Michael Walters

Profession: Paramedic

Registration Number: PA41260

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 04/07/2022 End: 17:00 07/07/2022

Location: Virtual Hearing via Video Conference

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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

As a registered Paramedic (PA41260) your fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct. In that:


1. On 25 April 2020, during filtering face piece respirator/facemask (FFP3) fit testing or instruction in how to use and/or test the powered respirator hood at Bath Ambulance Station you:


a. grabbed and held Complainant B’s head, kissing them on the lips whilst you were both wearing facemasks


b. twice placed the hose of the powered hood being tested on Complainant B’s right breast.


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


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

Finding

Preliminary matters:


Amendment

Background


1. At the outset of the hearing, there was an application by the HCPC to amend the allegation. It was submitted that the amendments were minor and did not alter the substantive nature of the allegation. The purpose of the amendments was to ensure that the allegations better reflected the evidence.

2. The Registrant was made aware of the proposed amendment in the letter dated 08 March 2022. He has therefore been on notice of the proposed changes for approximately four months. The Registrant did not object to the proposed amendments.

3. The Panel concluded that there was no prejudice to the Registrant in granting the amendments. Both the original and the amended allegation are set out above. The amendments can be seen in bold.

Special Measures

4. At the outset of the hearing, Ms Bernard-Stevenson made an application for special measures in relation to Complaint B. The application was that Complainant B should be allowed to give her evidence without the Witness being able to see the Registrant on the computer screen, given this was a remote hearing conducted using Microsoft Teams.

5. The application was made on the basis that Complainant B presented as being nervous and that she was a vulnerable witness, as she was the alleged victim in a case involving an allegation of a sexual nature. 

6. Mr Kelcey, on behalf of the Registrant, did not object to the application.

7. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the HCPTS, Practice Note: Special Measures. The Panel granted the application for special measures, having concluded that Complainant B would be better able to give her evidence, if she was unable to see the Registrant, given the sexual nature of the allegations which are made.  

Hearing in Private

8. The Panel heard applications from both Ms Bernard-Stevenson and Mr Kelcey that where matters pertaining to the health of Complainant B, or that of the Registrant (and his family members) arose in evidence, that the Panel should hear that evidence in private.

9. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note: Conducting Hearings in Private. The Panel granted the applications, in order to protect the private life of the individuals concerned, having regard to the provisions of Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights, as an exception to the “open justice principle” that hearings should be held in public.

Bundle

10. The Panel was provided with a substantive evidence bundle of documents which ran to 114 pages. This included a signed witness statement from Complainant B, Emergency Care Assistant (ECA) on behalf of the HCPC.

11. The Panel heard oral evidence from Complainant B.

12. In addition, the Panel was provided, on the morning of the first day of the hearing with a further bundle of documents related to the subsequent police investigation which ran to 24 pages. Ms Bernard-Stevenson made an application to adduce this additional evidence, given its late disclosure. Mr Kelcey did not object to this additional evidence going before the Panel. The Panel granted the application, as there was no prejudice to the Registrant in so doing.

13. The Panel was also provided with a bundle of documents which ran to 44 pages on behalf of the Registrant. This included a witness statement on behalf of the Registrant, as well as a number of other witness statements that took the form of testimonials.

14. There was a second application, from the Registrant, to adduce late evidence, in the form of a witness statement from CAR, Head of EOC Change with the Trust, who was the investigation officer for the Trust. The witness statement was produced on the second day of the hearing. The witness statement exhibited the times, taken from the Trust’s database, showing the tracking of the ambulance which the Registrant and Witness A were crewed on. This showed the vehicle turning on its ignition at Bath Royal United Hospital (RUH) and arriving at Bath ambulance station on 25 April 2020.

15. Ms Bernard-Stevenson objected to the late admission of this document, submitting that it was prejudicial to the HCPC. Firstly, it was submitted that the evidence contradicted the chronology provided by Complainant B. Secondly, the Registrant had made no reference to this evidence in his witness statement or the bundle of documents which he had provided.

16. The Panel exercised its discretion to admit the evidence, notwithstanding its late submission. The Panel concluded there was no prejudice to the HCPC. The timings set out in CAR’s statement broadly correlate with the times which are already before the Panel, namely the key fob data from Bath ambulance station. Complainant B was cross-examined on her chronology, and the key fob data was put to her, suggesting that her recollection was inaccurate.

17. The Panel also heard oral evidence from the Registrant and from a further witness on behalf of the Registrant, EMM.  

Background

18. The Registrant is a Registered Paramedic who was employed by South Western Ambulance Service NHS Trust (‘The Trust’) at the time of the alleged misconduct. The Registrant has worked at the Trust for 37 years.

19. On 28 July 2020, the HCPC received a referral from Person A which concerned an incident alleging that the Registrant had kissed Complainant B and placed the hose of a powered hood to her breasts. Person A had reported this matter on behalf of Complainant B. Following this incident, the Trust conducted an internal investigation. On 19 October 2020, a disciplinary hearing took place, during which the Registrant denied the allegations.

20. At its meeting on the 28 September 2021, a Panel of the HCPC’s Investigating Committee determined that there was a case to answer in relation to an allegation of misconduct of the Registrant’s fitness to practice.

Legal Advice

21. The Panel has heard and accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice and exercised the principle of proportionality at all times. In approaching the task of deciding the facts, the Panel has kept at the forefront of its deliberations, the importance of requiring the HCPC to prove matters against the Registrant. The standard of proof to which the HCPC is required to prove matters is the civil standard – on the balance of probabilities.

22. The Panel was very conscious that when a witness has not given oral evidence, this amounts to hearsay evidence. When considering hearsay evidence, the Panel has paid due regard to the weight which it can attach to it, bearing in mind that it has not been possible for that evidence to be challenged or probed. It has sought where possible to corroborate such evidence with direct evidence pertaining to the allegations.

Decision on Facts

Particular 1(a) Proved


23. Complainant B’s original statement, produced for the internal Trust investigation is dated 07 April 2021. Her account is as follows:

…On the 25th April 2020, I came into work at 09.30 for my 10.00 start, I wanted to sort the remaining people who were left to be Fit tested throughout the trust, one of my roles was to travel around to the stations using the trust car to Fit test the last few people who had not attended open clinic to be Fit Tested.

I looked at the Manning for the day and compared this to my list of remaining people. I noticed that Michael Walters from Bath station had still not been Fit tested, I rang Bath station to see if Michael had turned up for Duty.

A colleague answered and stated that Mike was on station, he stated he was on station due to just being at a cardiac arrest and would be there as he had paperwork to complete and restocking of the vehicle.

I stated I would make my way down to Bath station to Fit test him.

When I arrived, MW was stood in the crew room along with his ECA Witness A MW stated that he was finishing his paperwork, I said that is fine, I would set up the equipment while he was doing this.

I asked MW what he had worn during the Cardiac arrest as I knew he was not Fit tested for any masks and this concerned me, and noticed he also had a stubble, (people with facial hair will 99% of the time will fail the test due to a poor seal around the mask).

He stated he did not know what to do so wore the mask and the Power hood.

I set up the Testing equipment in the crew room, were there was 2 other people present. Witness A (ECA) and [DA] (Paramedic). both people were doing their own thing, in and out of the crew room, and OO [GB] who was in the back office, I recall GB walking through the crew room only twice.

