Mr David Stacey

: Social worker

: SW39777

Interim Order: Imposed on 30 Sep 2016

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 06/07/2017 End: 17:00 06/07/2017

: Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service (HCPTS), 405 Kennington Road, London, SE11 4PT

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Struck off

Allegation

Whilst registered as a Social Worker:

1. On 8 November 2016 at the Crown Court at Liverpool you were convicted of the following offences:

a) Making indecent photograph or pseudo-photograph of child x 3

b) Possessing indecent photograph of pseudo-photograph of child for Distribution

c) Possess prohibited images of children

2. By reason of your conviction as set out at paragraph 1, your fitness to practise as a Social Worker is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters

1. The Panel was aware that written notice of these proceedings was posted by first class post to the Registrant at his registered address and by email on 11 April 2017.  The Panel was shown documents which established the fact of the service, the identity of the Registrant’s registered address and his email address. In these circumstances the Panel accepted that proper service of the notice had been effected.


Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant

2.  Ms Vignoles on behalf of the HCPC submitted that the hearing should proceed in the absence of the Registrant. Ms Vignoles also informed the Panel that aside from the emails dated 01 December 2016 and 21 June 2017 and mentioned below the Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC or been in contact with it.


3.  The Panel has seen the email dated 01 December 2016 from the Registrant and addressed to the HCPC in which he stated “I do not wish at any stage to have any involvement in the investigation into my ftp. Since my conviction I see it as just prolonging the stress of it all. I appreciate that the HCPC has a process to follow, but I wanted to let you know that this will be my last correspondence. I am fully aware what the outcome will be and have accepted this already”. The Panel has also seen a further email from the Registrant dated 21 June 2017 in which he states “I will never work in health/social work ever again. I also accept that my registration will never be able to be renewed or reinstated ” and urged a rapid completion of the regulatory proceedings.


4. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the legal assessor.


5. The Panel was aware of the need to consider the application to proceed in the absence of the Registrant with great caution. However after giving that application very careful thought, the Panel has determined to allow it. Its reasons are as follows;


• Notice of this hearing has been properly served on the Registrant.
• The Registrant has not applied for an adjournment and in the email identified above has stated that he does not wish to play any part in these proceedings.
• Aside from the emails dated 01 December 2106 and 21 June 2016, the Registrant has not at any time engaged with the HCPC.
• There is no reason to suppose that if an adjournment was granted the Registrant would attend.
• There is a public interest in disposing of this matter as soon as can properly and fairly be done. This approach is also endorsed by the Registrant in his email dated 21 June 2017 in which he says “can we just get this over with once and for all”.
• The facts of the matter are clear and the Panel has seen and can take into account what was said by the sentencing judge when sentence was imposed on the Registrant


Procedure

6. The Panel decided to consider the facts and impairment as a single stage and then, if appropriate, to consider sanction separately.

Background

7. The Registrant is by profession a Social Worker registered as such with the HCPC. He was employed as a Social Worker by the Liverpool County Council in the Disability Team [Tuebrook Neighbourhood]. He was employed by that Council for a total of 7 years.

8. On 19 February 2016 the Registrant was arrested at his home address on suspicion of possessing and distributing indecent images of children.

9. On 08 November 2016, at the Liverpool Crown Court the Registrant was on his own confession and on indictment convicted of the following offence;

- Making indecent photograph or pseudo photograph of child
- Making indecent photograph or pseudo photograph of child
- Making Indecent photograph or pseudo-photograph of child
- Possessing indecent photograph or pseudo-photograph of child for distribution
- Possess prohibited-Images of children

10. In respect of those offences the Registrant was sentenced to a total term of imprisonment of 8 months suspended for two years and a requirement to carry out 150 hour unpaid work. He was also ordered to sign the Sex Offender Register for 10 years and a Sexual Harm Prevention Order was made against him also for 10 years.

11. The Panel has seen the transcript of the sentencing that took place on 09 November 2016 at the Crown Court in Liverpool and before His honour Judge Murray. In outlining the facts of the case prosecution counsel said as follows:

“The defendant was initially interviewed in relation to these offences. He stated during that interview that he had been speaking to males on line using Skype. He went on to say that this was for a long period of time and he had been using a chatroom application on his mobile phone.

He had set up an online profile pretending to be a female in an attempt to engage with teenage boys from the age of 16 and upwards and once he had engaged with those males he’d ask to swap Skype addresses with them. And on doing so effectively he would then post a video of a female on a virtual web cam which would reveal her body in a sexual manner and in return he would request the males to do similar acts including masturbation for his own sexual gratification.

