On 05/06/2020 at the Crown Court at Cardiff were sentenced for the following offences for which you had been found guilty upon your own confession on 17/04/2020:
1. That between the dates of 31/07/2017 to 01/09/2017 you obtained a credit card in the name of I.T. committing fraud by false representation contrary to The Fraud Act 2006.
2. That between the dates of 31/07/2017 and 03/05/2018 you used the credit card in the name of I.T. committing fraud by false representation contrary to The Fraud Act 2006.
3. That between the dates of 30/10/2016 and 03/05/2018 you committed theft from the person in particular I.T. to the amount of £3,502.00 contrary to The Theft Act 1968.
4. That between the dates of you 30/06/2018 - 01/10/2018 committed theft from the person in particular J.M. to the amount of £5,460.00 contrary to The Theft Act 1968.
5. That between the dates of you 31/03/2017 - 01/12/2018 committed theft from the person in particular M.G. to the amount of approximately £16,098.00 contrary to The Theft Act 1968.
6. That between the dates of you 31/05/2014 - 24/11/2018 committed theft from the person in particular E.C. to the amount of £6,000 contrary to The Theft Act 1968.
7. That between the dates of 31/12/2012 - 01/01/2018 you committed theft from the person in particular M.J. to the amount of approximately £4,500 contrary to The Theft Act 1968.
8. That between the dates of 04/02/2016 - 05/07/2017 you made fraudulent book entries in particular to M.J which is a
false accounting error contrary to Section 17(1)(a) of the Theft Act 1968.
9. In respect of each of the offences referred to in in 1-8 above, you were sentenced to 18 months imprisonment suspended for 24 months.
And your fitness to practise is impaired by reason of your convictions for the offences referred to in 1-8
Decision on facts
As this is a streamlined Fitness to Practise hearing, no live evidence was called. Beyond the making and determining of the preliminary matters we have referred to above, there was no Social Care Wales Presenting Officer present. As noted above, Ms Hughes was neither present nor represented. This is, therefore, a consideration of the case on the papers alone. We have carefully considered the documentation in the hearing bundle and have accepted the legal advice provided.
We recognise that it is open to us, at any stage, to direct that the streamlined process is no longer suitable. We have not considered it necessary to do so in this case.
We find the facts of all Charges proved.
Our reasons are as follows.
The background to this case can be shortly summarised. On the 7 October 2011, Ms Hughes was registered with the Care Council for Wales (as Social Care Wales was then known) as an Adult Care Home Manager. At the relevant time, she was employed in that capacity at a Care Home in Newport (“the Home”).
On the 18 December 2018, one of the Directors of the Home notified Social Care Wales that Ms Hughes had resigned her position on the 29 November 2018, having been suspended earlier that month following concerns being raised about financial management in the Home and allegations of theft from residents at the Home. Ms Hughes was subsequently charged with, and convicted of, the offences which now appear in Charges 1-8, and was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, suspended for 24 months.
We have had sight of two separate Certificates of Conviction. The first relates to Charges 1-7 inclusive (fraud by false representation and theft) and the second relates to Charge 8 (false accounting). We are satisfied, on the evidence before us, that these are Certificates that relate to the matters now alleged against Ms Hughes. We have taken into account the legal advice given that Regulation 20(3) of the Social Care Wales (Proceedings before Panels) Regulations 2016 provides that a certificate of conviction from any UK criminal court is conclusive evidence of the commission of the offence(s) specified on the Certificate. We therefore find the facts of Charges 1-8 proved.
As to Charge 9, which relates to the sentence imposed by the Crown Court, we have considered the Certificates of Conviction, which record the sentence passed, and we have also considered the transcript of the sentencing remarks of His Honour Judge Daniel Williams. We are satisfied, on the material before us, that Ms. Hughes was sentenced to a total of 18 months’ imprisonment, suspended for 24 months.
Decision on impairment
We have again considered the information before us and accepted the legal advice provided. We have had regard to the relevant edition of the Code of Professional Practice for Social Care.
We have concluded that Ms Hughes’ fitness to practise is impaired by reason of her criminal conviction.
Our reasons are as follows.
We have considered the issue of fitness to practise in two stages. First, we considered the question of whether one (or more) of the six grounds of impairment was present. This is a case where it is alleged that Ms Hughes’ fitness to practise is impaired by reason of her criminal conviction.
In our decision on facts, we have found proved, to the requisite standard, that Ms Hughes has the convictions referred to in Charges 1-8, and that she was sentenced as provided for in Charge 9. This is sufficient for us to conclude that a ground of impairment, namely a criminal conviction, is established.
Next, we considered whether Ms Hughes’ fitness to practise is currently impaired. In this respect, we reminded ourselves that our finding that the relevant ground of impairment is made out does not automatically mean that Ms Hughes’ fitness to practise is currently impaired. We considered whether the matters giving rise to the convictions were an isolated event. In our view, they are not; rather, they represent a pattern of improper conduct spanning more than two years. In this respect, we remind ourselves of the way the sentencing judge set out the offending:
“You stole from five of the residents over a period of many years. Relatives of the residents would bring in cash to pay for haircuts, chiropody, and the like. You pocketed personal allowances given to you by relatives of the residents. You used debit and credit cards belonging to the residents to carry out transactions which were carried out when they were too ill to have carried them out themselves.”
