Mr Abdul Zaheer Khan

: Social worker

: SW28666

Interim Order: Imposed on 06 Apr 2017

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 15/01/2018 End: 17:00 15/01/2018

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Struck off

Allegation

On 08 March 2017, whilst registered as a Social Worker, you were convicted of:
1. One offence of ‘Rape’.
2. Six offences of ‘Indecency with a Child’.
3. Eleven offences of ‘Indecent Assault’.
4. By reason of your convictions, as set out in particulars 1 to 3, your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters:
Service
1. The Panel received information that the Notice of today’s hearing was sent to the Registrant’s registered address on 13 October 2017 by first class post. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and was satisfied that service had been effected in accordance with the Rules 3 and 6 of the HCPC (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003 (the 2003 Rules).
Proceeding in Absence
2. Mr Dite on behalf of the HCPC applied for the hearing to proceed today. He informed the Panel that the Registrant is incarcerated as a result of the convictions which are the subject of the Allegation to be heard today. The Panel heard information from the Hearings Officer that Notice of the hearing had been sent to the prison at which the Registrant was residing. Mr Dite also informed the Panel that the HCPC had contacted the Governor of the prison at which the Registrant is held in relation to the steps which the HCPC could take to communicate with the Registrant, and the final hearing bundle, as well as the earlier Notice of Hearing, had been sent to the Registrant “c/o” the prison Governor in November 2017.
3. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note entitled “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”. 
4. The Panel was of the view that fairness to the Registrant was of prime importance, and took into account that the Registrant is not represented today in his absence, and that there is likely to be a disadvantage to the Registrant in proceeding. However, the Panel also took into account the efforts of the HCPC to serve the Notice of hearing and the hearing bundle on the Registrant in prison as well as the fact that the Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC in respect of these proceedings. The Panel was of the view that the Registrant has voluntarily waived his right to participate in these proceedings and that an adjournment is unlikely to secure his participation in the future.
5. The Panel therefore decided that in the circumstances set out above, it was in the interests of justice and also in the public interest, including the need to protect the public, to deal with this hearing expeditiously, and therefore decided to proceed today.
Hearing partly in private:
6. Mr Dite on behalf of the HCPC applied for any reference to the nature of the Registrant’s relationship to the victim to be heard in private, in the sense of who she is, in order for the victim’s identity to be kept private. The Panel took account of the HCPTS Practice Note entitled “Conducting Hearings in Private” and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel allowed Mr Dite’s application, in order to protect the victim’s private life, including her identity, pursuant to 10(1)(a) of the 2003 Rules.
Exclusion of Material before the Panel 
7. The Legal Assessor referred to some material in the final hearing bundle, in the form of website articles about the Registrant and the Crown Court trial which were referred to as “Exhibits” in the bundle index. The Legal Assessor advised that this material should not have been before the Panel, that they are potentially prejudicial, and that the Panel should disregard them entirely in making its decisions today. Mr Dite agreed, and the Panel declared that they would disregard them.
Background:
8. The Registrant is a Social Worker registered with the HCPC.
9. On 8 March 2017 at Teeside Crown Court, the Registrant was convicted of one offence of rape, six offences of indecency with a child and eleven offences of indecent assault. He pleaded not guilty to all the offences but was convicted by a jury. On 31 March 2017 the Registrant was sentenced to a total of 14 years imprisonment and ordered to sign the sex offenders register indefinitely.
Decision on the Facts:
10. The Panel heard the submissions of Mr Dite, read his written submissions, along with the HCPT’s Practice Note on ‘Conviction and Caution Allegations’ and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel had before it an unredacted signed copy of the Certificate of Conviction dated 28 July 2017 from Teeside Crown Court, showing the convictions on 8 March 2017.  The Panel also had before it the Judge’s Sentencing Remarks on 31 March 2017.
11. The copy of the Certificate of Conviction shows the convictions and sentence for all 18 counts on the indictment. The Panel accepted that this is proof of the convictions and the findings of fact upon which they were based, pursuant to Rule 10(1)(d) of the 2003 Rules.
12. The Panel therefore found Particulars 1-3 of the Allegation proved.
Decision on Impairment:
13. The Panel heard and read the submissions of Mr Dite, read the HCPTS Practice Note entitled “Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired” and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel is aware that the matter of current impairment is one for its own independent judgment.
14. The Panel took into account the Certificate of Conviction as well as the Judge’s Sentencing Remarks. Between 1997 and 2004 the Registrant sexually abused the victim, beginning when she was 9 years old. The incident of rape occurred when she was 14 years old. This was a prolonged course of serious attacks against a child, following which the Registrant received a lengthy sentence of imprisonment and was ordered to sign the sex offenders register indefinitely.
15. The Registrant has not engaged in these proceedings. However, the Panel has noted that, after he was convicted by a jury of all 18 counts on the indictment, which are referred to in Particular 1-3 of the Allegation, the Sentencing Judge commented that “there’s no flicker of any remorse”. The Judge also referred to the “degree of planning” by the Registrant, and the complainant’s “age at the time and vulnerability”.
16. The Panel has noted from the Certificate of Conviction that as the victim became older, the serious offending against her escalated.
17. The Panel took into account the case of CHRE v (1) NMC and (2) Grant [2011] EWHC 927 and was of the view that as a result of the nature of the offending which occurred while he was a registered Social Worker, the Registrant had in the past posed an unwarranted risk of harm to service users. Further, he brought the profession into disrepute. It is clear to the Panel that he breached fundamental tenets of the profession which did exist at the time of his offending, namely to keep high standards of personal conduct. A breach of such a standard can clearly damage public trust and confidence in the profession. For example:
Standard 9.1 of the HCPC’s Standards of conduct, performance and ethics (2016) states that:
‘You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession.’
18. In light of the lack of any evidence of insight or remorse, the prolonged nature of the offending, and due to its nature and seriousness, the Panel is of the view that the risk of repetition of similar behaviour is high. The Panel is therefore of the view that the Registrant has in the past and is liable in the future to put service users at unwarranted risk of harm, to bring the profession into disrepute, and to breach fundamental tenets.
19. The Panel was also strongly of the view that the wider public interest is engaged in this case. The Registrant sexually abused a child for whom he had a responsibility and over a number of years. Such behaviour flies against the trust and confidence placed in Social Workers. He is currently serving a sentence of imprisonment for the 18 convictions which he has received and is ordered to be on the sex offenders register indefinitely. The Panel therefore decided that the need to uphold proper professional standards and public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in the particular circumstances.
20. The Panel therefore found the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.
Decision on Sanction:
21. The Panel heard the submissions of Mr Dite, read the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP), and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was aware that the aim of sanction is not to be punitive. Rather, the aim is to uphold the public interest, which includes protection of the public. Sanction is a matter for the independent judgment of the Panel. The Panel took into account the principle of proportionality in coming to its decision on sanction.
22. The Panel identified the following mitigating factor:
i. the Registrant is of previous good character with no previous regulatory findings against him.
23. The Panel identified the following aggravating factors:
i. the duration of the offending over several years;
ii. the age of the victim;
iii. the Registrant’s lack of remorse or insight;
iv. the long-term serious impact on the victim’s emotional well-being.
24. The Panel first considered taking no action and concluded that this would not address the risk to the public that exists in this case in that it would leave the Registrant’s practice unrestricted. Nor would it be sufficient to address the wider public interest concerns. The Panel decided that Mediation would not be appropriate in the light of the circumstances and seriousness of the case, and the effect of the offending on the victim. The Panel also considered and discounted a Caution Order for the same reasons as taking no further action.
25. In considering no further action, Mediation and Caution, the Panel noted para. 17 of the ISP which states that:
“Where a registrant who has been convicted of a serious criminal offence and is still serving a sentence at the time the matter comes before a Panel, normally the Panel should not permit the registrant to resume unrestricted practice until that sentence has been satisfactorily completed.” 

