Mr Robert Norman Simpson

: Social worker

: SW35244

Interim Order: Imposed on 27 Oct 2017

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 23/10/2017 End: 17:00 27/10/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Struck off

Allegation

Allegation as amended at the substantive hearing on 23 October 2017

Between 2015 and 2016, during the course of your practice as an Independent Social Worker you:
1. In relation to Child A, were instructed by Solicitors A to carry out a parenting assessment and you:

(a) did not undertake and/or complete the parenting assessment on or around 29 May 2015 and/or 5 June 2015, as agreed.

(b) Did not communicate with Solicitors A and/or respond to their telephone calls and/or emails from around 1 June 2015.

(c) Did not comply with a court direction to undertake the parenting assessment and/or file a report on or around 29 May 2015.

2. In relation to Service User B, were instructed by Solicitors B in March 2015 to prepare a Social Impact Report and you:

(a) Received £863 to undertake the report in relation to Service User B

(b) Did not complete the Social Impact Report within the agreed timescales or at all.

(c) Did not respond to telephone calls and/or emails from Solicitors B and/or Service User B from around 22 September 2015.

3. In July 2015, were instructed by Service User C to prepare a Social Impact Report and you:

(a) Received £865 to undertake the report in relation to Service User C

(b) Did not complete the Social Impact Report within the agreed timescales or at all.

(c) Did not respond to communication from Service User C and/or Solicitors C from around 4 September 2015.

4. Between June and July 2015, were instructed by Solicitors D to prepare a community care assessment in respect of Service User D and you:

(a) Received £726 to undertake an assessment of Service User D’s son.

(b) Did not undertake and/or complete the assessment of Service User D’s son.

(c) Did not respond to communication from Solicitors D from around June 2015.

5. In or around February 2016 you were instructed by Solicitors A to prepare a Social Impact Report in relation to Family A, and you:

(a) Received £765 to undertake the report, which you did not complete.

(b) Did not complete the report within the agreed timescales or at all.

(c) Did not respond to letters, telephone calls, text messages and/or emails from Solicitors A from around 3 June 2016.

6. In December 2015 you were instructed by Person A to prepare a Social Impact Report and you:

(a) Received £765 to undertake the report

(b) Did not complete the report within the agreed timescales or at all.

(c) Did not respond to letters, telephone calls and/or emails from Person A from around 26 February 2016.

7. Your actions described in paragraphs 1 – 6 were dishonest.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Service of Notice

1. The notice of this hearing was sent to the Registrant at his address as it appeared in the register on 14 August 2017. The notice contained the date, time and venue of today’s hearing.

2. The Panel is satisfied that notice of today’s hearing has been served in accordance with Rule 6(1) of the Conduct and Competence Committee Rules 2003 (the “Rules”).

 Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant

3. The Panel then went on to consider whether to proceed in the absence of the Registrant pursuant to Rule 11 of the Rules. In doing so, it considered the submissions of Ms Sheridan on behalf of the HCPC.

4. Ms Sheridan submitted that the HCPC has taken all reasonable steps to serve the notice on the Registrant. She further submitted that the Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC, and that an adjournment would serve no useful purpose. The Registrant’s last contact with the HCPC was on 30 January 2017. She reminded the Panel that there was a public interest in this matter being dealt with expeditiously.

5. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It was clear, from the principles derived from case law, that the Panel was required to ensure that fairness and justice were maintained when deciding whether or not to proceed in a Registrant’s absence.

6. The Panel was satisfied that all reasonable efforts had been made by the HCPC to notify the Registrant of the hearing. It was also satisfied that the Registrant would have been aware of the hearing, in the light of the fact that he had responded to correspondence sent to the address the Council have on record.

7. In deciding whether to exercise its discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant, the Panel took into consideration the HCPTS practice note entitled ‘Proceeding in the Absence of a Registrant’. The Panel weighed its responsibility for public protection and the expeditious disposal of the case with the Registrant’s right to a fair hearing.

8. In reaching its decision the Panel took into account the following:

• The Registrant had not made an application to adjourn today’s hearing;

• Witnesses have been warned and are ready to give evidence;

• There is a public interest that this substantive hearing proceeds expeditiously;

• There had been no indication that the Registrant wished to attend the substantive hearing or to be represented.

9. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had voluntarily absented himself from the hearing. It determined that it was unlikely that an adjournment would serve any useful purpose in the light of the non-engagement from the Registrant since January 2017. Having weighed the public interest for expeditious disposal of case against the Registrant’s own interest, the Panel decided to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.

