John Barrie Arnold
1) Obstructed a Social Services investigation into potential allegations of child abuse by not providing details of children to St Helens Children & Young Peoples Service.
2) Used your professional Social Work qualification and/or Adult Social Work position with Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council to attempt to unduly influence St Helens Children & Young Peoples Service’s investigation in that you:
a. expressed your personal views to Councillors;
b. expressed your personal views to St Helens Children & Young Peoples Service;
c. expressed support for, and denied the potential risk of, an adult who may pose a risk to children.
3) The matters set out in paragraphs 1-2 constitute misconduct.
4) By reason of this misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.
Service of Notice of Hearing
1. The Panel was informed by the Hearings Officer that notice of this hearing was sent to the Registrant’s registered address by letter dated 28 June 2016. The Panel was satisfied that this is in compliance with the Health Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003 (the Rules).
Proceeding in Absence
2. Mr Foxsmith for the HCPC applied for the hearing to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. The Panel received and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who advised that the Panel’s discretion to proceed in the Registrant’s absence should only be exercised with the utmost care and caution.
3. The Panel were advised by Mr Foxsmith of an HCPC pro forma completed by the Registrant indicating that he would not be attending the Hearing nor would he be represented. This demonstrated the Registrant was aware of this Hearing and suggested he had waived his right to attend. The Registrant made no observations nor did he make any other application. The Panel concluded that the Registrant had voluntarily absented himself and there was no evidence that he would attend an adjourned hearing. The Panel noted that this was a final Hearing to decide on whether the allegations against the Registrant are proved and if so, whether such facts as found proved amount to the statutory ground of the allegation, misconduct. The Panel considered that it was in the public interest and in the Registrant’s interests that the application should be considered expeditiously. Accordingly, the Panel decided to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.
Decision on application to amend Particulars:
4. Mr Foxsmith applied to amend the particulars of the allegations in the manner as set out above. He submitted that the amendments were necessary to clarify the case against the Registrant. The proposed amendments had been notified to the Registrant at the same time as the Hearing notification. He referred the Panel to the case of Ireland, Ma v HCPC [2015 ] EWHC 846 (Admin) and stated it was for the Panel to decide if the proposed amendment was a ‘cosmetic’ or substantive change to the allegations charged.
5. The Panel received and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor that an amendment to the allegations could be made, provided no injustice was caused. The Panel noted that the Registrant had been made aware of the proposed amendments and had made no observations.
6. However the Panel considered that the proposed amendments did alter the nature of the case against the Registrant in that they arguably widened the scope and lessened the burden of proof on the HCPC and were therefore not “cosmetic”.
7. Accordingly the Panel were not satisfied that the amendments would not cause any prejudice to the Registrant and determined they should not be allowed.
Decision on Facts
8. The Panel took account of all the oral and written evidence and reminded itself that the onus is on the HCPC to prove its case on the balance of probabilities.
9. The Panel heard evidence on behalf of the HCPC from two witnesses, in person; CH who was the Service Leader for Assessment and Social Work Service within Children’s Services at Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council (BDB Council) and PR who was the Social Work Team Manager at St Helens Children and Young People’s Service (St Helens) at the time of the alleged incident.
10. The Panel found both these witnesses to be credible. The Registrant was not present and the Panel had regard to his written submissions, the contents of which they noted. In particular the Registrant’s account of the telephone call received from PR and the Registrant’s reasons for not providing information about the children, varied from not being satisfied as to the identity of PR, to being emotionally affected by the circumstances of his friend, Person A.
11. Where the Registrant’s account conflicted with the evidence from the witness the Panel preferred the evidence of the witness.
12. The Panel found that Particular 1 is proved.
13. In considering this allegation the Panel considered the meaning of the word “obstructed”. The Panel applied the dictionary description of “obstructed” given by the Council in its submissions as being “deliberately making something difficult.”
14. It was clear from the evidence of PR that the enquiries being made of the Registrant formed part of a formal inquiry under statutory procedures into Person A and his wider contacts. It was PR’s evidence that the Registrant, by his refusal to supply details of the children, had obstructed the Social Services investigation.
15. In particular the Panel found that the Registrant obstructed the Social Services Investigation during the telephone call of 29 December 2014 with PR. During that call, despite PR identifying himself as calling following the Registrant’s letter of complaint to St Helens, the Registrant declined to provide details of children to PR as requested by him.
16. The Registrant indicated in his written submissions that this was because he was not given any reason as to why he was being asked to provide this information. The Panel took account of this submission, however it preferred and accepted PR’s evidence to the effect that he had identified himself satisfactorily to the Registrant. The Panel accepted that PR had informed the Registrant that the information was sought as part of a child safeguarding investigation. The Panel also accepted that the Registrant was offered an alternative option to identify the children which was to inform the childrens’ parents to contact the Social Work Department. The Registrant also declined to so do.
