Mr Kevin R Sinclair

: Social worker

: SW35642

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 07/08/2017 End: 17:00 09/08/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Struck off

Allegation

Whilst working as a social worker for Sefton Council, during a 11 June 2015 meeting with Person B and Person C:

 

1) You breached service user confidentiality in that you:

 

a) discussed the referral made to MARAC (Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference) regarding service user A with person B and person C;

 

b) discussed information that service user A gave to SWACA (Sefton

Women's And Children's Aid) with person B and person C;

 

c) informed person B of the time, date and venue that service user A would be attending the Schedule of Expectation Meeting with Children’s Social Care;

 

d) discussed person D’s addictions with person B and person C;

 

e) discussed what service user E said to Social Services;

 

f) disclosed police evidence to person B and person C.

 

2) You informed person B about means of avoiding drug detection from drug tests.

 

3) You discussed inconsistencies with the service user A’s witness statement and suggested that person B could discuss it with his solicitor.

 

4) Made inappropriate comments about service user A in that you:

 

a) said service user A was “a pathological liar” or words to that effect;

 

b) said that service user A had “bi-polar” or “borderline personality disorder” and / or “multiple personality disorder” or words to that effect;

 

5) Gave person B advice of how to contravene bail conditions undetected.

 

6) Your actions at paragraphs 1c and 5 put service user A at risk.

 

7) The matters set out in paragraphs 1 - 6 constitute misconduct.

 

8) By reason of your misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.

 

Finding

Preliminary matters:


1. The Registrant, Mr Sinclair, has neither attended this hearing nor been represented at it.


2. The Panel first considered whether a valid notice of service had been sent to the Registrant.  It concluded that the email dated 09 May 2017, sent to the Registrant at his email address as it appeared on the HCPC Register, constituted good service of the Notice of Hearing as the Panel were satisfied the email address was active.


3. The Panel then considered the HCPC’s application that the hearing should proceed in the absence of the Registrant.  The Panel had regard to the email sent by the Registrant to the HCPC on 18 April 2017 in which the Registrant said, ‘I do not wish to be registered as a Social Worker anymore’ and ‘I ...wish to have no further part in this process.’ The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor that any decision to proceed with a hearing in the absence of the Registrant requires the exercise of considerable care and caution.  The Panel also had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant.  The conclusion of the Panel was that the hearing should proceed in the absence of Registrant because there is a clear public interest in allegations being determined expeditiously. The Panel was of the view that the public interest in the hearing continuing outweighed the absence of the Registrant. Accordingly, the Panel directed that the hearing should continue in the absence of the Registrant.


4. Mr Kewley applied to amend the allegations in the following manner: -
- Allegation 1a) delete words "service user" and replace MARAC (Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference) with "MASH (Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub)";
- Allegation 1c) delete the words "date and venue";
- Allegation 1e) Replace "E" with "A";
- Allegation 1f) replace the word "evidence" with "information";
-  Allegation 3 replace the words "with the" with "within" and delete the words "witness statement”.


5. Mr Kewley submitted that these amendments gave greater clarity to the allegations and better reflected the evidence. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel made amendments as requested and noted that the amendments made the allegations clearer and caused no injustice to the Registrant.


Background:


6. The Registrant was employed as a Social Worker at Sefton Council (“the Council”). The Registrant qualified as a Social Worker in 2012 and joined the Council in May 2012. In November 2014, the Registrant began working in the Council’s Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (“MASH”). The MASH received all contacts/referrals concerning child protection, domestic abuse (where a child had been present) and child sexual exploitation. The team was an integrated multi-agency team which consisted of various agencies, including the police and children’s social care. The Registrant was responsible for undertaking child protection investigations, which involved children and family assessments to ascertain if children were suffering significant harm. The assessment would determine what support or intervention the family required to ensure that the child was safeguarded.


