Mr Colin Henry Hill

: Social worker

: SW27373

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 11/01/2018 End: 17:00 12/01/2018

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Conditions of Practice

Allegation

During the course of your employment as a Social Worker at Birmingham City Council:

1. On 2 February 2015, you used racist language towards Person A, in that you stated Person A was “a house ******”, or words to that effect.

2. The matters set out in paragraph 1 constitute misconduct.

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

Finding

Preliminary matters

Notice of Hearing

1. The Panel found that there had been good service of the Notice of Hearing by a letter dated 11 October 2017, which informed the Registrant of the date, time and venue of the hearing.

Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant

2. Ms Hastie made an application for the hearing to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. She told the Panel that there has been no contact from the Registrant with the HCPC since December 2016. The hearing bundle was sent to the Registrant on 23 November 2017, but was returned to the office of Kingsley Napley because it was not collected by the Registrant. The Registrant did not respond to further correspondence from Kingsley Napley by letter and e-mail asking him to make contact so that arrangements could be made to send the bundle to him.

3. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and applied the guidance in the HCPTS Practice Note “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”.

4. The Panel considered the circumstances of the Registrant’s absence. He did not respond to correspondence relating to this hearing and he did not collect the hearing bundle, despite the obligation on him to engage with the HCPC. The Panel concluded that his absence was voluntary and that there was little prospect that he would attend a hearing at a later date if this hearing were adjourned. The Panel identified that there was potentially a disadvantage to the Registrant in not attending the hearing. However, the Panel decided that the Registrant’s interests were outweighed by the public interest. The Panel identified very strong public interest grounds for proceeding with the hearing. The allegation involved an event in early 2015, nearly three years ago. It was in the public interest that the case should be concluded expeditiously. A witness was present and ready to give evidence. The Panel therefore decided to proceed with the hearing in the absence of the Registrant.

Registrant’s representations

5. Ms Hastie informed the Panel that in December 2016 the Registrant provided the HCPC with submissions for the consideration of the Investigating Committee. However, he did not respond to correspondence asking him whether he wished the Final Hearing Panel to see a copy of his representations. Ms Hastie submitted that it would be beneficial for the Panel to consider the Registrant’s written submissions.

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

7. The Panel decided to receive and read the Registrant’s submissions. The Panel considered the possibility that there might be material in the submissions that was prejudicial to the Registrant. The Panel decided that it would not be unfair to the Registrant for the Panel to read the document. The Panel would give the document the weight it considered appropriate in all the circumstances.

Background

8. The Registrant was employed as a Youth Offending Case Manager in the Youth Offending Service at Birmingham City Council. The Registrant transferred to the Youth Offending Service - Intensive Surveillance and Supervision Team (ISS) in or around the end 2014/ beginning 2015. On or around 26 January 2015 Person A returned from a period of sickness absence and became the Registrant’s line manager. The allegation is that on 2 February 2015 the Registrant made a racist remark towards Person A. On the same day Person A sent an e-mail to two service managers in which he set out the alleged remark and details of the incident.

9. An investigation was carried out into the alleged racist comment, which included an interview with Person A by GS on 10 March 2015 and an interview with the Registrant on 7 April 2015.

Decision on Facts

10. The Panel heard evidence from Person A. The Panel found the evidence of Person A was credible and reliable. Person A’s oral evidence was consistent with the written account that he gave at the time of the incident in the e-mail dated 2 February 2015 and with the notes of his interview dated 10 March 2015. Person A gave his evidence in a measured way. There was no history of animosity between Person A and the Registrant, and the Panel did not detect any animosity towards the Registrant in the way in which Person A gave his evidence.

11. The Panel carefully read the written submissions of the Registrant received by the HCPC on 16 December 2016. The Panel noted that the Registrant did not deny that he made the specified remark to Person A. He apologised and expressed his remorse. He described the incident as a “momentary indiscretion”. The Registrant explained the context of his remark and provided documents in support. His perception was that he had been persistently unfairly treated by previous managers and subjected to harassment and bullying at work. He stated that his reaction was an inappropriate response to the “build up of pressure and stress” and that he acted under the belief, at that time, that Person A was also “out to get me” as he perceived other managers had been.