He went on to state that his sexual preference was for males who were younger than himself, usually teenage boys and he stated that he began impersonating a female as he realised that it was difficult to engage with straight males over the internet”

12. In describing the material recovered the prosecution counsel stated that:

“in total … found on those two items recovered were a total of 62 images of Category A, this included one video and this was images of boys and girls as young as 5 and 4. There were 103 category B images which included 11 videos showing boys as young as 4 and there were 547 images at Category C…. . In total there were 712 images”

13. When addressing the Registrant, Judge Murray  stated that:

“You are of previous good character. I have read all the references about you in the pre-sentence report. The references describe you as a ‘hardworking man and a loving friend, trustworthy, compassionate and thoughtful, as well as well educated and ethical’. These qualities must have deserted you when you were committing these offences and you were leading a reckless double-life on the internet. I accept that you are remorseful. Unbelievably you worked as a Social Worker, whose job was to protect people, and you know from that job how vulnerable some people are, including children, and yet you carried on looking at these images of abuse. Since, you have attended a course run by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation. I have read the Pre Sentence report which says that you were living in a fantasy world. Well now you have to face reality. You are assessed as a low risk of re-offending…Had you been involved in active distribution of any of this, you would be going straight to prison. Because you are not, I am going to suspend the sentence but you won’t get a second chance”

A summary of the evidence and other material before the Panel

14. The Panel has seen and has read a number of documents produced both by the HCPC. These include;

• The Certificate of Conviction and sentence from the Liverpool Crown Court dated 16 November 2016.

• The transcript of the sentencing hearing before Judge Murray on 09 November 2016.

• The emails from the Registrant dated 01 December 2016 and 21 June 2016. In the email of 21 June 2016, the Registrant stated that he had resigned from his post as a social worker in October 2016.

• a number of  written statements from police officers relevant to the facts of the case against the Registrant.

• Transcripts of police interviews conducted with the Registrant on    19 February 2016 and on 14 July 2016.

• Emails relevant to the conduct of the criminal proceedings.

Submissions made as to facts and impairment.

15. The Panel considered the submissions as to facts and impairment made by Ms Vignoles on behalf of the HCPC. In summary she said as follows;

• The fact of the conviction and sentence was proved by the Certificate of Conviction referred to above.

• The offences for which the Registrant was convicted and sentenced, were very serious and wholly incompatible with the profession of social work.  The risk of repetition could not be excluded. A finding of impairment as to the Registrant’s fitness to practice was required in order to maintain proper standards of conduct within the profession. Moreover public confidence in the profession, in the HCPC and in its regulatory processes, would be undermined if a finding of impairment was not made.

16. The Panel took into account the observations of Judge Murray.

17. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the legal assessor as to facts, and impairment.

18. The Panel was aware that on matters of fact the burden of proof rests on the HCPC and that the standard of proof is the civil one, namely on the balance of probabilities.

Decision on facts.

19. The Panel found the facts as alleged in paragraphs 1.a, 1.b, and 1.c, of the Allegation proved. In coming to this conclusion the Panel has relied on:

• The Certificate of Conviction referred to above.

• The transcript of the sentencing remarks of Judge Murray

Impairment

20. The Panel next considered whether by reason of the Registrant’s conviction, his fitness to practice is impaired.

21. The Panel considered the submissions made by Ms Vignoles on behalf of the HCPC.

22. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the legal assessor.

23. The Panel was aware that any finding as to impairment was for the independent judgement of the Panel.

24. The Panel is aware that what is to be assessed is the Registrant’s current fitness to practise.

25. In considering this issue the Panel considered and applied the principles stated by Mrs Justice Cox in the case of the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence v Nursing and Midwifery Council; Paula Grant [2011] EWHC 927 [Admin]  together with the observations of Mr Justice Silber in the case of Cohen v General Medical Council [2008] EWHC 581 [Admin].

26. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of the conviction found proven. In coming to this conclusion the Panel had regard to the following considerations;

• Except for the email dated 01 December 2016 the Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC and has provided no evidence of insight, contrition or remorse or of remediation.  In neither of the emails from the Registrant has he displayed any understanding of the impact of his actions on the young men in question or on the very young children sexually abused in some of the images and videos or on the reputation of the profession. The Panel is therefore unpersuaded that he has developed full insight. Moreover the offences themselves are difficult to remedy and there is no persuasive evidence that his stated attempts to do so have been successful.  Further the images which the Registrant had created could be downloaded and shared by others which the Panel finds the Registrant would have known.