Amendment of the allegations

10. Ms Sheridan, on behalf of the HCPC, applied to amend the allegations.  She submitted that the amendments sought were consistent with the evidence before the Investigating Committee, and they served to clarify the allegations by giving further and better particulars. Ms Sheridan informed the Panel that earlier in the proceedings, an application had been made to join three separate matters, and the application had been granted. However, the allegations had not been redrafted at that time to reflect the joining of the three matters.

11. Ms Sheridan told the Panel that the allegations were subsequently re-drafted and the Registrant was sent the re-drafted allegations. The Registrant was also sent notice that the Council would be seeking to make amendments to the original allegations, along the lines of the re-drafted allegations.

12. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, who advised that it was open to the Panel to amend the allegations, provided no injustice would be caused by the amendments. The Panel considered that the amendments did not change the substance of the allegations. The amendments served to reflect the fact that the three cases were now joined, and also to clarify the allegations. The Panel determined that the amendments would not cause injustice. The Panel therefore allowed the amendments to be made. The amended allegations are as set out above.

Application to allow Legal Representative D to adopt her witness statement in Chief

13. Ms Sheridan applied for Legal Representative D to be permitted to adopt her statement when giving oral evidence. She informed the Panel that the reason for the application was because the statement of the witness had been served upon the Registrant but not within the normal timescales given by the standard directions. She submitted that it would not be unfair as the Registrant had sight of the allegation and would be aware that this witness was giving evidence regarding Service User D.

14. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. He advised the Panel that:

(a) the practice of witnesses adopting their witness statements as part of their oral evidence is a device of convenience;

(b) if the witness was not permitted to adopt the statement as part of his oral evidence, it did not mean that the evidence was inadmissible. Ms Sheridan could still draw out the evidence by ‘old style’ examination-in-chief; and in that event,

(c) it was normally permissible to allow the witness to use his statement to refresh his memory, particularly where the statement was made closer in time to the incidents than to the hearing date, unless there was good reason not to so permit.

15. The Panel determined that it was in the public interest that the witness be permitted to adopt the witness statement as part of her evidence. It noted that when a witness gives oral evidence, it is that oral evidence that forms the witness’s evidence. When a witness adopts a witness statement, the contents of such a statement goes into evidence as if the witness had recited it into oral evidence. In the circumstances, not permitting the witness to adopt his witness statement would not further the public interest, and would create unnecessary delay.

Application for evidence to be received by way of telephone evidence

16. Ms Sheridan applied for the evidence of Solicitor A to be received by telephone link. She informed the Panel that Solicitor A was unable to attend the hearing to give evidence in person. This was because the case, in which he was involved, at Guildford Crown Court had gone on longer than expected, and he was required to be at court. However, he was available and willing to give evidence by telephone.

17. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. Rule 10(b) sets out that the rules of evidence governing Civil Proceedings apply, and therefore the principles of Relevance and Fairness apply. The Panel bore in mind its over-arching objective of protection of the public and of the public interest.

18. The Panel had sight of Solicitor A’s statement and considered that the evidence of Solicitor A was relevant to the proceedings.

19. The Panel also determined that it was fair, and would not cause any injustice, to receive Solicitor A’s evidence by way of telephone evidence. The Panel also noted that Solicitor A is a member of the legal profession and is bound by professional obligations when giving evidence.

Background

20. The Registrant is a registered Social Worker, who at all the material times, was working as an Independent Social Worker. It is alleged by the HCPC that each of the clients in question paid him in advance for reports to be completed. In each case, the reports were never provided and the Registrant failed to respond to repeated attempts to contact him by the clients.

Decision on Facts

21. The Panel considered all the evidence in this case together with the submissions made by Ms Sheridan on behalf of the HCPC.

22. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who reminded the Panel that the burden of proof rests with the HCPC, and that the Registrant need not disprove anything. The Legal Assessor also reminded the Panel that the standard of proof is the civil standard, namely the balance of probabilities.

23. The Panel heard oral evidence from the following witnesses on behalf of the HCPC:

• Lawyer A, who was a Solicitor and a Director of Solicitors A at the material time. He was the Lead Solicitor responsible for Child A’s care proceedings.

• Caseworker B, who, at the material time, was employed by Solicitors B as a Paralegal accredited at Senior Caseworker Level under the Immigration and Asylum Accreditation Scheme. She took over management of the case in relation to Service User B at the later stage of proceedings in the Immigration Tribunal.

• Service User C, who was facing deportation, as a result of receiving a sentence of two years imprisonment for committing criminal offences. She instructed the Registrant to assess the impact her deportation would have on her child.

• Legal Representative D, who represented Service User D. Service User D required an assessment of her child in order to receive community care support from the Local Authority.

• Solicitor A, who represented Family A. Family A required an immigration application to be made on the basis of a child being born in the United Kingdom and having resided here for seven years.

