Ms Michelle Anne Lord
The following Allegation was considered by a Panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee at the substantive hearing on 25 and 26 October 2016.
During the course of your practice as a Social Worker with Rochdale Borough Council from 31 March 2008 to 4 July 2014, you did not adequately safeguard service users in that:
1. In relation to Child 1, you:
(a) did not ensure that Child 1 was seen by the Social Worker as part of the initial assessment process in May 2009
(b) did not ensure that the initial assessment completed in May 2009 contained sufficient detail in relation to the risks to Child 1. (NOT PROVED)
(c) closed the case and/or allowed the case to be closed in July 2009 although there was information that this child was at risk of sexual exploitation;
(d) did not ensure that the case was moved on to a Core Assessment.
2. In relation to Child 3, you:
(a) did not ensure that the initial assessment completed in September 2008 contained sufficient detail in relation to the risks to Child 3 of sexual exploitation (NOT PROVED);
(b) closed the case in December 2008 despite evidence that Child 3 was at continuing risk of harm (NOT PROVED);
(c) did not take and/or record any and/or sufficient follow up action following receipt of a referral in relation to the death of Child 3’s mother in December 2009 (NOT PROVED).
3. In relation to Child 4, you did not ensure that adequate notes were kept of your interventions in July 2008 (NOT PROVED);
4. In relation to Child 5, you:
(a) did not ensure that the Core Assessment completed in November 2008 contained sufficient information in relation to the risks to this child (NOT PROVED);
(b) did not ensure that adequate steps were taken to engage with Child 5 and ensure that this child and/or her siblings were [not] exploited.
5. The matters described in 1 – 4 amount to misconduct and/or lack of competence.
6. By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence, your fitness to practise is impaired.
At the substantive hearing the Panel found particulars 1(a), 1(c) 1(d) and 4(b) proved and amounted to misconduct. The Panel found the Registrant’s fitness to practise impaired and imposed a Suspension Order for a period of 6 months as a sanction.
Service of Notice
1. The notice of this hearing was sent to the Registrant at her address as it appeared in the register on 24 March 2017. The notice contained the date, time and venue of today’s hearing.
2. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, and is satisfied that notice of today’s hearing has been served in accordance with Rule 6(1) of the Conduct and Competence Committee Rules 2003 (the “Rules”).
Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant
3. The Panel then went on to consider whether to proceed in the absence of the Registrant pursuant to Rule 11 of the Rules. In doing so, it considered the submissions of Ms Clarke on behalf of the HCPC.
4. Ms Clarke submitted that the HCPC has taken all reasonable steps to serve the notice on the Registrant. She further submitted that the Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC, and that an adjournment would serve no useful purpose. The Registrant’s last contact with the HCPC was 30 June 2016 when she indicated that she had retired from the profession and would not be attending any hearings because she is unable to afford to attend.
5. Ms Clarke told the Panel that the Registrant’s financial constraints had been taken into consideration by the HCPC prior to the final hearing. The HCPC had written to the Registrant informing her that it was open to her to make an application to have the final hearing heard in Manchester. The Registrant was also informed of the alternative option for her to participate in proceedings by telephone. However, the Registrant did not make any application to enable her to participate in proceedings, and also she did not attend the substantive hearing. Ms Clarke submitted that the Registrant’s actions demonstrated that she had disengaged from this process from the date of her last contact with the HCPC. She reminded the Panel that there was a public interest in this matter being dealt with expeditiously.
6. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. He advised that, if the Panel is satisfied that all reasonable efforts have been made to notify the Registrant of the hearing, then the Panel had the discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. He cautioned the Panel that the discretion was to be exercised with care and caution as set out in the case of R v Jones  UKHL 5.
7. The Legal Assessor also referred the Panel to the case of GMC v Adeogba and Visvardis  EWCA Civ 162 and advised that the Adeogba case reminded the Panel that its primary objective is the protection of the public and of the public interest. In that regard, the case of Adeogba was clear that “where there is good reason not to proceed, the case should be adjourned; where there is not, however, it is only right that it should proceed”.
8. It was clear, from the principles derived from case law, that the Panel was required to ensure that fairness and justice was maintained when deciding whether or not to proceed in a Registrant’s absence.
9. The Panel was satisfied that all reasonable efforts had been made by the HCPC to notify the Registrant of the hearing. It was also satisfied that the Registrant should be aware of the hearing.
10. In deciding whether to exercise its discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant, the Panel took into consideration the HCPC practice note entitled ‘Proceeding in the Absence of a Registrant’. The Panel weighed its responsibility for public protection and the expeditious disposal of the case with the Registrant’s right to a fair hearing.
11. In reaching its decision the Panel took into account the following:
• The Registrant has not made an application to adjourn today’s hearing;
• The Registrant has not engaged with the process since 30 June 2016. In the past she was offered alternative options to enable her to participate in the final hearing which she did not pursue. The Registrant has not engaged with the process since the final hearing;
• There is a public interest that this substantive order is reviewed before it expires on 23 May 2017.
12. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had voluntarily absented herself from the hearing. In light of the non-engagement of the Registrant, the Panel determined that it was unlikely that an adjournment would result in the Registrant’s attendance at a later date. Having weighed the public interest for expedition in cases against the Registrant’s own interest, the Panel decided to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.
13. The Registrant was employed by Rochdale Borough Council (“the Council”) as a Team Manager within Children’s Services from 31 March 2008 to 4 July 2010.
14. In December 2010, a major police investigation was instigated in relation to the sexual exploitation of a number of children and young people in the Rochdale area. The investigation culminated in the criminal prosecution and conviction of nine men in May 2012.
