Mr Christopher Saville

: Social worker

: SW39909

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 14/12/2017 End: 17:00 15/12/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Struck off

Allegation

(as amended at the Final Hearing)

Whilst registered as a Social Worker you:

1. On or around 14 September 2015 were convicted of pursuing a course of conduct which amounted to the stalking of Person A.

2. By reason of the conviction described in paragraph 1, your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Service

1. The Panel found that the Notice of Hearing was sent to the Registrant on 15 September 2017 at his registered address and the Panel was satisfied there had been good service.

Application to attend by telephone

2. The Registrant was present by telephone and applied to attend the hearing by telephone. He said he could not attend in person and explained that he was in a hotel, having returned from holiday that morning. He said he needed to travel home and would be home in about one and a half hours, when he could attend by telephone.

3. Ms Eales told the Panel that a witness was present to give evidence and unless the Panel or the Registrant had questions, she would simply rely upon the Witness Statement and release the witness. However, the Registrant indicated he did want to ask the witness some questions.

4. The Panel took the Legal Assessor’s advice and bore in mind fairness and the interests of justice. The Panel, having balanced the interests of the Registrant and the HCPC and considered the public interest, decided to allow the Registrant to attend the hearing by telephone, it being fair and appropriate to do so.

Application to Amend the Allegation

5. Ms Eales applied to amend the Allegation on the basis that it incorrectly referred to the conviction date as 5 October 2015 when it was, in fact, on 14 September 2015 that the Registrant pled guilty and was convicted. The 5 October 2015 was the date of sentence. The Registrant made no comment.

6. The Panel, having accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and having considered the interests of justice, determined that the amendment be allowed. This amendment corrected an error as to the date of conviction, which was clearly stated as 14 September 2015 in the Memorandum of Conviction in the bundle. There was no prejudice to the Registrant in making that amendment.

Background

7. The Registrant is a registered Social Worker. He was convicted on 14 September 2015 of pursuing a course of conduct which amounted to stalking of Person A. He received a 30-day Community Order, requiring 150 hours of unpaid work. He was also subject to a Restraining Order until 4 October 2017. It is alleged by the HCPC that by reason of that conviction the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired.

8. The Panel heard from one witness, LT, a Probation Officer at the Civil Service Leeds. She referred the Registrant to the HCPC.

Witness 1 – LT

9. LT is a Probation Officer with the Civil Service in Leeds. She took the Oath and confirmed that her Witness Statement was signed by her and was true to the best of her knowledge and belief. Ms Eales asked no further questions of the witness.

10. The Registrant asked the witness about her pre-sentence report and it was confirmed by the witness she could not recall its contents. The Legal Assessor confirmed that the pre-sentence report was not before the Panel. The Registrant said he did not agree with parts of the Witness Statement. He was reminded that he was not entitled, nor were the Panel entitled, to go behind the conviction. He had no further questions for LT.

11. In response to Panel questions, LT told the Panel she had concerns, at the time of her interview with the Registrant, about the fact that the Registrant disclosed he was a Social Worker and that he had sought, to an extent, to portray the relationship with Person A as one of support. She was concerned about the repeated nature of the Registrant’s behaviour and the covert nature and planning of his conduct. She met the Registrant only once. LT said that the Registrant did not deny the conduct and did accept that some of his behaviours were wrong. The Registrant did not seem to understand the concern expressed by LT about the relevance of his Social Work role.

The Registrant

12. The Registrant affirmed and gave evidence. He told the Panel about his relationship with Person A. He has not worked as a Social Worker for around two years. He told the Panel that he now works in his own Fish and Chip shop business. He said he had been a good Social Worker. He said he was supporting Person A, who had difficulties. With hindsight, he said, he knew he was wrong to set up the fake Facebook account with a pseudonym. With hindsight he said Person A needed support.

13. The Registrant told Ms Eales that he wanted to return to Social Work and wanted to help people and he had loved the job. He said he had been kept informed about developments in social work through former work colleagues but he would need re-training. As regards the conviction, he said he had only “Facebook” stalked Person A. It only concerned stalking in the electronic sphere and he said this had not caused distress. He said it was totally wrong to have set up the Facebook account and he would not repeat it. He said public perception was difficult to assess but he had never threatened to hurt Person A.