7. Service User A is a female service user who was the partner of Person B. Service User A had a child from a previous relationship (Service User E) and was pregnant, at the relevant time, with the unborn child of Person B. Person C is the mother of Person B and Person D is the father of Service User A.


8. Around 20 May 2015, the MASH received a referral concerning Service User A. It was reported that there had been an incident of alleged domestic violence in which Service User A had been assaulted by Person B. A second referral was also received which referred to Service User A having the imprint of a trainer on her face and that the perpetrator had stood on Service User A’s face and heated up hot oil with the intention of pouring it on Service User A.


9. The Registrant was allocated the role of carrying out a child protection investigation following the referral.


10. On 11 June 2015, the Registrant conducted a meeting with Person B in the presence of Person B’s mother, Person C. The content of the meeting must be viewed against the known background at the time, namely: Service User A was the victim of an alleged incident of serious domestic violence; it was reported that Service User A, whilst pregnant, had jumped out of a window during the incident; Person B was the alleged perpetrator of the domestic violence;  Person B was on bail for the alleged offence, one of the conditions of bail being that he should not contact Service User A.


11. Person B made an audio recording of the meeting with the Registrant. The audio recording of the meeting revealed that the Registrant:


- Discussed the background and detail of the referral made to MASH concerning Service User A;
- Discussed confidential information that Service User A had discussed with SWACA, a domestic violence group;
- Disclosed the timing of a meeting that Service User A would be attending;
- Disclosed that Service User A’s father was previously a heroin addict;
-  Discussed information held by the police, including the fact that there was intelligence suggesting on going drug dealing at Service User A’s address;
- Advised Person B about drug testing and that some individuals shave their hair to avoid drug detection;
- Discussed inconsistencies within the account that Service User A had provided to Social Services;
- Referred to Service User A as a liar on a number of occasions;
- Described Service User A as having bi-polar, borderline personality disorder, multiple-personality disorder;
- Advised Person B not to contact Service User A by text messages because the police can get hold of text messages long after they are sent.

12. During the course of the Investigation Meeting on 26 August 2015, the Registrant was played the audio recording. The signed minutes of the Investigation Meeting indicate that the Registrant confirmed that he was the individual on the audio recording and that he had said “those things”. Throughout the interview, the Registrant did not dispute that he had said the things that could be heard on the audio recording.


13. The Panel heard live evidence from Witness 1, who is a Service Manager at the Council. The Panel found her to be a credible and reliable witness. The Panel listened to the audio recording made by Person B in full.  Witness 1 knew the Registrant but had not been his line manager and had not worked directly with him. Witness 1 had been asked to investigate these matters and confirmed the facts outlined above. She confirmed that the Registrant held a senior position at the Council and was conversant with data protection and its application. The witness expressed surprise at what the Registrant had said to Person B and his apparent prioritising of the needs of Person B, a known offender to the Registrant, over those of Service User A who had clearly been seriously assaulted. She considered that the Registrant’s disclosures to person B placed service user A in direct danger of personal harm. She was dismayed that the Registrant appeared to be discussing criminal allegations with Person B which appeared to be designed to assist him and undermine Service User A, who was the victim. She confirmed that Person B later received a custodial sentence of eight months for the assault on Service User A.  Witness 1 told the Panel that, when she played the audio recording of the Registrant’s meeting with Person B, the Registrant did not deny that it was him but simply hung his head. Witness 1 confirmed that the Registrant had breached service user confidentiality by making inappropriate disclosures about Service User A and members of her family to Person B.  She regarded these as extremely serious and potentially giving Person B further opportunities to harm Service User A.


14. Mr Kewley submitted that the Panel should find all of the amended allegations proven, having regard to Witness 1’s evidence that the Registrant listened to the full audio and did not dispute that it was him speaking on the audio to Persons B and C. The Registrant signed the minutes of the Investigation Meeting in which the Registrant appears to make admissions to what is heard on the audio.