I remember seeing DA going out into the garden, as it was a lovely sunny day, also Witness A going out for a cigarette but cannot recall at what stage this was.

When MW had finished his paperwork, he stated he was ready.

I always wear my mask when testing due to my safety and the testing solution gets to the back of my throat and multiple contact with crews throughout the day. I explained to MW that he would probably Fail the Fit test due to his Facial Hair, But I was happy to test if he wanted to, MW stated he wanted to try.

I started to demonstrate to MW the correct way to test and look at the masks for rips and correct way in putting the mask on, MW put took the mask from the packaging and put the mask straight on, I explained that I needed to do this correctly as this is a safety piece of equipment and told him to remove it and let us start again.

MW removed his mask laughed and started to follow my instructions.

I went through the safety features with MW then when MW put the mask on correctly, MW came towards me grabbed the back of my head and kissed me mask to mask holding the back of my head.

I was taking back by this I pulled back, MW thought this was funny and started to laugh, but I laughed as I did not know what to do this shocked me. I felt taken back, I really didn’t know what to do, I was only a ECA and I was in his station.

Trying to remain professional I carried on the test, (although I felt intimidated and disgusted with his actions,). I had to go to the Kitchen and get a drink of water as I felt physically sick once I had finished the FIT test. I really wanted to leave and make my way back to my back station, but I knew I had to finish the Testing and I had to complete my tasks for this individual...
 
24. In oral evidence, Complainant B stated that the Registrant had “grabbed the back of her head and pulled me in and kissed me mouth to mouth.” He had then pulled away and laughed as he did so. There was no skin to skin contact, as they were both wearing masks. She felt violated and disgusted that he had invaded her personal space. She had not said anything at the time to the Registrant. He was a Paramedic, and she was a more junior employee, being an ECA and the incident had occurred at the Registrant’s ambulance base not hers. She had not wanted to report the incident originally or make a formal complaint. This because there had been a previous incident at Trowbridge ambulance station, and staff members had talked about it and she “did not want to be that person.” She decided to make a formal complaint approximately seven to eight days later, as she was having nightmares about the incident and felt that she was not able to undertake her job to the best of her abilities.


25. Complainant B’s evidence was that she had been wearing a FFP mask to prevent the taste of the solution that was used during the FFP test getting into the back of her throat. Her previous experience had been that she could not get rid of the taste, if she did the test without wearing a mask.

26. The Panel has also seen a file note of a meeting with Complainant B, on 10 June 2020, written by JW, Deputy County Commander – Wiltshire, with the Trust:

Witness C came into the office and explained that had CB disclosed to him that she had experienced some inappropriate behaviour from Paramedic, MW from Bath several weeks earlier.

- He explained that CB was finding it very difficult to deal with and was not sleeping and was having nightmares.

- He explained that CB had not wanted to cause a fuss or ‘get anyone into trouble’.

-CB agreed to speak with me and was also present in the Wiltshire CCC.

- It was 25th April 2020 – was carrying out FFP3 testing at Bath Station.

- She was showing MW how to put on a surgical mask in the correct manner including stretching the mask out so that it covered the chin. CB was wearing a mask and so was MW. MW lent towards and kissed her on the mouth through the masks.

- She said that she laughed it off because she was shocked.

- CB has worked with MW once or maybe twice…

27. The Panel has also seen an email dated 11 June 2020 sent by Complaint B to Witness C, who in turn forwarded this onto JW:

…On the 25th April I rang Bath station to arrange to go to the station to Fit test Michael Walters, he stated he was on station due to just being at a cardiac arrest, so I stated I was on my way down to test him,

When I arrived, MW was stood in the crew room along with his ECA, Witness A

MW stated that he was finishing his paper work, so I got my fit testing equipment out and set it up while he was doing this, When MW had finished his paper work , I showed him how to check the mask ( I always wear a mask due to doing so many a day, and I end up tasting the solution all day , so this stops it.), Mike put his mask on and then grabbed me and kissed me mask to mask holding the back of my head .I was taking back by this but I laughed as I didn’t know what to do or say. Trying to remain professional I carried on the test, (although I felt intimidated and disgusted with his actions).


28. The Panel has also seen the Trust’s Investigation “Meeting under the Disciplinary Notes” with Complainant B, where she gave the following account of the incident:
 
…Am off road with injury at the moment doing FIT testing, been going to check people. Mike Walters is one of them, rang Bath station, Mike Walters there, had just been to an arrest so was still there. I got to Bath station and Mike Walters was still there, sat at table completing ePCR, we chatted briefly about the job and that he hadn’t had FFP3 testing so he explained he wore a mask and powered hood, he has a beard so I knew he would fail the test, I set up, always wear a FFP3 mask to stop me tasting the solution, he put on a mask, I told him to take it off to check it, he then put it back on and come to my face and kissed me, I felt violated but I laughed as I was shocked, I know I shouldn’t have but I didn’t know what to do….
 
29. The Panel has also seen the Trust’s “Investigation Meeting under the Disciplinary Policy” with Witness A, Student Paramedic, on 26 June 2020:


…I don't recall the job but we were at hospital (RUH) and Complainant B was there, we did the normal standard hello's etc and Complainant B was asking about FIT testing. MW hadn't done his so we went to Bath station to do this, I don't know why we went to station to do it as we did do it in an ambulance before, but that wasn't there. We were in the crew room and MW was being his normal self, loud and friendly. I laughed also. CB set up the FIT test stuff in the crew room and then went to the office to do the test. CB was sat at the desk/workstation located closest to the door to the office and MW had the FIT test hood on getting ready, laughing and gave CB a hug whilst she was leaning at the computer desk facing towards him, I was not sure if CB had any testing equipment on herself. I left the room shortly after and approximately 20 seconds later MW came into the crew room as he failed the test at the beginning. While we were all in the crewroom I raised the question of how do you know if the powered hood works so we sprayed solution by the filter to see if it got drawn in, I was putting the hood on at this point and trying to look for where the air was pulled in from, so didn’t see anything happen between MW & at that point. MW was stood by the crewroom table, stood behind the recliner next to the door, and myself sitting on the edge of the chair, we were all approximately 1 meter apart in like a triangle formation having some friendly banter as I would describe it.

Knowing who the allegations are from, I would say they would be genuine; however I am aware that I did not see anything that I can recall that I thought was inappropriate.

We had a few more minutes of joking, chatting and catching up when MW and CB shared a hug, I am not sure if I also gave her a hug, the hug appeared tight and embracing, I thought at the time that it appeared it was between two close friends and they knew each other well which is why I didn’t pay attention.

CB left after that.
 