Particulars 2(a), 2(b) and (2c)
17. The stem of Particular 2 sates “Used your professional Social Work qualification with Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council to attempt to unduly influence St Helens Children & Young Peoples Service’s investigation in that you…”
18. The Panel found that Particulars 2(a), 2(b) and 2(c) were not proved in relation to abuse of the Social Work qualification. The Panel considered all the component parts of the stem of this Particular. The Panel carefully took account of how any individual might use his professional qualification. The Panel accepted the Registrant’s submission that the qualification was automatically generated onto emails. The Panel also noted that in the documentation submitted by the Registrant, particularly Exhibit 12, the “Appeal Against Disciplinary Action”, the Registrant hand-signed and added his qualifications. In all the circumstances, the Panel were satisfied that the individual use of professional qualifications is varied, and it drew no adverse inference from the Registrant’s use of his professional Social Work qualification in the circumstances.
19. The Panel found that Particular 2(a) is proved in relation to the use of the Registrant’s “Adult Social Work position.”
20. The Panel accepted the evidence of CH. The Panel were satisfied that the Registrant used his work email address, and therefore his “Adult Social Work position”, to attempt to unduly influence. This was supported by the documentary evidence demonstrating the use of the Registrant’s “Adult Social Work position”. This included the use of emails addressed from the Registrant’s social work position at “Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council”, actively inserting his professional address in correspondence, and also adding his professional address after his name.
21. The Panel did not accept the Registrant’s submission that the use of work addresses was for ease of contact, but rather to add credibility to and give undue weight to the Registrant’s views.
22. The Panel found that Particular 2(b) is not proved in relation to the Registrant’s use of “Adult Social Work” position with Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council. The Panel was not satisfied that there was sufficient evidence to demonstrate the Registrant’s direct contact with St Helens Children & Young Peoples Service (St Helens) itself. The evidence indicated that whilst the Registrant did attempt to contact officers at St Helens, he did not succeed.
Particular 2 (c)
23. The Panel found that Particular 2(c) is proved. In relation to the use of the Registrant’s “Adult Social Work position.”
24. The Panel accepted the evidence of CH. The Panel were satisfied that the Registrant used his work emails address and, therefore his “Adult Social Work position” to attempt to unduly influence St Helens by expressing support for, and denied the potential risk of, an adult who may pose a risk to children. This included the use of emails addressed from his social work position at “Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council”, actively inserting his professional address in correspondence and also adding his professional address after his name. The Panel did not accept the Registrant’s submission that the use of his work addresses was for ease of contact, but rather to add credibility and give undue weight to the Registrant’s views.
Decision on Grounds
25. The Panel heard submissions on behalf of the HCPC from Mr Foxsmith. He also noted points in the Registrant’s favour, given that the Registrant was not there to make them. It has accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
26. The Panel reminded itself that misconduct is a matter for its judgment.
27. The Panel considered all the facts and circumstances giving rise to the facts found proved. No adverse inference was drawn from the absence of the Registrant from the Hearing and account was taken of the shocking circumstances that had arisen for the Registrant at the time of the facts now found proved. This did not absolve any misconduct, however, as some actions had been deliberate and planned.
28. The Panel considered the Registrant’s conduct in relation to Particular 1 when the Registrant received a call from PR who identified himself as a social worker as deplorable. In his representations to St Helens, the Registrant himself had drawn attention to his own status as a social worker and so he too was expected to adhere to the profession’s Standards of conduct, performance and ethics (the Standards). The Panel considered that in relation to Particulars 2a) and 2c) the Registrant had deliberately included his work details. This could have led the recipients to believe that he was acting in an official capacity and was therefore an attempt to apply undue influence. In particular the Panel identified breaches of:
• Standard 1 -You must act in the best interests of service users;
• Standard 3 -You must keep high standards of personal conduct;
• Standard 7 – You must communicate properly and effectively with service users and other practitioners;
• Standard 13 - You must behave with honesty and integrity and make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession.
29. The Panel also identified breaches of the Standards of Proficiency (SoP) including:
• SoP 2.3 understand the need to protect, safeguard and promote the wellbeing of children, young people and vulnerable adults;
• SoP 2.5 be able to manage competing or conflicting interests.
30. The Panel considered that the allegations found proved in Particulars 1, 2(a) and 2(c) individually and cumulatively, crossed the threshold of seriousness, and amounted to misconduct.
31. The Panel were satisfied the proven facts amount to the statutory ground of misconduct.
Decision on Impairment
32. The Panel decided there that the Registrant is currently impaired.
33. The Panel has heard submissions from Mr Foxsmith, on behalf of the HCPC. Mr Foxsmith submitted that the Registrant has failed to engage and the last substantive representation received from the Registrant was over a year ago, on 1 September 2015.
