Gregory Dring

Profession: Practitioner psychologist

Registration Number: PYL05060

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 23/08/2021 End: 17:00 24/08/2021

Location: Virtual via Video Conference

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Not well founded

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Allegation

1. On 6 November 2019, you were found guilty and received a Conditional Discharge from City of London Magistrates' Court for knowingly failing to comply with a condition imposed by a senior police officer contrary to Section 14 (5) and (9) of the Public Order Act 1986.

2. The matters set out in allegation 1 above constitute misconduct.

3. By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Background

1. On 4 September 2019 the Registrant, an HCPC-registered Practitioner Psychologist, contacted the HCPC to disclose that he had been arrested after taking part in an Extinction Rebellion (XR) protest on Waterloo Bridge, London, in April 2019. After refusing a police officer’s request to move on to an approved site he was then charged with an offence under the Public Order Act.

2. On 15 April 2019, XR had formed a number of 'sites' across Central London, in which a large number of people sought to block various arterial roads. The locations were predominantly Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus, and Parliament Square. At Waterloo Bridge a camp had been set up across the road preventing traffic from crossing. On the bridge, protestors had positioned a large truck, some having attached themselves to it.

3. Chief Inspector MM, the senior police officer attending Waterloo Bridge, determined that the blockages to the road may result in “serious disruption to the life of the community” and implemented the following condition pursuant to s.14 of the Public Order Act:

“I hereby give a direction imposing the following conditions on the persons organising or taking part in the assembly, which appear to me to be necessary to prevent serious disorder, damage, disruption or intimidation, (1) Any assembly MUST at the Extinction Rebellion Protest, “Tell the truth” which is taking place at WATERLOO Bridge who wish to continue with their assembly you must go to MARBLE ARCH, the site of the “This is an emergency protest site.”

4. This condition was implemented from 18.55 on 15 April 2019 for a period of 72 hours.

5. On 16 April 2019, at approximately 00.05, PC K was on duty policing the XR protests on Waterloo Bridge. The Registrant was one of a large group of protesters holding banners and blocking the carriageway in the centre of the bridge. PC K informed the group of protesters about the condition to cease their assembly on Waterloo Bridge and proceed to Marble Arch. PC K approached the Registrant, who was sitting with the crowd on the carriageway. PC K asked him to comply with the conditions and move away from the area. He did not do so and was therefore arrested and taken to a police station.

6. The Registrant was later charged with one offence under s.14 of the Public Order Act 1986 of failing to comply with a condition imposed by a senior police officer. He appeared at City of London Magistrates’ Court on 19 July 2019 and pleaded not guilty. On 6 November 2019, he was convicted and sentenced to a Conditional Discharge for 9 months and was ordered to pay costs and a victim surcharge totalling £354.80.

7. On 12 August 2020, an Investigating Committee Panel of the HCPC determined that there was a case to answer in respect of the Allegation set out above.

Evidence of the Registrant

8. The Registrant gave evidence, admitting the fact of his conviction. He denied misconduct.

9. He stated that he had self-referred to the HCPC in accordance with Standard 9 of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance, and Ethics. The Registrant submitted his behaviour was not morally culpable or disgraceful. It was non-violent civil disobedience, which he said should not be restricted by virtue of HCPC registration. He wished to encourage the Panel to protect health professionals who engage in protests. He stated there was a lack of consistency between different panels and regulators when dealing with registrants who engage in climate change protests. He added that during the incident he could not clearly hear the police officer who arrested him due to background noise and a hearing impairment, although in any event his intention was to be arrested and he would not have left the bridge voluntarily.

10. The Registrant stated that he strongly believes the climate crisis is a threat to civilisation. There are no plans to cut emissions by the amount required. However, as a direct result of the XR protests, the UK Parliament has acknowledged the climate emergency and the government’s position has changed. The Registrant submitted that there is a health crisis caused by climate change and the HCPC Investigating Committee Panel of 12 August 2020 should not have concluded that he had a case to answer in relation to the Allegation.