30. The Panel has also seen a witness statement from Witness B, Operations Officer, based at Trowbridge ambulance station, dated 22 June 2020:


This statement is regarding an allegation of sexual harassment made by Complainant B. I am unsure of the date, but it was a few days after Complainant B had attended Bath station for FFP3 fit testing, which I think was around the beginning of April, but can't be sure. I was in the office and was having a chat with Complainant B. Complainant B has then made an allegation that Michael Walters had acted inappropriately whilst she was completing his FFP3 fit testing and powered hood training session. Complainant B said that during her doing a familiarisation with Michael on the powered hood he has used the hose from the powered hood and tried to put it on Complainant B’s breast. Complainant B said she felt this was inappropriate and made her feel uncomfortable. I told Complainant B that we would take this further as this was unacceptable behavior. Complainant B has said she didn't want to report it as it was not the way she is. I asked her to write a statement so that we could investigate the matter but she was adamant that she would not do so. I said I would report it to our Deputy County Commander but Complainant B told me she would deny it as she didn't want it reported. I told her that these allegations needed to be investigated but we would need a statement to be able to do so. She repeatedly told me that I could not report it to anyone and that she would not agree to talk about to anyone else for an investigation. I did not take any notes at the time of the conversation. It was agreed with Complainant B that if she changed her mind and did want to report it then she could come and speak to either myself, or any of the 00 team. I saw Complainant B a few days after she told me, and again I asked if she had changed her mind about reporting it, she said no and then. quickly changed the subject. I did not report the incident to anyone else as I felt that Complainant B had told me in confidence and despite me repeatedly saying she should report it formally she refused. A few days later I had a discussion with Witness C as she had also discussed it with him. We agreed that as she had asked us not to report it there was little further we could do.
 
31. There is also an internal Trust witness statement from Witness C, who is also an Operations Officer, based at Trowbridge ambulance station:

This statement concerns an allegation made by Complainant B regarding Michael Walters a Paramedic from Bath. Complainant B first approached me informally in late April 2020 (I can not be sure of the exact date), she advised that she had been involved in a situation that had occurred at Bath Station in April 2020. She advised she had travelled over to Bath to FIT Test Mike Walters, during this encounter and on failing the test she had demonstrated the use of the Powered Respiratory Hood. She states whilst he was operating the hood he had taken the hose element of the hood and placed this on or towards Complainant B’s right breast one two occasions. She states she had laughed this off however this had made her uncomfortable. I advised Complainant B that this conduct was unacceptable and that we would need to investigate. Complainant B was extremely clear that she did not want this reported and would be unwilling to provide a statement at this time. She wished for it to remain confidential and not to be taken any further. On three occasions during this meeting I advised that this was serious and not the type of conduct we would accept within the trust. I advised she would be fully supported through any investigation and assigned a trust welfare officer Complainant B advised she had also discussed the case with Operations Officer who had also advised as above.

Post meeting I discussed this case with Witness B he had received the same information and was of the same opinion that she did not wish to report it formally, she was extremely clear that she did not wish to give a statement. She had been given the advice by Witness B that this would be reported to the Deputy County Commander and full welfare support would be offered. She advised that she did not want this recorded or written down and wished to take no further action. Therefore to respect her confidentiality and as she seemed to be processing the matter appropriately I sign posted her to make contact should her feelings change.

On the 10th of June 2020 in a conversation with Complainant B in the County Coordination Centre in Wiltshire spoke again about the allegation she advised she was having trouble sleeping and had discussed the matter with other colleagues. I therefore took the decision to discuss the case with Deputy County Commander [JW]. I therefore told [JW] on the 10th June 2020. This resulted in a full conversation with [JW] and Myself in the CCC.


32. The Panel has also seen a handwritten statement from Complainant B to the police dated 02 July 2020. The incident is said to have taken place between 11.00 and 12.00 hours. Complainant B says:

“…The incident happened over clothing and was unwanted and unprovoked. Mike grabbed the back of my head and pulled me in and kissed me for approximately 4 seconds…”  
 
33. In the Registrant’s bundle, there is a WhatsApp message, sent by Complainant B on 17 May 2020. This says:

“…I had to fit test him about 3 weeks ago x He had just done a cardiac arrest I was showing him the mask and how to put it on. He put the mask on and then grabbed my head and kissed me (he thought it was funny…). Lucky I also had a mask on…”   
 
34. The Registrant has consistently denied the allegation. His account is set out in his witness statement dated 28 June 2022 and was repeated in oral evidence. In cross-examination, he made it clear that in his view Complainant B was “lying” about both this incident and Allegation 1(b).


35. The Panel has seen the following documents, which also set out the Registrant’s account of the events of 25 April 2020:

(a) Notes of the meeting on 13 June 2020 with JW.

(b) Statement from the Registrant for use in the internal Trust investigation dated 15 June 2020.

(c) The Trust’s Investigation “Meeting under the Disciplinary Notes” with the Registrant on 26 June 2020.

(d) A transcript of the Registrant’s police interview which is undated. 
 
36. A summary of the Registrant’s case is set out below:

(a) He had known Complainant B for a number of years and they had a good professional relationship. He describes her as “someone who is quite needy and likes attention.”

(b) There have been numerous times when he had met Complainant B, “where he have had a tactile greeting for each other” and “On occasions, I have given her a consensual hug, as many if note all Emergency Service workers do…”

(c) He describes the allegations as being “utter nonsense” and did not know why Complainant B would make such allegations.

(d) The Registrant had met with Complainant B, by chance at the Royal United Hospital (RUH) Emergency Department, earlier that morning. He and his crew mate, Witness A, had stopped off to obtain refreshments, following a call out to a patient who had sadly died, following a cardiac arrest. He says in his statement, “My recollection is that I greeted Complainant B with a tactile hug…” This was repeated in oral evidence, with reference to Complainant B’s health condition. It was subsequently agreed they would both attend Bath ambulance station, some eight minutes away, for fit testing, although he confirmed that he had already been fit tested. In oral evidence, the Registrant said that there had been a second hug with Complainant B, when they arrived at Bath ambulance station. 

(e) The Registrant knew he would fail the fit test as he had a stubbly face and the mask would not provide a close fit. The mask test was carried out in the office (and not the crew room), as chemicals had to be sprayed, to ascertain whether he could smell or taste anything. Complainant B was wrong to suggest the test took place in the crew room. He says, “The mask test started but finished as soon as it started as I could taste and smell the chemicals used in the test…” Whilst at Bath ambulance station he completed the paperwork for the cardiac arrest on the electronic patient records (ECPR).   

(f) The Registrant’s statement says he did not believe that Complainant B was wearing a mask, although in oral evidence he was more definitive, saying that Complainant B was not wearing a mask, and that he had immediately taken off his mask after testing. He states: “I made no attempt to kiss Complainant B on the lips or would have the mind set to do so.” The Registrant stated that he had made a “ghostbusters” type gesture during the short period he was wearing the mask. 

(g)  The Registrant disputed that Complainant B was vulnerable, or that there was any power imbalance between them, despite his more senior position as a Paramedic. His position was that regardless of seniority, he had an open and honest approach and that working on an ambulance crew required teamwork. His approach would be resolve any problems straightaway. 
 
37. The Registrant also relied on EMM to corroborate his evidence. She is a friend of the Registrant. She worked at the Accident & Emergency Department at the RUH. At the time she was a receptionist.

