Alexander R Paton
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As a registered Biomedical Scientist (BS66550) your fitness to practise is impaired by reason of conviction and/or misconduct. In that:
- On 8 October 2020 you were convicted at North Northumbria Magistrates Court of three offences of: make indecent photograph/pseudo photograph of a child, contrary to Section 1(a) Protection of Children Act 1978.
- From 15 July 2020, you did not inform the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) that you had been charged by the police with three offences of making indecent photograph/pseudo photograph of a child, contrary to Section 1(a) Protection of Children Act 1978.
- From 11 August 2020, you did not inform the HCPC that you had been suspended by your employer, the Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
- Your conduct in relation to particulars 2 and/or 3 was dishonest.
- The matters set out in particulars 2 and/or 3 and/or 4 constitute misconduct.
- By reason of your conviction, and/or misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.
Application for a hearing in private
1.Ms Sheridan applied under Rule 10(1)(a) of the HCPC (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003 (“the Rules”) for any parts of the hearing which would refer to matters related to the Registrant’s private life to be heard in private. The Registrant also supported the application.
2. The Panel took advice from the Legal Assessor. It was mindful of the usual position that HCPC hearings take place in public. However, the Panel was satisfied that, as provided for in Rule 10(1)(a) of the Rules, all or part of a hearing may be held in private in the interests of protecting the Registrant’s private life. The Panel decided to proceed on the basis that were it necessary to refer to such matters, those parts of the proceedings would be in private but the remainder of the hearing would be in public.
Application to amend the allegation
3. Ms Sheridan applied to amend particular 1 and 5 of the allegation as set out below, by deleting the struck-through text and adding the bold text:
1. On 8 October 2020 you were convicted at Newcastle Upon Tyne Crown Court North Northumbria Magistrates Court of three offences of make indecent photograph/pseudo photograph of a child, contrary to Section 1(a) Protection of Children Act 1978.
5. Your conduct in relation to The matters set out in particulars 2, and/or 3 and/or 4 constitutes misconduct.
4. Ms Sheridan acknowledged that advance notice of the application had not been given to the Registrant, but submitted that no prejudice would be caused to him. She submitted that the amendments were of a minor nature and were to ensure the accuracy and clarity of the allegations.
5. The Registrant confirmed he did not object to the amendments sought.
6. The Panel took advice from the Legal Assessor. The Panel accepted that the changes were not substantive but would amend the particulars to improve their clarity and accuracy. No new issues were added to the allegations. The Panel concluded that the amendments sought would cause no prejudice to the Registrant. The Panel was satisfied that it was fair and in the interests of justice for the amendments sought by the HCPC to be made.
7. The Panel received the HCPC hearing bundle of 290 pages, a service bundle of 6 pages, a 2-page email and statement from the Registrant and 3-page written opening submissions dated 3 May 2022 from Ms Sheridan on behalf of the HCPC.
8. The Registrant Alexander Paton is registered with the HCPC as a Biomedical Scientist. He commenced his employment as a Band 5 Biomedical Scientist at the Freeman Hospital (“the Hospital”), part of Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (“the Trust”), on 16 December 2013.
9. On 10 August 2020 the Registrant informed his employer that he had been investigated by the Police and subsequently charged with three offences relating to the possession of indecent images of children. The Registrant explained that he had been under investigation by the Police since September 2018 and was formally charged on 15 July 2020.
10. John Hardy, Laboratory Manager, Blood Sciences Department at the Hospital, conducted the internal investigation on behalf of the Trust and referred the matter to the HCPC on 19 August 2020.
11. The HCPC’s case was that the Registrant did not inform the HCPC, promptly or at all, that he had been suspended from his employment or that he had been charged with the offences and that in not doing so, he had acted dishonestly.
12. On 8 October 2020 the Registrant appeared at North Northumbria Magistrates Court where he pleaded to and was convicted of three counts of making indecent photographs or pseudo photographs of children. The Registrant was sentenced at Newcastle Crown Court on 5 November 2020 and received a 10-month custodial sentence wholly suspended for 24 months. In addition, the Registrant was ordered to remain on the Sex Offenders Register for 10 years, to participate in a Sex Offender Group Work Programme for 40 days and was made subject to a Rehabilitation Activity Requirement for 30 days. The sentencing judge stated that the Registrant may be placed on the barred list by the Disclosure and Barring Service.
