Mrs Vanessa Memberr

: Social worker

: SW06935

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 27/03/2017 End: 17:00 27/03/2017

: Health and Care Professions Council, 405 Kennington Road, London, SE11 4PT

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Struck off

Allegation

On 6 May 2016, whilst registered as a Social Worker, you were convicted of:

1. Two counts of 'Conceal Criminal Property'.

2. One count of 'Conspiracy to Commit Fraud'.

3. By reason of your convictions, as set out in particulars 1 to 2, your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters


Proof of Service

1. The Panel was provided with a signed certificate as proof that the Notice of Hearing had been sent in a letter, dated 9 January 2017, by First Class post, to the address shown for the Registrant on the HCPC register.  In an abundance of caution, the Notice of Hearing was also sent to another known address for the Registrant. The Registrant’s previous registered address. The Panel was satisfied that Notice had been properly served in accordance with Rule 3 (Proof of Service) and Rule 6 (date, time and venue) of the Conduct & Competence Committee Rules 2003 (as amended).
Proceeding in Absence

2. Having determined that service of the Notice of Hearing had been properly effected, the Panel went on to consider whether to proceed in the Registrant’s absence, as permitted by Rule 11 of the Conduct & Competence Rules 2003 (as amended). The Panel was advised by the Legal Assessor and followed that advice. The Panel also took into account the guidance as set out in the HCPC Practice Note “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”.

3. The Panel determined that it was reasonable and in the public interest to proceed with the hearing for the following reasons:

(i) The Registrant has not engaged with the regulatory process. The Panel noted that the Registrant was released from custody in May 2016 and despite the notices being sent to the Registrant from the HCPC by post there has been no response from her. Having been properly served with the Notice of Hearing, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s non-attendance was voluntary and therefore a deliberate waiver of her right to attend.

(ii) There has been no express or implied request for an adjournment. Therefore, there is no indication that the Registrant would attend on any future date and in these circumstances re-listing this case would serve no useful purpose.

(iii) The Panel concluded that any disadvantage to the Registrant is limited, as the facts and grounds are capable of being proved based on the documents alone. 

(iv) The Panel was satisfied that given the serious nature of the allegation there is a strong public interest in ensuring that this Final Hearing commences and proceeds expeditiously. In reaching this conclusion the Panel took into account the observation of Sir Brain Levenson, P in GMC v Adeogba [2016] EWCA Civ 162:

‘The fair, economical, expeditious and efficient disposal of allegations made against practitioners is of very real importance.’

Background


4. In April 2013, Leeds City College received an email from a company, which purported to change the company’s bank details for payment. The account which this was changed to related to a company called Yeriso Ltd, whose sole director was the Registrant. The Registrant’s account was subsequently credited with just over £1.3 million, a large proportion of which was promptly laundered into other accounts controlled by the Registrant’s company or by her personally, or into accounts controlled by her co-defendant.  The money was used to buy expensive consumer goods, flights and holidays in exotic locations and to pay off the Registrant’s debts. Other money was transferred off shore or was taken out and spent as cash.

5. The Registrant was arrested on 14 November 2013, at Southwark Council offices, where she worked as a locum Social Worker. She made no comment in all of her police interviews and was subsequently charged on 28 May 2014. The Registrant was remanded in custody.  At Isleworth Crown Court the Registrant pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to defraud and two counts of concealing criminal property. The sentence imposed was four years imprisonment. The Registrant remained on remand pending the trial of her two co-defendants and therefore with the remand time taken into account, she was released from prison on 27 May 2016.

Decision on facts

Panel’s Approach

6. The Panel was aware that the burden of proving the facts was on the HCPC. The Registrant did not have to prove anything and the particulars of the Allegation could only be found proved, if the Panel was satisfied, on the balance of probabilities.

7. In reaching its decision the Panel took into account the documentary evidence including the Certificate of Conviction and the Judge’s Sentencing Remarks. The Panel also took into account the HCPC Practice Note entitled ‘Conviction and Caution Allegations’. The Panel was aware that in accordance with Rule 10(1)(d), it could not go behind the conviction and was required to accept the certification from Isleworth Crown Court as conclusive proof of the conviction itself and the underlying facts.

Particular 1 and 2 – Found Proved

‘On 6 May 2016, whilst registered as a Social Worker, you were convicted of:

1. ‘Two counts of ‘Conceal Criminal Property’.

2. One count of ‘Conspiracy to Commit Fraud’.

8. The Panel was provided with a Certificate of Conviction in the name of Vanessa Gogo-Abite, which was signed by an officer of the court on 14 June 2016. The Panel was also provided with a marriage certificate and was satisfied that the Registrant’s maiden name was Vanessa Gogo-Abite and that following her marriage on 14 April 2012 she became known as Vanessa Memberr. The Panel accepted the Certificate of Conviction as conclusive evidence that the Registrant was convicted of conspiracy to defraud and concealing criminal property on 6 May 2016. The Panel noted that the Registrant had been convicted following guilty pleas at Isleworth Court at an early stage of the criminal proceedings for which she received a reduction in sentence.

