John Barrie Arnold
Allegation as proved at the final hearing
During the course of your employment as a Social Worker with Blackburn with Darwen
Borough Council, in the period between 2014 and May 2015 you;
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; ( in relation to the use of the Registrant’s Adult Social Work position)
c. Expressed support for, and denied the potential risk of, an adult who may pose a risk to children. (in relation to the use of the Registrant’s Adult Social Work position)
3) The matters set out in paragraphs 1-2 constitute misconduct.
4) By reason of this misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.
Proof of service
1. The HCPC sent a Notice of Hearing to the Registrant’s registered address on 10 January (and also by email). The Notice set out all the relevant information about today’s proceedings. There is no doubt that the Registrant received the correspondence as he replied by email on 22 January and 6 and 7 February 2017. The Panel was satisfied that reasonable notice has been given.
Proceeding in absence
2. Ms Bentley on behalf of the HCPC applied for the Hearing to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. He has had good notice of the proceedings and indeed has corresponded with the HCPC subsequent to service of the notice for today’s hearing. He should be considered to have voluntarily absented himself from the proceedings. There is little likelihood of the Registrant attending on a future occasion if the matter were adjourned today.
3. The Panel noted that this is a mandatory review of the order. It had regard to the recent HCPC Practice Note on Proceeding in the Absence of The Registrant dated September 2016. It has also accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who referred to the recent case of GMC v Adeogba (2016) EWCA Civ. 162. That case makes it clear that whether the Registrant had been properly served with notice is of crucial importance, and the Panel is required to consider the strong public interest in dealing with fitness to practise proceedings expeditiously. It noted that the discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant must be exercised with the utmost care and caution bearing in mind the prejudice to the Registrant in proceeding, balanced against the public interest in adjourning the proceedings. The Health and Social Work Professions Order requires that the Registrant must be afforded an opportunity to appear before and be heard by a Panel before making an order, but the Registrant’s absence does not preclude an order being made provided that opportunity has been made available.
4. The Panel considered that it is appropriate to proceed in the absence of the Registrant:
• The Panel has found that there has been good service of the Notice of Proceedings.
• The Registrant had not sought an adjournment of these proceedings. He has corresponded with the HCPC by email subsequent to service of the notice and provided written representations. He was offered the opportunity to attend the hearing by telephone but declined it.
• The Panel considered that it would be in the public interest for this matter to proceed today.
5. The Registrant was employed as a Social Worker for some 13 years prior to the incident giving rise to these proceedings. The Registrant sent emails from his work email address to St Helens Children’s and Young People’s Service (CYPS) expressing support for and denying the potential risk of an adult who it was thought could pose a risk to children ‘Person A’ who was connected to his family. Person A had allegations of serious sexual abuse made against him and St Helen’s CYPS had advised that he did not spend time with children alone.
6. Within that correspondence, the Registrant named three of his grandchildren that he said he would continue to allow Person A to see as he did not believe he had done anything wrong. This prompted the social work Team Manager at St Helens CYPS to contact the Registrant by telephone on 29 December 2014 as they had no information on these 3 children. The Registrant refused to provide any information to the social work team.
7. The Registrant did not attend the final hearing but disputed the allegations in his written representations. The panel found Particular (1) and 2 (a) and 2 (c) (so far as they related to use of the Registrant’s ‘Adult Social Work’ position) proven. 2 (b) was not found proven. 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.
8. The panel at the final hearing was critical of the Registrant. It described the Registrant’s failure to provide details of his grandchildren during the telephone call on 29 December 2014 as ‘deplorable’. In relation to 2 (a) and 2 (c) he had deliberately included his work details. This could have led the recipients to believe that he was acting in an official capacity and therefore was an attempt to apply undue influence.
9. The previous panel found the Registrant’s fitness to practise impaired. The Panel considered the extenuating circumstances at the time of the misconduct.
10. 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.
11. 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 was satisfied that a finding of impairment was appropriate.
12. In respect of sanction, the panel concluded that the only proportionate and appropriate order was a short period of suspension. It's reasoning is contained in paragraph 49 which bears repetition;
“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”.
13. That panel indicated that any reviewing Panel might be assisted by the following evidence from the Registrant in advance of the hearing and also evidence to be given in person at the hearing by the Registrant:
• evidence of engagement with the HCPC process;
• information as to how he now perceives his actions and their possible impact;
• information on how he is keeping his skills and practice up-to-date through CPD courses or other relevant training;
Representations of the HCPC and the Registrant
14. Ms Bentley today submitted that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is still impaired and the Panel should make a further order of suspension. She addressed the documentation that had been provided by the Registrant which was contained in 3 separate bundles dated 22 January 2017 running to 56 pages, 3 February which was 6 pages and 7 February which was 17 pages. None of the relevant material contained within those bundles post-dated the decision of the final hearing in October of last year, in particular there was no contemporary material related to the Registrant’s practice. The Registrant has failed to provide the evidence and information suggested by the previous panel that would be useful for this reviewing Panel. He has not provided a reflective piece. He has not provided any evidence of undertaking courses or training to keep his practice up to date. He has demonstrated no insight into the matters that led to his suspension.
