Miss Millissa Judy Elmira Halliday

: Social worker

: SW07278

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 09/10/2017 End: 17:00 11/10/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Caution

Allegation

Allegation (As Amended at the Final Hearing):

During the course of your employment as a Social Worker at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea you:

1. Between September 2015 and March 2016, misused a Council purchase card to buy personal items in excess of £1,000.

2. The matter described in paragraph 1 was dishonest.

3. The matters sets out in paragraphs 1 - 2 constitute misconduct.

4. By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Application for the Hearing to be Held in Private

1. The Panel determined that it would hear those parts of the case in which reference was made to the health and private life of the Registrant, in private, under Rule 10 (1)(a) of the HCPC (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003 (‘the Rules’).  In making this decision the Panel acknowledged that there is a presumption that hearings will be held in public. The decision is to protect the private life of the Registrant which the Panel considers outweighs the public interest in this instance.

Application to Amend the Allegation as detailed above

2. The Panel next heard an application by Ms Manning-Rees, on behalf of the HCPC, to amend the Allegation as particularised above. The Registrant had been notified of the application in advance of the hearing and did not object to the amendment. The Panel received and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It was satisfied that the amendment was necessary and desirable as it provided clarity, did not substantively change the nature of the Allegation and was not prejudicial to the Registrant.

Background

3. The Registrant is a registered Social Worker. She commenced employment at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) as a Social Worker within the Family Services Team in 2003.  She was responsible for child protection, children in need, children in the courts and looked-after children.

4. Until 2008, Social Workers working at RBKC would pay for work-related expenses out of their own pockets and apply to RBKC for reimbursement for the amount owed to them. In 2008 Purchase Cards (P-Cards) were introduced by RBKC in order to improve the way expenses were managed. P-Cards were available to Social Workers who wished to have one, in order to cover work-related expenses.

5. In August 2015 the Corporate Anti-Fraud Service (CAFS) at RBKC commenced a review into expenditure on P-Cards. This review comprised a sample check of 10% of spending on P-Cards across all departments at RBKC. This revealed that between September 2015 and March 2016, the Registrant had made a number of personal purchases on a P-Card issued to her by the Borough.

6. The Registrant was suspended from her duties on 15 April 2016 whilst the matter was investigated.
7. The Registrant was subsequently dismissed from her employment at RBKC and a referral was made to the HCPC. 

Decision on Facts

8. The Panel carefully considered all of the evidence in the case. It noted the submissions of the Registrant and Ms Manning-Rees.  It accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. On behalf of the HCPC, the Panel heard oral evidence from Witnesses JG, TO and DG-C.  It also considered a written statement from JS. The Registrant gave evidence on her own behalf.

9. The Panel received two bundles of documentation from the HCPC, comprising the witness statements of those who gave evidence and 103 pages of exhibits. The Registrant, submitted a bundle comprising 13 pages of documentation which included e-mails, a reference and a document detailing the grounds of her appeal against her dismissal from RBKC. Immediately prior to the hearing, the Registrant submitted a statement which ran to 5 pages and, during the hearing, she adduced two further personal references.
10. The Panel disregarded any reference to incidents which do not form part of the Allegation and reminded itself that the burden of proving the facts is on the HCPC alone and that the standard of proof is the ordinary civil standard, namely the balance of probabilities.

11. The Panel noted the case of Enemuwe v Nursing and Midwifery Council [2015] EWHC 2081 and disregarded the findings of the internal investigation and disciplinary processes conducted by the Council. Furthermore, the Panel ensured that it was not influenced in its deliberations by its knowledge of the internal processes.

Credibility of the Witnesses and Assessment of the Evidence

12. The Panel first made an assessment of the credibility of the witnesses and the reliability of all of the evidence presented to it:

Witness JG

13. JG was a Corporate Investigation Officer for RBKC within the CAFS. She undertook the investigation into the Registrant’s spending on her P-Card. JG exhibited certain documents and records produced during the internal investigation.  JG had no direct involvement in the incidents upon which the factual particulars of this case are based. The Panel considered that JG gave clear evidence, which was credible and consistent with her statement.  There was some lack of understanding of RBKC’s financial processes and the context within which Social Workers worked, but the Panel did not consider these areas to be key to the case.