38. EMM’s witness statement describes Complainant B as a “very tactile person who would on a daily basis hug colleagues. I have seen her hug Michael Walters on a number of occasions…”

39. In addition, EMM alleges that she saw Complainant B on the morning 25 April 2020 at RUH:

“…I left Michael where I had seen him and walked to what was then the hospital cricket pitch. I was going to have a cigarette as at that time I smoked. It was then that I bumped into Complainant B who was just alighting from the ambulance that had been operating in the hospital grounds, being used for power testing for items, i.e. hoods and masks. I distinctly remember saying to her “oh my god, how are you I have not seen you in ages.” She replied she was ok. It was a short conversation and as she left me, I saw her stop and speak to Michael Walters and hug him. This was not an unusual occurrence as I would describe Complainant B has a very “huggy” person. IO would also say that she was the one who in the main initiated hugs with other members of the ambulance staff. I recall the day in question because it stuck in my mind that Michael had attended a fatal cardiac arrest…”           
 
40. EMM confirmed her account in oral evidence. She maintained that she had seen Complainant B on 25 April 2020 at RUH and denied she had fabricated her evidence. She denied that her friendship with the Registrant had any influence on her evidence.

41. EMM’s evidence was that she was able to recall that it was the 25 April 2020, when she had seen Complainant B at RUH, as she was returning home to Swansea for a relative’s birthday later that day. This information was not contained in her witness statement. She denied that her account was unreliable, as she was recalling events from two years earlier, given she had not been involved in the Trust’s internal investigation.   

42. EMM saw Complainant B at around midday, as she was commencing her break. When she first saw Complainant B, she was exiting an ambulance which had been permanently parked at the hospital grounds and used for fit testing. EMM’s opinion was that Complainant B was working out of the ambulance that day.


43. The Registrant also relied on the email dated 08 July 2020 from EH, Paramedic, which was in the HCPC bundle, which states:

“…I have seen her on numerous occasions both embrace members of staff that she has initiated but also received hugs consensually. I would describe Complainant B in general as a likeable ‘huggy’ person.”


44. In contrast, in her police statement, Complainant B stated:

“On any occasion I worked with Mike I have never greeted him with a hug or a kiss. Our greetings would always be verbal, for instance “Hi Mike, how you, you Alright”. There has never been any flirting or sexual chemistry between us.”

45. Complainant B, when giving evidence, denied that she had ever greeted the Registrant with a hug or a kiss. She had only worked with him on two occasions in five years. She accepted that she had hugged some female colleagues, who were good friends, but drew a clear distinction between this and hugging male colleagues. She would not do this as it was her personal or intimate space.

46. The Panel did not feel it was necessary to resolve the conflicting evidence over whether Complainant B and the Registrant had “hugged” on 25 April 2020. Even if they had done so, this had no direct bearing on whether the Registrant had behaved as alleged when undertaking the FF3 fit test. The fact that Complainant B might have hugged the Registrant as a greeting, would not imply in way that she would consent to the sort of sexual touching she alleged took place.

47. The Panel was not persuaded that this conflict in evidence adversely impacted on the overall credibility of Complainant B’s evidence, or the substance of the allegation.

48. Mr Kelcey, on behalf of the Registrant, in his submissions, pointed to a number of alleged inconsistencies in Complainant B’s evidence which he said undermined the veracity of her account, such that the Panel should not find the facts proved. In contrast, he submitted that the Registrant had given a consistent account of events throughout his evidence and other documentation.

49. Firstly, it was suggested that Complainant B had given inconsistent accounts as to the arrangements for undertaking the test at Bath ambulance station. She had alleged both that she spoke to a colleague of the Registrant to ascertain his whereabouts, and secondly to the Registrant himself, by telephone at Bath ambulance station, before setting off from Trowbridge ambulance station. The Panel did not regard this very modest discrepancy as undermining the overall credibility of Complainant B. It is the sort of minor detail in recollection which could easily have been misremembered or recorded, in the context of a traumatic and upsetting event.

50. The Registrant disputes that any such telephone call took place. On his evidence, arrangements to undertake the fit test were made when he met with Complainant B that morning at RUH. One of the central attacks of Complainant B’s credibility, made by the Registrant is her denial that they had met earlier that day at RUH.

51. Complainant B’s police statement says that she had travelled to Bath ambulance station from Trowbridge ambulance station. Complainant B’s HCPC witness statement (paragraph 19) says:

I have been asked to clarify whether I had seen Michael Walters and Witness A together at Royal United Hospital (RUH) on the day of the incidents. I can confirm that I did not see Michael Walters or Witness A together at the hospital and had no need to go to the hospital on this day. As far as I can remember, I arrived at Trowbridge Ambulance Station at around 9:30am. I had called Bath station as part of the process of setting up for the day, which is how I knew Michael Walters was there following a recent cardiac arrest.   
 
52. In oral evidence, Complainant B also denied that she had been to RUH that morning, saying she had no reason to attend. She had travelled from Trowbridge ambulance station, having first ascertained by telephone that the Registrant was present at Bath.

53. The Registrant, in oral evidence, repeated his assertion that he had met with Complainant B at RUH on the 25 April 2020, before they travelled to Bath ambulance station. He had seen her, as he had joined the queue of ambulances waiting to drop off patients. Complainant B had been standing by the doors of the A&E department. The Registrant also relied on EMM’s evidence on this issue.

54. Complainant B was not cross-examined on the assertion that on 25 April 2020 she was seen alighting from the ambulance at RUH or that she was working at RUH undertaking fit tests. Her clear evidence was that she was not at RUH that day.

55. The Panel regarded this dispute of fact as being something of a peripheral issue. It had no direct relevance to the subsequent events at Bath ambulance station or whether the allegation was well founded. However, it was relied upon as an issue to undermine Complainant B’s credibility. The Panel could find no reason why Complainant B would either be mistaken or falsely deny this detail, as it had no direct correlation with the circumstances of the alleged incidents.

56. The Panel preferred Complainant B’s evidence on this issue. Firstly, the Panel struggled to understand why, if Complainant B was assigned to work at RUH undertaking fit testing, she would not have undertaken the Registrant’s fit test at RUH? There would have been no need to travel to Bath ambulance station at all.

57. Secondly, the assertion that Complainant B was working on the ambulance at RUH is also undermined by the swipe card data, which is dealt with fully below, which shows Complainant B was at Trowbridge ambulance station until at least 11.57 hours. The Panel therefore rejected the Registrant’s and EMM’s evidence on this issue. The Panel concluded that EMM must have been mistaken as to her recollection that the events she describes took place on 25 April 2020.

58. The Registrant placed significant reliance on the timing of the incident to undermine Complainant B’s credibility. In her statement to the police, Complainant B said she had arrived at Bath ambulance station at approximately 11.00 hours. In her statement, she places the incident taking place at between 11.00 and 12.00 hours. In oral evidence, Complainant B said that she estimated she arrived at Bath ambulance station at some point between 11.00 and 11.30 hours. It had taken her 25-30 minutes to travel by car from Trowbridge.

59. Mr Kelcey, on behalf of the Registrant rightly points out that this timeline is inconsistent with the key fob date in the HCPC bundle. This shows that Complainant B was initially permitted access to Trowbridge ambulance station at 09.19 hours. Her swipe card was read again at: 10.08, 10.13, 10.18, 11.09 and 11.57. The alleged incident could therefore not have taken place at Bath ambulance station between 11.00 and 12.00 hours, as Complainant B was still in Trowbridge.

60. The data shows that Complainant B gained access to Bath ambulance station at 12.35 hours. Complainant B is recorded as returning to Trowbridge ambulance station at 13.30 hours.