• Person A who was, along with her family, facing immigration proceedings and who instructed the Registrant to prepare a report for the purpose of those proceedings.

24. The Panel also received a bundle of documentary evidence from the HCPC containing the exhibits produced by the witnesses. These included:

(a) payment slips demonstrating payments having been made to the Registrant;

(b) correspondence to and from the Registrant in the respective cases;

(c) Court decision and orders in the Family Court relating to Child A.

25. The Panel found the evidence of all the witnesses to be credible, clear and supported by the documentary evidence. Much of the evidence in this case comes from the documentary evidence.

26. The Panel first considered the stem of the Allegation. On the evidence, the Registrant had accepted work as an Independent Social Worker. Solicitor A produced the Registrant’s curriculum vitae, received by Solicitor A on 29 January 2016. In it, the Registrant states that from “June 2014 – Present”, he had “focused on independent social work and consultative undertakings”.

27. Therefore the Panel was satisfied that during 2015 and 2016, particularly during the relevant periods in relation to the matters outlined in factual particulars one to five, the Registrant was practising as an Independent Social Worker.

28. The Panel then considered the factual particulars and made the following findings:

Particular 1

Between 2015 and 2016, during the course of your practice as an Independent Social Worker you:
1. In relation to Child A, were instructed by Solicitors A to carry out a parenting assessment and you:

(a) did not undertake and/or complete the parenting assessment on or around 29 May 2015 and/or 5 June 2015, as agreed.

(b) Did not communicate with Solicitors A and/or respond to their telephone calls and/or emails from around 1 June 2015.

(c) Did not comply with a court direction to undertake the parenting assessment and/or file a report on or around 29 May 2015.

29. Lawyer A told the Panel that his firm had not previously instructed the Registrant. He stated that a parenting assessment was required on short notice and the Registrant had been recommended to them by another firm of solicitors. He told the Panel that as a result of an initial contact with the Registrant, an application was made to the Family Court for the Registrant to be instructed to carry out a parenting assessment on Child A’s mother.

30. Lawyer A told the Panel, and produced documentary evidence, of the Family Court’s Case Management Order No 4 dated 2 April 2015 in relation to Child A’s proceedings. It evidenced that the Judge in the case:

(a) granted the application for an Independent Social Worker to carry out an assessment of the Mother and for a report to be provided to the Court;

(b) ordered that the report was to be completed by 28 May 2015;

(c) gave Expert Directions that ordered that the solicitors for the Mother, Local Authority and the Guardian, “shall jointly instruct Robert Simpson (Independent Social Worker) for the purpose of an updating parenting assessment of the Mother. Such report to be filed and served by 16:00 hours on 28 May 2015.”

(d) ordered that Lawyer A was “to be the lead solicitor for the purposes of the instruction of the named and identified expert…”

31. Lawyer A contacted the Registrant on 2 April 2015 confirming that he had been instructed and informing him that the report was due by 28 April 2015. Lawyer A told the Panel that the Registrant contacted his firm indicating that he was not available on the provisional hearing dates and as a result the Judge agreed to reschedule the final hearing to enable the Registrant to attend. However, the filing date of 28 May remained the same. This is corroborated by the documentary evidence.

32. A letter from Lawyer A formally instructing the Registrant on the case was sent on 17 April 2015, and it set out the date by which the report was to be completed and also the date when it was to be lodged with the court.

33. On 7 May 2015, an email was received from the Registrant indicating that he had been able to make contact with Mother A to progress the assessment. On 29 May 2015, an email was received from the Registrant’s company stating he had been unwell and therefore would not be able to complete the report until 5 June 2015.

34. Lawyer A wrote to the Registrant detailing the various attempts that had been made to contact the Registrant before the deadline of 29 May 2015 seeking information as to the progress he was making. Lawyer A told the Panel that he did not receive a response to this letter nor to the subsequent attempts that were made to contact the Registrant via email, post and telephone.

35. On 29 July 2015, the Judge ordered that as a result of the Registrant failing to provide the report without reasons, wasted costs should be ordered against the Registrant. A hearing was scheduled for 14 September 2015 for the consideration of wasted costs against the Registrant. Lawyer A was directed by the court to effect personal service of the court order upon the Registrant and also upon the HCPC.

36. Lawyer A told the Panel that the Registrant did not respond to the Court Order or attend the hearing. As a result, on 14 September 2015, the Court ordered the Registrant to pay wasted costs of £1174.50 to Hampshire County Council, £1096.80 to Mother A’s solicitors, £1096.80 to Child A’s father’s solicitors and £1388.40 to Solicitor A’s firm. The Court also ordered Hampshire County Council to make a complaint to the HCPC.