15. The Panel considered the Registrant’s written submissions sent in the 3 separate bundles referred to above with care.
16. This Panel has taken into account all documentation placed before it and has given appropriate weight to the evidence supplied by the Registrant. It has heard the HCPC submissions; heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor; and it has reminded itself of the terms of the Council’s Practice Note ‘Article 30 (2) Reviews’ which, while addressing a slightly different provision, contains useful guidance for the current application. In summary, the legal principles in respect of an Article 30 (1) review are as follows:
i) The primary objective of the Panel is to secure public protection in the most appropriate and proportionate way
ii) The Panel cannot go behind the original decision. Its task is to consider whether the order under review remains an appropriate and proportionate means of securing public protection. The Supreme Court recently emphasised that it is not for the reviewing panel to consider the adequacy of the original sanction as part of its deliberations. A review is “a vehicle for monitoring the steps taken by the registrant towards securing professional rehabilitation” and it can never be a proper ground for the exercise of the power to extend the period of suspension that the period originally directed was insufficient to reflect the gravity of the original offence or offences”- Habib Khan v GPhC (2016) UKSC 64
iii) The correct approach is to determine whether the Registrant’s impairment identified at the final hearing is still continuing and if so what level of restriction is appropriate
iv) The Panel can allow the current suspension order to lapse, extend it or replace it with any sanction that could have been made at the time of the substantive hearing. The Panel should consider the sanctions in ascending order of severity.
17. Looking at the previous panel’s decision, it is clear that the Registrant displayed a significant lack of judgment and ability to set appropriate professional boundaries during an admittedly unusual and stressful set of circumstances. The Registrant’s actions led to the possibility of child safety being compromised. This was an unacceptable state of affairs for a qualified social worker of many years standing. The first question for the Panel is whether through the evidence provided, the Registrant can be said to have remedied the deficiencies previously identified such that his fitness to practise is no longer impaired. The Panel’s firm conclusion is that he has not.
18. The Panel essentially accepts the submissions made by the HCPC. The Registrant has produced no cogent evidence whatsoever of remediation or insight. The material produced largely pre dates the hearing and does not demonstrate in any way that the Registrant has reflected on the circumstances leading to his suspension and how such actions would not and could not be repeated in the future. There is no reflective piece, there is no example of current courses undertaken or due to be taken, there is no evidence of insight into how professional boundaries may be crossed and how this can be avoided.
19. Accordingly the Panel has gone on to consider sanction. Considering available sanctions in ascending order as it must, it is clear that mediation or a caution would not be an appropriate and proportionate response to the impairment identified. There are no conditions of practice that can be properly formulated that would be practicable and verifiable and appropriately address the impairment identified. This leaves either a further period of suspension or strike off. The Panel is of the view that a further period of suspension is appropriate to enable the Registrant to demonstrate insight and remediation such as to establish that his fitness to practice is no longer impaired. A Striking Off Order at this stage would not be proportionate.
20. The Panel is of the view that given the comprehensive failure to address the matters raised at the last hearing a longer period of time is required and the Panel orders that the Registrant is suspended for a period of 9 months. The Panel has concerns that the Registrant appears to be under a misapprehension as to the function of a reviewing panel. The reviewing panel focusses on the present and future. It is no part of its function to go behind findings already made at a final hearing as to facts, grounds and impairment at that time. With this in mind the Panel believes that in order to assist the Registrant, the HCPC and any future reviewing panel it should set out some evidence that the Registrant may wish to consider adducing at the next hearing. This should not be seen as binding on the Registrant nor of course a future panel but it may be useful in guiding him as to steps to be taken during the course of his suspension.
21. The steps that would be of assistance are:
• For the Registrant to engage with the HCPC process and to seek to attend the next hearing in person or if that is not practicable, by telephone
• To prepare and submit in advance a reflective piece including information as to what he has learnt from the experience and what he would do differently in similar circumstances in the future. The Registrant may wish to include evidence of how he is looking to develop safe and effective practice in the future
• To maintain CPD through attending courses and training. A course on maintaining appropriate professional boundaries may be particularly useful.
22. The Registrant is reminded that while this Panel has imposed a suspension order, all sanctions remain available to any future reviewing panel should it continue to find that his fitness to practice remains impaired including that of striking off the register.
The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of John Barrie Arnold for a further period of 9 months on the expiry of the existing order.