We also remind ourselves that, in addition to using cards entrusted to her, in one case Ms Hughes went so far as to apply for a credit card fraudulently in a resident’s name, and went on to us it for her own benefit. Some of these residents, as well as being frail, had additional learning needs. With the residents’ debit cards, she withdrew significant sums from cash machines, again applying them for her own expenditure. Residents’ personal allowance documentation was forged by Ms Hughes to disguise her offending. The behaviour found proved is both exploitative and abusive, and there is direct evidence of both financial and emotional harm being caused to residents and their families.
Our findings (and the commission of the offences themselves) are such that there has been, in our view, a very significant departure from the provisions of the Code of Professional Practice for Social Care, with breaches of Parts 2, 3, 5 and 6. We find that the conduct breaches Parts 2.1, 3.1, 3.4, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, and 6.1 of the Code. We are further satisfied that, because of these breaches, which include fundamental tenets of the profession, Ms Hughes’ conduct calls into question her suitability to work in the social care profession (Code 5.8).
We then considered whether the conduct that we have found proved was capable of being remediated. In this respect, we have considered the mitigation that was advanced on Ms Hughes’ behalf in the Crown Court, which is set out in the sentencing remarks of HHJ Williams. Even taking that mitigation at its highest, we have significant reservations about whether the conduct that led to Ms Hughes’ convictions is capable of remediation. She has not attended this hearing; this leaves us without any evidence from her on this issue. She has indicated that it is not her intention to return to social care practice; consequently, there is no evidence before us that Ms Hughes has reflected on how her conduct fell significantly short of the standard expected, nor how she has (or would) take measures to guard against the risk of behaving in a similar way in future. There is evidence to suggest that Ms Hughes is capable of being manipulated to others’ own ends, and in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, there is a real and tangible risk that Ms Hughes is susceptible to manipulation by others in the future. Ms Hughes does, therefore, present a current risk to individuals using or accessing services, and there is a particular risk of the direct financial abuse of vulnerable individuals.
Whilst dishonesty is not specifically pleaded in the charges that we must consider, it is an essential ingredient of the charges for which Ms Hughes has been convicted. Dishonesty is difficult but not impossible to remedy. In Ms Hughes’ case, however, there is no evidence before us that would allow us to conclude that this can be achieved. The convictions recorded against her mean that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, her integrity cannot be relied upon.
There is no evidence of any insight before us, nor is there evidence of Ms Hughes taking any steps to remedy the actions which led to the breaches of the Code that we have identified. She has not attended this hearing, and so we have not heard any direct evidence from her in this respect. Consequently, we are unable to say that circumstances such as these would not arise again in the future, regardless of Ms Hughes’ current intention not to practise in the social care field.
We also consider that public confidence in social care would be undermined if a finding of impairment was not made in this case.
Taking all these matters into account, we have concluded that Ms Hughes’ fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of her criminal conviction.
Decision on disposal
In reaching our decision, we have had regard to the Indicative Disposals Guidance. We have reviewed the range of disposals available to us and exercised our own judgement. We have accepted the legal advice provided.
We have decided that it is necessary and proportionate to impose a Removal Order.
In considering the appropriate disposal, we had regard to the mitigating and aggravating features of this case. We do not have any submissions or representations from Ms Hughes. From our consideration of the material before us, we have identified the following aggravating features.
The most obvious is the significant breach of trust. Ms Hughes misappropriated very significant sums of money over the course of many years and used that money as though it were her own. Vulnerable residents were callously and calculatedly taken advantage of by the individual they ought to be able to trust the most, and to whose charge their welfare had been entrusted. It is difficult to conceive of a more significant breach of trust.
Dishonesty is an essential ingredient of each of the offences for which Ms Hughes was convicted. Her conduct required planning and premeditation, and there is evidence of concealment of wrongdoing, by forging residents’ personal allowance expenditure. There is evidence of actual harm that is not limited to financial harm; residents and their families were said to be distressed upon being told of Ms Hughes’ actions.
There is an absence of any expression of regret or remorse in these proceedings. There is, therefore, a palpable lack of insight which, on the evidence before us, continues to this day. We also bear in mind that Ms Hughes did not attend this hearing. There is, to this extent, a lack of co-operation with Social Care Wales’ investigation.
Moreover, there has been, in our judgement, a serious departure from the Code of Professional Practice for Social Care (to which we have already referred), and Ms Hughes’ misconduct has unquestionably undermined public confidence in the social care profession.