Decision on Facts

15. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel had read all the documentation provided by the HCPC. On the first day of the Hearing the Panel was provided with the audio recording of the Registrant’s meeting with Person B and compared this with the transcript of the recording. The Panel then heard live evidence from Witness 1, who is the Service Manager - Safeguarding Children in the Children’s Services Department at Sefton Council. (Witness 1 is a registered Social Worker who carried out the investigation in respect of the Registrant).  The Panel found Witness 1 to be honest, reliable, and with significant expertise in safeguarding and the understanding of the Council’s procedures and policies.

The Panel’s findings are as follows:

Allegation 1a)

The Panel is satisfied this allegation is proved by way of the audio recording and the transcript.

Allegation 1b)

The Panel is satisfied this allegation is proved by way of the audio recording and the transcript. Further, when asked at the Investigation Meeting ‘Why did you tell Person B about the details that Service User A had submitted to SWACA?’ The Registrant replied, ‘I’ve got no excuse really.’


Allegation 1c)

The Panel is satisfied this allegation is proved by way of the audio recording and the transcript. When asked in the Investigatory Meeting ‘Why did you provide details of Service User A’s Schedule of Expectations Meeting’, the Registrant responded ‘God knows why I said that’.

Allegation 1d)

The Panel is satisfied this allegation is proved by way of the audio recording and the transcript.

Allegation 1e)

The Panel is satisfied this allegation is proved by way of the audio recording and the transcript.

Allegation 1f)

The Panel is satisfied this allegation is proved by way of the audio recording and the transcript.


Allegation 2

The Panel is satisfied this allegation is proved by way of the audio recording and the transcript. When asked in the Investigatory Meeting ‘Would you accept that in sharing details of how to avoid drug detection with Person B, which he may have gone on to share with others, that you have undermined our ability as a Local Authority to assess the risk of that drug use and therefore his ability to care for the child’s future?’ The Registrant responded ‘I would agree that in relation to this case it could undermine our ability to assess that risk.’

Allegation 3

The Panel is satisfied this allegation is proved by way of the audio recording and the transcript.

Allegation 4a)

The Panel is satisfied this allegation is proved by way of the audio recording and the transcript.


Allegation 4b)

The Panel is satisfied this allegation is proved by way of the audio recording and the transcript.

Allegation 5

The Panel is satisfied this allegation is proved by way of the audio recording and the transcript. It was apparent from the Investigatory Meeting that the Registrant was aware of the bail conditions imposed on Person B.

Allegation 6

The Panel find that Allegations 1c) and 5 placed Service User A at risk. The Registrant provided the timing of Service User A’s attendance for the Schedule of Expectations meeting, whilst knowing that Person B was being investigated for a serious domestic violence incident on Service User A. The Registrant was aware that Person B had already contravened his bail conditions by communicating with Service User A.  He then told Person B that he should not communicate by text message to Service User A as the police can track and trace the messages. In doing so the Registrant has placed Service User A at risk because he has advised Person B how to avoid detection by the police whilst contravening his bail conditions.

The Panel were of the view that, overall the Registrant’s actions had the potential of placing Service User A at further risk of serious harm.

Decision on Grounds

16. Mr Kewley submitted that misconduct was a question of whether there was a serious falling short of the required standards. He submitted that the Panel should have regard to HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (2012):
 
 
1 You must act in the best interests of service users.
 
‘You are personally responsible for making sure that you promote and protect the best interests of your service users.’

‘You must treat service users with respect and dignity.’

‘You must not do anything, or allow someone else to do anything, that you have good reason to believe will put the health, safety or wellbeing of a service user in danger.’

 
2 You must respect the confidentiality of service users.

‘You must treat information about service users as confidential and use it only for the purposes they have provided it for. You must not knowingly release any personal or confidential information to anyone who is not entitled to it.’

 
3 You must keep high standards of personal conduct.

‘You must keep high standards of personal conduct, as well as professional conduct.’