Response of the Registrant to the allegations
13. In response to the reading of the allegations at the commencement of the hearing, the Registrant stated that he admitted the facts alleged in particulars 1, 2, 3 and 4. Later, when making his submissions on the facts, the Registrant indicated that he did not admit the allegation of dishonesty in particular 4. The Panel therefore proceeded on the basis that particular 4 was denied.
The HCPC’s case
Evidence of Witness JH
14. JH was called to give oral evidence on behalf of the HCPC. He confirmed the truth of his witness statement dated 5 November 2021.
15. In his witness statement, JH confirmed that he is employed by the Trust as Laboratory Manager in the Blood Sciences Department at the Hospital. He was appointed to conduct the Trust’s investigation when it became aware in August 2020 of the criminal investigation concerning the Registrant.
16. JH’s statement confirmed that the Registrant had been employed by the Trust since 16 December 2013. On 10 August 2020 JH was told by the Trust’s Deputy Operations Manager that the Registrant had told her that he was being investigated by the police. The Registrant subsequently confirmed that he had been charged by the police.
17. The Trust held an investigatory meeting on 11 August 2020. The Registrant stated that he had been under investigation by the police since 2018. The police had attended his home and removed all his electronic devices and retained three laptops. JH was aware from the police that on these laptops were found 60 Category A images, 41 Category B images and 6799 Category C images.
18. JH’s statement exhibited a copy of the minutes of the meeting with the Registrant. These recorded that the Registrant confirmed that he was aware of his responsibility to inform the HCPC that he had been investigated by the Police and charged, but had not done so. He stated “I am just struggling to deal with everything at the moment”.
19. JH confirmed that the Registrant was suspended by the Trust on 11 August 2020.
20. A further investigatory meeting took place on 19 August 2020. JH’s statement exhibited a copy of the minutes of this meeting. At this meeting when asked if he had taken any action to notify the HCPC the Registrant responded “No – I was waiting to see what the outcome of the case was”. He was asked if he still believed this was the right course of action and said “no” and that he now intended to notify the HCPC.
21. JH confirmed that at a further meeting on 27 August 2020, the Registrant stated that he had been contacted by the HCPC just as he had been about to contact them.
22. JH confirmed that the Trust found no evidence during its investigation that the Registrant had accessed illegal images on Trust computers.
23. The Trust submitted a Fitness to Practise Referral in respect of the Registrant to the HCPC on 19 August 2020 and held a disciplinary hearing on 5 October 2020.
The HCPC’s further evidence
24. In addition to the evidence of JH, Ms Sheridan relied upon the HCPC’s evidence in the hearing bundle. This included the signed HCPC witness statements of MR, HCPC Registrations Manager; SS, HCPC Case Manager and LMC, Case Support Paralegal at Kingsley Napley.
25. Other documentary evidence relied upon by the HCPC included correspondence from the Northumbria Police, the Certificate of Conviction dated 7 December 2020 from Newcastle Crown Court and the transcript of the Crown Court hearing before His Honour Judge Earl.
Submissions of the HCPC
26. It was the HCPC’s case that the facts were proved by the witness and documentary evidence. It was the HCPC’s submission that the Panel should find the facts in particulars 2 and 3 proved on the basis of the evidence and the Registrant’s admissions.
27. In relation to particular 4, Ms Sheridan submitted that the Registrant was dishonest in not informing the HCPC promptly or at all when he was charged with the offences on 15 July 2020 and when he was suspended from his employment by the Trust on 11 August 2020. Ms Sheridan reminded the Panel of the obligation imposed on HCPC registrants by Standard 9.5 of the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct Performance and Ethics:
“You must tell us as soon as possible:
- if you accept a caution from the police or you have been charged with, or found guilty of, a criminal offence
- you have had any restriction placed on your practice, or been suspended or dismissed by an employer, because of concerns about your conduct or competence.”