14. In response to Panel questions, the Registrant said that when he told Person A about the pseudonym she may have been upset about that. As regards working with vulnerable people as a Social Worker, the Registrant said his behaviour was not acceptable and people might not trust him. He said his behaviour was not justified and would not be repeated. As to colleagues, the Registrant said he did not know what they may think about this conviction as everyone had a different perspective, but accepted that it was not good to have any sort of conviction as a Social Worker.

Closing Submissions

15. Ms Eales summarised the evidence and the HCPC’s position. She referred to the relevant case law and reminded the Panel of the terms of the conviction. She invited the Panel to find the conviction proved. She referred to the HCPTS Practice Note on “Conviction and Caution Allegations”. She reminded the Panel of the evidence from the Registrant and the witness, LT. She submitted that the Registrant had shown limited insight and had sought to justify his conduct.

The Registrant’s Closing Submissions

16. The Registrant said it was over two years since the incident and that was enough time to reflect on the impact of the conviction. He said he had not been in any trouble before. He said he did not believe he was unfit to practise and accepted he would need some re-training. He regretted his actions.

17. The Panel took the advice of the Legal Assessor and applied the relevant principles. He referred the Panel to the HCPTS Practice Notes on “Conviction and Caution Allegations” and on “Finding that Fitness to Practise is ‘Impaired’”. He referred the Panel to the guidance in CHRE v NMC & Grant [2011] EWHC 927 (Admin). He reminded the Panel that it may not go behind the conviction and stressed the central importance of the public interest, including the need to maintain public confidence in Social Workers and uphold proper standards.

Decision on Facts and Grounds

18. The Panel carefully considered the live evidence, the documents before it, the submissions from Ms Eales and the Registrant’s evidence and written submissions. The Panel found LT to be fair, credible and reliable. The Panel considered the relevant HCPTS Practice Notes and was mindful that it could not look behind the conviction.

Particular 1 – Proved

19. The Panel found Particular 1 proved given the terms of the certified copy Memorandum of Conviction from Leeds Magistrates Court.

Decision on Impairment

20. In considering its decision on impairment, the Panel was mindful that the purpose of these proceedings is not to punish the Registrant but to protect the public. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice and exercised its own professional judgement. The Panel considered the conviction is serious and was concerned by the covert and threatening element involved, which caused alarm and distress.

21. The Panel heard very little from the Registrant about any action taken by him to learn from, correct, or remediate his conduct. The Registrant continued to seek to justify his behaviour and did not properly consider the needs of Person A, but instead focused on the significance of his role in the relationship. The Panel noted the apparent vulnerability of Person A, as described by the Registrant, and was concerned that the Registrant, despite his knowledge as a Social Worker, did not refer Person A to appropriate professional help, but instead persisted in pursuing a relationship with Person A. The Panel were concerned that the Registrant had breached his bail conditions and had disguised himself in order to pursue Person A.

22. The Panel found that the Registrant showed very limited insight into his conduct. He did not seem able to meaningfully reflect and objectively consider his conduct. A fundamental tenet of social work is recognising and helping people to deal with abusive relationships. The Registrant appears to have failed to understand that he engaged in an abusive and persistent pattern of behaviour which is in conflict with the everyday work undertaken by social workers dealing with vulnerable service users. In these circumstances, the Panel determined that the Registrant presents a risk of repeating his conduct.

23. The Panel next considered the wider public interest. The Registrant did not appear to grasp the impact of his conviction on either his profession or on public confidence in Social Workers. He repeatedly sought to minimise the seriousness of the conviction by describing it as being confined to “Facebook stalking”. In the Panel’s view, this did not convey the seriousness of the course of conduct which underpinned the conviction or the distress caused to Person A. The Panel also considered that the Registrant has not fully reflected on the link between his conviction and the damage to the reputation of, and confidence in, his profession.

24. The Panel determined that the Registrant’s conviction is serious and breached fundamental tenets of his profession, namely trust and integrity, and is liable in the future to do so. He has breached the HCPC “Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics”. The Panel found that a finding of impairment is required in the public interest in order to maintain public confidence in Social Workers, to declare and uphold proper standards and to maintain public confidence in the regulator.