Witness TO

14. TO was the Registrant’s line manager at the relevant time. His evidence was clear, consistent and credible.  He helpfully assisted the Panel to understand some of RBKC’s procedures.  His evidence was measured, fair and supportive of the Registrant. The Panel considered him to be an open and honest witness.

Witness DG-C

15. DG-C was the Fraud Manager at CAFS during the relevant period. His team undertook the sample check of employee expenditure on P-Cards in August 2015.  He exhibited records and documents relevant to the Allegation.  He had no direct involvement in the events upon which the factual particulars of this case are based. The Panel considered that DG-C gave clear evidence, which was credible and consistent with his statement. However, he relied in some material aspects upon conversations he had had with JS and deferred to JS’s knowledge of the internal processes a number of times.

Witness JS

16. JS was the Customer Support Officer for P-Cards. In many ways, it was unfortunate to both parties that she had not been called to give oral evidence to clarify a number of relevant matters. In particular, the Panel would have found it helpful to hear from her in regard to the verbal guidance/ information which she provided to the holders of P-Cards when issuing them.

17. The Panel was informed that every effort had been made to secure her attendance, but unfortunately she was not available. Nevertheless, in considering her written statement, the Panel noted that the sole purpose of this statement was to exhibit two documents, namely a table of purchases and a guideline document relating to the P-Card Scheme. The content of these documents was not challenged. Accordingly, the Panel considered those documents to be reliable evidence and apportioned them appropriate weight.

Hearsay

18. In respect of all other hearsay evidence, the Panel exercised caution in considering the hearsay evidence.  It attached weight to it, only to the extent that it was relevant, where this evidence was corroborated or consistent with other evidence received.

The Registrant

19. The Registrant made admissions at the outset of the hearing without prevarication.  However, at times, the Panel considered that her evidence was inconsistent, and she gave conflicting explanations for her actions.  She also, on occasion, deflected responsibility for her actions onto others.  For example, she submitted throughout her evidence that had JS or anyone else at RBKC pointed out to her that her conduct was serious she would have desisted. She also submitted that “had TO asked her during supervision, ‘are you ok’ I would have opened up”. 

20. The Registrant, in giving her evidence, put forward a considerable amount of mitigation relating to her personal circumstances.  The Panel recognised that this formed part of the context of the case, was not relevant to the factual particulars and did not excuse the Registrant from her duty to conduct herself in a manner commensurate with her registration as a Social Worker.  This information would potentially be relevant at the later stages of the hearing should they be reached.

Findings in Relation to the Factual Particulars of the Allegation

During the course of your employment as a Social Worker at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea you:  STEM PROVED

21. The Registrant agreed that she was employed as a Social Worker during the relevant period at RBKC.  The oral and documentary evidence received by the Panel corroborated this.

Accordingly, the stem of the Allegation was found proved.

1. Between September 2015 and March 2016, misused a Council purchase card to buy personal items in excess of £1,000. PROVED

22. The Registrant admitted this particular. Her admission was corroborated by other evidence received. The Panel noted that, within the documents exhibited, there was a copy of a two page document entitled ‘The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Purchase Cardholders Agreement Form Conditions of Use’. This document was signed by the Registrant on 21 August 2015 and co-signed by JS.  Within the agreement it is stated that, ‘Cardholders must ensure that purchase cards are NEVER used for the following…..private expenses. The Panel was satisfied that the term ‘private expenses’ meant personal expenses which were not business expenses.

23. The Panel also considered the evidence gathered within the internal investigation which included copies of receipts relating to transactions between September 2015 and March 2016. The Registrant accepted that she had used her P-Card for personal purchases which were not business related between the relevant dates and that her personal spending exceeded £1,000.  She accepted that this was wrong and amounted to a misuse of the P-Card.

24. In these circumstances, the Panel determined that the P-Card was not used in accordance with the agreement signed by the Registrant, and that it was therefore misused by her.  Accordingly, particular 1 was found proved.