28. Ms Sheridan referred the Panel to the test in the case of Ivey v Genting Casinos (UK) Ltd. t/a Crockfords (Respondent)  UKSC 67. She reminded the Panel of the clear obligations placed on registrants by the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct Performance and Ethics. She referred to the evidence from the Trust, which was not disputed by the Registrant, that he was reminded of these obligations at two consecutive meetings. Ms Sheridan submitted that as the Registrant intended to make submissions rather than give evidence under affirmation his account could not be tested in cross-examination.
29. Ms Sheridan submitted that the Panel should conclude that the Registrant’s actions were deliberate and that ordinary decent people would consider that the Registrant’s conduct was dishonest.
Submissions of the Registrant
30. The Registrant made submissions to the Panel rather than giving evidence under affirmation. In his submissions, the Registrant referred to the written statement he had submitted. He confirmed that he accepted the facts alleged, with the exception that he now did not accept that he had acted dishonestly.
31. [The Panel noted that much of the Registrant’s submissions were properly relevant to the next stage of the process and determined to take account of them at that stage.] The Registrant said that he wished to apologise for his actions and that he accepted full responsibility. He acknowledged that his wrongdoing had caused significant distress. He said that his actions were not representative of the professionals and his former colleagues who he said do an amazing job each day in the NHS. He wished to apologise to them and to former friends he had let down.
32. The Registrant said he fully acknowledged that he should have informed the HCPC of his being charged and of his suspension by the Trust at earlier opportunities. He knew that informing the Trust was “not mutually exclusive of notifying the HCPC also” but he expected that the HCPC would be notified once the Trust was aware that he had been charged. He said he had not attempted to act in a deceitful manner.
33. The Registrant told the Panel that he has co-operated fully with the investigations and proceedings against him and had not provided any deceitful information. He wished to remind the Panel that any suspension or restriction beyond what would be proportionate for his case would mean that he would be unable to earn a salary commensurate with his qualifications. He said he now has a supportive partner and a good support network and wishes to move on with his life once his sentence has been served.
Panel decision on Facts.
34. The Panel considered the submissions of Ms Sheridan and the Registrant. It accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel considered whether the facts were proved according to the civil standard of proof, that is the balance of probabilities, and proceeded on the basis that the burden of proving the facts rests upon the HCPC throughout.
35. The Panel took into account the admissions made by the Registrant to particulars 1, 2 and 3, but also gave its own careful consideration to the evidence presented by the HCPC.
36. The Panel was mindful that in addition to the oral evidence of JH, the HCPC relied on hearsay evidence in support of particulars 2, 3 and 4. The Panel noted that under the Rules, hearsay evidence is admissible in HCPC proceedings subject to the requirement that it is fair to admit such evidence. The Panel took into account that:
- the issues to be proved were, with the exception of the dishonesty issue, largely matters of fact;
- the hearsay evidence was from official, professional sources, such as documents provided by the Trust and Northumbria Police and the three formal, signed witness statements from MR, Registrations Manager for the HCPC; SS, Fitness to Practise Case Manager and LMC, a Legal Assistant from the HCPC’s external solicitors, Kingsley Napley. These witnesses produced documentation from the HCPC’s records;
- the Registrant had raised no objection to its admission and admitted the facts other than in relation to dishonesty.
37. In the circumstances, the Panel was satisfied there was no unfairness in admitting the hearsay evidence for the HCPC and accepted it. The Panel bore in mind that it was a matter for the Panel to determine the appropriate weight to be given to any hearsay evidence.
38. The Panel took account of the Registrant’s admission.
39. The Panel had sight of a copy of the Extract of Conviction from Newcastle Crown Court dated 7 December 2020, which confirmed that the Registrant was convicted of the offence on 8 October 2020 at North Northumbria Magistrates Court and sentenced on 5 November 2020 at the Crown Court. The Panel accepted this as proof of the conviction and of the findings of fact upon which it was based, as provided for by Rule 10(1)(d) of the Rules.