9. The Panel was therefore satisfied that the facts and ground have been proved.

Impairment

Panels Approach

10. The Panel went on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. The Panel took into account the submissions of Ms Thompson, on behalf of the HCPC. The Panel also took into account the HCPC Practice Note: ‘Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired’ and the HCPC Practice Note: ‘Conviction and Caution Allegations’. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

11. In determining current impairment the Panel had regard to the following aspects of the public interest:

• The ‘personal’ component: the current behaviour of the individual registrant; and

• The ‘public’ component: the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession.

 


Panel’s Decision

12. The Panel considered the Registrant’s current fitness to practise firstly from the personal perspective and then from the wider public perspective.

13. The Registrant played a significant, albeit lesser role, in a sophisticated fraud. The fraud itself fell within the highest category of Category B frauds. Although the sentencing judge attributed ‘medium culpability’ to the Registrant’s participation in the fraud, he described her role as ‘a crucial part in enabling the fraud’. The Registrant’s dishonest actions resulted in a substantial financial loss of public funds which she benefited from. As noted by the sentencing judge the Registrant ‘enjoyed [the] taste of high living when the money was spent on [her] in both goods and expensive flights and holidays’.  The Panel considered the HCPC Standards of Conduct and Ethics and was satisfied that the Registrant’s conduct and behaviour represented a significant departure from the following standards:

• 3 – ‘You must keep high standards of personal conduct’

• 13 - ‘You must behave with honesty and integrity and make sure your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession.’

14. The Panel recognised that demonstrating remediation following a conviction involving dishonest conduct is particularly difficult, as probity issues are reliant on attitude, which can often only be inferred from conduct. The Panel noted that the Registrant pleaded guilty at an early stage of the criminal proceedings and accepted that her timely plea is indicative of a degree of insight. However, there has been no engagement from the Registrant during these proceedings and therefore the Panel was unable to assess the scope and level of the Registrant’s insight. There was no evidence before the Panel that the Registrant fully appreciated the consequences of her actions or that the Registrant had properly reflected on the impact of her behaviour on her profession, which legitimately expects high standards of integrity and honesty at all times. In the absence of meaningful reflection and a commitment to remediation the Panel concluded that there was a risk of repetition.

15. The Panel concluded that for these reasons the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired based on the personal component.

16. In considering the public component the Panel had regard to the critically important public policy issues which include the need to protect the public, maintain confidence in the profession and declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour.

17. The Registrant’s conduct fell far below the standard expected of a registered practitioner and the Panel takes the opportunity to declare that it is wholly unacceptable for a social worker to engage in fraudulent activity. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s conduct and behaviour breached a fundamental tenet of the profession, brought the profession into disrepute and her dishonesty demonstrated a lack of integrity. The Panel took the view that in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, there is an on-going risk that these aspects of the Registrant’s behaviour would be repeated.

18. The Panel noted that the appropriation involved public funds and concluded that a reasonable and informed member of the public would find the Registrant’s conduct to be deplorable. As a consequence the Panel was satisfied that public confidence in the profession and in the HCPC as a regulator would be undermined if a finding of fitness to practise was not made, given the seriousness of the Registrant’s dishonest conduct and behaviour.

19. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired on the basis of both the personal component and the wider public interest and therefore the HCPC’s case is well-founded.


Sanction

Panel’s Approach

20.  The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was mindful that the purpose of any sanction is not to punish the Registrant twice for the same offences, but to protect the public and the wider public interest. The public interest includes:

• the deterrent effect to other registrants;

• the reputation of the profession;


• public confidence in the regulatory process.

21.  The Panel applied the principle of proportionality by weighing the Registrant’s interests with the public interest and by considering each available sanction in ascending order of severity.

22.  The Panel had regard to the Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP) and took into account the submissions made by Ms Thompson, on behalf of the HCPC.

23.    The Panel identified the following aggravating factors:

• The fraud was sophisticated and premeditated;

• The Registrant committed one of the offences whilst on bail;

• The financial loss was substantial.

24.    The mitigating factors identified by the Panel were as follows:

• The Registrant fully admitted the criminal offences at an early stage of the criminal proceedings;

• The Registrant was of previous good character;

• No service users were put at risk as a consequence of the Registrant’s actions.