2. The matter described in paragraph 1 was dishonest.  PROVED

25. The Registrant admitted this particular. In considering whether the other evidence in the case corroborated her admission, the Panel first considered the mental state of the Registrant in relation to the acts found proved. In particular, it looked at the evidence in respect of her motive and intention when the acts occurred.

26. The Registrant explained that, she came to use the P-Card for the first time on 24 September 2015 when she discovered that she did not have her own debit card with her at a supermarket checkout.  She submitted that she used the P-Card unwillingly on this occasion after finding herself embarrassed with lots of shopping and no debit card.  However, the Panel noted that there were two subsequent purchases made that same day, which were made willingly, deliberately and not under the same pressure as the first transaction.  The Registrant’s conduct in using the P-Card for her own personal use continued for a further five months and involved a significant number of purchases. She conceded in her evidence that she knew it was wrong, indeed she thought about it every time she used the card, and yet she continued to do so due to her personal circumstances and financial difficulties.

27. The Panel is satisfied that the only plausible explanation for the Registrant’s behaviour is that she treated the P-Card effectively as a ready source of interest-free personal credit which was financed by RBKC. The Panel considered whether there was another potential explanation and could think of no other realistic motive for her behaviour in the circumstances.

28. The Panel next applied the two-stage test in R v Ghosh [1982] QB 1053 as adopted in Twinsectra v Yardley [2002] UKHL 12.  It was satisfied that the purchase of personal items with the P-Card would be considered dishonest by the standards of reasonable and honest people, given that the Registrant was a Social Worker entrusted with the P-Card in order to purchase resources primarily to support vulnerable Service Users at the tax-payers’ expense.  She then misused the P-Card for personal gain over a prolonged period of time.

29. The Panel was also satisfied that the Registrant knew what she was doing was dishonest by the standards of reasonable and honest people. The Registrant was shown to have had access to other financial resources and bank cards during the relevant period, yet continued using the P-Card.  Many of the personal purchases were for non-essential items. She failed to report the matter to her manager despite having ample opportunity to do so.

30. The review of P-Card expenditure across all departments of RBKC did not reveal that any other person within the sample group had used a P-Card for personal expenditure. There was no evidence of a culture of acceptance, within RBKC, of the use of P-Cards for personal use, as was suggested by the Registrant.  Furthermore, she admitted in her evidence that she knew what she was doing was dishonest by the standards of reasonable and honest people.

31. Accordingly, particular 2 was found proved.

Misconduct   PROVED

32. The Panel next determined whether the facts found proved amounted to misconduct. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It bore in mind that there is no standard of proof to be applied at this stage; consideration as to whether the threshold for misconduct has been reached is a matter in its own judgment. In considering the ground, the Panel first considered the individual particulars found proved and then the behaviour in the round.

33. The Panel had specific regard to the helpful guidance provided in Roylance -v- GMC (No 2) [2000] 1 AC 311, Meadows v GMC [2007] QB 462 and Shaw v GOsC [2015] EWHC 2721. It noted that misconduct involves an act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances and that in order to amount to misconduct, the act or omission needs to be serious and one which would attract a degree of strong public disapproval.

34. The Panel next considered whether the proven facts amounted to breaches of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics 2012 (“the HCPC Standards”), and/or breaches of the HCPC Standards of Proficiency applicable to Social Workers 2012, which were relevant at the time. It bore in mind that breaches of any of these Standards did not, in themselves, necessarily constitute misconduct. 

35. The Panel determined that the following HCPC Standards had been breached:

3. You must keep high standards of personal conduct.
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.

36. The Panel also determined that the following HCPC Standards of Proficiency applicable to Social Workers had been breached:

 Registrant social workers must:
 2. be able to practise within the legal and ethical boundaries of their  profession.
 4. be able to practise as an autonomous professional, exercising their  own professional judgement.

