Whilst registered as a Social Worker, between 25 February 2015 and 2 March 2015:
1. You provided an agency with a false email address for a referee.
2. You provided and/or asked someone else to provide the agency with a false reference from that email address.
3. Your actions described in paragraph 1 and 2 were dishonest.
4. The matters described in paragraphs 1 to 3 constitute misconduct.
5. By reason of that misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.
1. Through no fault of the Registrant, Mr Tahseen, the resolution of the HCPC’s allegations against him has been long delayed. The final hearing was first listed for the hearing to commence on 22 June 2016, but one of the HCPC’s witnesses, Mrs CL, was not in attendance. It was next listed to commence on 6 February 2017 when Mrs CL was again not present. The HCPC’s other witness, Dr CM, had attended on both occasions. On 6 February 2017 the Panel determined that fairness to the Registrant required that the HCPC should not be permitted to rely on Mrs CL written witness statement without allowing him the opportunity to cross-examine her. For that reason a further adjournment was ordered. However, as Dr CM had by that date attended on two occasions, the Panel determined that the case should commence so as to allow him to give his evidence before the case would be adjourned for the evidence of Mrs CL to be received.
2. On 22 June 2016 the HCPC applied to amend the factual particulars of the allegation. No objection to the proposed amendments was raised by or on behalf of the Registrant and the Panel agreed that the proposed amendments were appropriate in the sense that they better reflected the case that the HCPC proposed to advance against the Registrant. The Panel, also being satisfied that there was no risk of prejudice to the Registrant, acceded to the proposed amendments.
3. After working for some years as a Social Worker in Pakistan, between 2010 and 2012, the Registrant studied on an the MSc course at the University of Greenwich. The course was entitled Research in Health and Social Care. The Programme Leader in respect of that course was Dr. CM. The contact between the Registrant and Dr CM continued for the duration of the Registrant’s enrolment on the course, a period approximately two years.
4. The HCPC’s case against the Registrant is that in late February 2015, Mrs CL, who was at the time and remains a Senior Recruitment Consultant, discovered a copy of the Registrant’s CV on the internet. Mrs CL made contact with the Registrant with a view to him registering with the recruitment company for which she worked. Having made contact Mrs CL sent the Registrant an application form. It is the HCPC’s case that when the Registrant returned the completed application form, amongst the various supporting documents he submitted was a list of potential referees.
5. Included in the list of referees was the name of Dr CM, together with an email address. In addition to a postal address for Dr CM there was an email address, which will henceforth be described in this determination as “the disputed email address”. After Mrs CL sent an email to the disputed email address requesting a reference and enclosing a reference template document, a reference purportedly completed by Dr CM was returned to her. Henceforth in this determination this reference will be referred to as “the disputed reference”.
6. The case advanced by particular 1 is that the disputed email address was “false” in the sense that although it was clearly a functioning email address, it was not that of the individual, Dr CM, to whom the Registrant had attributed it. Furthermore, by the use of the word “false” in that particular, the HCPC alleges that it was provided by the Registrant with the deliberate intention of misleading. As the HCPC does not advance any direct evidence as to the circumstances in which the disputed reference was typed and then sent by email, it contends that it was either done by the Registrant himself or by another person at his behest. Finally, the HCPC contends that the behaviour alleged by particulars 1 and 2 was dishonest.
Decision on Facts
7. The HCPC called two witnesses to give evidence before the Panel. They were Dr CM and Mrs CL, who have both been described in the brief summary of the background set out above. With regard to the reliability of the evidence of these witnesses the Panel came to the following conclusions:
• Dr CM. He gave his evidence in a straightforward manner. His evidence was clear and it accorded with the contemporaneous documents seen by the Panel. There was no discernible motive why he would wish to give evidence adverse to the Registrant, and the reference he provided to Mrs CL was, overall, positive. The Panel concluded that he was both an honest and reliable witness upon whose evidence reliance could be placed.