15. In light of the convictions, the Council decided to audit a number of case files. These audits were initially linked to the cases of children and young people who had been identified as victims of sexual exploitation, as identified by the police investigation.
16. The auditing process raised concerns in relation to the Registrant’s practice. By this time, the Registrant had left the Council. However, the matter was referred to the HCPC in 2012.
17. In late 2014, the HCPC commissioned its own investigation into the Registrant’s practice. The findings of the investigation formed the basis of the allegation made against the Registrant.
18. The substantive hearing was held on 25 and 26 October 2016, and the Panel at the substantive hearing found the allegation and particulars set out above proved. The Registrant did not attend nor participate in the substantive hearing.
19. Ms Clarke, on behalf of the HCPC submitted that in the light of the lack of engagement on the part of the Registrant she is unlikely to engage in the future therefore a further extension of the Suspension Order would serve no useful purpose and would not further the public interest and therefore the HCPC recommends that the Registrant’s name be struck off the register.
20. The Legal Assessor reminded the Panel that its purpose today was to conduct a comprehensive appraisal of the Registrant to determine if she is fit to return to unrestricted practice. Its role was not to conduct a rehearing of the allegations nor was it to go behind the previous findings. He advised that in carrying out this assessment, the Panel must exercise its own independent judgment.
a) The Legal Assessor advised that the Panel might find the questions formulated in the case of CHRE v NMC and Grant (2011) EWHC 927 (Admin) of some assistance, albeit slightly modified for these proceedings:
‘Does the evidence before the Panel today show that the Registrant’s fitness to practice remains impaired by reason of her misconduct in the sense that she:
a) is liable in the future to act so as to put a service user at unwarranted risk of harm; and/or
b) is liable in the future to bring the Social Work profession into disrepute; and/or
c) is liable in the future to breach one of the fundamental tenets of the profession?’
21. The Legal Assessor advised the Panel that if it determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remained impaired then the Panel must go on to consider what sanction, if any, should be imposed. The Legal Assessor advised the Panel that if it determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remained impaired all the options under Article 30 of the 2001 Order could be exercised by the Panel. He also advised the Panel that it should bear in mind the principle of fairness and proportionality and have regard to the Indicative Sanctions Policy document issued by the HCPC. He reminded the Panel that any order that it makes under Article 30 should not be punitive in purpose, and that it should be the least restrictive order that would suffice to protect the public and/or is otherwise in the public interest.
Panel’s considerations and decision
22. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel first considered whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. The Panel took into consideration all the documentation before it, and the submissions of Ms Clarke. In particular it noted the following factors:
a) This is a case of misconduct and there is no suggestion that the Registrant lacked the requisite competence to carry out the role of a Social Worker.
b) The lack of engagement of the Registrant at and since the final hearing.
c) The absence of any evidence demonstrating insight or remediation.
23. There is no evidence before the Panel today that could satisfy it that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was no longer impaired. The Panel noted the Registrant’s assertion in the past that she had retired from the profession, but neither the Panel at the substantive hearing nor this Panel has been able to confirm that this is still the case. The Registrant did not engage with the final hearing nor has she engaged in this review. As such the Panel are unable to discount the possibility that the Registrant might reverse her decision to retire from the profession.
24. In light of all the above, the Panel determined that the risk of the Registrant repeating her misconduct remains. Furthermore, public confidence in the profession and in the regulatory process would be undermined were a finding of impairment not made in these circumstances where the Registrant has not demonstrated insight into and acceptance of the seriousness of her misconduct. Therefore the Panel finds the Registrant’s fitness to practice remains impaired.
25. The Panel then went on to consider what the appropriate and proportionate sanction should be. It had regard to the Indicative Sanctions Guide issued by the HCPC and considered the available sanctions in order of severity, starting with the least restrictive. The Panel considered the Allegation and the constituent particulars, found proved by the previous Panel, encompassed failures on the part of the Registrant to properly carry out her duties as a Team Manager. She was in a management position with oversight and management of the Social Workers responsible for the children in question, and she failed to exercise adequate oversight and management of the work of those Social Workers. As a result, vulnerable children were put at real risk of harm.
26. In light of the Registrant’s lack of engagement and insight the Panel determined that it was not appropriate to take no further action or to impose a caution order given that this would allow the Registrant to practise without restriction and therefore would not adequately protect the public. Given the Registrant’s lack of engagement the Panel did not consider that there were practicable or verifiable conditions that could be formulated.
27. The Panel then considered whether a further period of suspension was appropriate, in light of the above factors. In reaching its decision the Panel took note of the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP) which states that “striking off should be used where there is no other way to protect the public, for example, where there is a lack of insight, continuing problems or denial. A registrant’s inability or unwillingness to resolve matters will suggest that a lower sanction may not be appropriate.” The Suspension Order was imposed by the previous Panel in order to give the Registrant time to provide evidence of insight, learning and mitigation. This Panel considers that the 6 month Suspension Order was sufficient to enable the Registrant to address the issues identified by the previous panel but she has not done so. Therefore, although a Suspension Order would adequately protect the public it would serve no useful purpose and prolonging these matters would not further the public interest.
28. Taking all of the matters detailed above into account the Panel determined that the appropriate and proportionate sanction now is to strike the Registrant’s name off the Register.
Order: The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Ms Michelle Anne Lord from the Register upon the expiry of the current order.
History of Hearings for Ms Michelle Anne Lord
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|26/04/2017||Conduct and Competence Committee||Review Hearing||Struck off|
|25/10/2016||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Suspended|