12. The Panel noted that in his interview with GS the Registrant accepted that he used the words “house *****” to Person A. He denied that he said “you are a house *****”; instead his account on 7 April 2015 was that he said “don’t be a house *****”. The Panel did not need to resolve this conflict because if considers that if the Registrant had used the expression “don’t be a house *****”, this was the use of racist language with words to the effect that Person A could be “a house *****”.

13. The Panel found particular 1 proved by the evidence of Person A and the documentary evidence including the acceptance of what had occurred as set out in the Registrant’s representations to the Investigating Committee.

Decision on Statutory Grounds

14. The question of whether the proven facts constitute misconduct is for the judgment of the Panel and there is no burden or standard of proof.

15. There is no statutory definition of misconduct, but the Panel had regard to the guidance of Lord Clyde in Roylance v GMC (No2) [2001] 1 AC 311: “Misconduct is a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. The standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required to be followed by a …practitioner in the particular circumstances…”. The conduct must be serious in that it falls well below the required standards.

16. In reaching its conclusion that the proven fact constituted misconduct the Panel considered the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (the Standards). The Panel considered that the Registrant’s actions and failures breached Standard 3 which required the Registrant to maintain high standards of personal conduct.

17. The Panel did not consider that there was any substantial difference in gravity between the racist remark “you are a house *****” and the racist remark “don’t be a house *****”. Both expressions use the same entirely unacceptable racist language.

18. The Panel considered carefully the context in which the racist language was used. The Panel accepted that the Registrant made the racist remark because his thought process was affected by his grievances against previous managers and his feeling of unfairness and injustice, but decided that this did not excuse or reduce the gravity of his conduct. The Registrant accepted in his written submissions to the Investigating Committee that the context was not an excuse. In the Panel’s view there are no circumstances which would excuse the use of such language. Furthermore, there was nothing to suggest that Person A had any part in the chain of events which led to the Registrant’s perception that he had been treated unfairly.

19. Person A was deeply offended by the remark made by the Registrant. His initial reaction was one of shock and disbelief. This was followed by anger, which he controlled, and this was followed by a feeling of profound disappointment and offence. Person A explained that he had been subject to such remarks on only three occasions in his life and that the language used by the Registrant brought back painful memories. Person A also explained the meaning of the expression “house *****” as a targeted insult rather than a throw away remark. It implied and was intended to imply that Person A was close to and associating himself with the oppressors, the oppressors in this context being the Registrant’s previous managers.

20. In the Panel’s judgment, the racist language used by the Registrant was deplorable. It would be regarded as deplorable by Social Workers and by members of the public. In the Panel’s judgment, the Registrant’s conduct fell well below the standards for Social Workers and was sufficiently serious to constitute misconduct.

Decision on Impairment

21. The Panel applied the guidance in the HCPTS Practice Note “Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired” and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel considered the Registrant’s fitness to practise at today’s date.

22. The Panel first considered the personal component, which is the Registrant’s current behaviour. The Registrant initially denied that he made a racist remark when he was first challenged by Person A. He then accepted that he had made a remark when he was interviewed in April 2015, but he did not clearly accept that it was a racist remark. In his written representations to the Investigating Committee in December 2016 the Registrant’s position was dramatically different. His written account demonstrates critical reflection. He states that: “the language used towards Person A was not only hurtful, it was inappropriate and unacceptable, especially in a professional context”. He states that he welcomes this opportunity to critically reflect on what occurred on that unfortunate day and take responsibility for my inappropriate and unprofessional conduct”. The Registrant expresses remorse, states that his conduct was wrong, and asks that he be given an opportunity to write a letter of apology to Person A. 

23. Although the Panel welcomed the Registrant’s written submissions as positive, the Panel had reservations. The Panel has not heard from the Registrant and therefore has not had the opportunity to assess whether the insight which appears to be demonstrated in his written representations is genuine and thoroughly embedded in his thought processes, so that he would respond differently if faced with a similar stressful situation. The Panel did not have the opportunity to explore with the Registrant his statement that he did not have an opportunity to apologise to Person A at the time of the incident. There were several opportunities to apologise which the Registrant might have taken, as Person A explained to the Panel.

24. The Registrant has not provided an up to date submission for this hearing to confirm his current position in relation to the allegation or his current employment. In his December 2016 written submissions he states that he has been employed in several different posts and that there has been no concern about his conduct. However, there is no independent evidence from employers to confirm current satisfactory conduct, and no information about the Registrant’s current employment.