37. Lawyer A told the Panel that the court order was sent to the Registrant but to date they have not received any response from the Registrant or notice of the Registrant’s compliance with the wasted costs order.

38. Lawyer A also informed the Panel that the Registrant’s actions caused a delay in the proceedings and the consequential delay for Child A in his placement for adoption, and remained in foster care three months longer than necessary.

39. The Panel finds Particular 1 proved in its entirety.

Particular 2

Between 2015 and 2016, during the course of your practice as an Independent Social Worker you:
2. In relation to Service User B, were instructed by Solicitors B in March 2015 to prepare a Social Impact Report and you:

(a) Received £863 to undertake the report in relation to Service User B

(b) Did not complete the Social Impact Report within the agreed timescales or at all.
(c) Did not respond to telephone calls and/or emails from Solicitors B and/or Service User B from around 22 September 2015.

40. Caseworker B told the Panel that at the time, she was employed as a Paralegal accredited at Senior Caseworker Level under the Immigration and Asylum Accreditation Scheme. She took over the case of the client, Service User B, from a colleague in July 2015.

41. Casework B exhibited correspondence that evidenced the following:

(a) In March 2015, enquiries were made with the Registrant with regard to producing a Social Impact Report in respect of Service User B and her children;

(b) On 18 March 2015, the Registrant responded by email setting out the costs of the report and two methods of payment: one fixed fee payment of £863 to be paid up front, or a second non-fixed fee payment where the final cost would be between £930 and £1150.

(c) The Registrant’s terms were agreed and £863 was transferred in advance of the work commencing, via BACS, to the Registrant.

42. Caseworker B told the Panel that Service User B had been trying to raise the funds for the report and that once the Registrant’s fee had been paid, he conducted a visit to Service User B’s home on 19 May 2015 and told her that the report would be completed within four to eight weeks.

43. Caseworker B then told the Panel of the subsequent attempts to contact the Registrant to seek updates on progress but did not receive any response. When the report was not received within the timescale given by the Registrant, Service User B contacted the Registrant on 24 August 2015, he told her that he had been on sick leave but was now completing the report.

44. When the report was not forthcoming, Caseworker B contacted the Registrant on 21 September 2015, who stated that he could not locate the file and requested she email him the details again, which Caseworker B said she did.

45. Caseworker B exhibited the telephone notes of the above conversations. She told the Panel that after the conversation of 21 September 2015, nothing was ever heard by them again from the Registrant, despite numerous attempts to contact him via email and telephone.

46. Caseworker B told the Panel that to date:

(a) no report had been received from the Registrant, nor

(b) had any attempt to contact the Registrant been successful; and
(c) the Registrant has retained the money paid to him.

47. The Panel finds Particular 2 proved in its entirety.

Particular 3

Between 2015 and 2016, during the course of your practice as an Independent Social Worker you:
3. In July 2015, were instructed by Service User C to prepare a Social Impact Report and you:

(a) Received £865 to undertake the report in relation to Service User C

(b) Did not complete the Social Impact Report within the agreed timescales or at all.

(c) Did not respond to communication from Service User C and/or Solicitors C from around 4 September 2015.

48. The Panel heard from Service User C who stated that she had engaged the services of the Registrant whilst she was in prison. She told the Panel that she had received a 24 month custodial sentence for her crime and, as a result of her sentence and her being a foreign national, she had been facing deportation.  She told the Panel that she had made an application to avoid deportation and that a Social Impact Report on her child would assist her application.

49. Service User B exhibited the correspondence to and from the Registrant and she told the Panel that the Registrant was paid £865 up front to complete a Social Impact Report on her child, and that the money had been raised by family members abroad and a friend. The Registrant’s terms were that the fee of £865 was to be paid in full before he would undertake any work on her case. The Registrant was to assess the impact upon her child if she were to be deported, and to produce the report for use at Service User C’s hearing at the Immigration Tribunal.

50. The Panel has seen the letters from the Registrant dated 30 June 2015 and 28 July 2015. The former speaks of his fee, and the latter confirmed that, as of that date, £200 had been received from Service User C. It also confirmed that the Registrant had arranged a prison visit with Service User C. Service User C told the Panel that the reminder of the fee was paid by family members prior to the prison visit.

51. Service User C confirmed that the visit took place on 2 August 2015. She said that the Registrant told her that the report would usually take longer than four weeks to prepare but that he should be able to complete it with within four weeks.

52. Service User C told the Panel that after five weeks, and with no contact from the Registrant or report being received, she attempted to contact the Registrant by calling his office and mobile numbers as well as writing to him. She told the Panel that others also tried to contact the Registrant on her behalf, but all attempts failed.