26. Further, in respect of sex offender notification, ISP states as follows:
“Similar consideration needs to be given to any notification requirement under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Although inclusion on the sex offenders’ database is not a punishment, it is intended to secure public protection from those who have committed certain types of offences. Generally, Panels should regard it as incompatible with HCPC’s obligation to protect the public to allow a registrant to remain in or return to unrestricted practice whilst subject to a notification requirement as a sex offender.”
27. The Panel then considered a Conditions of Practice Order but concluded that this would not be appropriate or proportionate. Firstly, the Registrant is currently serving a 14 year custodial sentence which he began in March 2017. He is not therefore available to remain in employment subject to conditions. Secondly, in any event, the Panel was unable to formulate any conditions which would address the offending in question, which would, in the view of the Panel, have a significant bearing on his professional integrity. Thirdly, the offending is too serious for conditions to be an appropriate and proportionate disposal.
28. The Panel then considered a Suspension Order. The Panel was of the view that the Registrant’s offending was too serious in nature for a Suspension Order to be proportionate. This, coupled with the lack of evidence of any insight or remorse on the Registrant’s part meant that the Panel came to the conclusion that a Suspension Order would undermine public confidence in the Social Work profession and the regulatory process.
29. The Panel therefore concluded that the only sanction proportionate to the seriousness and nature of the offending is a Striking Off Order. The Registrant’s offending against a child for whom he was responsible strikes at the heart of the trust and confidence placed in a Social Worker who is responsible for safeguarding the welfare of the most vulnerable people in society. The Registrant sexually abused a child persistently in a planned and deliberate manner over several years. He must remain on the sex offender register indefinitely in order to protect the public. The Panel is of the view that no other sanction can protect the public from a Registrant who has shown no remorse or insight.
30. The Registrant is incarcerated as a result of his 18 convictions in relation to the sexual abuse against a child for whom he was responsible, and for whom the abuse has had a profound and lasting adverse impact. The Registrant’s offending strikes at the heart of the trust placed in a Social Worker who cares for the most vulnerable in society. It is for these reasons that the Panel is of the view that a Striking Off Order is required in order to maintain public confidence in the profession and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour.
31. The Panel took into account the principle of proportionality, but taking into account the factors set out above, the Panel was satisfied that a Striking Off order is the only proportionate sanction in the circumstances.
32. The Panel therefore decided to impose a Striking Off Order.