• Mrs CL. She was clear about the matters she could recall, and did not hesitate to say that she could not remember when asked about something she could not recall. The Panel was satisfied that she had a good recall of the crucial aspects of the case, namely when the Registrant communicated the disputed email address to her, and whether when he did so he accompanied the communication with a caveat as to its validity. The Panel concluded that Mrs CL was also an honest and reliable witness upon whose evidence it could rely.
8. In addition to the oral evidence of the two witnesses just described, the HCPC produced documentary exhibits, including various email exchanges as well as both the disputed reference and a reference that Dr CM accepts he sent to Mrs CL.
9. The Registrant gave evidence in support of his own case. The evidence of the Registrant was less clear than that of Dr CM and Mrs CL, and on occasions was difficult to follow. There were occasions when he did not answer questions directly. In respect of one important matter, namely the manner in which he had presented the disputed email address to Mrs CL, the Registrant gave evidence of a detail, namely the use of a USB memory stick and the printing out of the list of potential referees at Mrs CL’s office, matters he had never previously mentioned despite having commented on the allegations in considerable detail on a number of occasions. All of these factors resulted in the Panel feeling less able to place reliance on his evidence than it felt able to do on the evidence of both Dr CM and Mrs CL. However, it is important to note in connection with this reservation that the Panel kept at the forefront of its deliberations that in deciding whether the HCPC had discharged the burden of proving the facts on the balance of probabilities, at no stage was the Registrant required to disprove anything.
10. There were elements of the disputed reference that were consistent with the Registrant’s usage and information and inconsistent with Dr CM’s own usage. For example, the university is described as “Greenwich University” (a term consistently used by the Registrant in the documents available to the Panel) as opposed to Dr CM’s use of the correct description of “University of Greenwich”. Again, Dr CM was described as “Course Lead” rather than the correct “Programme Leader”, the use of the abbreviated form of Dr CM’s surname and the university switchboard number rather than Dr CM’s specific telephone number within the university.
11. In the judgement of the Panel, the resolution of the factual issues in this case turns upon the answer to three questions. They are:
A. What were the circumstances in which Mrs CL became aware of the disputed email address, and when did she become aware of it?
B. Was the disputed email address in fact a genuine email address for Dr CM, and did he provide the disputed reference?
C. If Dr CM did not provide the disputed reference, who might have done so?
12. In relation to the three questions just identified, the findings of the Panel are as follows:
• The evidence of Mrs CL was that she was sent by email a list of six potential referees along with the Registrant’s application form on 25 February 2015, and that list included the name of Dr CM, his postal address at the University and the disputed email address.
• The document Mrs CL says she received is included in the documentary exhibits made available to the Panel. The Registrant’s case is that it was not until 27 February 2015 when the first face-to-face meeting took place between him and Mrs CL that he provided the disputed email address, and that the circumstances in which he then did so was when Mrs CL was in a hurry to proceed and under pressure and in haste he proffered an email address for Dr CM as best he could remember it.
• The Registrant stated that there was discussion on this occasion about Mrs CL checking that the address he gave being verified. In evidence before the Panel (but not previously) the Registrant stated that the list of six referees was printed at Mrs CL’s offices after he used a USB memory stick he took there on 27 February 2015.
• In accepting the evidence of Mrs CL and rejecting that of the Registrant concerning the provision of the disputed email address, the Panel has not simply relied upon its general assessments of the respective reliability of the witnesses. In the judgement of the Panel examination of the actions taken by Mrs CL that are supported by contemporaneous documentation put the matter beyond doubt. At 9:38am on 25 February 2015, Mrs CL sent an email to the disputed email address requesting a reference. It was this email address used by Mrs CL that was subsequently used to return the disputed reference late in the evening of 2 March 2015.
• It is accepted by both Mrs CL and the Registrant, that by 25 February 2015, there had not been a face-to-face meeting between them, and it is not suggested by the Registrant that there was any discussion between them about email addresses until they did meet face-to-face on 27 February 2015. It follows from these facts that unless she had been able to guess as the disputed aol.com email address, and guess it so that it corresponded with the form of that address subsequently provided by the Registrant, she must have been provided with it by the Registrant before she sent her request for a reference early on 25 February 2015.