53. Service User C told the Panel that subsequently, the Registrant wrote a letter to her dated 3 September 2017, indicating that the report was taking more time and effort and stating “Can I therefore ask that you limit any contact to the absolute minimum so that I can finish your report?”

54. Service User C told the Panel that nothing further was heard from the Registrant after that and, to date, no report had been received from the Registrant and he continues to retain the money paid to him. She told the Panel that as a result of the Registrant’s actions, her immigration proceedings were delayed by two adjournments and as a result she incurred additional legal fees. Subsequently, she had to proceed without an impact statement from a social worker as she could not afford to pay another social worker to complete a report. The Registrant’s failings had caused her to be detained unnecessarily for three additional months.

55. The Panel finds Particular 3 proved in its entirety.

Particular 4

Between 2015 and 2016, during the course of your practice as an Independent Social Worker you:
4. Between June and July 2015, were instructed by Solicitors D to prepare a community care assessment in respect of Service User D and you:

(a) Received £726 to undertake an assessment of Service User D’s son.

(b) Did not undertake and/or complete the assessment of Service User D’s son.

(c) Did not respond to communication from Solicitors D from around June 2015.

56. Legal Representative D told the Panel that at the relevant time, Service User D was a client who had two adult children, both of whom were being considered by the Local Authority for community care support. The Local Authority had indicated that the needs of one of the children were not sufficient to meet the criteria required for community care support.

57. Legal Representative D told the Panel that following discussion with the Registrant as to whether he would be able to carry out the work, the Registrant was instructed to complete an assessment of that child for submission to the Local Authority for the fee of £726. The Registrant replied on 17 June 2015 attaching his invoice and stating that he would arrange a date for the assessment once his fees had been paid. The correspondence is exhibited by Legal Representative D.

58. Legal Representative D told the Panel that his firm instructed the Registrant because his fee quote was quite low compared to that of other social workers. She told the Panel that the other quotes they received for carrying out the work was around £1500.  She told the Panel that on 23 June 2015, an email was received from AM who was a payment clerk acting on behalf of the Registrant, indicating that he was about to re-allocate the time slot they had been holding for Service User D to another person unless their fees were paid. In a subsequent email received 13 minutes later, he stated that once they were in receipt of the fees, the Registrant would be happy to arrange the first appointment with Service User D.

59. Legal Representative D told the Panel that £726 was then transferred to the Registrant on 29 June 2015 and an email was received that day from AM confirming receipt and requesting the contact details for Service User D.

60. Legal Representative D told the Panel that after the payment was made, no visit with Service User D was arranged or carried out by the Registrant. Furthermore, despite numerous attempts being made to contact the Registrant subsequent to the payment, the Registrant did not make contact.

61. Legal Representative D exhibited the documentary evidence of the above. She confirmed that to date, no report has been received from the Registrant, and that no attempt to contact the Registrant has been successful. The Registrant continues to retain the money appropriated from Service User D.

62. The Panel finds Particular 4 proved in its entirety.

Particular 5

Between 2015 and 2016, during the course of your practice as an Independent Social Worker you:

5. In or around February 2016 you were instructed by Solicitors A to prepare a Social Impact Report in relation to Family A, and you:

(a) Received £765 to undertake the report, which you did not complete.

(b) Did not complete the report within the agreed timescales or at all.

(c) Did not respond to letters, telephone calls, text messages and/or emails from Solicitors A from around 3 June 2016.

63. Solicitor A told the Panel that at the material time, he was representing Family A who required an immigration application to be made, on the basis of a child being born in the United Kingdom and having resided in the United Kingdom for seven years.

64. Solicitor A told the Panel that it was determined that a Social Impact Report would be useful to support the application to the Home Office, and for any subsequent court proceedings if necessary. To that end Solicitor A instructed the Registrant, having obtained his details from a colleague.

65. Solicitor A told the Panel that contact was made in January 2016 and on 29 January 2016 the Registrant replied, by email, confirming that he would undertake the report and would meet with Family A to assess their home environment and their interaction. The Registrant quoted a fee of £765 to complete the report and stated that a report would be completed within four to eight weeks of his meeting with the family. The Registrant also included a copy of his curriculum vitae. Solicitor A produced both the email and the curriculum vitae for the Panel.

66. Solicitor A told the Panel that the Registrant met with Family A on 14 February 2016 and that the sum of £765 was paid to the Registrant directly from Family A, prior to the meeting with him.

67. Solicitor A detailed the subsequent attempts made to contact the Registrant after 14 February 2016, via letter, telephone and text messages. He also detailed the minimal responses received from the Registrant, the last response being an email dated 3 June 2016. Solicitor A told the Panel that he had enquired with the Registrant as to whether there were health reasons for not producing the report, to which he did not receive a response.