40. In relation to the circumstances of the offences, the Panel had sight of other information, in particular from Northumbria Police and from the transcript of the proceedings before HHJ Earl in Newcastle Crown Court. The Panel noted that the Registrant pleaded guilty to the offences.
41. The indecent images referred to in the three counts against the Registrant were:
- Count 1: Category A (indecent images of children portraying penetrative sexual activity) – 33 still photographs and 27 videos;
- Count 2: Category B (indecent images of children portraying non-penetrative sexual activity) – 30 still images and 11 videos;
- Count 3: Category C (indecent images of children which did not portray sexual activity) – 6,786 still images and 13 videos.
42. Information provided by the Police and in the Crown Court hearing transcript indicated that the children involved in the images were under ten years of age. Some were 6 to 8 years of age. The offences had taken place over a number of years dating back as far as 2012.
43. The Panel was satisfied that the facts of particular 1 were proved.
44. The Panel took account of the Registrant’s admission.
45. The Panel heard evidence from JH of the Trust and had sight of documentation letters from Northumbria Police which confirmed that the Registrant was charged with the offences on 15 July 2020.
46. MR of the HCPC produced a copy of the HCPC record relating to the Registrant which contained no record of the Registrant informing the HCPC that he had been charged with the offence. SS, Case Manager in Fitness To Practise for the HCPC, confirmed that the Registrant had not informed the Fitness To Practise team.
47. The Panel accepted the evidence of JH which it found credible and reliable. It was satisfied that it could attach weight to the documents. The date of the charge was a matter of fact which was not disputed by the Registrant. The Panel accepted the evidence contained within the witness statements of MR and SS that the HCPC were not informed by the Registrant. The Panel was satisfied that particular 2 was proved.
48. The Panel took account of the Registrant’s admission.
49. JH’s evidence confirmed that the Registrant was suspended from his employment on 11 August 2020. This was further confirmed in correspondence and documentation JH produced from the Trust’s internal investigation.
50. MR produced a copy of the HCPC record relating to the Registrant which contained no record of the Registrant informing the HCPC that he had been suspended from his employment. In her witness statement, SS, Case Manager in Fitness To Practise for the HCPC, confirmed that the Registrant had not informed the Fitness To Practise team.
51. The Panel accepted the evidence of JH which it found credible and reliable. It was satisfied that it could attach weight to the documents. The date of the suspension was a matter of fact which was not disputed by the Registrant. The Panel accepted the evidence contained in the witness statements of MR and SS that the HCPC were not informed by the Registrant.
52. The Panel was satisfied that particular 3 was proved.
53. The Panel next considered whether the Registrant’s actions in particulars 2 and 3 were dishonest.
54. The Legal Assessor referred the Panel to the test for dishonesty as laid down by the Supreme Court in the case of Ivey v Genting Casinos (UK) Ltd. t/a Crockfords (Respondent)  UKSC 67, in which it was stated that:
“When dishonesty is in question the fact-finding tribunal must first ascertain (subjectively) the actual state of the individual’s knowledge or belief as to the facts. The reasonableness or otherwise of the belief is a matter of evidence (often in practice determinative) going to whether he held the belief, but it is not an additional requirement that his belief must be reasonable; the question is whether it is genuinely held. When once his actual state of mind as to facts is established, the question of whether his conduct was honest or dishonest is to be determined by the fact-finder by applying the (objective) standards of ordinary decent people. There is no requirement that the defendant must appreciate that what he has done is, by those standards, dishonest.”
55. The Panel applied the test from the Ivey case. The Panel considered the Registrant’s actual state of knowledge and belief as to the facts. The Panel took into account the obligation placed upon HCPC registrants in Standard 9 of the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct Performance and Ethics to be honest and trustworthy. There is a further specific requirement in Standard 9.5 that a registrant must notify the HCPC of these matters, being charged and suspended, and that this must be done “as soon as possible”. This is a direct, personal duty imposed on all registrants.