• The Panel has concluded that the only plausible explanation is that when she sent the request at 9:38am on 25 February 2015, she had already been provided with the disputed email address by the Registrant. As a footnote it should be added that when Mrs CL sent the email to the disputed email address she immediately realised that, being a personal address, it was not an appropriate for an academic reference. Accordingly she made an internet search and found Dr CM’s university address, with the result that 4 minutes after sending the reference request to the disputed email address, she sent an identical request to Dr CM’s genuine university email address.
• It was the genuine reference sent by Dr CM on 3 March 2015 that resulted in the discovery of the issues being considered by the Panel, but it is significant that in evidence before the Panel, the Registrant stated that he was not told by Mrs CL when he met her on 27 February 2015 that she had herself discovered the university email address or that she had used it to request an email. It follows from this that he was unaware of that second address when the disputed reference was returned to Mrs CL on 2 March 2015.
• The fact that Mrs CL had already sent requests for references to two email addresses on 25 February 2015, and that time had no reason to doubt that either of them was genuine, has the consequence that there would be no reason why she would wish to press the Registrant for an email address when they met two days later. The Panel therefore rejects his evidence that there was any discussion about email addresses on the occasion of the face-to-face meeting on 27 February 2015.
• It was the clear evidence of Dr CM that the disputed email address was not his. He had a university email address, and he had a personal “aol.com” address. He did not have the disputed “aol.co.uk” address. The genuine email address of Dr CM included a numerical reference.
• It was also the clear evidence of Dr CM that he did not write the disputed reference. The date typed on the disputed reference was 26 February 2015, but the email to which it was attached was not sent to Mrs CL until 11:05pm on 2 March 2015. The genuine reference that was sent as a result of Mrs CL recognising that she should not have used a private email address for an academic reference, was sent by Dr CM at 3:57pm on 3 March 2015, that is to say less than 17 hours after the disputed reference.
• In the judgement of the Panel there could be no scope for Dr CM to be mistaken or confused about these important matters as to whether the disputed email address was his and whether he had sent two references on the same individual to the same recruitment company within 24 hours of one another. He was either truthful and accurate about them, or he was telling a deliberate untruth. As the Panel has already said, the Panel found him to be truthful and reliable and a man who bore the Registrant no ill-will. The Panel accepted the evidence of Dr CM relating to both the disputed email address and the disputed reference.
• As Dr CM did not receive the email sent by Mrs CL to the disputed email account requesting a reference, and as he did not supply the disputed reference, the Panel has concluded that the only person who can have done both was the Registrant or someone acting on his behalf. The Registrant provided the disputed email address, and, putting to one side why a random recipient of an innocently mis-directed email who was not connected in some way to the Registrant would wish to provide a reference for him, it is quite literally inconceivable that such a random person would have been able to include the information contained in the disputed reference.
13. In reaching these findings the Panel has not overlooked the submission made on behalf of the Registrant that he lacked a motive to behave in the manner alleged against him. It was submitted that he had no reason to doubt that Dr CM would provide a satisfactory reference if asked, and the Panel accepts that is correct. When asked in evidence before the Panel to speculate on a reason why someone might do such a thing, the Registrant said that it might speed things up. The Panel does not consider it appropriate to speculate as to possible motive when none is clearly discernible. However, the absence of an identifiable motive for the alleged behaviour cannot, in the view of the Panel, negate the clear conclusion that is dictated by Dr CM’s evidence that the disputed email address was not his, that he did not write the disputed reference. Furthermore, the chronology of Mrs CL’s involvement is corroborated by the contemporaneous documents.
14. The result of these findings is that the Panel finds that the Registrant communicated the disputed email to Mrs CL in the list of potential referees on 25 February 2015, that when doing so he did not qualify that communication in any way and that in providing the email address he intended that it should be used to provide the disputed reference. In due course the disputed reference was submitted. Given these findings it is more likely than not that both the email address and reference were bogus. The Panel finds both particular 1 and particular 2 to be proved.