68. Solicitor A told the Panel that the Registrant did not produce a report as required, nor did he refund any of the monies paid to him to undertake the work. The report was required before the Home Office made a decision, and prior to the subsequent Immigration Tribunal hearing.

69. Solicitor A exhibited emails he had sent to the Registrant, including those sent after 3 June 2016. He told the Panel that to date, the report has not been received and the money paid remains appropriated by the Registrant. Due to the Registrant’s failure to draft a report, another Independent Social Worker was then instructed to produce the report, and that report was ready within eight weeks.

70. The Panel finds Particular 5 proved in its entirety.

Particular 6

Between 2015 and 2016, during the course of your practice as an Independent Social Worker you:
6. In December 2015 you were instructed by Person A to prepare a Social Impact Report and you:

(a) Received £765 to undertake the report

(b) Did not complete the report within the agreed timescales or at all.

(c) Did not respond to letters, telephone calls and/or emails from Person A from around 26 February 2016.

71. Person A gave evidence and told the Panel that she had engaged the services of the Registrant on 21 December 2015. Her immigration solicitor had advised that a Social Impact Report was required in respect of her younger sister for their case in the Immigration Tribunal. Person A came across the Registrant’s name on a website that contained the details of a number of professionals able to complete a Social Impact Report.

72. Person A told the Panel that, having contacted some of the persons on that website, she chose the Registrant because he was willing to undertake the work at a lower rate than the others. Person A produced the documentary evidence of her engagement of the services of the Registrant and his agreement to undertake the work. In that correspondence, the Registrant stated that the time frame for completion of the report was four to eight weeks after the last visit with the family.

73. The Registrant conducted one visit with Person A’s family and that took place on 9 January 2016, when he recorded the meeting by Dictaphone, and obtained all the information he required to complete the report.

74. Person A told the Panel that she and her family had expected the report to be completed by the end of February 2016, and when the report was not forthcoming by 26 February, she contacted the Registrant via email seeking an update.

75. Person A told the Panel that all attempts to contact the Registrant after the visit of 9 January 2016 failed, and that she has not heard from the Registrant since that day. To date, no report has been provided, and the Registrant continues to retain the money he appropriated from her family.

76. Person A said that the Registrant’s failings had a huge financial and emotional impact upon her family, and caused delay in their immigration case. Further, extremely confidential and sensitive information had been shared with the Registrant during the visit, which was recorded on the Registrant’s Dictaphone, and that has caused them great distress.

77. The Panel finds Particular 6 proved in its entirety.

Particular 7

Your actions described in paragraphs 1 – 6 were dishonest.

78. The Panel’s attention was drawn to the case of Ivey v Genting Casinos (UK) Ltd t/a Crockfords [2017] UKSC 67, and the change in the test to be applied for dishonesty. The Panel took particular note of paragraph 74 of their Lordships’s judgment:
“When dishonesty is in question the fact-finding tribunal must first ascertain (subjectively) the actual state of the individual’s knowledge or belief as to the facts. The reasonableness or otherwise of his belief is a matter of evidence (often in practice determinative) going to whether he held the belief, but it is not an additional requirement that his belief must be reasonable; the question is whether it is genuinely held. When once his actual state of mind as to knowledge or belief as to facts is established, the question whether his conduct was honest or dishonest is to be determined by the fact-finder by applying the (objective) standards of ordinary decent people. There is no requirement that the defendant must appreciate that what he has done is, by those standards, dishonest."

79. The reliable evidence is clear and cogent. In each case, as set out in Particulars 1 to 6, the Panel is satisfied that Registrant knew the following facts:

(a) He had been contracted to complete a report. He provided the clients with his terms of contract and fee;

(b) In each case, he had an obligation to complete the required report.

(c) His fee had been paid in advance in five of the six cases, as was his requirement before undertaking any work on behalf of his clients;

(d) There was a timescale of up to eight weeks for the completion of each report. This was a timescale that he himself provided to each client;

(e) None of the reports required were ever completed, either within or without the specified timescale; and

(f) In each case, after the time each report was due, he did not respond to repeated attempts by the client to contact him.

80. Upon the evidence before the Panel, there is no evidence that the Registrant actually started writing the report, nor any evidence that he had any intention of completing the reports. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, the Panel determined that it was safe to infer from the actions of the Registrant as set out in Particulars 1 to 6, that the Registrant obtained money from his clients for work that he did not intend to complete.

81. The Panel determined that ordinary and decent people would consider the Registrant’s actions as set out above to be dishonest.