• The offences in question are very serious and are a fundamental departure from the professional tenets of a social worker. Social work could involve interaction with service users who are young and vulnerable. Notwithstanding the comment of Judge Murray that the Registrant was “assessed as a low risk of reoffending” but having regard to all the circumstances which the Panel has identified, the Panel cannot exclude the risk of repetition.

• Furthermore and in the opinion of the Panel public confidence in the profession, in the regulatory processes of the HCPC and also the need to maintain proper standards, would be undermined if a finding of impairment was not made. In coming to this conclusion the Panel kept in mind the considerations set out above, the observations of Judge Murray Stacey, the length of the term of imprisonment that the Judge has imposed and to which the Registrant is still subject, the nature and quantity of the indecent material recovered, the factors mentioned above and the fact that the Registrant was required to sign the Sex Offender Register for 10 years and was subject to a Sexual Harm Prevention Order for 10 years.

27. For all the reasons set out above the Panel concludes that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired by reason of his conviction.
 
Sanction

28. Ms Vignoles made submissions on behalf of the HCPC. She identified relevant mitigating and aggravating features of the case and submitted that a striking off order was necessary and proportionate in order to protect the public and to address the public interest.


29. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the legal assessor.


30. The Panel kept in mind that the purpose of a sanction is not punitive but is designed to protect the public interest which includes protecting members of the public from possible harm, maintaining proper standards within the profession, the reputation of the profession itself and public confidence in the regulatory functions of the HCPC.


31. The Panel took into account the Indicative Sanctions Policy [ISP] that has been published by the HCPC.


32. In considering whether to make an order and the nature and duration of any order to be made, the Panel applied the principle of proportionality weighing the Registrant’s interests in the balance with the need to protect the public interest.

33. The Panel took into account both mitigating and aggravating circumstances.


34. Mitigating factors included the observations included within the judgement of Judge Murray and in particular the fact that the Registrant was of previous good character, had pleaded guilty and was remorseful. The Panel also took account of the submissions made by the Registrant’s counsel to Judge Murray in mitigation of the offences. His counsel stressed the Registrant’s shame and remorse, the steps that he had taken to address his wrong doing by enrolling with the Lucy Faithfull Foundation and the Registrant’s determination and assurance that he would not offend again.


35. However the Panel also considered the following aggravating factors namely the nature and quantity of the material in question. The fact that such offences were wholly incompatible with the profession of social work, continued over a number of years and whilst he was a social worker. Furthermore with the exception of the emails dated 01 December 2016 and 21 June 2017 the Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC and the Panel has seen little direct evidence of insight, contrition, remorse or remediation. Moreover the Registrant posed as a girl in order to encourage young males to indulge in sexual activity on camera. There was also evidence of “grooming” and the images, which included children of a very young age and could be downloaded and shared with others.


36. The Panel considered the sanctions available to it in ascending order of severity. In arriving at its decision the Panel applied the principles that are set out in the ISP.


No action

37. The Panel concluded that having regard to the facts that have been found proven, to take no further action would be wholly inappropriate. Such an outcome would provide no protection to the public, would undermine confidence in the profession and in the regulatory processes of the HCPC and would not serve to maintain standards of conduct and performance within the profession.


Mediation
38. The Panel concluded that mediation was not appropriate to a case of this kind.


Caution


39. For the same reasons as those just expressed in paragraph 33 with regard to taking no action, the Panel concluded that a caution order would also be inappropriate.

Conditions of Practice Order


40. The Panel concluded that a Conditions of Practice Order was also inappropriate. There are no conditions which are relevant, workable and proportionate that can properly be formulated which would address the identified failings of the Registrant or provide proper protection to the public. Moreover the Panel concluded that a Conditions of Practice order would be insufficient to sustain professional standards or to maintain confidence in the profession or the HCPC as its regulator.


Suspension


41. The Panel concluded that a suspension order would not provide adequate protection to the public and would be insufficient to sustain public confidence in the profession. It would not do enough to assert the need to maintain proper standards within the profession. The offences were too serious to permit the Panel to deal with the matter by way of a suspension order.


Striking off


42. The Panel concluded that a Striking Off Order was the only appropriate and proportionate sanction. It would provide protection to the public and would help to sustain public confidence in the profession and its regulator. It would also help to emphasise the standards of conduct that can properly be expected of a social worker. The Registrant’s conduct which gave rise to his conviction and sentence and the conviction and sentence itself, are so serious as to make his continued presence on the Register impossible to justify.

Order

ORDER: That the Registrar is directed to strike the name of David Stacey from the Register on the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

The order imposed today will apply from 03 August 2017 (the operative date).

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mr David Stacey

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
06/07/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off