15. In deciding on the allegation of dishonesty advanced by particular 3, the Panel accepted the advice it received to first consider whether the Registrant’s behaviour would be considered dishonest by reference to the ordinary standards of honest and reasonable people. The Panel unhesitatingly concluded that it would be. Going on to consider whether the Registrant realised at the time that it would be dishonest by reference to those standards, the Panel concluded that he did. Accordingly, particular 3 is proved.
16. Before passing from its findings on the facts the Panel should mention two matters that were mentioned in the hearing that did not influence the Panel in reaching the decisions already described. One was the fact that when challenged by Mrs CL about the authenticity of the bogus email address, the Registrant said that he would contact her to explain but did not. It might have been hoped that that the Registrant’s sense of professionalism would have led him to engage with Mrs CL on the issue, but the Panel did not consider that it would be appropriate to conclude that his failure to do so supported the contention that he had behaved dishonestly. It is quite possible to imagine circumstances in which a person might seek to ignore the matter in the hope that it would go away.
17. The other matter that did not influence the Panel when it was making its decisions concerned evidence given by Dr CM when he was cross-examined on behalf of the Registrant about the latter’s integrity. Mention was made by Dr CM of some concerns about the originality of some academic work presented by the Registrant. Again, this was not an issue that was pursued against the Registrant by the University, and it is fair to record that Dr CM positively recorded in his genuine reference that the Registrant was not disciplined.
18. In the view of the Panel both the evidence and any potential relevance of these two peripheral matters to the issues being considered in the present hearing were far too tenuous to be of any assistance in resolving the issue, and were therefore ignored.
Decision on Grounds
19. The finding that particulars 1, 2 and 3 have been proved by the HCPC against the Registrant means that it has been necessary for the Panel to consider whether those facts amount to misconduct.
20. The findings of fact the Panel has made demonstrate that the Registrant’s plan to mislead and present a bogus reference was hatched no later than 25 February 2015 when he sent the list of potential referees with his completed application form to Mrs CL. His intention to mislead continued until 11:05pm on 2 March 2015 when the bogus reference was sent to Mrs CL from the bogus email address. The documentary evidence before the Panel discloses that when, on 9 March 2015, Mrs CL wrote an email to the bogus email address saying, “Hi C….., Many thanks for the reference. Could you please confirm your full name and job tile for our records?”, on 14 March 2015, she received a reply from the bogus address maintaining the falsehood that it was Dr CM who was making the reply. It follows from this that the dishonest deception was maintained for a period well in excess of a fortnight. It cannot therefore be explained as a spur of the moment response by the Registrant, or one of which he quickly repented.
21. The Panel is of the clear view that this was behaviour of the utmost seriousness. By behaving as he did the Registrant breached a number of the standards to which he was required to adhere as a result of his registration with the HCPC. He breached standard 3 (“you must keep high standards of personal conduct”) and 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”) of the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics. It was behaviour that the Panel is satisfied other Social Workers would categorise as deplorable. It is properly to be categorised as deplorable.
Decision on Impairment
22. When deciding on the issue of current impairment of fitness to practise, the Panel has considered both the personal and public components applicable to that consideration.
23. So far as the personal aspect is concerned, it is important to note that the Registrant has consistently denied that he either intended to, or did in fact, mislead in relation to either the bogus email address or the bogus reference. In these circumstances it is simply not possible for the Panel to conclude that there has been any acceptance or remorse on the part of the Registrant, or that he has reached any understanding of the inappropriateness of his behaviour. That being the case, the Panel has concluded that there is a sufficiently high risk of repetition to necessitate a finding of current impairment of fitness to practice upon consideration of the personal component.
24. The Panel is also satisfied that the public component requires a finding of impairment of fitness to practise. Integrity and honesty are central to the requirements of a reliable and effective Social Worker, and any fair minded and fully informed member of the public would not expect a Social Worker against whom these serious findings have been made to be permitted to practise unrestricted. If the Panel did not reach a finding of impairment of fitness to practise it would not be declaring and upholding proper professional standards, and the failure to make such a finding would have the consequence of diminishing confidence in the profession of social work.