Panel’s Decision

25.  The Panel first considered taking no action. The Panel concluded that, in view of the nature and seriousness of the Registrant’s dishonest conduct and behaviour, and in the absence of exceptional circumstances, it would be wholly inappropriate to take no action. The Panel then considered a Caution Order.  The Panel noted paragraph 22 of the ISP which states:
“A caution order is an appropriate sanction for cases, where the lapse is isolated, limited or relatively minor in nature, there is a low risk of recurrence, the registrant has shown insight and taken appropriate action.’
In view of the Panel’s findings that the Registrant’s insight is limited to her early guilty pleas during the criminal proceedings and the absence of any evidence of remediation, a risk of repetition remains.  The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s conduct was very serious in nature and could not be described as an isolated lapse given the degree of planning that was required to commit the fraud. As a consequence the Panel concluded that a Caution Order would be wholly inappropriate and insufficient to meet the wider public interest concerns raised by the Registrant’s convictions. Furthermore, the Panel concluded that to take no action or to impose a Caution Order would be insufficient to deter other registrants, maintain public confidence in the regulatory process and uphold the reputation of the profession.

26.  The Panel went on to consider a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel notedthat the ISP states:
‘Conditions of practice are unlikely to be suitable in situations where problems cannot be overcome, such as serious overall failings, lack of insight,...or matters involving dishonesty...”.

27.  The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s dishonest conduct is not amenable to conditions as the basis for this type of behaviour is an attitudinal failing. The Panel was unable to formulate conditions which would be workable, measurable or proportionate. Furthermore, conditions would not adequately address the serious nature of the Registrant’s actions in conspiring with others to appropriate public funds and launder the proceeds. Imposing a Conditions of Practice Order in these circumstances would seriously undermine public confidence in the social work profession, the HCPC as a regulator and the need to uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour.

28.  The Panel next considered a Suspension Order. A Suspension Order would send a signal to the Registrant, the profession and the public re-affirming the standards expected of registered social worker. However, the Panel noted paragraph 34 of the Indicative Sanction Policy which states:
‘If the evidence suggests that the registrant will be unable to resolve or remedy his or her failings then striking off may be the more appropriate option. However, where there are no psychological or other difficulties preventing the registrant from understanding and seeking to remedy the failings then suspension may be appropriate’

29.  The Panel concluded that there was no evidence that the Registrant was either willing or able to resolve the underlying attitudinal failures which culminated in her readiness to take part in the conspiracy to defraud. In particular the Panel noted that the sentencing judge remarked that although he accepted that the Registrant was infatuated with her co-defendant, he did not consider that in the terms of the guidelines, that she had been exploited.

30.  The Panel concluded that there was an absence of sufficient insight, remediation and remorse. In these circumstances a Suspension Order would not be sufficient to maintain public trust in the profession and the regulatory process and would not have a deterrent effect on other registrants.

31.   The Panel also took into account the case of CRHP v GDC and Fleischman [2005] EWHC 87 Admin, where it was made clear that if a registrant has been convicted of a serious criminal offence and is still serving their sentence at the time the matter comes before a Panel, the Panel should not normally permit the registrant to resume their practice until that sentence has been satisfactorily completed. The Panel noted that the Registrant was released from prison on 27 May 2016, which means that she will be on licence until at least 2018. The Panel was aware that the licence period forms part of the Registrant’s sentence, but is served in the community.

32.  Having determined that a Suspension Order does not meet the wider public interest the Panel determined that the Registrant’s name should be removed from the Register. A Striking Off Order is a sanction of last resort and should be reserved for those category of cases where there is no other means of protecting the public or the wider public interest. The Panel decided that the Registrant’s case falls into this category because she voluntarily engaged herself in a £1.3 million fraud, which on any view amounts to serious criminal activity. Such conduct and behaviour is fundamentally incompatible with continued registration.

33.  The Panel was also satisfied that any lesser sanction would undermine public confidence. The public and the profession are entitled to expect a member of the social work profession to uphold the highest standards of trust and confidence, particularly as they are entrusted with protecting the safety and well-being of vulnerable service users. In reaching this conclusion the Panel balanced the wider public interest against the Registrant’s interests. The Panel had regard to the impact a Striking Off Order would have on the Registrant, but concluded that her professional, personal and financial interests were significantly outweighed by the Panel’s duty to give priority to the significant public interest concerns raised by this case.

34.  The Panel also took into account the effect of the Registrant’s non-engagement with the regulatory process and noted the judgment in NMC v Parkinson [2010] EWHC 1898:

“A [practitioner] who has acted dishonestly, who does not appear before the Panel either personally or by solicitors or counsel to demonstrate remorse, a realisation that the conduct criticised was dishonest, and an undertaking that there will be no repetition, effectively forfeits the small chance of persuading the Panel to adopt a lenient or merciful outcome and to suspend for a period rather than to direct [A Striking Off Order].”

35.  There was no evidence before the Panel of any engagement from the Registrant. In choosing not to engage with these proceedings, she has not provided the Panel with any opportunity to exercise leniency.

36.  The Panel decided that the appropriate and proportionate order is a Striking Off Order.


 

Order

Order: That the Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mrs Vanessa Memberr from the Register on the date this order comes into effect.


This order will come into effect on 24 April 2017 (The Operative Date)

Notes

No notes available

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mrs Vanessa Memberr

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
27/03/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off
05/01/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
12/07/2016 Investigating committee Interim Order Application Interim Suspension