The complaint against the above individual member/registrant was taken to Adjudication in line with the Professional Conduct Procedure.
The complaint was heard under the BACP Professional Conduct Procedure and the Panel considered the alleged breaches of the BACP Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy.
The focus of the complaint as summarised by the Pre-Hearing Assessment Panel, was that the Complainant received counselling from Mr Nokes between November year 1 and January year 3.
At the end of the session on 4 January year 3, Mr Nokes invited the Complainant to join him for a weekend in the Lakes, although she had previously refused an invitation from him to visit the Holy Land as part of a group. Mr Nokes explained in detail the problems he was experiencing within [ . . . ] and disclosed to the Complainant, [ . . . ]. He continued to give the Complainant more details of his private life, telling her that she must not tell anyone. He allegedly told her that if she did not want to accept the offer of a relationship with him, he would still be her counsellor, but would no longer charge her for sessions. Mr Nokes also disclosed in an electronic communication that he struggled with loneliness.
The Complainant was extremely upset and frightened and asked if she had ever done or said anything to encourage this approach. Mr Nokes confirmed that she had done nothing to encourage him but that he could not resist her.
A few days later she contacted Mr Nokes by text, asking him to explain his intentions. His response explained that he was not looking for a full on relationship, more “a happy weekend”. The Complainant then requested that he did not contact her again, but on 23 March year 3, he sent her an invitation to connect on LinkedIn.
The Pre-Hearing Assessment Panel, in accepting this complaint, was concerned with the allegations made within the complaint suggesting contravention of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy, and those in particular as follows:
- Mr Nokes allegedly failed to provide a good quality of care and competently delivered services which met the Complainant’s needs,in that during a counselling session in January year 3, he made a number of personal disclosures to the Complainant and told her to keep the conversation quiet.
- Mr Nokes allegedly failed to honour the Complainant’s trust in that the Complainant had asked him not to contact her again, however, Mr Nokes subsequently sent her a LinkedIn request, therefore failing to pay careful attention to client consent.
- 3.It is alleged that Mr Nokes abused the Complainant’s trust in order to gain sexual and emotional advantage, in that he invited the Complainant to accompany him on a holiday to the Lake District and told her that he had permission from [ . . . ] to have a sexual relationship. Mr Nokes also conveyed, in an electronic communication to the Complainant, that it would mean sharing a bed with her. He also told her that if she did not want to accept the offer, he would continue to be her counsellor at no charge.
- Mr Nokes allegedly failed to monitor and maintain his fitness to practise to enable him to provide an effective service, in that it had become impaired due to his personal circumstances; he had expressed to the Complainant that he was lonely and had been distressed due to the problems[ . . . ]. He had also made a number of personal disclosures to the Complainant.
- Mr Nokes’ alleged behaviour, as experienced by the Complainant and as identified in the numbered paragraphs referred to above, suggests a contravention in particular of paragraphs 1, 11, 17 and 40 and the Ethical Principles of Being Trustworthy, Beneficence, Non-Maleficence and Self Respect of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling & Psychotherapy (2013), and showed a lack of the personal moral qualities of Integrity, Humility, Competence and Wisdom to whichcounsellors are strongly encouraged to aspire.
The Member Complained Against did not attend the hearing. The matter was referred for consideration under paragraph 4.9 of the Professional Conduct Procedure which states:
Where a Complainant or Member Complained Against fails or refuses to attend a Professional Conduct Hearing, the Registrar has the power to decide to either:
- a)Proceed with the Hearing in the absence of one or both of the parties; or
- b)Adjourn the Hearing to a date not less than 28 days in advance; or
- c)Terminate the proceedings; or
- d)Refer the matter for consideration under Article 12.6 of the Memorandum & Articles of Association.
The options were carefully considered and in light of the circumstances a decision was made to go ahead with the hearing in the absence of Mr Nokes.
On balance, having fully considered the above, the Panel made the following findings:
- The Complainant indicated that she had met with Mr Nokes for a counselling appointment on 4 January year 3, and that during their meeting he made a number of personal disclosures to her which included intimate details of his personal life. The Complainant also indicated that Mr Nokes had said to her at the time to keep the conversation very quiet. Mr Nokes in his response did not deny having made a number of personal disclosures to the Complainant nor did he deny saying to her that their conversation should be kept quiet. The Panel was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that a number of personal disclosures including those of an intimate nature had been disclosed by Mr Nokes to the Complainant, such as detailing the [ . . . ], and details of his private life. Mr Nokes told the Complainant that the conversation should be kept quiet. The Panel found that this behaviour was inappropriate and unprofessional on the part of Mr Nokes and that in behaving in this manner Mr Nokes had failed to provide a good quality of care and competently delivered service which met the Complainant’s needs. Therefore this allegation is upheld.
