The Article 12.6 Panel (the Panel), consisting of [ . . . ] convened to consider the complaint made by [ . . . ] (the Complainant) against BACP individual member, Paul Hedley.
1. Mr Hedley was a counsellor with [ . . . ]. [ . . . ] received a complaint from a service user who said that:
2. The Member had agreed to meet with them to support them to write their DBS for a position as a [ . . . ].
3. The Member and the service user went for a coffee at a local café. When the café closed, they went to a pub for a drink where they consumed 3 alcoholic drinks.
4. Following this the Member invited the service user to go back to his place to continue the “night out”. The service user agreed and they went back to the Member’s house where drugs were consumed.
5. Following a disciplinary hearing on 25 November Year 1, [ . . . ] determined to dismiss Mr Hedley. It said that during the disciplinary hearing the allegations were discussed with the Member and he stated that:
a) He had met with the service user outside of the client/therapist role. He felt that the service user was happy to go for coffee, a drink and back to his house.
b) He had bought the service user coffee, alcoholic drinks and provided them with cannabis at his house. He had bought the drinks as he understood that the service user had restricted financial resources.
c) He had done this as he was lonely and isolated as a consequence of COVID lockdowns. However he confirmed that he understood and agreed that this incident was inappropriate and apologised for this.
d) He did not tell his line manager because he knew that he had crossed a professional boundary and did not know what to do about it. However, he did not agree that he had coerced the service user into going along with him as they seemed happy to do so.
6. The disciplinary hearing concluded that Mr Hedley’s behaviour breached [ . . . ] code of conduct on two levels:
a) [ . . . ] does not permit relationships with service users outside of service provision – in this case, the Member was not acting as the service user’s counsellor when they met up.
b) Any interaction outside of service provision (in this case counselling) should be reported to your line manager – the Member did not inform his line Manager of what had happened.
7. [ . . . ] also determined that Mr Hedley had breached the BACP Ethical Framework as follows
a) Any dual or multiple relationship will be avoided where the risks of harm to the client outweighs any benefit to the client. - This incident was outside of the client/therapist relationship and caused the service user concern Further the Member was unable to assess this when alcohol and drugs started to take effect.
b) Overlapping or multiple types of relationships should not co-exist when in the client/therapist relationship – the Member was still seeing the service user as a counsellor at this time.
c) Avoid giving, receiving or exchanging gifts through the therapy relationship – the Member bought the service user coffee, drinks and provided them with cannabis within his home.
d) Setting up, monitoring and maintaining boundaries is the responsibility of the therapist - At every intersection of this incident including: i. Agreeing to meet the service user for coffee to support them with their application, ii. Buying them coffee, iii. Agreeing to go for an alcoholic drink, iv. Inviting them into his house, v. offering them drugs, [ . . . ] felt that the Member had time and opportunity to not carry forward this evening but he chose otherwise.
8. As a result of his actions, Mr Hedley was dismissed from his employment with [ . . . ] for Gross Misconduct. His last day of service was recorded as 30th November Year 1. [ . . . ] confirmed that the Member was given the right to appeal against his dismissal but chose not to do so. It said that he had been provided with all of the above information in a letter sent to him confirming his dismissal from employment.
9. In a letter dated 5 May Year 2, BACP informed Mr Hedley of the allegations and asked for his response. The letter was posted by special delivery on 11 May Year 2. No response was received.
10. A letter informing Mr Hedley that the matter has been referred to an Article 12.6 panel was sent on 30 June Year 2. The delivery information showed that delivery was attempted on 8 July Year 2 but no one was available to accept it.
11. On 13 July Year 2 a further letter advising that the original panel date had been cancelled was sent to Mr Hedley and was received and signed for by “Hedley” on 15 July Year 2. No response has been received by BACP from Mr Hedley.
12. The nature of the information raises questions about the suitability of Mr Hedley’s continuing membership of this Association and about the following in particular:
• It is alleged that his dismissal for Gross Misconduct from [ . . . ] has brought, or may yet bring, not only this Association, but also the reputations of counselling/psychotherapy into disrepute.