 
7   You must communicate properly and effectively with service users and    other practitioners.

‘You must take all reasonable steps to make sure that you can communicate properly and effectively with service users.’

 
Mr Kewley submitted that this case is serious for the following reasons:

a) The Registrant knew he was dealing with an incident involving a serious allegation of Domestic Violence. It was known that during the incident Person B heated up oil in a pan with a view to pouring it on Service User A; that Service User A escaped the situation by leaving the property through a bedroom window, and that Service User A had the imprint of the sole of a trainer on her right cheek and bruising to her arms. The Registrant had received the account from Service User A and made a referral to MARAC – he could not have failed to grasp the seriousness of the allegation.

b) The Registrant committed various serious breaches of confidentiality, including disclosing police intelligence, disclosing information about SWACA, disclosing the detail of Service User A's account of the incident, disclosing information about Service User A's father, Person D. The Registrant can be heard to say ‘that's confidential’ and ‘I should not be telling you this’.

c) The breaches of confidentiality had the potential to jeopardise the criminal proceedings, and they also placed Service User A at an increased risk of further domestic violence. The Registrant advised Person B not to use text messages when communicating with Service User A and he gave the precise timing of Service User A's Schedule of Expectation meeting which implicitly gave away the location by referring to a chance meeting in the lift.

d) The Registrant's discussion with person B regarding drug tests could have impacted upon the local authority's assessment. Had Person B taken a drugs test, the Registrant’s advice would have put the Council in a position of having an inaccurate picture of the true parenting ability.

e) The overall tenor of the Registrant's description of Service User A on the audio recording was at best wholly disrespectful and at worst it was bordering on degrading. He said ‘liar’, ‘can't trust a word she says’, ‘comes out with a load of Jackanory’. When Person B mentions ADHD the Registrant continues and says he thinks ‘it’s more than that, it's some sort of personality disorder’, ‘she's not a bad looking girl/plenty more fish in the sea’. The Registrant comments on her upbringing in relation to Service User A's father. When Person B mentions the rape the Registrant goes along with it and says ‘he knew about it’.

16.  The Registrant’s whole approach to the meeting demonstrated a complete disregard for the potential risks to Service User A. It showed a remarkable lack of professional judgment, a failure to respect principles of confidentiality, a failure to respect professional boundaries (e.g I'm here as a Social Worker, but I'm also a mate of X's). The Registrant had been qualified for three years by this point and his training should have been relatively fresh in his mind. There can be no explanation for his actions which was deplorable conduct that fell seriously short of the required standards.

The Panel’s Findings on Misconduct

17. The Panel found the following HCPC standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics have been breached: 1, 2, 3 & 7. Further the Panel also found the Registrant has breached the following Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers in England; Standards 2, 3.4, 4, 7, 8.2, 8.4, 9.7, and 9.9. The Panel agreed with the submissions made by the Presenting Officer and the reasons given. The Panel concluded that the breaches identified contravened the fundamental principles of social work and fell  significantly below that expected of a Social Worker.

Impairment

18. Mr Kewley submitted that, in respect of the private component of impairment, the Registrant  made some admissions during the Investigatory Meeting. However, these carry no weight as there is no explanation by the Registrant as to his actions. There was no reflection on his actions and no recognition of the gravity of his conduct. The Registrant has indicated his desire not to practise again and has shown no willingness to address or reflect on his actions. The Registrant has shown no real expression of remorse regarding the potential consequences of his actions. There has been no acknowledgment of the wider impact that his actions may have had on the reputation of the Social Work profession. There is an absence of insight and in the absence of any remedial action the Panel  could not rule out a risk of repetition.
 
19. In respect of the public component Mr Kewley again submitted that the combination of the potential risk to Service User A, and the potential to jeopardise a criminal investigation, are factors that would suggest that a finding of impairment was required to uphold the reputation of the Social Work profession.


