Mr Neil Roberts

Profession: Physiotherapist

Registration Number: PH119722

Interim Order: Imposed on 27 Apr 2021

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 09:00 08/09/2022 End: 17:00 09/09/2022

Location: Virtual via videoconference

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Struck off

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Allegation

As a registered Physiotherapist (PH119722) your fitness to practise is impaired by reason of conviction and/or a health condition. In that:

1. On 22 July 2021, you were convicted at Peterborough Crown Court of the following offences:

a. Attempting to cause or incite a child under the age of 16 to engage in sexual activity (penetrative), contrary to section 10(1) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and section 1(1) of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981

b. attempted sexual communication with a child, contrary to section 1(1) of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981

c. attempted sexual communication with a child, contrary to section 1(1) of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981

d. attempted sexual communication with a child, contrary to section 1(1) of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981

e. attempted sexual communication with a child, contrary to section 1(1) of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981.

2. You have a physical and/or mental health condition as set out in Schedule A.

3. By reason of your conviction and/or health, your fitness to practise is impaired

Finding

Preliminary Matters
Service
1. The Panel was informed by the Hearings Officer that notice of this hearing, dated 11 August 2022, was sent to the email address notified by the Registrant as an email address for communications, as it appears in the Certificate of Registration. In addition, it was sent by post to the Registrant’s last known address, namely HMP Peterborough. The Hearings Officer drew the Panel’s attention to the required particulars set out within the notice, namely the time, date and venue (electronic hearing).

2. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It was satisfied that the notice contained the required particulars and had been properly served in accordance with Rules 3 and 6 of the HCPC (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003 (the Rules).

Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant

3. Ms Bernard-Stevenson, on behalf of the HCPC, applied for the hearing to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, who advised in accordance with R v Jones [2001] UKHL 5 and GMC v Adeogba; GMS v Visvardis [2016] EWCA Civ 162. The Panel also had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant.

4. The Panel had regard to the documentation which had been sent to the Registrant, noting that service had been effected both through email and to his last known address in custody. The Panel was mindful that the Registrant was currently in custody. However, it noted that he had not engaged throughout the HCPC investigation, proceedings, and arrangements for this hearing. It was satisfied that he had been given a fair opportunity to be involved if he wished, for example to obtain representation; provide written representations; or seek to make arrangements to participate remotely.

5. The Panel considered that there was an overriding public interest that this case should be heard and resolved. Given that the Registrant had not engaged to date, the Panel considered that he was unlikely to do so moving forward and so an adjournment was not appropriate. The Panel was satisfied that it was fair and appropriate to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.


6. Ms Bernard-Stevenson drew the Panel’s attention to the contents of the pre-sentence report, which was before the Crown Court Judge at the Registrant’s sentencing hearing on 22 July 2021, as well as other documents referencing the Registrant’s health. She invited the Panel to hear any parts of the case which related to the Registrant’s health in private.

7. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It had regard to the HCPC’s Practice Note Conducting Hearings in Private. Whilst the Panel considered it unlikely that those matters relating to the Registrant’s health would need to be articulated in the hearing, if the need arose, the Panel determined to hear any such matters in private, so as to protect his private life.

Background
8. The Registrant is a registered Physiotherapist. At all material times, he was employed by Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (the Trust) as a Band 5 rotational Physiotherapist within the Family Health Division between July 2019 and August 2020.

9. This role involved working with adults across specialities including general medicine, urgent care, trauma and elective orthopaedics.

10. On 14 May 2020, the Registrant was arrested at this home address on suspicion of alleged offences related to online child sexual abuse. At this time, the police advised that the Registrant that he had been under digital surveillance.

11. Shortly after his arrest, the Registrant admitted to engaging in online sexual communications with female children aged between the ages of 12 to 14 on an online platform named ‘KIK’. In fact, this was a ‘decoy’ case, whereby undercover police officers had posed as and were messaging as underage girls. It was the Crown’s case in the criminal proceedings that it was the Registrant’s belief that he was communicating with underage girls.