56. The Panel was mindful that HCPC registrants must be aware of and comply with the HCPC’s Standards. It was satisfied that the requirements for a registrant to inform the HCPC, as his/her regulator, of important matters concerning criminal charges and conviction, and issues concerning their employment status, are well known. The Panel concluded that it was a matter of common sense that the Registrant would be aware that his professional regulator would need to be informed of matters of such a serious nature. The Panel was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the Registrant was under a duty to inform his regulator of these matters and was aware of this obligation.
57. The Panel noted that the Registrant had been expressly reminded of this obligation by the Trust on two occasions, at meetings on 11 and 19 August 2020, but he accepted that he had still did not inform the HCPC. The Panel considered that the Registrant had given differing explanations for not doing so in his responses at the two Trust meetings and again to the Panel in his submissions. The Panel did not find his explanation for not doing so in the face of clear advice to be satisfactory or credible. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant, despite being aware of his obligation, deliberately decided not to inform the HCPC. The Panel was in no doubt that ordinary decent people would consider the Registrant’s actions to be dishonest.
58. The Panel was satisfied that dishonesty as alleged in particular 4 was proved in respect of both particulars 2 and 3.
Submissions on ground and impairment of fitness to practise
59. Ms Sheridan, on behalf of the HCPC, referred to the Panel’s findings of fact. The criminal conviction in particular 1 had been found proved. Ms Sheridan reminded the Panel of the very serious nature of the Registrant’s conviction. She referred to the principle from the case CRHP v GDC & Fleischmann  EWHC 87 (Admin) that a practitioner who has not completed their criminal sentence should not usually be allowed to return to practice without restriction. This was relevant on the basis that the Registrant’s sentence from the criminal case remained operational. In particular, he would be on the Sex Offenders Register for a period of ten years which Ms Sheridan submitted is usually regarded as incompatible with the HCPC’s obligation to protect the public.
60. In relation to particulars 2, 3 and 4, Ms Sheridan submitted that when considered in the light of the HCPC Standards at paragraphs 9.1 and 9.5, the Registrant’s actions failed to acknowledge the importance of the regulatory process. Particular 4 involved a finding of dishonesty. The Registrant had made a conscious and deliberate decision to withhold information which he was obliged to disclose to the HCPC. Ms Sheridan submitted that the facts found proved represented a serious falling short of the standards expected of an HCPC Registrant and that the Panel should find the grounds of conviction and misconduct proved.
61. In respect of the issue of current impairment, Ms Sheridan said that the HCPC’s position was that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was currently impaired in relation to both the personal and public components. His actions were in breach of a fundamental tenet of the profession, namely the requirement to be honest.
62. Ms Sheridan noted that the Registrant had chosen not to give evidence and, whilst he was not under any obligation to do so, there had been limited opportunity for the Panel to explore matters related to insight and remediation with him.
63. Ms Sheridan submitted that the Registrant’s conduct failed to justify public trust and confidence in the profession. In relation to the wider public interest issues, she submitted that public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made.
64. The Registrant made submissions on the grounds and impairment. He asked the Panel to refer to his written statement and earlier submissions at the facts stage.
65. The Registrant told the Panel that he felt he had made positive progress. There had been no repetition of his past behaviour. He told the Panel again that he did not believe he had acted deliberately dishonestly and there had been no attempt “to get away with anything” as far as the HCPC was concerned. He had been aware that the HCPC would be informed of the relevant matters by his former employer. However, he wished to apologise about the length of time before the HCPC was made aware and also that the information was not provided by him.
Panel decision on grounds and impairment of fitness to practise
66. The Panel considered the evidence and submissions of the parties and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was referred to the HCPTS Practice Note, Fitness to Practise Impairment.
67. In respect of particular 1, the Panel was advised that a criminal conviction is a statutory ground of impairment under Article 22(1)(a)(iii) of the Health Professions Order 2001. Having found the conviction proved at the facts stage, this ground was therefore established. The Panel took the view that a conviction for an offence of taking or making indecent images of children is a serious matter as ultimately it involves the exploitation of children. The Panel had seen information indicating that the images viewed involved some children as young as 6 to 8 years of age. The images viewed included both still and moving images in the highest category, Category A. The Panel had also heard that the period of offending extended over the period of 2012 to 2018. The Panel was of the view that an HCPC registrant who is convicted of such an offence undermines public confidence in the profession and in the HCPC as its regulator.