- Following an exchange of electronic messages on 9 January year 3, the Complainant messaged Mr Nokes asking him not to contact her anymore. On 23 March year 3, the Complainant received a LinkedIn request purporting to be from Mr Nokes. Mr Nokes indicated that the Complainant’s telephone number was on his phone and that her profile was offered when he went on to the LinkedIn service. He stated that when it came up he looked at it never realising in so doing it gave rise to a message or request to join his group of followers and thus was “totally accidental.” The Panel was not satisfied with the explanation that Mr Nokes had provided. The Panel noted that Mr Nokes had retained the Complainant’s telephone number on his telephone despite it being over 2 months since the end of the counselling relationship. Mr Nokes admitted in hindsight that he realised he should have removed the Complainant’s phone number. In keeping the Complainant’s number on his phone and in subscribing to the LinkedIn service, it allowed for the message to be sent to the Complainant. The Panel found that Mr Nokes had not taken the necessary measures to ensure that no contact was made by whatever means. The Panel found that given the Complainant had previously expressed to him how upsetting she had found the whole situation with him and asked him to not contact her anymore; he had not taken sufficient care to ensure that there was no further contact. The Panel was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that in this matter Mr Nokes had failed to honour the Complainant’s trust and pay careful attention to her consent. Therefore this allegation is upheld.
- The Complainant met with Mr Nokes on 4 January year 3. The Complainant indicated that during that meeting, Mr Nokes invited her to accompany him on a holiday to the Lake District and that he told her that he had permission from [ . . . ] to have a sexual relationship. Mr Nokes did not deny this in his written response, and accepted that he had made a proposition to the Complainant. The Complainant indicated that she asked Mr Nokes if she had ever done or said anything to him that would encourage him in his approach to her and she reported that Mr Nokes told her that she had done nothing to encourage him but that he could not resist her. Mr Nokes indicated that he had no recollection of this element of their conversation and stated that he believed it was an inaccurate portrayal of what had happened. However, Mr Nokes did not provide an alternative account. The Complainant indicated that Mr Nokes had also told her that if she did not want to accept his offer he would be prepared to continue as her counsellor at no charge. Mr Nokes in an electronic communication to the Complainant stated the following: “…it would mean sharing a bed with me and because I do find you very attractive I could not say no to you…I am after all a normal healthy male.” In his electronic communications Mr Nokes also admits to crossing a line and acting unprofessionally whilst at the same time continuing to proposition the Complainant and signing off his communications with kisses. The Panel found that Mr Nokes had made an indecent and wholly inappropriate proposal to the Complainant. Having made the proposition in a meeting on 4 January year 3, he pursued it in electronic communication exchanged with the Complainant on 9 January year 3, elaborating upon his proposal. The Panel viewed the proposition and the electronic messages as abusive and noted that Mr Nokes continued with his proposition despite him knowing and acknowledging in his communications with the Complainant that he was being unprofessional and crossing a line that he should not have crossed. The Panel was satisfied on the evidence that the situation had caused the Complainant distress and anxiety and that Mr Nokes did abuse the Complainant’s trust in order to gain sexual and emotional advantage. Therefore the allegation is upheld.
- The Complainant indicated that Mr Nokes had told her of the distress he had experienced following on from a situation in his domestic life over the Christmas period. Mr Nokes also disclosed to the Complainant the difficulties he was experiencing in his private life and his struggle with loneliness. The Panel was satisfied that Mr Nokes sought out a relationship with his client whilst disclosing to her the problems he was experiencing in his domestic life and disclosing to her the loneliness he felt. The Panel was satisfied that he had allowed his personal circumstances to impact detrimentally upon his work and it was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that Mr Nokes had failed to monitor and maintain his fitness to practise to enable him to provide an effective service. Therefore the allegation is upheld.
- In light of the above findings, the Panel was satisfied that paragraphs 1, 11, 17 and 40 and the Ethical Principles of Being Trustworthy, Beneficence, Non-Maleficence and Self Respect of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling & Psychotherapy (2013) had been breached and that in this case Mr Nokes lacked the personal moral qualities of Integrity, Humility, Competence and Wisdom to which counsellors are strongly encouraged to aspire.
Accordingly, the Panel was unanimous in its decision that these findings amounted to Serious Professional Misconduct and Bringing the Profession into Disrepute in that Mr Nokes’ behaviour amounted to disgraceful conduct. The Panel further agreed that the public's trust in the profession would be undermined if they were accurately informed about all the circumstances of this case.
Mr Nokes was not in attendance at the hearing and therefore there was no verbal mitigation given. However, in his written responses, he had acknowledged that he had behaved unprofessionally and apologised for his behaviour and any pain or anxiety that he had caused the Complainant.
One of the aims of the Professional Conduct Procedure is to protect members of the public. The Panel, in considering what sanction may be appropriate in the circumstances of this case, has taken into account the interests of public protection.
Given the Panel’s findings, it was of the opinion that Mr Nokes’ behaviour amounted to particularly serious breaches of Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy (2013) and the ethical principles and that in behaving in this way he had demonstrated a disregard for them. The Panel also found that the Complainant had suffered harm.
The Panel was unanimous that Mr Nokes’ membership of BACP should be withdrawn and took the view that, on the findings reached, any lesser sanction would be wholly disproportionate.
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