61. Complainant B’s evidence was that if she had driven from Trowbridge ambulance station to RUH and back again, this would have taken approximately 80 minutes (40 minutes each way). The Registrant’s evidence was not materially different on this.

62. According to the key fob data, the Registrant was permitted access to Bath at 11.56 hours. He gained access to Running stores at 12.49 hours and Bath Meds Controlled Drug (CD) Store at 13.25 hours. This is broadly consistent with the evidence from CAR, who was the investigation officer for the internal Trust investigation. He was able to examine “Datapoint” which is the vehicle tracking database for the Trust. The Registrant and Witness A were operating vehicle DCA311. On 25 April 2020, the database shows that the ambulance’s ignition was turned on at RUH at 11.47 and arrived at Bath ambulance station at 12.00.

63. In evidence, the Registrant sought to suggest that the key fob/swipe system was unreliable and that cards were often lent or swapped to allow others to gain access. In cross-examination, the Registrant accepted that Complainant B’s swipe card had been used at Trowbridge ambulance station, but questioned whether it had in fact been used by Complainant B, as he was adamant that he had seen her at RUH that morning. 

64. Complainant B’s evidence was that she had not lent her swipe card to anyone else, saying that she was not allowed to do this.

65. The Panel rejected the suggestion that Complainant B’s swipe card had been used by anyone else at Trowbridge ambulance station. This would be wholly inconsistent with the fact that Complainant B’s swipe card was used at Bath ambulance station at 12.35 hours. There would have been insufficient time, on the Registrant’s account, for Complainant B to have returned from RUH to Trowbridge ambulance station to collect her swipe card before attending at Bath ambulance station at 12.35.

66. The Registrant’s evidence in terms of estimated travel times on a Saturday was as follows:

  • Time from Trowbridge ambulance station to RUH: 35-40 minutes.

  • The Registrant estimated that Complainant B had been at RUH for at least 25-30 minutes

  • Time from RUH to Bath ambulance station: 8-15 minutes.

  • The Registrant estimated that Complainant B had been at Bath ambulance station for between 30 to 45 minutes (Complainant B had estimated 30 minutes to 1 hour).

  • Time from Bath ambulance station to Trowbridge ambulance station approximately 45 mins.

  • Total times: 143 minutes (2 hours 23 mins) – 175 mins (2 hours 55 mins).

 
67. On the basis of objective key fob evidence, the Panel concluded, on the balance of probability that Complainant B had not attended at RUH. The 1 hour 33 minutes gap ( from 11.57 to 13.30) is consistent with her travelling directly between Trowbridge and Bath ambulance stations.

68. The Panel concluded that Complainant B was mistaken in relation to her timings. This was conceded in submissions from Ms Bernard-Stevenson, on behalf of the HCPC. It is clear that both Complainant B and the Registrant arrived at Bath ambulance station approximately an hour or so later than she had recalled. However, this relatively modest discrepancy did not undermine the Panel’s view of Complainant B’s overall credibility. It is the sort of mistake which it is easy make, in the absence of objective data, such as the key fob evidence. Indeed it could be argued that this is error, gives a greater ring of truth to Complainant B’s account. Had she set out to deliberately falsify a timeline she might have taken more care to ascertain accurately her arrival and departure times.

69. Mr Kelcey also made reference to the police investigation. He was critical of Complainant B for saying she had not seen her police statement when she had in fact signed it. Mr Kelcey drew the Panel’s attention to the inconsistency in evidence as to whether Complainant B had received a phone call on her mobile or via a landline at the ambulance station. He also rejected any assertion that the police had been influenced by the fact he was a Special Constable, in making a decision to not progress the criminal investigation any further. The Panel did not consider there was anything significant in any of these points.

70. Mr Kelcey also points to the alleged inconsistency as to whether there were two witnesses present at the ambulance station, namely DA and GB. Complainant B’s case (including in her statement dated 07 April 201 and her police statement, amongst others), is that DA was in the crew room at the time along with Witness A. Complainant B confirmed this in her oral evidence but noted that both had been “in and out” of the crew room and garden area. She could not be “100 percent” as to whether there was anyone in the crew room at the time the kissing incident took place. Complainant B had stated in her internal Trust interview, and in her oral evidence that GB was in the office at the time of the incident. In oral evidence, the Registrant thought that DA had been in the garden throughout the time of the alleged incidents.

71. However, when GB was interviewed, as part of the Trust’s internal investigation, there is a note which records: “Doesn’t recall anything, doesn’t even think he was on station.” DA was similarly interviewed. She initially also stated that she did not think she was on station. When it was pointed out that her vehicle was tracking at Bath ambulance station at the time, she confirmed that demand for Rapid Response Vehicles (RRV) was low at the time, and she would often sit in the garden reading her book.

72. There was a further discrepancy as to whether the incident took place in the crew room or the office, but the Panel concluded little turned on this difference in recollection.

73. The Panel was not persuaded that these issues adversely affected Complainant B’s overall credibility. It would not be unusual to find minor differences in recollections between witnesses, when examined in such detail. In addition, the Panel did not hear any oral evidence from DA or GB. The Panel was mindful that people especially following a traumatic event may give inconsistent accounts but that does not necessarily lead to a conclusion that their overall account is untrue. The Panel accepted Complainant B’s explanation as to why there was a delay in formally reporting the incident as set out elsewhere in this determination.

74. The Panel had to resolve the direct conflict in evidence between Complainant B and the Registrant. The Panel’s overall conclusion was that Complainant B had given a broadly consistent and detailed account as to the incident, which it is highly unlikely she would have been mistaken about or have fabricated.

75. Although the Registrant had alleged that Complainant B had been lying about the incident, the Panel was unable to ascertain any motivation on her part to fabricate such an allegation against the Registrant. They had hitherto enjoyed a professional working relationship, although based at different ambulance stations. There is also evidence that Complainant B was initially reluctant to report the allegation, given the potential repercussions.

76. The Panel, therefore, on balance, for the reason set out above, preferred the evidence of Complainant B, over that of the Registrant and found the allegation proved. There were some minor discrepancies in Complainant B’s account, but these did not significantly adversely impact her overall credibility. Where there was objective evidence, such as they key fob data it supported Complainant B’s version of events, and undermined the account advanced by the Registrant.

Allegation 1(b) Proved  

77. Complainant B’s witness statement dated 07 April 2021, sets out her account of the second incident:

…I wanted to go back to Station as quick as I could, I know I had to ask MW if he was comfortable using the powdered hood, as this was one of my duties I needed to do, he explained that he had just used it on a job but never shown how to put it together and not sure if he had just used it correctly, I asked reluctantly if he needed me to go through it with him, he replied yes

Witness A was present at this stage and stated he would go and get the Powerhood from a truck walked back in the crew room and gave it to MW who got the Powerhood out and started to put it together, again I explained there was checks he needed to do for his own safety. I got MW to put the Powerhood stuff on the oval table and explained we needed to start with making sure the battery was connected properly as this sometimes fails as can be a loose connection. I explained that when checking the main powered hood for positive pressure, he would need to place his hand over the end of the hose to check that the air flow was working and if it were not working there would be an audible alarm would sound. MW did this and the Powerhood made the audible sound as I stated it would do. While MW was holding the hose, he then stepped towards me and pressed it twice on my right breast then laughed and he pulled it away. Again, I felt mortified, disgusted, belittled, and embarrassed at his actions. I couldn’t believe that he would abuse his professional position yet again, I really wanted to scream in his face if I am honest but Yet again the Professional side of me took over. The phone rang in Bath station, I am sorry I cannot remember who answered it at Bath end I think it was JT and it was Paramedic Aaron John from Trowbridge station saying that Claire Tucker (a work colleague) was at Trowbridge station waiting for me as they had a present, there was comments about the present being a vibrator from MW and which I felt was unacceptable, but I just wanted to get out the station. I stated I would be there as soon as I could I was just finishing up here. Again, being professional I finished showing MW the hood as quickly as I could (if I am honest, I do not think I showed him the correct way as I needed to get out) I got my equipment and left then returned to Trowbridge station. I knew I had to report this but was worried as I was not sure who saw the incident and who would believe a ECA over a Paramedic and I am sure Daniella Askey was in the garden for most of the time I was on station. I know was in and out of the room, I am sure he was in there when the hose incident happened….