Order

That the Registrar is directed to strike the name of Abdul Zaheer Khan from the Register on the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

Right of Appeal:
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.  The Panel’s order will not take effect until the appeal period has expired or, if you appeal, until that appeal is disposed of or withdrawn.

Interim Order Application:
Proceeding in absence
1. Mr Dite requested that the Panel hear an application for an interim order in the absence of the Registrant. He reminded the Panel that the final hearing bundle had been sent to the Registrant in prison, in November 2017, which included a copy of the Notice of the substantive hearing. Mr Dite highlighted that the Notice of hearing included information that an interim order may be applied for today and therefore the Registrant had advance notice of such an application. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
2. The Panel reminded itself of, and adopted the reasons for its decision to proceed in absence at the beginning of the hearing.  In particular, it noted that the Notice of Hearing, which is included in the final hearing bundle, was sent to the Registrant in prison in November 2017 and included a clear indication that an interim order may be applied for by the HCPC to cover the appeal period. The Panel therefore decided that it would be fair, and in the interests of justice to hear the application for an interim order in the absence of the Registrant. It would also be in the public interest to deal expeditiously with the application following the conclusion of the Panel’s decision on sanction.
3. The Panel therefore decided to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.
Interim Order Decision:
4. The Panel considered whether or not to impose an interim order to cover the appeal period. The Panel heard the submissions of Mr Dite who applied for an interim suspension order to cover the appeal period, on the grounds that it is necessary for the protection of the public and is otherwise in the public interest . The Panel read the HCPTS Practice Note entitled “Interim Orders”, and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was aware that it may only impose an interim order if it is satisfied that it is necessary for the protection of the public, is otherwise in the public interest or is in the interests of the Registrant.
5. The Panel considered whether an interim order is necessary for the protection of the public, and concluded that it is. The Panel took into account the reasons for its decision on impairment and sanction, particularly on the risks to the public as a result of the Registrant’s systematic and persistent sexual abuse of a child which led to his convictions.
6. In light of the serious convictions the Registrant has received, the 14 year custodial sentence which he began in March 2017 and that he must remain on the sex offenders register indefinitely, the Panel was of the view that an interim order is also in the public interest to maintain confidence in the profession and to uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour.
7. The Panel then considered the kind of interim order to impose, and concluded that conditions were not appropriate or proportionate for the same reasons as set out in its decision on sanction. The Panel therefore decided to impose an interim suspension order as this would be the only interim order which would protect the public as well as uphold the wider public interest.
8. In coming to its decision to impose an interim suspension order, the Panel took into account the principle of proportionality, as it has done in its decision on sanction. In light of the risks to the public set out in its decision on impairment and sanction, the primary need to protect the public, as well as the need to uphold the public interest led the Panel to conclude that an interim suspension order is proportionate.
9. The Panel decided to impose an interim suspension order for a period of 18 months to allow any appeal to be heard and concluded.

Interim Order:
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 Abdul Zaheer Khan

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
15/01/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off