37. The Panel considered that these standards had been breached by the Registrant in pursuing a course of dishonest conduct over a period of six months. In so doing, the standards of her personal conduct, honesty, integrity and her ability to practise within the legal and ethical boundaries of her profession were clearly lacking. Furthermore, the Registrant submitted in her evidence that, had others indicated to her the severity of her actions, she would have exercised better judgement and stopped misusing the P-Card.  This line of thinking did not find favour with the Panel.  It was satisfied that it was the responsibility of the Registrant to recognise how serious the situation was and ensure she exercised her own professional judgement appropriately to avoid or desist from the dishonest conduct.

38. The Panel considered that the Registrant’s conduct constituted a serious breach of the trust which underpins the employer/employee relationship.  Furthermore, it was also a breach of one of the fundamental tenets of the profession, that of honesty.  Her behaviour undermined the reputation of the profession, the department within which she worked and tainted that of her colleagues. It constituted behaviour which fell far short of what would be expected of a social worker in the circumstances and would undoubtedly attract a degree of strong public disapproval. 

39. Accordingly, the Panel finds that the statutory ground of misconduct is made out.

Decision on Impairment          FOUND IN THE WIDER PUBLIC INTEREST

40. The Panel next determined whether, by reason of her misconduct, the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note “Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired”, dated March 2017. It bore in mind that not every finding of misconduct will automatically result in a conclusion that fitness to practise is impaired and noted that impairment is ‘forward looking’.  The Panel had specific regard to the guidance in the case of Meadows v GMC [2007]1 All ER 1, and Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence (CHRE) v NMC and Grant [2011] EWHC 927.

41. The starting point for the Panel was that the misconduct identified was serious. By demonstrating a pattern of dishonest behaviour which fell far short of that which would be expected of a registered Social Worker, the Registrant has breached a fundamental tenet of her profession, that of honesty. She has brought the reputation of her profession into disrepute and in so doing has let down those who trusted her and relied upon her.
42. The Panel first considered whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired on a personal basis. It noted that whilst the failings identified in this case are difficult to remediate, given the attitudinal issues associated with dishonesty, they are, nevertheless, not impossible to remediate. 

43. The Registrant expressed deep remorse for her conduct and the impact it has had upon the reputation of the profession, the trust of service users and the general public. The Panel noted the failings amounted to an isolated set of circumstances in an otherwise blemish-free career spanning 20 years. The Registrant has also repaid the Council’s associated losses. She has reflected upon her failings at length since the relevant period and the processes (both internal and regulatory) have been a salutary experience for her. She was able to explain to the Panel how she would do things differently if faced with a similar situation in the future.  The Panel was satisfied that the failings arose during a period of extreme pressure in her personal life and that her professional competence was not compromised during that time.

44. The Panel also noted that the Registrant has put into place a system of support strategies by way of her Church, regular contact with her General Practitioner and significant changes at home. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant is devoted to her profession, she takes pride in the positive outcomes she has achieved for the families with which she worked, and has been working in a similar capacity as a locum for Lambeth Borough Council since August 2016.  There was no information before the Panel that there has been a repetition of the failings identified and the Panel noted the positive references provided.

45. In all of these circumstances, notwithstanding the Registrant’s deflection of responsibility in aspects of her evidence, the Panel considered that she has developed, and was continuing to develop, insight into her failings.  The Panel determined that the degree of insight demonstrated was sufficient to reassure it that, in all the circumstances, the risk of repetition was low.

46. Accordingly, the Panel found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was not currently impaired on a personal level.

47. The Panel then went on to consider whether the wider public interest dictated that a finding of impairment was required in this case. The Panel is satisfied that the public interest is engaged. The public are entitled to have trust in Social Workers. The Registrant’s misconduct was such that it presented a risk to the reputation of the department within which she worked and her profession as a whole. The wider public interest in upholding proper professional standards and public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process would be undermined if a finding of impairment was not made in these circumstances.

48. Accordingly, the Panel finds that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired in the wider public interest.

Decision on Sanction

49. The Panel considered the submissions made by the Registrant and Ms Manning-Rees. It accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

50. The Panel is aware that the purpose of any sanction is not to be punitive, though it may have a punitive effect. The Panel has borne in mind that its primary function at this stage is to protect the public, while reaching a proportionate sanction, taking into account the wider public interest and the interests of the Registrant. The Panel has taken into account the HCPTS Indicative Sanctions Policy [“the ISP”] and applied it to the Registrant’s case on its own facts and circumstances.