68. The Panel considered whether the Registrant’s actions in particulars 2, 3 and 4 amounted to misconduct. The Panel was mindful that this is a matter for its own judgement, rather than the application of the legal standard of proof, and before making a finding of misconduct, the Panel must be satisfied that there has been a serious falling short of the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct Performance and Ethics.
69. In its findings of fact, the Panel found that the Registrant had disregarded the clear obligation in the Standards of Conduct Performance and Ethics to inform the HCPC that he had been charged with a criminal offence and suspended by his employer. The Panel had found that he had knowingly and dishonestly failed to make the required disclosure to the HCPC, despite having been reminded to do so on two occasions by the Trust.
70. The obligations placed upon HCPC registrants by paragraph 9.1 and 9.5 are important. Registrants are under a duty to be open and honest with their regulator about such matters. The Registrant’s non-disclosure of these matters frustrated the HCPC’s ability to regulate the profession and so undermined public confidence and trust in the HCPC.
71. The Panel considered the Registrant’s actions were in breach of the following paragraphs of the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct Performance and Ethics:
Standard 9: Be honest and trustworthy
9.1: You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession.
9.5: You must tell us as soon as possible if:
- you accept a caution from the police or you have been charged with, or found guilty of, a criminal offence;
- you have had any restriction placed on your practice, or been suspended or dismissed by an employer, because of concerns about your conduct or competence.
72. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s conduct in particulars 2 to 6 fell seriously short of the standards expected. The Panel was of the view that his actions would be regarded as deplorable by fellow professionals. Taking all of these matters into account, the Panel determined that particulars 2, 3 and 4 were serious and amounted to misconduct.
Decision on Impairment
73. The Panel next considered whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by his conviction and by his misconduct. The Panel received and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
74. The Panel was aware that the question of impairment is a matter for its own judgement. In reaching its decision, the Panel had regard to the conduct of the Registrant, the nature, circumstances and gravity of the findings and the critically important public policy issues, in particular the need to maintain public confidence in the profession as well as declaring and upholding the proper standards of conduct and behaviour which the public expects.
75. The Panel considered the Registrant’s submissions. He had not answered questions in cross-examination or from the Panel, so it had not been possible to explore the extent of his insight into his past actions. Based on the information it had, the Panel noted the progress the Registrant had made.
76. The Panel noted that the Registrant had expressed an apology and some remorse. However, the Panel remained very concerned that he had made no reference to, nor shown any understanding of, the impact of his actions in accessing illegal indecent images of the children who are exploited and abused because of such images. The Panel also noted that he had shown little insight into the impact of his criminal conviction on the wider profession. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s submissions concentrated primarily on his own recovery. It was not satisfied that he had meaningful insight into his past actions. In all the circumstances the Panel could not be satisfied there was no, or a low, risk of repetition of his past misconduct in the future.
77. The Panel considered that the four factors identified by Dame Janet Smith in The Shipman Inquiry as indicating current impairment were engaged. The Panel had seen no evidence of direct risk of harm to patients, in that there have been no concerns about his clinical competence nor was there any indication that he had accessed or viewed indecent images at the workplace. In relation to the other three factors the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s conviction and his misconduct have brought the profession into disrepute. He has breached a fundamental tenet of the profession, the requirement to be honest and trustworthy. The Panel further considered that the Registrant has acted in such a way that his integrity can no longer be relied upon.
78. The Panel took account of the principle that a practitioner who has not completed their criminal sentence should not usually be allowed to return to practice without restriction. The Registrant is still subject to the sentence in his criminal case and will remain on the Sex Offenders Register for a period of ten years. The Panel considered that in such circumstances a finding of no impairment would not be consistent with the HCPC’s obligation to protect the public. The Panel found the Registrant’s fitness to practise was currently impaired in respect of the personal component of impairment.
79. In relation to the public component, a criminal conviction for taking or making indecent images of children is a serious matter as ultimately it involves the exploitation of children. An HCPC registrant who holds such a conviction undermines public confidence in the profession and in the HCPC as its regulator.