Submissions of the HCPC

11. The HCPC submitted that if the conduct alleged was found proved, this would establish that the Registrant acted in a way which fell far short of what would be proper in the circumstances and what the public would expect of a HCPC-registered professional. The Registrant’s actions demonstrated a lack of respect for a person in a position of authority. In doing so, the Registrant breached standard 9.1 of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics, which states: “You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession”. The Registrant’s behaviour in deciding to disobey a police request to move to Marble Arch to protest, in order to cause disruption to traffic on Waterloo Bridge, was, in the HCPC’s submission, sufficiently serious to amount to misconduct.

12. In his closing submissions, Mr Tarbert referred to the case of Nandi v General Medical Council [2004] EWHC 2317, in which serious professional misconduct was referred to as, “conduct which would be regarded as deplorable by fellow practitioners”.

Submissions on behalf of the Registrant

13. The Panel heard submissions from Professor Wang. He submitted that the Registrant’s behaviour giving rise to his conviction had not been morally culpable or disgraceful. Peaceful protest to draw attention to climate change was not, in the opinion of Professor Wang and many members of the Registrant’s profession, misconduct. The Registrant’s conviction had not brought the profession into disrepute.

14. Further, it was submitted that the HCPC’s proceedings against the Registrant were inconsistent with the actions of other regulatory bodies when dealing with registrants who protest peacefully. There was also, according to the Registrant, an inconsistent approach by the HCPC towards other registrants.

Further documentation

15. On this latter point, after the Registrant’s case had concluded the Panel granted him permission to reopen his case, as following questions from the Panel as to the existence of documents demonstrating inconsistent HCPC decisions, he produced an online article written by another HCPC registrant, RJ.

16. Further enquires were made to obtain a copy of the HCPC Investigating Committee Panel’s decision concerning RJ, who had self-referred to the HCPC after receiving a Conditional Discharge in the same circumstances as the Registrant. A redacted copy of the decision was served on the Registrant, which he then submitted to the Panel.

17. There was no objection to this additional evidence being before the Panel, as it had a discretion to admit late evidence.

18. The Panel noted that the case of RJ was, factually, strikingly similar to the Registrant’s case. The Investigating Committee Panel’s decision for RJ states, “…the Registrant’s actions are not regarded as deplorable by a large number of colleagues; indeed, she appears to have a great deal of positive support from many psychologists. In the light of this information the Panel concluded that there is not a realistic prospect that others would regard this isolated incident, outside the Registrant’s practice, as a deplorable act. The Panel therefore concluded that there is not a realistic prospect of establishing that fact of the Allegation would amount to misconduct.”

Legal Assessor’s advice

19. The guidance in the HCPTS Practice Note entitled “Conviction and Caution Allegations” states that a Conditional Discharge is not a conviction for the purposes of Article 22(1)(a)(iii) of the Health Professions Order 2001. Accordingly, misconduct is alleged by the HCPC in this case, under Article 22(1)(a)(i), by reason of the Registrant’s conviction.

20. The Legal Assessor advised the Panel that the burden of proof is upon the HCPC on the balance of probabilities in relation to findings of fact. The Conditional Discharge can be proved, as in this case, by the Memorandum of Conviction.

21. Whether the proved facts amounted to the statutory ground of misconduct was a matter for the Panel’s judgement.

22. The word “misconduct” was described in Roylance v GMC (No 2) [2001] 1 AC 311, as, “a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. The standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required to be followed by a medical practitioner in the particular circumstances”.

23. The case of Remedy UK Ltd) v GMC [2010] EWHC 1245 (Admin), decided that misconduct is of two principal kinds:

(a) “sufficiently serious misconduct in the exercise of professional practice such that it can properly be described as misconduct going to fitness to practise”;

(b) “conduct of a morally culpable or otherwise disgraceful kind which may, and often will, occur outwith the course of professional practice itself, but which brings disgrace upon the [professional] and thereby prejudices the reputation of the profession.”

24. The conduct must also be sufficiently serious such that it can properly be described as misconduct going to fitness to practise.

