caught the attention of a neighbour and her 14 year old daughter. They both came out onto the street. The Registrant told the neighbour (Victim 2) that he was a police officer.  She told the Registrant to call for back up and when he didn’t call for assistance she tried to grab his radio. She then realised that he was not a police officer because the radio did not have a battery.  She called the Registrant a “fake police officer”. The Registrant tried to get away and reversed his car. In the process he reversed into Victim 2’s 14 year old daughter (Victim 3). Victim 3 had scratches to her leg but was fortunately not seriously injured. Victim 1 was found to have a grazed elbow, grazed shin and damage to his wrist where the handcuffs had been applied.

13. The Registrant then drove off at speed to get away. As a result of his driving an unmarked police car followed and attempted to stop him. The Registrant drove at 90 miles an hour in a 40 mile an hour zone and 60 -70 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour zone. He went through four sets of red traffic lights. His driving was so dangerous that the officers considered it too dangerous to carry on the pursuit. The Registrant eventually stopped when he encountered a marked police car.

14. When arrested the Registrant gave a number of different accounts. He initially stated that when driving back from Cheshire on the motorway he got bored so got off. He saw a male whom he thought needed his help. When he tried to help him the man assaulted him. He then said he thought the police were chasing him. When he was interviewed he stated that he had been to a friend’s fancy dress party and that this accounted for his attire. When this friend was spoken to by the police   she denied that there had been a fancy dress party. The Registrant stated that his satellite navigation was not working and he stopped the man for directions because he was lost. He then claimed that he was assaulted by Victim 1. He explained the presence of the handcuffs stating he had been to a stag party the year before and the baton was used for jujitsu. He also stated that the handcuffs in his possession had been used in the context of a relationship.

15. When his home was searched police paraphernalia was found as well as a letter that the Registrant had written himself on Cheshire Constabulary headed paper confirming  that a man living at his address had successfully completed the  interview process to become a Special Constable (the name on the  letter was not the Registrant’s). However, the Registrant is also noted to have said that he had applied to become a Special Constable and that the application process was ongoing.

16. The Registrant changed his name following his conviction from James Stringer to Jack Nicholls.

17. The Registrant told the Police that he had wanted to be a police officer for some time and had had fantasies about becoming one. In his sentencing remarks HHJ Ward stated that: “wanting to be a police officer and fantasising about it is one thing. Transferring those fantasies into reality is quite another.” He found that these were serious offences and that impersonating a police officer was particularly serious because the public need to trust the police. The Judge remarked “unless you address your fantasy of behaving like a police officer and put a complete stop to it, someone is going to suffer significant harm. It might be you, but more likely, it will be some innocent member of the public”.

Decision on facts
18. The Panel was provided with a Memorandum of Conviction in the name of the Registrant, which was signed by an Officer of the convicting Court on 12 February 2019.

19. The Panel had careful regard to the Memorandum of Conviction. It also took into account the submissions of Ms Sheridan, and the HCPTS Practice Note entitled ‘Conviction and Caution Allegations’.

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

21. The Panel was aware that it could not go behind the conviction and was required by Rule 10(1)(d) of the Conduct and Competence Committee procedure Rules 2003 to accept the Memorandum of Conviction from the Wolverhampton  Crown Court as conclusive proof of the conviction itself and the underlying facts.

22. Based on the Memorandum of Conviction, the Panel was satisfied that the facts set out in Particular 1 had been proved.

Decision on impairment
23. The Panel then went on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of his conviction.  In reaching a decision on this the Panel had regard to the sentencing remarks of HHJ  Ward dated  13 June  2018, the letter from  Keith Williams  of the  West Midlands Police notifying the HCPC of these events and the  Registrant’s own letter relating to this incident prepared in 2018 for these proceedings.

24. In his letter, the Registrant accepted that his actions were wrong and that the offences of false imprisonment, possession of an offensive weapon, impersonating a police officer and driving dangerously were serious and wrong. He described the event as happening on the spur of the moment stating that he had “over time built up a collection of police memorabilia, when approaching the victim I got caught up in the moment which led me to apply the handcuffs. It was not my intention to kidnap or take the victim anywhere and it certainly was not my intention to cause deliberate harm”. He recognised that his continued service as a paramedic would be untenable.

25. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had careful regard to the HCPTS Practice Note entitled “Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired”.

26. In reaching a decision, the Panel kept in mind the central importance of the protection of the public, the wider public interest and the guidance provided in the CHRE V NMC and P Grant [2011] EWHC 927 (Admin). The Panel was mindful of the need to safeguard public confidence both in the profession and the HCPC. In the Panel’s view, the convictions are of a nature and gravity that means the Registrant presents a risk to the public. There is nothing before the Panel to reassure it that the Registrant has to any significant extent reflected on his behaviour and Conviction. The evidence was that although the Registrant pleaded guilty, he lied to the police when he was first arrested. In his letter prepared in 2018 for these proceedings, the Registrant expressed remorse and apologised for his behaviour. However, the Panel find that the Registrant continues to minimise his actions, stating that “this was a spur of the moment decision, not premeditated in any way” and taking issue with language used in the police disclosure relating to the fact that he reversed his car into Victim 3. There is no evidence before the Panel to suggest that the Registrant has taken any steps to remediate his conduct which led to the conviction. There is no evidence that the Registrant has undertaken any counselling or therapy to address this behaviour.

27. The Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC in the run up to this hearing and therefore the Panel has no evidence before it to suggest that the Registrant would not repeat his behaviour. It concluded that there is therefore a real risk of repetition and that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired on the personal component.

28. In line with the guidance set out in the Fifth Shipman Inquiry Report, the Panel also concluded that in light of the seriousness and the nature of the conviction that a finding of impairment of fitness to practise is also required in order to maintain public confidence in the profession and the Regulatory process, and to uphold and declare proper standards. The Panel considered that the public interest is firmly engaged in this case and that a well-informed member of the public would be shocked should the Registrant not be found to be impaired.

29. The Panel accordingly found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on both the personal and public components.

Decision on sanction
30. The Panel heard the submission of Ms Sheridan with regard to sanction on 17 January 2020. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. Due to the time the Panel adjourned part-heard on that date.

31. The Panel reconvened on the 3 February 2020. The Registrant was notified that the Panel would reconvene on the 3 February 2020 to make a decision on sanction.

32. On 31 January 2020, the Registrant sent in further submissions relating to sanction. This was a lengthy letter which addressed the decision that the Panel had made up to the point of impairment and addressed sanction.

33. The Registrant had been served with notice of the adjourned hearing by first class post on 22 January 2020.

34. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor on proceeding in the absence of the Registrant. The Registrant made it clear in his letter dated 31 January 2020 that he would not be attending the adjourned hearing in person.  He wrote: - “It is out of shame and regret that I will not be able to be with you in person today”. He then went on to address the findings of the Panel up to and including impairment.

35. The Panel determined that the Registrant had voluntarily absented himself. He had not applied for an adjournment and had specifically stated that he would not be attending the hearing. The Panel therefore determined that no useful purpose would be served by an adjournment and the Panel found that it was in the interests of justice to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.

36. Ms Vignoles addressed the Panel on whether the letter should be admitted as evidence as the Panel had already heard submissions on sanction. She remained neutral on the point, but submitted that the Panel needed to consider whether the submissions were relevant. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

37. The Panel determined that the Registrant’s submissions were relevant and that it was in the interests of justice to admit the letter as evidence and to take the contents into account when considering sanction.

38. The Panel have read the Registrant’s submissions/ reflective piece and taken it into account. The Registrant has acknowledged that he remains impaired and that he has not engaged with the HCPC in these proceedings. He states that he has however used the intervening period to work with his probation officer. He has completed a ‘Think Victim workbook’ and a ‘Thinking skills, offending behaviour workbook’ and he has tried to seek out appropriate support for his “maladaptive coping strategies”.  He described himself as having buried “his head in the sand” and as having “fallen into a state of depression since the offences”. The Registrant stated that he no longer has access to police memorabilia and is on the waiting list for CBT therapy with the NHS. He has now returned to his family home and is no longer socially isolated. He acknowledged that he should have sought support at work around the time of these offences. The Registrant has accepted that he lied to the police in interview and stated: “I guess I was selfishly in self-preservation mode thinking that all this would go away”. He went on to state that being “dishonest and exploitative is not a dominant feature” of his personality. He stated that he lied in an attempt to preserve his life and that prior to these events he prided himself on his integrity and honesty and that the experience has been a massive wake up call to him and “one which will never happen again”. The Registrant has acknowledged that ‘fantasy and reality cannot be entwined”.  He stated that he was close to starting therapy and believes his chance of reoffending is nil.