Decision on Grounds

82. Having determined that all the factual particulars were proved, the Panel then went on to consider whether they amounted to the statutory ground of misconduct.  The Panel heard submissions from Ms Sheridan on behalf of the HCPC.

83. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was aware that misconduct is “a word of general effect, involving some act or omission, which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances.” It is also aware that it was stressed that Misconduct is qualified by the word “serious”. It is not just any professional misconduct, which will qualify.

84. The Panel determined that each of the factual particulars 1 to 6 is serious enough to amount to misconduct in these proceedings on their own. Their seriousness speaks for itself – a social worker obtaining money from clients on the promise of providing reports, which were then not provided. Further, each case was particularly grievous, as they involved vulnerable people who were desperately reliant upon the Registrant as a Social Worker, who paid him fees of which they could barely afford. In five of the six cases, another Social Worker had to be instructed and paid to do the work.

85. The dishonesty of the Registrant amounts to misconduct. To date, the Registrant has retained the fees paid without good reason. The gravity of the Registrant’s dishonesty is underscored by the unjustified retention of funds paid for work not done, coupled with the failure to respond to the numerous attempts by his clients to contact him.

86. The Particulars 1 to 6 bear striking similarity to one another – the quick response to an initial query, the Registrant’s requirement for full payment of fees in advance of the initial meeting with the clients, the subsequent lack of any substantive response from correspondence from the clients, the absence of any work done (even in the face of a court order), and the monies not being returned.

87. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, particulars 1 to 6 demonstrate a pattern of behaviour that was knowingly and intentionally dishonest on the part of the Registrant.

88. The Panel determined that the Registrant’s actions set out in Particulars 1 to 7 amounted to misconduct. Any right-minded Social Worker would consider the Registrant’s actions abhorrent and worthy of opprobrium.

Decision on Impairment 

89. The Panel then went on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of his misconduct. The Panel heard the submissions of Ms Sheridan, and it accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

90. The Legal Assessor drew the Panel’s attention to the approach set out in the case of CHRE v NMC and Grant (2011) EWHC 927 (Admin), and reminded the Panel that there was a personal and public component when considering whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise was currently impaired.

91. For this purpose, the Panel adopted the approach formulated by Dame Janet Smith in her fifth report of the Shipman inquiry by asking itself the following questions:

“Do our findings of fact in respect of the Registrant’s misconduct show that his fitness to practise is impaired in the sense that he:

a) has in the past acted and/or is liable in the future to act so as to put service users at unwarranted risk of harm; and/or

b) has in the past brought and/or is liable in the future to bring the social work profession into disrepute; and/or

c) has in the past breached and/or is liable in the future to breach one of the fundamental tenets of the profession?; and/or

d) has in the past acted dishonestly and/or is liable in the future to act dishonestly?”

92. The Panel determined that the answers to all the above questions were in the affirmative in relation to past, and future possible conduct. In coming to its decision it took into account the following factors:

(a) In relation to Particular 1, as a direct consequence of the Registrant’s failings, Child A was left in foster care for three months longer than was necessary, when the plan for him was for adoption. The Panel also noted that Child A was about 18 months old at the time, a critical time for a child to be settled into a permanent placement at the earliest opportunity;

(b) The Registrant’s dishonest conduct was not confined to a single instance but to six separate cases over a significant period of time. There was also overlap in the time frames of most of the cases, indicating that this was not an opportunistic form of dishonesty but one that was intended and premeditated;

(c) There is no evidence of any insight or remorse on the part of the Registrant;

(d) No attempt has been made by the Registrant to return the monies paid to him, nor to give an explanation or apologise, to the clients from whom he appropriated funds; and

(e) The Registrant’s actions were so blatant that he has brought the social work profession into significant disrepute. It was clear from the testimonies of the witnesses who gave evidence, that their confidence in the profession has been severely undermined by the Registrant’s actions.

93. The Panel also determined that the Registrant’s misconduct was so woeful that the need to uphold professional standards and public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment of fitness to practise were not made in these circumstances. Honesty, integrity and trustworthiness are bedrocks of the social work profession and the Registrant’s failure in these respects has undermined the confidence the public have in the profession, as was clear from the testimonies of the witnesses who gave evidence.

94. Therefore, the Panel determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired on both personal and public interest considerations.

Decision on Sanction

95. The Panel heard the submission of Ms Sheridan with regard to sanction.
96. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.  The Panel had regard to all the evidence presented, and to the Council’s Indicative Sanctions Policy. The Panel reminded itself that the purpose of a sanction is not to be punitive although it may have a punitive effect. The Panel bore in mind the principles of fairness and proportionality when determining what the appropriate sanction in this case should be.