… I honestly sobbed all the way back to Trowbridge station, I felt dirty, and my space was invaded. I was so angry and disappointed with myself for not standing up and saying something, I started to tell myself I was only a ECA, and I was in another station and MW and are strong characters. I do not believe a bubbly friendly person encourages people to abuse your trust and touch you inappropriately

78. Complainant B’s account in oral evidence was that she had not wanted to continue interacting with Registrant, following the first incident, but felt compelled to do so. She did not wish to speak with him. The Registrant had asked her to “run through” the use of the power hood with him. This was not therefore a test, but more a familiarisation or demonstration.

79. Witness A retrieved the equipment from the ambulance. Witness A helped Complainant B place the equipment on the table. However, she is unsure whether he was present at the time the second incident took place. Her focus was on competing the demonstration. She turned the hose on to demonstrate the warning sound when the air cannot get through. It was at this point that the Registrant placed the air flow tube on her right breast twice. She was certain that it was twice.

80. The Panel has also seen the email of the 10 June 2020, which contains JW’s notes of her meeting with Complainant B on the same date:

….MW had just returned from a cardiac arrest. Complainant B had asked whether he was happy with the use of the powered hood and Witness A went to the DCA to get the hood out so that could demonstrate its use.

- Complainant B explained how to switch the hood on and said that if put hand over the end of the tube, it would make a sucking noise.

- Complainant B says that MW got hold of the tubing from the hood and pushed it against each of Complainant B’s breasts in turn, touching her breasts with the hose from the hood.

- She says that Witness A was in the station when this happened – it is unclear whether he witnessed it.

- Complainant B was shaking and visibly upset and distressed during my meeting with her.

- She said that she had been having nightmares ever since and that it had opened up many distressing incidents in the past.
 
81. The Panel has also seen the email, dated 11 June 2020, written by Complainant B:

…After the FFP3 mask test, I asked MW if he was comfortable using the powdered hood, he explained that he had just used it on a job but never shown how to put it together, so I stated that I would show him, Witness A went to the vehicle and got the powdered hood out,

MW got the power hood out and started to put it together I explained there was checks he needed to do. we started with making sure the battery was connected properly as this sometimes fails as can be a loose connection. I explained that when checking the main powered hood for positive pressure, he would need to place his hand over the end of the hose in order to check that the air flow was working and if not an audible alarm would sound. MW was holding the hose and then pressed it twice on my right breast then laughed and he pulled it away.

I felt mortified ,disgusted, belittled and embarrassed at his actions.

I finished showing MW the hood as quickly as I could and then returned to Trowbridge station,

I asked OO Witness B his advice a few days later due to building up the courage to share this with anyone,

I also spoke to OO Witness C about the situation.
 
82. The Panel has also seen the Trust’s Investigation “Meeting under the Disciplinary Notes” with Complainant B:

… I then asked about the hood test, Witness A went to get it, I explained the process and how to check the battery and test the hose by putting your hand over the end to check pressure and test the alarm, Mike Walters did the test, he then put it twice on my boob, he laughed and carried on putting the hood on, he finished. I packed up, got a drink of water; I got a call from Trowbridge station as I have a parcel so I left Bath station about 12:30 
 
83. The Panel has also seen a handwritten statement from Complainant B to the police dated 02 July 2020. Complainant B says:

“…Mike asked Witness A to get the air flow tube and battery for the powered hood. Witness A came back with it but I don’t recall if Witness A stayed in the room.

The mask incident happened approximately seconds before moving onto the air flow incident.


Mike picked up the powered hood, Air flow tube and the battery that pumps air into the tube which inflates the hood.

I was taking Mike through the air flow and if there is a blockage in air, the battery pack alarms. I instructed Mike to place the end of the tube that would normally inflate the hood against the palm of his hand so he would be able to understand the alarm sound. Mike did this which triggered the alarm sound.

Immediately after he did that he pushed the end of the air tube against my right breast.

Mike’s hand was right up against the end of tube and therefore his hand also made contact with me. I was fully clothed and it was done over my clothing.

Mike pushed the air tube against my breast, pulled it away and then pushed it back against my breast before moving it away and placing it on the powered hood…”
 
84. The Registrant denied this allegation.

85. The Registrant’s account, as detailed in his witness statement, was that:
“…The fit test is not carried out with anything other than a PPE mask and a hood. At no time is a hose attached or involved in this fit test. As I have indicated previously, I had this training with this piece of equipment on 22nd March 2020 and did not require any further training. It was my colleague [Witness A] that asked the questions regarding the hood and required fitting with use of the compressor and hose. At this time the 3 of us were now in the crew room and I was sat at the table completing the EPCR report for the previous patient, my use of the EPCR and times are documented within the Trust findings. I did not believe anything was wrong and Complainant B showed no sign of distress, upset or anger and was certainly in no rush to leave the station.”     

86. The Registrant relied on the statement provided by Witness A on this issue, to corroborate his version of events. The Registrant’s evidence was that he had no need to undertake the power hood test, as he had already been tested on 22 March 2020, as demonstrated by the certificate in the bundle. His case is that Complainant B was demonstrating the powered hood to Witness A, whilst he continued to complete the ECPR for the cardiac arrest patient.

87. The Registrant has also pointed to inconsistencies in Complainant B’s account noting there were at least three, and potentially four different accounts of the incident. Whilst Complainant B alleged that the hose was applied twice to her right breast in her original statement, there are other inconsistent accounts.

88. Mr Kelcey referred to a WhatsApp message which Complainant B sent on 17 May 2020. The message says:


“…Then I asked him if he was hood trained he said no (he had just been to a cardiac arrest wearing a ffp3 and hood. When I was showing him the hose part (it was on so the suction was working) he stuck it on my boobs x 4. He was laughing when he done it” 
 
89. In oral evidence, Complainant B conceded that it appeared she had sent the WhatsApp message. However, she could not recall sending it. However, she did not think she would have sent this to a large group of people and initially stated she could not say how many people were in the group. She was clear that the “x4” reference was incorrect and that the Registrant had only placed the hose on her breast on two occasions. In cross-examination, Complainant B stated that there were only 3 people in the WhatsApp group, all of whom were close friends. She could not explain why the message appeared to suggest the Registrant had placed the hose on her breast on four occasions. 