• It is alleged that the actions leading to his dismissal are incongruent with what is expected of a member of BACP.
• The information further suggests that there may have been a serious breach, or breaches, of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions.
The Panel noted that the Member had not provided any comment to the allegations or acknowledged the correspondence that had been sent to him by BACP. However, the Panel could see that the letter of 13 July Year 2 had been received by a person signing as “Hedley” at the address that was shown on the BACP’s records. On that basis it was satisfied on balance that the Member had received the correspondence and was aware of the allegations against him. He would also have been aware that the matter was due to be considered by a Panel under the Article 12.6 process.
In the circumstances the Panel considered that his absence was voluntary and that he had chosen not to engage. The Panel weighed up the interests of the Member and the public interest in deciding whether to go ahead without the Member’s engagement but, in light of the serious nature of the allegations and the Member’s voluntary absence, it considered that it was reasonable to proceed today.
The Panel considered all of the available information that included the original information provided by [ . . . ].
Having done so the Panel determined to implement Article 12.6 of the Articles of Association and to recommend that Mr Hedley’s’ membership should be withdrawn subject to appeal.
In coming to its decision, the Panel noted the following points:
a) Mr Hedley had been dismissed for Gross Misconduct by [ . . . ]. While the information provided by [ . . . ] was unfortunately limited, the Panel noted that [ . . . ] had carried out an internal investigation that had resulted in the disciplinary hearing on 25 November Year 1, which Mr Hedley had attended. [ . . . ] had also provided sufficient details of the reasons for the hearing, and for the dismissal, to show that there had been serious breaches of its policies by the Member as well as breaches of the Ethical Framework 2018. It noted that Mr Hedley had not appealed his dismissal at the time. Subsequently he had not responded to BACP to provide any alternative explanation for what had happened or to provide any other information. In the circumstances the Panel was satisfied that the information from the Complainant was credible and could be relied on.
b) The Panel noted that during the disciplinary proceedings Mr Hedley had said that his behaviour was due to the impact on him of the COVID-19 restrictions that had been in place at the time. Nevertheless, he had accepted that he had acted inappropriately although he denied having “co-erced” the service user at any time.
c) The Panel noted that at the time of the events, the Member was working with vulnerable young people. It considered that it was the Counsellor’s responsibility to ensure that professional boundaries were set and maintained at all times and, in this case, the Member had failed to do so. The Panel was particularly concerned that the Member had bought the service user alcoholic drinks and enabled them to take cannabis, provided by the Member. By his actions, the Member had blurred the professional boundaries between himself and the service user and potentially put the service user at risk. This was inappropriate and unprofessional and could have had serious consequences.
d) The Panel was also concerned that the Member had shown a lack of candour by not informing his line manager of what had happened at the time. It noted that the Member was stated to have said that he did not do so because he knew he had “crossed a line”.
e) While the Panel took note of what the Member had said during the disciplinary process about his personal situation, it considered that the concerns for which Mr Hedley had been summarily dismissed were serious. It also had to take into account that as Mr Hedley had not made contact with BACP during this investigation, it had no information to show whether he had reflected on the matter and what steps he had taken, if any, to ensure that such a situation did not occur again in the future.
In summary, the Panel reminded itself of its overarching requirement to protect clients, the public and to maintain confidence in the professions of counselling and psychotherapy and in BACP. In this case, the Panel considered that circumstances leading to Mr Hedley’s dismissal for Gross Misconduct had the capacity to bring not only the BACP, but also the reputations of the professions of counselling and psychotherapy into disrepute. His actions had been incongruent with those expected of a member of the BACP and also breached the behaviour expected of a member and Counsellor, as set out in BACP’s Practice Standards.
Accordingly, the Panel unanimously decided to implement Article 12.6 and withdraw Mr Hedley’s membership, subject to appeal.
Mr Hedley has 28 days from the date of notification of this report to make an appeal. In the absence of an appeal, notification will be given to Mr Hedley by the Chair of the Association with regard to the withdrawal of membership.
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