51. The starting point for the Panel was that the misconduct was serious. It constituted numerous breaches of the HCPC Standards and was also a breach of a fundamental tenet of the profession, that of honesty. Being trustworthy, is a fundamental obligation upon all registered Social Workers.

52. The Panel identified the following aggravating factors in this case:

• The misconduct continued over a prolonged period;

• There was a breach of trust which compromised the employer/employee relationship.

53. To balance against those issues, the Panel identified the following mitigating factors.  The Registrant:

• Made early admission without prevarication and has fully engaged in the regulatory process;

• Has expressed a significant degree of remorse;

• Has sufficiently developed insight;

• Is of previous good character; all of the evidence indicated that the misconduct was entirely out of character. It happened at a time when she was experiencing unusually extreme personal difficulties over which she had little control;

• Has repaid her debt to RBKC;

• Has a good professional record spanning approximately 20 years.

54. Nevertheless, the Panel has found that the Registrant damaged the reputation of the profession and the trust of the public. In light of all of these matters, the Panel has considered what sanction, if any, should be applied, in ascending order of seriousness.

No Further Action

55. The wider public interest would not be upheld if the Panel were to take no further action in a case of this seriousness.

Mediation

56. The Panel does not consider mediation to be an appropriate option in this case. The serious nature of the misconduct and the harm caused to the reputation of the profession is such that it could not be addressed by mediation.

Caution

57. The Panel considered that a Caution order for three years was the appropriate and proportionate sanction.  This was a single course of conduct against the background of a blemish-free career which spanned approximately 20 years. The misconduct was completely out of character for the Registrant and there is a low risk of recurrence.  The Panel considered this to be an exceptional case of dishonesty, in that there is no continued risk of harm to the public. The Registrant is a good practitioner and she has taken appropriate reparative action.  Her insight was sufficiently developed to address the risks and there was little more she could do to remedy her failings.  Furthermore there was a significant degree of personal mitigation.

58. In these circumstances, the Panel is satisfied that permitting the Registrant to return to practice would neither compromise public protection, nor damage the reputation of the profession or confidence in the regulatory process.  Indeed, the public interest is best met, in these circumstances, by not depriving the public of an otherwise competent and dedicated practitioner. In light of this, the Panel is satisfied that this is the appropriate and proportionate sanction in this case.

59. Whilst the sanction will allow the Registrant to return to unrestricted practice, it will nevertheless, be publicised and will appear on her professional record.  This will serve as a reminder to her and others of the need to ensure that the highest standards of honesty and integrity are exercised both personally and professionally. In the Panel’s judgement a Caution of three years is sufficiently proportionate to reflect the strong public disapproval which the Registrant’s behaviour would inevitably attract.

60. To test the Panel’s view that a Caution is the correct order in this case, it went on to carefully consider whether the imposition of a more serious sanction would be appropriate and proportionate.

Conditions of Practice

61. The Panel concluded that it would not be possible to identify or formulate any conditions which would serve a useful regulatory purpose in addressing the issue identified.

Suspension

62. In the judgement of the Panel, a Suspension Order would be disproportionate and unduly punitive in the circumstances described. It would deprive the public of an otherwise competent and well-regarded practitioner.  Furthermore, it would amount to little more than a punishment and would serve no useful regulatory purpose given that there is little further action the Registrant can take to remedy her failings.

Striking Off Order

63. The Panel considered that to remove the Registrant from practice would be inappropriate and disproportionately punitive in the circumstances.

Order

The Registrar is directed to annotate the register entry of Miss Millissa Judy Elmira Halliday with a caution which is to remain on the register for a period of three years from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

You may appeal to the High Court in England and Wales against the Panel’s decision and the order it has made against you.
Under Article 29(10) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, any appeal must be made within 28 days of the date when this notice is served on you.

If no appeal is made the order will apply from 8 November 2017.

 

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Miss Millissa Judy Elmira Halliday

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
09/10/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Caution