39. The Panel has taken all of these factors into account in reaching a decision on sanction.

40. The Panel had regard to all the evidence presented, and to the Council’s Sanctions Policy (March 2019). The Panel reminded itself that the primary function of a sanction is to protect the public and that they needed to consider:-
(i) Any risks the Registrant might pose to service users:
(ii) The deterrent effect on other Registrants:
(iii) Public confidence in the profession and in the regulatory process.

41. The Panel reminded itself that a sanction is not meant to be punitive although it may have a punitive effect. The Panel bore in mind the principles of fairness and proportionality when determining what the appropriate sanction in this case should be.

42. The Panel considered the mitigating factors in this case to be:
a. The Registrant pleaded guilty at Wolverhampton Crown Court.
b. The Registrant has expressed remorse and has shown some insight but he has not begun therapeutic work and therefore his insight remains limited.
c. The Registrant has completed a ‘Think victim workbook’ and a ‘Thinking skills workbook’ .These were not before the Panel so the Panel was unable to attach significant weight to them.  There was therefore limited evidence of remediation.

43. The Panel considered the aggravating factors in this case to be:
a) The offences were extremely serious. The Registrant caused physical and psychological harm to members of the public.   His behaviour, whether based in fantasy or not, was reckless and highly dangerous and it was more by luck then design, that no one was seriously hurt.
b) These offences were all the more serious because they included impersonating a police officer and false imprisonment.
c) The sentencing judge’s view was that unless the Registrant addressed his behaviour he was likely to pose a significant risk to others in the future [18 above].
d)  This was not an isolated incident but an escalation of a course of conduct which the Registrant had been engaged in over a number of years. The Registrant accepted that he had been driving around at night for some time, dressed as a police officer and had stopped a number of members of the public, pretending to be a police officer, and had asked for their names. The attempted arrest marked an escalation in behaviour.
e) The Registrant’s behaviour was compounded by his attempts to lie and mislead the police at each stage of the investigation. The various accounts given by the appellant are set out paragraph 16-18 above.
f) The Registrant has changed his name since his conviction. He appears before the Panel as ‘Jack Nicholls’. This has the potential to make it more difficult for future employers to link him with his criminal conduct as ‘James Stringer’. It is particularly worrying in light of the fact that the Registrant has a history of using false names/identities, which is evidenced by the letter that he sent to himself in a false name purporting to be from Cheshire Police confirming successful completion of the interview process to become a special constable back in 2011. The Panel note that it was not until the day of sentence that the appellant finally admitted that he was the author of the letter.
g) The Registrant has only engaged with the regulatory process to a minimum extent.
h) The Registrant has not yet addressed the ‘delusional’ and ‘psychological issues’ that led to these offences. In considering the matter of sanction, the Panel started with the least restrictive, moving upwards.

44. The Panel first considered taking no action but concluded that given the seriousness of the Registrant’s misconduct, this would be wholly inappropriate.

45. The Panel then considered whether to make a Caution Order. The Panel considered the guidance in the Practice Note on Sanction and found that these conviction were far too serious for a Caution Order to be considered appropriate.

46. The Panel next considered the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order. These were serious offences. The Registrant has not demonstrated insight into his misconduct nor has he expressed meaningful remorse. He is not working.  The Registrant is still subject to a suspended sentence. The Panel considered carefully the guidance in HCPC and the General Dental Council v Fleischmann [2005] EWHR 87, where  paragraph 54 Newman.J held:-

“I am satisfied as a general principle, where a practitioner has been convicted of a serious criminal offence or offences he should not be permitted to resume his practice until he has satisfactorily completed his sentence. Only circumstances which plainly justify a different course should permit otherwise. Such circumstances could arise with a period of disqualification from driving, or time allowed by the court for the payment of a fine. The rationale for the principle is not that it can serve to punish the practitioner whilst serving his sentence, but that the good standing of the profession must be earned if the reputation of the profession is to be maintained.”