90. Secondly, in Complainant B’s account to JW, it alleged that the Registrant pushed it against “each of Complainant B’s breasts in turn, touching her breasts with the hose from the hood…”

91. Finally, there is the account to Witness B on 22 June 2020, in which it is alleged that the Registrant “tried to put it [the hose] on Complainant B’s breast.” This alleged “attempt” was also said to possibly a further inconsistent version of events by Complainant B, although it was conceded this was ambiguous.

92. The Panel had regard to the totality of the evidence. It felt unable to place any significant weight on the account provided by Witness A, even though in some respects his account could said to support both Complainant B’s and the Registrant’s version of events.

93. The Panel has only seen an interview transcript with Witness A from the Trust’s internal investigation. There was no explanation as to why he was not called to give oral evidence or to provide a witness statement. There were a number of matters which the Panel would have wished to explore with him, had he given evidence, and his account been tested in cross-examination.

94. The Panel noted that as this was not a test, but a demonstration of how the power hood operated, the fact that the Registrant had previously been tested, did not make it less likely that he might request a further “run through” taking place, in how to use the equipment.

95. The Panel did accept that there were inconsistencies in Complainant B’s description of the incident, as outlined in Mr Kelcey’s submissions. The Panel had to determine whether those differences were so marked as to undermine the overall veracity of Complainant B’s evidence, such that it should reject her account entirely.

96. Complainant B has been consistent in relation to the central allegation that the power hose was placed on her breast by the Registrant. The Panel was unable to identify any reason why Complainant B would fabricate such an account. The Panel concluded that discrepancies were minor and did not think they were on such significance to undermine the detailed account provided by Complainant B.

97. The Panel preferred the evidence of Complainant B on this issue and found this allegation proved. As noted above, in respect of Allegation 1(a), where there was objective evidence, such as the key fob data, it tended to support Complainant B’s version of events.

Decision on Grounds

98. The Panel then considered, in light of all the evidence it had heard, whether the Registrant’s actions amounted to misconduct.

99. Ms Bernard-Stevenson, on behalf of the HCPC, submitted that the Registrant’s actions fell well short of conduct which could be considered proper in the circumstances and that he was in breach of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics, in particular:

 

  • Standard 2.5: You must work in partnership with colleagues, sharing your skills, knowledge and experience where appropriate, for the benefit of service users and carers.

  • Standard 6.2: You must not do anything, or allow someone else to do anything, which could put the health or safety of a service user, carer or colleague at unacceptable risk.

  • Standard 9.1: You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence win you and your profession.


100. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice on the definition of misconduct. In particular, the Panel paid regard to the definition given by Lord Clyde in Roylance v General Medical Council (No.2) [2000] 1 AC 311: “Misconduct is a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances…”

101. The Panel also had regard to the guidance in Nandi v GMC [2004] EWHC 2317, where Collins J suggested that misconduct could be defined as: “conduct which would be regarded as deplorable by fellow practitioners…”

102. The Panel concluded, having regard to the facts proved, and the submission set out above, that the Registrant’s failings were sufficiently serious to amount to misconduct, falling short of what would be proper in the circumstances and amounting to conduct which fellow practitioners would regard as deplorable. The Registrant engaged in conduct which amounted to sexual assault or conduct of a sexual nature on two occasions, which was unwanted, without consent and had the effect of violating Complainant B’s dignity and caused her significant distress.


103. The Panel concluded that the following Standard had been breached:

  • Standard 9.1.- You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence win you and your profession.  


Decision on Impairment

104. The Panel moved onto consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired, in light of the Registrant’s proven misconduct. The Panel had regard to the HCPTS practice note ‘Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired’ and has accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel has also exercised the principle of proportionality.

105.  The Panel is mindful of the forward-looking test for impairment.

106. The Panel heard submissions on the issue of impairment from the HCPC. Ms Bernard-Stevenson, on behalf of the HCPC submitted that the Registrant was impaired having regard to both personal and public components of impairment.

107. She argued there was only limited evidence of insight and that there was no evidence of remediation, such that there was continuing risk of repetition. In addition, she urged the Panel to have regard to the need to declare and uphold proper standards, arguing that the Registrant had brought the profession into disrepute and breached a fundamental tenet of the profession.

108. Mr Kelcey did not make detailed submissions on the issue of impairment, focusing instead on the Registrant’s factual case. However, he did urge the Panel to have regard to the witness statements in the Registrant’s bundle which amounted to testimonial/character references, including from:

 

(a)  Jeremy Bedrock, Paramedic/Emergency Practitioner,

(b)  Richard Cox, Paramedic,

(c)   Paige Leslie West (nee Hughes), Emergency Care Assistant,

(d)  Gary Costello, Emergency Care Assistant/Student Paramedic,

(e)  Julian Ridler, Accident & Emergency Staff Nurse,

(f)    Craig Williams, Paramedic,

(g)  Shawn Eyles, Emergency Care Assistant,

(h)  Geoff Ridler, Paramedic,

(i)    Melissa Morris, Paramedic. 

 
 
109. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s current fitness to practice is impaired, having regard to both the public and personal components of impairment, for the following reasons:
 
(a) The Registrant’s misconduct which targeted a more junior member of staff was serious. The Registrant’s conduct consisted of sexual touching without consent which had a significant impact on Complainant B.  

(b) In relation to the personal component of the Panel’s consideration, despite the Registrant’s denial that the misconduct occurred, there was some, albeit very limited, evidence of insight. The Registrant accepted in cross-examination that he would expect someone who committed the facts found proved, to also be found to have committed misconduct and to be impaired.

(c) There was no evidence of remorse or remediation. The Registrant’s position was that there was no need to attend training courses on, for example professional boundaries, as he had not committed the acts alleged.

(d) The Panel accepts that these two incidents appear to be isolated. There is no evidence of any similar prior or subsequent misconduct of any type. However, the Panel could not in the circumstances, and in light of his adamant denial, be sure that there was not a risk of repetition.    

(e) The Panel had regard to the public component of impairment and concluded that a reasonably well-informed member of the public would be shocked to learn that the Registrant’s current fitness to practise had not been found to be impaired, given the serious nature of his misconduct and the findings set out above.

(f) The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s actions have brought the reputation of the Paramedic profession into disrepute and that he has breached a fundamental tenet of the Paramedic profession.  

(g) The Panel also had regard to the need to uphold proper standards of behaviour, in concluding that the public component of impairment is clearly established. The Panel concluded that confidence in the Paramedic profession would be undermined, if there was no finding of impairment, given the serious nature of the misconduct which has been identified. 

 
Sanction
 
110. The Panel has heard submissions on sanction, from Ms Barnard-Stevenson, on behalf of the HCPC. She argued that the aggravating features were:

(a)  There was a power imbalance between the Registrant and Complainant B who was a more junior employee,

(b)  The misconduct was serious,

(c)   There was no remorse or evidence of remediation,

(d)  There remained a risk of repetition. Although this was an isolated incident, there was a lack of insight, and this might reflect a deep-seated attitudinal issue which would be harder to remediate.    

 
111. Ms Barnard-Stevenson directed the Panel to the HCPC’s Sanction Policy and in particular, the guidance for serious cases on sexual misconduct (paragraph 76-77):
 
Sexual misconduct is a very serious matter which has a significant impact on the public and public confidence in the profession. It includes, but is not limited to, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and any other conduct of a sexual nature that is without consent, or has the effect of threatening or intimidating someone. The misconduct can be directed towards:

  • service users, carers and family members;
  • colleagues; and
  • members of the public.