12. Following his arrest, the Registrant was released under investigation and subject to the following bail conditions: – not to have any unsupervised contact with children under the age of 16 save incidental contact in the course of everyday life.

13. At this time, the Registrant was also suspended from his role at Kettering General Hospital.

14. On 22 July 2021, at Peterborough Crown Court, the Registrant pleaded guilty to and was convicted of one count of attempting to cause or incite a child under 16 to engage in sexual activity (penetrative) and four counts of attempted sexual communication with a child. The Registrant was sentenced to 2 years and 4 months’ imprisonment. He was also made subject to the notification requirements of the Sex Offenders’ Register for 10 years and made subject to a Sexual Harm Prevention Order for 10 years.

15. At its meeting on 22 July 2022, the Investigating Committee (IC) of the HCPC determined that there was a case to answer in relation to an allegation of impairment of the Registrant’s fitness to practise by reason of his convictions and referred the case to the Conduct and Competence Committee.

16. A Panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee has been convened to consider the primary allegation of impaired fitness to practise by reason of conviction.
Decision on Facts

17. The Panel was provided with a main hearing bundle by the HCPC, which included the following documentation:


a.     A copy of the Certificate of Conviction from Peterborough Crown Court, relating to the hearing of 22 July 2021;
b.     A copy of the Crown Court Judge’s sentencing remarks;
c.     A copy of the Crown Court pre-sentence report;
d.     Copies of the police crime reports;
e.     Police witness statements;
f.       Copies of the Crown Court exhibits, the KIK chat messages; and
g.     Documentation from the Registrant’s employers regarding their disciplinary process.

18. The Panel Heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It’s understood that the burden of proving the facts rests on the HCPC and that the HCPC will only be able to prove a fact, if it satisfies the required standard of proof, namely the civil standard, whereby it is more likely than not that the alleged incident occurred.

19. The Registrant did not attend and was not represented in his absence. The Panel did not hold his non-attendance against him at the fact-finding stage.

20. The Panel found particulars 1(a) to 1(e) proved.

21. The Panel had regard to Rule 10(d), which states: “where the Registrant has been convicted of a criminal offence, a certified copy of the certificate of conviction (…) shall be admissible as proof of that conviction and the finding of fact upon which it was based”.

22. The Panel had before it a copy of the Certificate of Conviction, dated 22 July 2021, from Peterborough Crown Court. The Panel was satisfied to the required standard that the Registrant had been convicted of each of the five offences listed within the certificate of conviction.

Decision on Grounds

23. Having found the facts proved, the Panel was satisfied that, by its nature, it amounted to the statutory ground of conviction.
Decision on Impairment 

24. The Panel next went on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired as a consequence of those convictions.

25. Ms Bernard-Stevenson submitted that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of his convictions. She drew the Panel’s attention to the HCPTS Practice Note on Fitness to Practise Impairment, and specifically the personal and public components to consider.

26. In respect of the personal component, Ms Bernard-Stevenson submitted that the Registrant had failed to provide any reflective piece; he had failed to engage with his regulator; and he had failed to complete any rehabilitation. She had pointed out that he had denied key areas of the offences, whereas the exhibits indicated the contrary. She submitted that he had demonstrated very limited insight, and the Panel had no information to assist it with whether he may or may not have developed his insight or remediation.

27. In respect of the public component, Ms Bernard-Stevenson drew the Panel’s attention to the need to declare and uphold standards and to maintain public confidence in the profession. She submitted that the offences related to attempted sexual offences against children; a lengthy prison sentence had been imposed which the Registrant was still serving; and he had been placed on the Sex Offender’s Register for a period of 10 years. Ms Bernard-Stevenson submitted that the Registrant had brought the profession into disrepute and his actions would diminish public confidence .

28. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It had regard to the HCPC Practice Notes on Convictions and Cautions as well as the Practice Note on Impairment, and in particular the two elements of impairment namely the ‘personal component’ and the ‘public component’.