25. The findings of the Panel that the factual particulars are proved, that those facts amount to misconduct, and that the misconduct is impairing the Registrant’s fitness to practise have the consequence that the allegation is well founded. It follows that the Panel must proceed to consider the issue of sanction.
Decision on Sanction
26. After the Panel announced the decision that the allegation was well founded, the parties were allowed time to consider the written determination explaining that decision. The Panel then reconvened to receive submissions on sanction.
27. On behalf of the HCPC the Presenting Officer submitted that the Registrant’s behaviour had involved a deliberate plan to mislead and had not been a spur of the moment decision. He submitted that the Registrant had had opportunities to admit to what he had done, but instead of doing so had continued his denial, expressing no remorse or even any recognition of wrongdoing. These factors led the Presenting Officer to submit that there was a risk of repetition that had significance so far as public protection is concerned, as well as significant public interest implications. The Presenting Officer, while not urging the Panel to impose any particular sanction, took the Panel to elements of the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy relating to the different sanctions that could be imposed.
28. On behalf of the Registrant it was submitted that the he had cooperated fully with the HCPC, was of previous good character and that he has paid a significant price for his actions as he has not worked since the incident came to light. It was submitted that the Registrant understood the seriousness of his actions and it was urged upon the Panel that the imposition of a suspension order would be a proportionate response in the circumstances.
29. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor in relation to sanction. Accordingly, the Panel approached the issue on the basis that a sanction is not to be imposed to punish the Registrant. Rather, a sanction is only to be imposed to the extent that it is required to protect the public and to maintain a proper degree of confidence in the social work profession and the regulation of the profession. The Panel has had regard to the Indicative Sanctions Policy in reaching its decision. The approach taken by the Panel has been to first consider whether the finding on the allegation requires the imposition of any sanction. If the answer to that first question is that a sanction is required, then the available sanctions must be considered in an ascending order of seriousness until one is reached that addresses the issues of public protection and confidence already identified.
30. The Panel began by identifying the mitigating and aggravating factors. So far as mitigating factors are concerned, the Panel accepted that the Registrant has engaged with the HCPC in relation to this fitness to practise process and is of previous good character. Although the Registrant’s deception continued for the period in excess of a fortnight already identified, it was an isolated period of dishonesty rather than repeated instances of different dishonest actions. No service users were put at risk and there was no personal gain to the Registrant. Turning to the aggravating factors, the behaviour was deliberate and pre-planned, there has been continuing denial with no evidence of insight, factors that necessarily mean that there would be a risk of repetition.
31. In the judgement of the Panel the finding of misconduct requires the imposition of a sanction. The behaviour was far too serious to result in the imposition of a caution order. Conditions of practice are not appropriate to address a finding of dishonesty, which is an attitudinal problem.
32. The Panel therefore considered whether the making of a suspension order would be appropriate. The Panel decided that a suspension order would protect the public from the risks of repetition and that it would meet the public interest of declaring and upholding proper professional standards. That being the case, while the Registrant has an opportunity to reflect on the Panel’s decision on the misconduct found, it would be disproportionate to make a striking off order at this time. For this reason the Panel has decided that the appropriate sanction is a suspension order for a period of 12 months.
33. In common with all suspension orders, the order made against the Registrant will be reviewed before it expires. Although the present Panel does not in any way seek to bind a future reviewing panel, the Registrant would be well advised to approach the future review on the basis that without significant steps being taken by him it would be unlikely that there would be an outcome permitting him to return to practise. He should also bear in mind that the future reviewing panel will have the power to make a striking-off order. The Registrant might wish to consider presenting to a future reviewing Panel:
• A reflective piece of writing on the Panel’s findings, the seriousness of his misconduct and the impact on him, and on his profession, of that misconduct.
• How he has kept himself up-to-date with developments in his profession.
• Details of any efforts he has made, and of any steps he would intend to take, to return to practise.
• References from any employment, whether paid or unpaid, he has undertaken.
History of Hearings for Muhammad Tahseen
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|31/07/2017||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Suspended|
|06/02/2017||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Adjourned part heard|