 
112. The Panel also heard submissions from Mr Kelcey, on behalf of the Registrant, in relation to sanction. He set out the mitigating features and made the following submissions: 
 
a. The Registrant has worked in the emergency services for 37 years.

b. He has been back at work since November 2020 and there have been no subsequent similar incidents.

c. He was advised, following the outcome of the Trust investigation, to be careful regarding the “tactile” manner in which he engages with colleagues – advice which he has adhered to.

d. He was awarded Mentor of the year in 2020 by the Trust for his commitment and professionalism in his role.  

e. The Panel was invited to have regard to testimonial evidence in the Registrant’s bundle.

f. The Registrant has recently completed a BSc in Paramedic Work and expects to be awarded his degree in the next two months.

g. He would be willing to comply with any conditions imposed on his practice, including undertaking training on professional boundaries. 

Panel’s decision on Sanction
 
113. The Panel has paid regard to the HCPC’s Sanctions Policy and has accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel paid particular regard to the principal of proportionality and the need to strike a careful balance between the protection of the public and the rights of the Registrant.

114. The Panel has also reminded itself that the purpose of fitness to practise proceedings is not to punish registrants but to protect the public and to maintain proper standards amongst registrants and public confidence in the profession concerned.

115. The Panel has had regard to the aggravating and mitigating circumstances in this case.

116. The aggravating features are:


a. The seriousness of the proven misconduct. The Registrant’s actions had a significant impact on Complainant B.

b. There was a power imbalance between the Registrant and Complainant B.

c. The Registrant denied the allegation throughout and hence did not demonstrate any remorse.   

d. The Registrant has demonstrated only limited insight into his misconduct and the Panel therefore could not exclude the risk of repetition.      

 
117. The Panel was unable to identify any mitigating features. However, it recognised when considering future risks that it had not seen any evidence of any subsequent incidents of misconduct of any type. The Panel also recognised that the Registrant has engaged in these regulatory proceedings and, as mentioned above, has indicated a willingness if required to attend a course.

118. In light of the above factors, the Panel determined that given the nature of the Registrant’s misconduct and the findings set out above, that to take no action or to impose a Caution Order would not protect the public, retain public confidence in the regulatory process or have the necessary deterrent effect on other registrants. The Panel further concluded that public confidence in the profession would be undermined by imposing either of these sanctions, given the seriousness of the Registrant’s misconduct.

119. A Caution Order would not be appropriate having regard to the HCPC Sanctions Policy. This suggests (at paragraph 101) that a caution order is likely to be the appropriate order where (1) the issue is isolated, limited or relatively minor in nature, (2) there is a low risk of repetition, (3) the registrant has shown good insight and (4) the registrant has undertaken appropriate remediation. None of these factors applied in the current case.

120. The Panel next carefully considered whether to impose a Conditions of Practice Order, having regard to the Sanctions Policy. The Panel noted that paragraph 108 suggests that conditions are less likely to be appropriate in serious cases, including those of sexual misconduct.

121. The Panel also had regard to paragraph 109, which states that conditions might be appropriate in such a case, but only where the Registrant’s conduct was minor, out of character, capable of remediation and unlikely to be repeated. The Panel, considering its findings set out above, concluded that the Registrant’s conduct was not minor and that there was some risk of repetition.

122. The Panel next considered whether to make a Suspension Order. The Indicative Sanctions Policy (paragraph 121) suggests that a Suspension Order is appropriate where there are serious concerns, but which do not require the registrant to be struck off, but where the concerns cannot be addressed by a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel concluded that this was an appropriate sanction to mark the seriousness of the misconduct, protect the public and address the wider public interest concerns which the Panel identified.

123. The Panel had regard to the limited degree of insight as set out above but concluded that the identified failings are potentially capable of being remedied in the future, if the Registrant engages with a future review Panel.

124. The Panel determined that the Suspension Order should be imposed for a period of 6 months. This would allow the Registrant to take the steps identified below which might be of benefit to a future reviewing panel. The Panel notes that the Registrant would be able to request an early review, should he be of the view that he could provide demonstrable evidence of remediation within a shorter timeframe.

125. Having arrived at an appropriate sanction, the Panel concluded that to impose the more restrictive sanction of a Striking Off Order would be disproportionate. The Panel noted the Striking Off Order should be reserved for cases where there is no other way to protect the public and in this case the Panel determined that an adequate level of public protection could be achieved by the lesser sanction of a Suspension Order.

126.  Whilst in no way seeking to bind any future review Panel, this Panel anticipates that the following matters are likely to be off assistance to any future reviewing Panel:

(a)  The Registrant should provide evidence of relevant CPD to address the issues identified in these proceedings, including for example, attendance at a professional boundaries course. The Panel considers it would be of benefit for the Registrant to provide some evidence of his level of engagement with any such training or CPD.

(b)  Evidence of engagement with the safeguarding lead, or similar role, with the Trust or any other employer, demonstrating the work he has undertaken in relation to professional boundaries and the issues identified in these proceedings.      

Order

Order: That the Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mr Michael Walters for a period of 6 months from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

Application for an Interim Order

1. Ms Barnard-Stevenson, on behalf of the HCPC, made an application for an Interim Order, to cover the appeal period, pursuant to Article 31 of the Health and Care Professions Order 2001. She submitted that an order was necessary on public protection grounds and in the public interest, in light of the Panel’s findings and in particular, the serious nature of the proven allegation, limited insight, lack of remediation and risk of repetition.

2. Mr Kelcey, on behalf of the Registrant opposed the application for an Interim Order. He submitted that as the Registrant had been in unrestricted practice since November 2020, without any subsequent incidents, the HCPC had not established that an order was necessary on any of the statutory grounds. 

3. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice and had regard to the HCPC Practice Note on Interim Orders, and the guidance contained in the Sanctions Policy. The Panel concluded that an Interim Order was necessary for the protection of the public and otherwise in the public interest, to cover the expiry of the appeal period (28 days from the service of this determination) or if there is an appeal, the determination of that appeal. The Panel has concluded that there is some ongoing risk of repetition and that an average member of the public would be shocked or troubled to learn that the Registrant was permitted to continue in unrestricted practice for the duration of any appeal period.

4. The Panel considered whether it could impose an Interim Conditions of Practice Order but concluded that this was not practicable and would not provide the necessary degree of public protection that was required, for the same reasons as identified above, when considering what sanction to impose on the Registrant. The Panel therefore concluded that the appropriate order was an Interim Suspension Order.

5. The Panel concluded that it was necessary to impose an Interim Suspension Order for a period of 18 months. Different considerations apply as to the duration of the Interim Order, as opposed to the substantive Suspension Order, as the period in question, is designed to cover how long it may take the High Court to finally dispose of any appeal that might be made. 

Interim Order:

The Panel makes an Interim Suspension Order under Article 31(2) of the Health 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; or (if an appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) upon the final determination of that appeal, subject to a maximum period of 18 months.

 

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Michael Walters

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
16/12/2022 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Hearing has not yet been held
04/07/2022 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended
;