25. Not all acts and omissions of a registrant will be regulatory matters. Some will fall outside of the scope of the jurisdiction of regulatory law. Furthermore, the Panel should not stray beyond the line between individual rights and the public interest in upholding professional standards, according to the case of Beckwith v SRA [2020] EWHC 3231, in which it was stated that:

“54. There can be no hard and fast rule either that regulation under the Handbook may never be directed to the regulated person’s private life, or that any/every aspect of her private life is liable to scrutiny. But Principle 2 or Principle 6 may reach into private life only when conduct that is part of a person’s private life realistically touches on her practise of the profession (Principle 2) or the standing of the profession (Principle 6). Any such conduct must be qualitatively relevant. It must, in a way that is demonstrably relevant, engage one or other of the standards of behaviour which are set out in or necessarily implicit from the Handbook. In this way, the required fair balance is properly struck between the right to respect to private life and the public interest in the regulation of the solicitor’s profession. Regulators will do well to recognise that it is all too easy to be dogmatic without knowing it; popular outcry is not proof that a particular set of events gives rise to any matter falling within a regulator’s remit.”

Decision on Facts

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

27. The Panel noted that the Registrant admitted the fact of the conviction.

28. The Panel found the conviction was proved to the requisite standard by the Memorandum of Conviction and the Registrant’s admission.

Decision on Ground

29. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel took into account the case law on misconduct, in particular the cases of Nandi and Beckwith, when making its decision.

30. The Panel was cognisant that the Allegation relates solely to failing to comply with a condition imposed by a senior police officer. However, it took note of the wider context in which that failure to comply took place.

31. The Panel noted the Investigating Committee Panel’s decision with regard to RJ but was aware of its responsibility to exercise its judgement in assessing this case on its own merits.

32. The Panel found the Registrant’s evidence to be well-balanced, thoughtful, and impressive. He made concessions when explaining his behaviour. His response to cross-examination concerning the disruption caused by the protest to members of the public attending medical appointments, for example, was carefully considered. Whilst he acknowledged that members of the public could be inconvenienced, he stated that any such inconvenience would be proportionate when balanced with the climate crisis resulting in the potential deaths of billions of people.

33. The Panel noted that the Registrant’s own view was that the protest was carefully planned to be proportionate, highlighting the need to address the climate crisis, and that his understanding was that ambulances or emergency vehicles would not be obstructed. The Panel accepted that the Registrant’s behaviour towards the arresting police officer was courteous, and he cooperated with the police at the point of and after his arrest. The Panel noted the report from the arresting police officer which stated, “I asked [the Registrant] to stand up and he asked me if he had been arrested. I replied ‘yes’, and [the Registrant] stood up compliantly”.

34. It was clear that the Registrant feels strongly about the issue of climate change and has genuine and deeply held convictions. There is a long-standing right of peaceful protest in the UK and many members of the Registrant’s profession feel they have a responsibility to act in relation to issues of moral importance. All individuals, including health professionals, have a right to partake in non-violent protest in order to demonstrate their strongly held personal beliefs.

35. The Allegation relates to the Registrant’s behaviour which led to the Conditional Discharge. The Panel noted that this conduct went beyond the expected boundaries of peaceful protest due to the Registrant’s failure to comply with a police direction. However, the Panel also noted the absence of aggravating factors in relation to the Registrant’s arrest, in that he was compliant and non-violent. The Registrant did not breach his Conditional Discharge. In these particular circumstances and in the judgement of the Panel, the Registrant’s behaviour on 16 April 2019, which led to the Conditional Discharge, would not have undermined public trust and confidence in him or his profession. Accordingly, it would not have breached Standard 9.1 of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance, and Ethics.

36. The Panel found that the proved factual particulars do not amount to the ground of misconduct. The Registrant’s behaviour which led to his conviction, and whilst acting as a non-violent protestor, was in these circumstances not sufficiently serious to amount to misconduct because it was unlikely to be viewed as “deplorable” by fellow practitioners and was not likely to bring the profession into disrepute with regard to public confidence. The Panel accepted the evidence put forward on behalf of the Registrant that there is a widely held view among the Clinical Psychologists’ profession that the behaviour giving rise to the Registrant’s conviction would not be regarded as such. Furthermore, fellow members of the profession would be surprised if his behaviour was considered to be serious professional misconduct by this Panel.

37. Therefore, in this particular case, the allegation that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct, arising from his Conditional Discharge, is not well founded.

Order

No information currently available

Notes

No notes available

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Gregory Dring

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
23/08/2021 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Not well founded