25. The Panel concluded that there remained a residual risk of repetition of misconduct. The Panel did not consider that the risk was high, but identified that there was some likelihood of repetition.

26. The Panel therefore found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on the basis of the personal component.

27. The Panel next considered the public component. This involves consideration of the wider public interest considerations including the need to protect service users, uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour and to maintain confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. The Panel concluded that there was no suggestion of any risk to service users resulting from this incident.

28. The Panel decided that the Registrant’s conduct brought the profession into disrepute. The use of racist language is completely unacceptable for all professionals. It is not the behaviour that would be expected of a Social Worker. Social Workers work with client groups from diverse backgrounds and they must be extremely careful in the language they use. The Registrant worked with young offenders. If this client group was aware of the language used by the Registrant it would undermine their confidence in him and in the social work profession.

29. The Panel also considered that the Registrant’s breach of standard 3 of the Standards was serious and a breach of a fundamental tenet of the profession. There can be no excuse for the use of racist language. Although this was an isolated incident, it was a targeted insult and in a professional context. The extent of the departure from the expected standard was so serious that the Panel would not be upholding the Standards if it did not make a finding of current impairment.

30. The Panel has also identified a residual risk of repetition of similar misconduct. In these circumstances, an informed member of the public would not expect the Panel to conclude that the Registrant should be free to practise without restriction.

31. The Panel decided that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on the basis of the public component.  

Decision on Sanction

32. In reaching its decision on sanction, the Panel has considered all the evidence and information before it together with the submissions from Ms Hastie, and those of the Registrant. It had well in mind the Council’s Indicative Sanction’s Policy, it has accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

33. The Panel has found the aggravating feature to be that this was a targeted racist insult for which no apology was made at the time.

34. Mitigating features were that at the time of this incident the Registrant was agitated by a period of dissatisfaction at his employment. He had not asked to be transferred to the new team and role; he wanted clarity about his position and a proper induction course. He felt that he was being unjustly treated by managers, albeit not by Person A. Further, Person A said in his evidence that the Registrant’s conduct on that occasion was out of character.

35. The Panel has found that in the absence of a timely apology and a lack of engagement with the HCPC process there remains some risk of repetition because there is nothing to indicate an adequate level of remediation.   

36. The Panel first considered whether to take no action but in the light of risk of repetition, it concluded that would be insufficient to address the public interest. Misconduct of this nature, in these circumstances, requires a sanction.

37. The Panel then considered a caution order but this too would be insufficient as a sanction; it would not demonstrate to the public the serious nature, of the misconduct found proved. Furthermore, it would be insufficient to address the risk of repetition.

38. The Panel next considered conditions of practice. It concluded that appropriate conditions could be formulated, sufficient to address the public interest.

39. The Panel did consider a suspension order but concluded that this would be disproportionate in the light of the fact this was an isolated incident and that there had been no previous matters of this nature.

40. The period of 6 months will enable the Registrant to reflect fully upon his misconduct when preparing his reflective piece.

41. At any review the reviewing panel would doubtless be assisted by the Registrant’s attendance and by information about his current employment status.

Order

The Registrar is directed to annotate the HCPC Register to show that for a period of 6 months from the date that this Order takes effect you, Mr Colin Henry Hill must comply with the following conditions of practice:

1. You must inform the HCPC of any employment you undertake as a social worker within 14 days of beginning such employment.

2. You must promptly inform the HCPC of any disciplinary proceedings taken against you by your employer.

3. You must before any review of this order send to the HCPC a reflective account addressing:

• the potential effect of your actions on the recipient of a targeted racist remark

• how your behaviour could affect the public perception of the social work profession, including the effect on service users.

• how you breached the principles of Dignity at Work and what steps you would take to avoid a recurrence.

This reflective piece is not an opportunity for you to reassert your grievances against former managers but to address the matters set under this condition.

4. You must inform the following parties that your registration is subject to these conditions:

A.  any organisation or person employing or contracting with you to undertake professional work;

B.  any agency you are registered with or apply to be registered with (at the time of application); and

C.  any prospective employer (at the time of your application).

 

Notes

No notes available

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mr Colin Henry Hill

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
28/06/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended
11/01/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Conditions of Practice