80. The Panel further considered that the Registrant’s dishonest failure to inform the HCPC of action taken by his employer and of the criminal charge undermined the HCPC’s ability to fulfil its regulatory function. The HCPC could have been deprived of its ability to assess whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise was in question. This in itself could undermine public confidence in the profession and in the HCPC as its regulator.
81. The Panel concluded that the wider public confidence would be undermined in this case if a finding of current impairment were not made. The Panel determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by his criminal conviction and his misconduct in respect of both the personal and public components of current impairment.
Submissions on Sanction
82. Ms Sheridan referred to the HCPC Sanctions Policy and drew the Panel’s attention to the sections relating to cases involving dishonesty and criminal convictions involving accessing indecent images of children. She reminded the Panel of the purpose of sanctions in regulatory proceedings and of the appropriate approach when considering the issue of sanction. Ms Sheridan reminded the Panel of the relevance of the principle in the case of Fleischmann.
83. Ms Sheridan stated that the HCPC did not intend to make a submission as to the appropriate sanction, as this was a matter for the Panel, but she identified aggravating and mitigating factors present in this case. In relation to mitigating factors Ms Sheridan informed the Panel that there are no previous regulatory findings against the Registrant.
84. The Registrant did not wish to make further submissions at this stage and said that he would support whatever sanction the Panel decided to impose. He was assured by the Panel that it would take into account all the submissions he had made at earlier stages of the hearing.
Panel Decision on Sanction
85. The Panel took account of the submissions of the HCPC and those made by the Registrant throughout the hearing. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and referred to the HCPC Sanctions Policy.
86. In considering sanction, the Panel was mindful that a sanction is not intended to be punitive, although it may have that effect. The Panel must consider the risk the Registrant may pose in the future and determine what degree of public protection is required. The Panel must also give appropriate weight to the wider public interest which includes the deterrent effect on other registrants, the reputation of the profession and public confidence in the regulatory process.
87. In its consideration of sanction, the Panel acknowledged that the Registrant had attended and participated in this hearing. He had demonstrated a degree of remorse and insight, although for reasons explained in its earlier decisions, the Panel considered this was limited. Nevertheless, the starting point for the Panel was that these allegations concerned a criminal conviction for very serious offences, in respect of which the Registrant was still subject to a suspended custodial sentence and would remain on the Sex Offenders Register for ten years. There was also a finding of dishonesty towards his regulator by not informing it of the important matters of being charged with a serious criminal offence and suspended from his employment.
88. The Panel considered that the following aggravating factors were present:
a. The serious nature of the criminal conviction, which concerned viewing indecent images involving the exploitation of young children and which took place over a significant period of time, from 2012 to 2018;
b. The dishonest conduct was not a single episode but continued over a period in 2020 during which the Registrant was twice reminded of his obligation to inform the HCPC;
c. Whilst the Registrant had shown some insight into his past criminal conduct and had expressed some remorse, the Panel had found that he demonstrated little remorse for, or insight into, the impact of his offending behaviour upon the children viewed in the indecent images or upon public confidence in the wider profession and the HCPC as its regulator.
89. The Panel considered the following mitigating factors were present:
a. The Registrant has no previous regulatory history;
b. He has engaged with the HCPC proceedings, including by attending this hearing;
c. The Panel had seen medical evidence confirming that the Registrant has suffered from depression and suicidal ideation and has undertaken and completed treatment for his condition. However, the Panel had not seen any medical evidence clarifying what, if any, connection this had with his criminal behaviour;
d. There has been no suggestion of any concern regarding the Registrant’s clinical practice.
90. The Panel took these factors into account when considering sanction. It concluded that the gravity of the aggravating factors in this case outweighed the mitigating factors.
91. The Panel bore in mind paragraphs 82 and 85 of the Sanctions Policy, which reflect the guidance from the Fleischmann case, that where a registrant has been convicted of a serious criminal offence, a panel should not normally allow the registrant to return to unrestricted practice until the sentence has been satisfactorily completed. The Registrant in this case remains subject to the sentence in respect of his conviction of November 2020 and will be registered as a Sex Offender for a period of ten years.