29. The Panel considered that these were extremely serious sexual offences attempted against young children.

30. In respect of the personal component the Panel considered that the Registrant had demonstrated very limited insight. Although the Panel acknowledged that the Registrant had pleaded guilty, it noted that he had denied key elements of the case, saying initially that he had believed he was communicating with adults. The Panel was of the view that he also had sought to minimise the seriousness of his actions by saying he had been lonely and that his motivation had not been sexual, which was not borne out by either his guilty pleas or the content of the chats themselves.

31. In the absence of any engagement by the Registrant, the Panel had not been provided with any personal reflection by him regarding his behaviour, to indicate any remorse or insight, nor did it have any information about whether he was undertaking any rehabilitation as part of his sentence.

32. In all the circumstances, the Panel concluded that in respect of the personal component, the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

33. In relation to the public component, the Panel understood that consideration of fitness to practise is not limited to the personal component, but also requires a judgement to be made in respect of the wider public interest, and in particular the upholding of proper standards of conduct and behaviour; the reputation of the profession; and maintaining public confidence in the profession and the regulator.

34. The Panel was of the view that this case was very serious, relating to three different individuals over a period of time, and this was reflected in the immediate sentence of imprisonment for 2 years and 4 months as well as a Sexual Harm Prevention Order for 10 years and being placed on the Sex Offenders Register for 10 years. The Panel considered that the content of the text communications indicated an element of sexual grooming. The Panel considered that all of these elements raised significant issues of public protection.

35. In addition, the Panel considered that the Registrant had brought the profession into disrepute. The Panel, in its judgement, considered that fellow professionals would be shocked and horrified to hear that a registrant had been convicted of such serious sexual offences attempted against young children. It also considered that public confidence would be seriously undermined, given the trust and respect placed in  health professionals. The Panel was of the view that the public would expect the regulator to act in order to protect the public and the reputation of the profession.  In all the circumstances, the Panel was of the view that not to find current impairment would have a significant detrimental reputational effect on the regulator and would undermine public confidence in the profession.
36. Accordingly, in respect of the public component, the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

 

Decision on Sanction
36. Having determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of his conviction, the Panel went on to consider whether it was impaired to a degree which required action to be taken on his registration by way of the imposition of a sanction

37. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and exercised its independent judgement. The Panel had regard to the Sanctions Policy and considered the sanctions in ascending order of severity. The Panel understood that the purpose of a sanction is not to be punitive but to protect members of the public and to safeguard the wider public interest, which includes upholding standards within the profession, together with maintaining public confidence in the profession and its regulatory process.

38. The Panel considered the alternative sanctions available, beginning with the least restrictive.

39. The Panel did not consider that the option of taking no further action, or the sanctions of a Caution Order to be appropriate or sufficient in the circumstances of this case. Neither would restrict the Registrant’s practice. Having regard to the Sanctions Policy, the Panel noted that the criteria for a Caution Order included that the behaviour was minor, and a registrant had demonstrated insight, neither of which is the position in this case.  In the Panel’s view, neither of these options would protect the public or reflect the seriousness of the case, nor would they satisfy the high public interest element, namely the need to maintain public confidence in the profession.

40. In respect of a Conditions of Practice Order, the Panel was mindful that the Registrant had been sentenced on 22 July 2021 to immediate imprisonment for 2 years and 4 months, and so the sentence, with the Registrant either imprisoned or released on licence, would be operational until around November 2023. The Panel bore in mind that a further element of the sentence was that the Registrant was subject to both sex offender notification requirements and a Sexual Harm Prevention Order for a period of 10 years, which would both, therefore, be operational for some years to come. In light of this, the Panel did not consider that conditions were workable. The Panel was of the view that these elements of the Registrant’s sentence were incompatible with him being permitted to practise as a Physiotherapist, even with restriction.

41. The Panel considered that in reality, given the seriousness of the convictions and the evidence underpinning those convictions, the question for the Panel was whether the appropriate and proportionate sanction should be a Suspension Order or a Striking-Off Order.