97. The Panel considered the aggravating factors in this case to be:

a) The Registrant has not demonstrated any insight or remorse;

b) The Registrant’s clients were vulnerable people who were involved in stressful legal proceedings or applications with a Local Authority;

c) A child aged approximately 18 months was left in foster care for three months longer than was necessary, when the plan for him was for adoption.

d) In each case, if the Registrant had completed a report, that report would have played a very significant, if not pivotal, role in the final determination of that case;

e) The Registrant’s dishonesty was directly related to his role as a social worker;

f) The Registrant’s misconduct was not limited to isolated instances. The evidence demonstrated a pattern of conduct that was deliberate and premeditated and likely to be repeated;

g) The Registrant’s misconduct is continuing, residually, in that he continues to retain monies he has obtained from his clients.

98. The Panel considered the following to be mitigating features in this case:

a) The Registrant is of previous good character.

99. In considering the matter of sanction, the Panel started with the least restrictive moving upwards.

100. The Panel first considered taking no action but concluded that, given the seriousness of the Registrant’s misconduct, this would be wholly inappropriate.

101. The Panel then considered whether to make a Caution Order. The Panel was mindful of its finding that the Registrant was likely to repeat his misconduct. Furthermore, these matters directly relate to the Registrant’s practice as a Social Worker. These matters are too serious for a caution order to be considered appropriate.

102. The Panel next considered the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel has found that the Registrant has not demonstrated insight into his misconduct. This was not a case where the Registrant’s skills are in question. These are matters involving attitudinal issues, which cannot be addressed by the imposition of conditions of practice.

103. Taking into account all of the above, the Panel concluded that conditions could not be formulated which would adequately address the risk posed by the Registrant, and in doing so protect members of the public from further acts of dishonesty on his part.

104. The Panel went on to consider whether a period of suspension would be appropriate in this case. A period of suspension would be appropriate if the Registrant had demonstrated insight into his misconduct such that there was not a significant risk of repetition, and also if there was no evidence of deep seated-personality or attitudinal problems.

105. Unfortunately, that is not the case here. The Registrant has not provided any evidence of insight or remorse.  The Registrant has breached a fundamental tenet of the profession and the Panel has determined that there is a significant risk of repetition of his misconduct.

106. In that light, the Panel determined that even the maximum period of suspension would neither serve to protect the public in the long term nor protect the wider public interest.

107. The Panel also took into consideration the fact that the Registrant has been subject to an Interim Suspension Order since 25 July 2016. Notwithstanding that fact, the Panel is satisfied that the only appropriate and proportionate response to protect the public and the wider public interest in these circumstances is to make a Striking-Off Order. The Registrant’s misconduct is so serious that it is no longer appropriate that he remains on the register.

Order

The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mr Robert Norman Simpson from the Register on the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

Interim Order

1. Following the pronouncement of the sanction of striking the Registrant’s name from the HCPC register, Ms Sheridan made an application for an Interim Suspension Order. She drew the Panel’s attention to the fact that the Registrant was put on notice that an Interim Order may by applied for in the event that a sanction of conditions of practice or higher is imposed upon the Registrant’s practice, to cover the 28 day appeal period. This was on the original notice of hearing for the substantive matter.

2. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

3. The Panel noted that the notice of hearing dated 3 July 2017 notified the Registrant that an Interim Order may be made. The Panel also noted that there has been a material change in circumstances; facts have been found proved, such facts amounted to misconduct and impairment, and the appropriate and proportionate sanction is the striking of the Registrant’s name from the HCPC register. The Panel balanced that, and the fact that the Registrant has not yet been notified of the sanction because of his voluntary absence from these proceedings, against the finding of the Panel that he remains a risk to the public, and also the fact that the Registrant has been subject to an Interim Suspension Order since 25 July 2016.

4. In these circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that it was appropriate and proportionate to proceed in the absence of the Registrant.

5. The Panel went on to consider the application for an Interim Suspension Order to cover the 28 day appeal period and any further period for such an appeal to be determined.

6. The Panel determined that an Interim Suspension Order is necessary in these circumstances and that such an order is proportionate. The Registrant continues to present a risk to members of the public. Further the public confidence in the regulatory process would be undermined if an order was not made in circumstances where a Panel determined that a registrant continues to present such a risk but takes no steps to protect the public.

7. The Panel makes an Interim Suspension Order under Article 31(2) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, the same being necessary to protect members of the public and being otherwise in the public interest. 

This order will expire: (if no appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) upon the expiry of the period during which such an appeal could be made; (if an appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) the final determination of that appeal, subject to a maximum period of 18 months.

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mr Robert Norman Simpson

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
23/10/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off