47. Taking into account all of the above, the Panel concluded that conditions of practice could not be formulated which could adequately address the risk posed by the Registrant, nor would they meet the need to mark the seriousness of the behaviour and thus protect the public and maintain public confidence in the profession and the regulator.

48. The Panel went on to consider whether a period of suspension would be appropriate in this case. A period of suspension would protect the public in the short term while the suspension was in place but the Registrant has not demonstrated real understanding and insight into his misconduct. The Panel found evidence of deep seated personality problems. The Registrant has not really engaged with the regulatory process and has not demonstrated that he has taken meaningful steps to understand why he behaved in the manner he did. The Registrant has never fully acknowledged the seriousness of his actions. He continues to pose a significant risk to the public and the Panel find his assertion in his reflective piece that he believes his chance of reoffending is nil before undertaking therapy, demonstrates a lack of insight.

49. The Registrant has breached a fundamental tenet of his profession. The Panel has determined that he remains a danger to the public and to service users. The Panel find that there is a significant risk of repetition of his misconduct. The Panel determined that a period of suspension would be insufficient to mark the Registrant’s very serious misconduct.

50. The Panel further noted the  obiter remarks of Newman J In Fleishman, where  paragraph 55 he held :-

“The requirement  for an applicant  for registration to be of good character secures the need for the public to be protected by the maintenance of high standards and the high reputation of the profession which has to be served at the stage of registration as well as in disciplinary proceedings. The protection of the public will not be served by the application of a different standard at erasure from that which applied when considering application.

51. In that light, the Panel determined that even the maximum period of suspension would not serve to protect the public in the long term. The risk of repetition is too serious.  In addition, the public must be assured that those employed as Paramedics adhere to the highest standards. In view of the seriousness of these offences, the Panel is of the view that the Registrant has brought the profession into disrepute. Therefore, taking into account the wider public interest the Panel is satisfied that the only appropriate and proportionate response in these circumstances is to make a Striking-Off Order.

Order

The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mr Jack Nicholls from the Register on the date this Order comes into effect.

Notes

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.

Interim Order:
1. As the Registrant was not present, the Panel considered whether it could proceed in his absence to consider an application for an Interim Order. The Panel accepted the submissions from Ms Vignoles that the Registrant was made aware on 29 November 2019 that the Panel would have the power to make an Interim Order following the conclusion of the hearing.
2. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

3. The Panel determined that the Registrant was aware that the Panel had the power to make an interim order at the end of the hearing pending a possible appeal. As the Panel had already found that the Registrant voluntarily absented himself and in light of its findings in relation to the risks in this case, the Panel determined that it was in the interest of justice to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.

4. Ms Vignoles made an application for an Interim Suspension Order. The Panel took into consideration the application for an Interim Suspension Order from Ms Vignoles, on the grounds of public protection and in the wider public interest. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice and paid regard to the HCPTS’s Practice Note on Interim Orders.

5. In light of the Panel’s conclusions as set out above it concluded that an Interim Order was necessary and proportionate. Such an order should cover the interim period of any appeal notice, if applicable, or any period pending the final disposal of the appeal. In light of the seriousness of the Registrant’s conduct and the potential risk to the public such an order is necessary in order to protect the public and in the wider public interest, for the same reasons as in the Panel’s substantive determination.

6. The Panel considered imposing an Interim Conditions of Practice Order, but rejected this on the grounds that it would be incompatible with the sanction in this case of a Striking Off Order. In any event, the Panel concluded that an Interim Suspension Order would be the best method to protect the public and uphold public confidence in the profession and in the regulatory process, for the reasons given in the substantive determination.

7. Therefore, the only proportionate and appropriate order to make is that of an Interim Suspension Order to be effective immediately. The Panel concluded that it should be of 18 months’ duration so as to cover, at most, any period of appeal, should that take place, in light of the time High Court appeals can take to be listed, heard and concluded.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Jack Nicholls

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
03/02/2020 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off
17/01/2020 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Adjourned part heard
10/09/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
10/04/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
22/01/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
30/07/2018 Investigating committee Interim Order Application Interim Suspension