42. The Panel considered the following to be aggravating factors in this case:

a.   The offences were pre-meditated and pre-planned;
b.   The Registrant had used a false identification in his online chats;
c.   The Registrant believed he was interacting with three young children;
d.   The Panel considered that the content of the chat messages indicated an element of grooming;
e.   The chats had occurred over several months
8.     The Panel considered the following to be mitigating factors:
a.     The Registrant had pleaded guilty to the offences in the criminal courts at the earliest opportunity;

43. Whilst the Panel noted the documentation regarding the Registrant’s health, it did not consider that it had sufficient or up to date information to identify that he had been suffering from these health conditions at the time of his offending such that his health would be a mitigating factor.

44. The Panel considered a Suspension Order. It understood that the maximum period available for which a Registrant could be suspended from the Register was 12 months. As noted above, significant elements of the Registrant’s sentence would still be extant over the course of the suspension and for a considerable period afterwards. The Panel had regard to the case of Fleischmann (Council for the Regulation of Healthcare Professionals v (1) General Dental Council (2) Alexander Fleischmann [2005] EWHC 87 (Admin)) and the general principle that in order to maintain public confidence in the profession, a Registrant should not, ordinarily, be permitted to practise, either with or without restriction, whilst subject to a criminal sentence.

45. The Panel considered that this general principle was particularly relevant in this case. It was of the view that members of the public, in particular patients, would be particularly concerned and potentially appalled about being treated by a Registrant subject to sex offender registration and a Sexual Harm Prevention Order for 10 years.

46. In addition, the Panel was mindful that the Registrant had not engaged with the HCPC at all during these proceedings, and so there was no information upon which the Panel could consider that the Registrant may be undertaking rehabilitative and remedial steps or gaining any degree of insight into his actions, such that a 12 month Suspension Order may be sufficient and appropriate.

47. Given the serious nature of the Registrant’s convictions, the Panel concluded that a Suspension Order was insufficient to mark the nature and gravity of his offending. The reality was, in the Panel’s judgement, that public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process would be undermined if a suspension order were imposed.

48. The Panel considered a Striking-Off Order and concluded that this was the only appropriate, proportionate and sufficient sanction in this particular case.

49. The Panel considered that paragraphs 79 and 85 of the Sanctions Policy were particularly relevant in this case:

§79 – Sexual abuse of children, whether physical or online, is intolerable, seriously damages public safety and undermines public confidence in the profession. Any professional found to have participated in sexual abuse of children in any capacity should not be allowed to remain in unrestricted practice.

§85 – Although inclusion on the sex offenders’ database is not a punishment, it does serve to protect the public from those who have committed to certain types of offences. A panel should normally regard it as incompatible with the HCPC’s obligation to protect the public to allow a registrant to remain in a return to unrestricted practice while they are on the sex offenders database.

50. In relation to paragraph 79, the Panel noted that the Registrant’s convictions arose from a “decoy” case, and there were no actual children involved. Nevertheless, the Panel considered, in light of his pleas of guilty, that the Registrant had intended to commit the sexual offences against children. Therefore, in the Panel’s judgement, paragraph 79 was relevant.

51. In all the circumstances, the Panel was of the view that the nature and gravity of the Registrant’s offending was such that a Striking-Off order is required to satisfy all the public interest elements of this case. It was clear to the Panel that any reasonably well informed member of the public would be shocked and troubled if a Physiotherapist, convicted of such offences, were not removed from the register. In the Panel’s judgement, the Registrant’s offending was incompatible with being on the register.

52. In terms of the principle of proportionality, the Panel noted that the Registrant would be prevented from working in the profession by this order. However, the Panel was of the view that the high public interest of maintaining public confidence in the profession outweighs his own personal interests.

Order

Order: Strike Off Order

The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Neil Roberts from the Register on the date this Order comes into effect.

Notes

No notes available

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Neil Roberts

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
08/09/2022 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off
22/04/2022 Investigating Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
19/01/2022 Investigating Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
20/10/2021 Investigating Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
;