92. Taking all these factors into account, the Panel considered whether it was necessary to impose a sanction. The Panel had in mind that the allegations proved were serious matters and that its decision must uphold public trust and confidence in the profession. The Panel concluded that in this case, neither mediation nor taking no action would be appropriate and determined that a sanction was necessary in the public interest.
93. The Panel considered the sanctions available to it in ascending order of severity. The Panel first considered the factors in the Sanctions Policy in relation to a Caution Order. It concluded that the issues in this case were not minor in nature. This was not an isolated matter, in that it concerned both a criminal conviction and misconduct. Although there has been no repetition, given the Panel’s concern about the limited nature of the insight shown by the Registrant, the Panel could not be reassured that the Registrant will not pose a risk in the future. The Panel concluded that a Caution Order was not appropriate in this case.
94. The Panel next considered whether a Conditions of Practice Order would be appropriate. It took into account that the Registrant might be willing to comply with a conditional order, but concluded that conditions were not appropriate or workable given the serious nature of its findings. The Panel did not consider it would be possible to formulate conditions to address the past criminal conduct or dishonesty to the regulator. Most significantly, the Panel did not consider that conditions would address the public interest concerns in this case.
95. The Panel carefully considered whether a period of suspension would be the proportionate sanction, applying the factors in the Sanctions Policy. The breach of the Standards in this case was very serious. The Registrant had demonstrated only limited insight. The Panel could not have confidence that the issues were unlikely to be repeated. Given that the Registrant is subject to the sentence of the criminal court and remains on the Sex Offenders Register, the Panel did not consider that a Suspension Order would provide adequate protection to the public or the public interest.
96. The Panel concluded that the only appropriate and proportionate sanction in this case was a Striking Off Order. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s criminal offences and misconduct were fundamentally incompatible with registration as a health professional on the HCPC register. The Panel concluded that only a Striking Off order would be sufficient to protect the public, uphold public confidence in the profession and in the regulatory process and to declare and uphold proper standards of conduct in the Biomedical Scientists’ profession.
ORDER: The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Alexander R Paton from the Register on the date this Order comes into effect.
Application for an Interim Order:
1. The Panel having made a substantive Striking Off Order in respect of the Registrant, Ms Sheridan made an application for an Interim Suspension Order to cover the appeal period. The grounds of the HCPC’s application were that in the light of the seriousness of the Panel’s findings and of its decision to make a Striking Off Order, an Interim Suspension Order was necessary for the protection of the public and was otherwise in the public interest.
2. The Registrant did not make any submissions in response to the HCPC’s application.
3. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It bore in mind that an interim order in these circumstances is discretionary. The Panel must consider whether an interim order is required, applying the test set out in Article 31(2) of the Health Professions Order 2001, and if it so decides, must act proportionately. This means balancing the public interest with the interests of the Registrant, and imposing the lowest order which will adequately protect the public.
4. The Panel was referred to the guidance in respect of immediate interim orders in the Sanctions Policy and the HCPTS Practice Note, Interim Orders.
5. The Panel considered the issue of proportionality and balanced the interests of the Registrant with the public interest. The Panel had determined to impose a substantive Striking Off Order in this case. Given the gravity of its findings and the sanction imposed, for the reasons explained in full in its substantive decision, the Panel considered it would be inconsistent not to impose an immediate interim order to address the residual risk and public interest issues.
6. The Panel considered whether interim conditions of practice would be appropriate, but concluded that conditions which would address the Panel’s concerns could not be formulated.
7. Accordingly, the Panel determined that an interim order of suspension was necessary to protect the public and in the wider public interest.
8. The Panel concluded that the appropriate and proportionate duration of the interim suspension order was 18 months. The interim order would continue to be required during the 28-day appeal period and if an appeal was lodged, pending the resolution of the appeal, which the Panel was conscious may take a substantial period of time. The Panel therefore considered that a period of 18 months was the appropriate and necessary duration.
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.
History of Hearings for Alexander R Paton
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|03/05/2022||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Struck off|