25. Accordingly, the Panel finds that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

Decision on Sanction

26. Ms Eales submitted that sanction was a matter for the Panel. It should act proportionately and have regard to the HCPC “Indicative Sanctions Policy”. She referred the Panel to paragraph 4 (purpose of sanction) and paragraph 16 (the approach to convictions) of the policy. Ms Eales submitted that it may be a mitigating factor that the Registrant pled guilty.

27. Ms Eales reminded the Panel of its earlier findings on impairment and the risk of repetition. She submitted that a Caution Order was not appropriate given that the Panel had found the conviction to be serious. She submitted that a Conditions of Practice Order was not appropriate as it was unlikely to be effective unless the Registrant was genuinely committed to resolving the issues identified and could be trusted to make effort to do so. She made submissions in respect of both Suspension Orders and Striking Off Orders and reminded the Panel that sanction was a matter for it.

28. The Registrant said he disagreed with aspects of the Panel’s decision on impairment. He had nothing further to add.

29. The Panel took advice from the Legal Assessor. He referred the Panel to the HCPC “Indicative Sanctions Policy” and reminded it to act fairly and proportionately and to apply the least restrictive sanction necessary to protect the public and the wider public interest.

30. In considering the appropriate sanction, the Panel had regard to its earlier findings. The Panel was mindful of the need to act proportionately and carefully considered the HCPC “Indicative Sanctions Policy”.

31. The Panel considered that the plea of guilty by the Registrant was a mitigating factor, as was the Registrant’s engagement with his Regulator. The serious lack of insight was an aggravating factor, as was the lack of remediation, the lack of remorse about the impact of his behaviour and the lack of understanding of the link between his behaviour and his role as a social worker.

32. In view of the seriousness of the case, to take no further action would not be appropriate. A Caution Order would not address the seriousness of the conviction or the risk of repetition identified. No further action or the imposition of a Caution Order would be not be sufficient to protect the public, to maintain confidence in the profession and the regulatory process, or to uphold and declare proper standards.

33. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel was told that the Registrant has not worked in social work for over two years. There was nothing to suggest he would be able to comply with conditions. In any event, there was very limited evidence of insight and no evidence of remediation. Conditions would not be sufficient or proportionate to protect the public, given the nature and gravity of the conviction. No conditions could properly address the Registrant’s behaviours which led to the conviction. Further, conditions would not protect the public interest and would fail to maintain public confidence in the profession and the Regulator. In all of these circumstances, the Panel could not formulate workable, realistic and proportionate Conditions of Practice.

34. The Panel next considered a Suspension Order. The Panel has found that the Registrant breached a fundamental tenet of his profession and the Panel has identified a risk of repetition. The Panel found the Registrant’s conviction was serious and involved a course of conduct and an element of deception in the use of an alias, which caused alarm and distress to Person A. The Panel has found that the Registrant has very limited insight and there was no evidence of remediation.

35. The Panel determined that, in these circumstances, public confidence would not be maintained by a Suspension Order. Such an order would not adequately address the continuing lack of insight into a serious criminal conviction and would not act as an effective deterrent given the nature and gravity of the offence.

36. The Registrant’s conviction resulted from a course of conduct causing alarm and distress. The Registrant’s behaviour which led to the conviction was premeditated, serious, reckless and deliberate. The use of an alias involved an element of deception. The Panel has serious concern that in over two years since the conviction, the Registrant has yet to develop meaningful insight and understanding of his behaviours. There was no evidence of remediation and the Registrant is still exhibiting an element of denial as to the gravity and nature of his conduct and conviction. The Panel determined that there is a serious and on-going risk to service users.

37. The Registrant has produced no evidence of any real commitment to returning to social work, such as voluntary or paid work in the care sector, completion of online courses, reading of journals, or keeping his social work knowledge up-to-date.

38. Service users, the public and colleagues have to be able to rely upon the integrity of social workers, especially where the service users are vulnerable. The Panel determined in all these circumstances, given the serious nature and the gravity of the convictions and its findings as to insight and remediation, that a Striking Off Order is the only proportionate and appropriate sanction. Striking Off will serve the wider public interest by declaring and upholding proper standards and acting as an appropriate deterrent. The Panel considered that any lesser sanction would undermine public confidence in the profession and the Regulator.

Order

That the Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mr Christopher Saville from the Register on the date this Order comes into effect.

Notes

No notes available

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mr Christopher Saville

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
14/12/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off