We have found it difficult to identify any properly arguable mitigating factors, aside from the fact that Ms Hughes pleaded guilty to the offences with which she was charged. We recognise that, at the material time, Ms Hughes may have been in a relationship with an individual who cannot be fairly described as anything other than a conman, and appeared to have been taken in by him and his promises of a better life. We note from the judge’s sentencing remarks that Ms Hughes has a family member with vulnerabilities, which appeared to have some bearing on the suspension of the custodial sentence imposed on her. In these proceedings, however, that is counterbalanced by the fact that her personal experience of having a family member with vulnerabilities ought to have given her a still clearer understanding of the trust that such vulnerable individuals place in those responsible for their care.
In determining the appropriate disposal, we first considered whether to close the matter without taking any action. In view of the seriousness of the findings we have made, and the risk of harm we feel to be present in Ms Hughes’ case, we did not consider that this was appropriate. This would be a wholly insufficient response to the matters we have found proved.
Next, we considered whether to impose a Warning. We had regard to the Indicative Disposals Guidance, which provides that a Warning may be appropriate where a Registered Person has admitted the facts and impairment, there is evidence of insight and remorse, and where evidence has been provided of remedial action taken by a Registered Person. The Guidance also suggests that a warning may be an appropriate disposal where there is evidence that the impairment found is capable of being remedied, and where it has been shown that the Registered Person concerned is keen to improve and avoid such action or behaviour in the future. None of these features are present in Ms Hughes’s case. Additionally, such a disposal would not, in our view, adequately reflect the seriousness of the matters we have found proved. We therefore concluded that a Warning is not an appropriate disposal in this case.
We then considered whether a Conditional Registration Order was appropriate. The Indicative Disposals Guidance provides that this might be an appropriate disposal if Ms Hughes had demonstrated insight, and where there was potential for her to respond positively to remediation or retraining. These are not features of her case. There is no evidence before us of any employer being prepared to engage Ms Hughes subject to conditions. Even if this was the case, we bear in mind our findings, and that Ms Hughes poses a risk to individuals using services. We cannot formulate a set of conditions that would adequately address the level of risk that we have found to be present in this case. Quite apart from this, a Conditional Registration Order would not be an adequate disposal in this case; we feel that the public interest requires a more significant disposal.
We then considered whether to impose a Suspension Order. The Indicative Disposals Guidance provides that this may be an appropriate disposal where there has been an acknowledgement of failings, or there is evidence before us of insight. Neither features in this case. We also recognise that a Suspension Order is appropriate where a panel is satisfied that the behaviour found proved is unlikely to be repeated. In our judgment, we cannot be confident on the evidence before us that this applies in Ms Hughes’s case. This is because there is no evidence of reflection or insight before us, and Ms Hughes has not attended this hearing to assist our consideration of her case. We are therefore without any information about how she would behave differently in future, or what measures she has, or will, put in place to ensure that matters such as those found proved would not re-occur. Whilst suspension would remove Ms Hughes from the register for an initial period of up to 12 months, it is legitimate for us to ask ourselves what such a disposal would achieve in this case. We are doubtful that, during the suspension period, Ms Hughes would undertake any reflection or be able to demonstrate any insight. We have therefore concluded that a Suspension Order would not be appropriate.
We have therefore decided that, on the evidence before us, only a Removal Order will be adequate. This is because, in our judgement, there has been a serious departure from the relevant standards set out in the Code. We do not consider that any lesser disposal would protect the public, given the lack of insight and remediation to which we have already referred, and the dishonesty that features in each of the charges faced by Ms Hughes. We have specifically considered the section in the Indicative Disposals Guidance that relates to dishonesty, and bear in mind that dishonesty is particularly serious because it can undermine trust in social care services.
Moreover, the public must be able to place complete reliance upon the integrity of Registered Persons. We consider that public confidence in social care regulation would be undermined if Ms Hughes remained on the Register. Additionally, the trust and confidence that relatives of those receiving services are entitled to have in the regulation of social care services be eroded if Ms Hughes were not removed from the profession.
In reaching this conclusion, we have very much in mind the following passage from paragraph 5.13 of the Indicative Disposals Guidance:
“In addition to the responsibilities that come with the relationship with individuals who use services, registered persons have other privileges which society has given them on the understanding that they will be used responsibly and for legitimate professional purposes. A social care worker who abuses the trust placed in them should forfeit the privileges which come with registration”.
In Ms Hughes’ case, there is no other appropriate or proportionate disposal. We therefore make a Removal Order.
We have been informed that Ms Hughes is subject to an Interim Suspension Order. We now discharge that Order. In the ordinary course of events, the Removal Order that we have made today will not come into effect for a period of 28 days. In view of the seriousness of the matters we have found proved, and our findings in relation to dishonesty, lack of integrity, lack of insight, and risk of harm through repetition, we are of the view that we should make an Immediate Order to suspend Ms Hughes’s registration because it is necessary to protect the public and is otherwise in the public interest.
This Immediate Order will have effect from the date on which Ms Hughes is notified of it, and will remain in force either until the date on which the Removal Order takes effect, or until any appeal against our decision is upheld.