34. He submitted that the Registrant had adopted an aggressive tone in his response to his then employer and there was no evidence the Registrant now demonstrated hindsight or recognition of what occurred.
35. Mr Foxsmith submitted that a finding of impairment was necessary to maintain confidence in the profession, protect the public and the wider public interest.
36. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
37. The Panel reminded itself that a finding of impairment was a matter for its judgment and that it must consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.
38. The Panel considered the need to protect the public, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession.
39. The Panel considered the extenuating circumstances at the time of the misconduct, however the Panel was concerned that it had no current information from the Registrant demonstrating any training or development activity undertaken by him, his reflection on the incidents or his development of insight. There was no indication that he understood the seriousness of obstructing a child safeguarding inquiry, even some months after the event.
40. The Panel considered the facts found proved and considered whether the Registrant had remediated. The Panel found only limited evidence of the Registrant’s recognition of his own culpability and the consequences of his misrepresentation. Having considered the seriousness of the incident, the risk to the public and the reputation of the profession, the Panel were satisfied that a finding of impairment was appropriate.
41. The Panel heard submissions from Mr Foxsmith on behalf of the HCPC. Mr Foxsmith was not instructed to make particular representations about the appropriate sanction but submitted that in the circumstances of this case where the Registrant has not engaged, mediation would not be appropriate. He submitted that the imposition of any sanction should be proportionate and balance the Registrant’s own interests with the need to protect the service users, the reputation of the profession and the wider public.
42. The Panel also had regard to the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP) and received the advice of the Legal Assessor.
43. In deciding what sanction if any to impose the Panel applied the principle of proportionality to attain a suitable degree of public protection, take account of the wider public interest and impose the least restrictive sanction necessary, whilst balancing the protection of the public and the interests of the Registrant.
44. The Panel considered the available sanctions in ascending order starting with the least restrictive sanction. No sanction was not appropriate, given the seriousness of the misconduct and the lack of insight.
45. The Panel first considered whether mediation was appropriate. However in view of the seriousness of the facts found proved and the lack of a party with whom to mediate, the Panel was satisfied it was not appropriate.
46. The Panel next considered whether a Caution Order was appropriate. The Registrant’s submission to the Panel demonstrated his lack of insight, both at the time of the events and in the ensuing months. This indicated that the Registrant’s misconduct and lack of insight was not caused solely by the exceptional circumstances in which he had found himself. Hence the Panel concluded there was a risk of repetition of this type of behaviour even in less exceptional personal circumstances and therefore a Caution Order was not appropriate.
47. The Panel considered whether the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order would be appropriate. The Panel determined that the Registrant’s failings in insight and understanding may well be remediable, if the Registrant was fully engaged.
48. However, the Panel decided that such an order is not currently appropriate. The Panel has been supplied no information as to what the Registrant may be currently doing or what his future career intentions may be. And given the lack of recent substantive engagement by the Registrant, the Panel is not in a position to agree conditions with him.
49. The Panel then went on to consider a Suspension Order. The Panel believes, given that it sees the lack of insight as remediable but also sees some risk of repetition, that a short period of suspension is desirable in which the Registrant can demonstrate whether he has developed understanding and insight into his actions. It is satisfied that a period of suspension would protect the public as the Registrant would be temporarily removed from the Register. The Panel has decided on a period of 4 months as this would protect service users and would be otherwise in the public interest, maintain confidence in the profession and trust in the regulatory process. Such a Suspension Order would provide an opportunity, should he wish, for the Registrant to reflect on the findings of this Panel and demonstrate to a reviewing Panel whether he has developed an understanding and insight into his actions.
50. The Panel did go on to consider a Striking Off Order, to ensure that it had made the appropriate decision. However, in the particular circumstances of this case, weighing up any aggravating and mitigating features, the Panel is satisfied that a Striking Off Order would be wholly disproportionate. It would not allow an otherwise competent Social Worker the opportunity to demonstrate insight and remediation.
51. Prior to the expiry of the 4-month period of suspension, the matter will be reviewed by another panel of the HCPC. It would assist any such future panel if, before that panel reviews the case, the Registrant were to:
• engage with the HCPC process;
• submit information as to how he now perceives his actions and their possible impact;
• submit information on how he is keeping his skills and practice up-to-date through CPD courses or other relevant training; and,
• attend the next Hearing if at all possible, to give information in person.
Order: The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mr John Barrie Arnold for a period of 4 months on the date this Order comes into effect.
A Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing took place at HCPC, London on Monday 3 October 2016 to Wednesday 5.00 October 2016.