Decision on Impairment

20.The Registrant’s only response to the misconduct came from the Investigatory Meeting with his employer on 26 August 2015 where, at the  outset, he stated, ‘I did say these things’. However, the Registrant has given no explanation for his serious misconduct and has not engaged with the HCPC process. The Panel finds that the Registrant has shown no insight nor any appreciation of the gravity of his misconduct. The Registrant has expressed no remorse for his misconduct towards individual service users or the effect of his misconduct on the profession.  In the absence of insight and remorse the Panel find the Registrant to be currently impaired. The Panel also conclude that a finding of current impairment is required to uphold public confidence in the Social Work profession.

Decision on Sanction

21. The Panel considered the submissions made by Mr Kewley on behalf of the HCPC. The Panel received and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

22. The Panel was mindful that the purpose of any sanction was not to punish the Registrant but to protect the public and maintain public confidence in the profession and the HCPC as its regulator through the maintenance of proper standards of conduct and behaviour.

23. The Panel had regard to the Indicative Sanctions Policy. 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 seriousness.

24. In determining the appropriate and proportionate sanction, the Panel had regard to its findings in relation to misconduct involving serious breaches of confidentiality, advising Person B about avoiding drug detection, discussing Service User A’s account, making inappropriate remarks about Service User A, and advising Person B how to contravene bail conditions without being detected. 

25. The Panel identified the following aggravating factors:
 
• Abuse of position of trust - access to confidential information
• Risk of harm to Service User A and her unborn child
• Harm to multi-agency working
• Potential to jeopardise the ongoing police investigation
• Lack of insight
• Absence of remorse

26.  In light of the Registrant’s failure to engage, the only mitigating factor which the Panel was able to identify was the lack of any previous regulatory finding against the Registrant.

27. The Panel first considered taking no action; however, it concluded that this would be inappropriate and would not be sufficient to protect service users or the reputation of the profession.  The Panel considered this was not an appropriate case for mediation and that a Caution Order would be inappropriate given the seriousness of the misconduct.

28. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel did not consider there were any conditions that could adequately protect the public. The deliberate breaches of confidentiality, the giving of inappropriate advice about how to avoid drug detection in drug tests, the advice about how to contravene bail conditions undetected, and discussing the account of Service User A with Person B (who was in due course convicted of assaulting her) were not, in the view of the Panel, remediable or capable of correction.  Further, the Registrant had not actively engaged with the regulatory process and had informed the HCPC he no longer wished to practise as a Social Worker. Any Conditions of Practice that could be applied need to be appropriate, realistic and workable.  In this case therefore, a Conditions of Practice was not appropriate.

29. The Panel next considered a Suspension Order. The Panel noted that such an order may be appropriate when the misconduct was not fundamentally incompatible with remaining on the Register.  The Registrant was noted to have deep-seated attitudinal issues, incompatible with remaining in the profession, and there was no insight shown that could indicate that the misconduct could be remedied during a period of Suspension. The Panel concluded that the misconduct in this case was incompatible with remaining on the Register. It amounted to an inversion of the role of a Social Worker, where a Social Worker disregarded the safety of the Service User and her unborn child but instead chose to prioritise the needs of her alleged abuser who was a dangerous and violent individual.  This took the form of sharing police intelligence, undermining the Service User’s account prior to the criminal trial and giving advice on how to avoid drug detection from drug tests and how to avoid conditions of bail without being detected.

30. The Panel concluded that the misconduct was so serious and so disgraceful in this case that it was not capable of being remediated. The Panel therefore concluded that a Striking Off Order was the only proportionate sanction and one that would protect the public, uphold public confidence in the Social Work profession and in the regulatory process.

Order


Order:
The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Kevin R Sinclair from the Register.

Notes

A Substantive Hearing was held on the dates 7-9 August 2017 in London. The Registrant was struck off the Register.

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mr Kevin R Sinclair

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
07/08/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off