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Social worker who failed to repay £52,000 loan is struck off

Social worker borrowed £52,000 from Person A but failed to repay it leading to HCPC striking her off for dishonesty

Published on 1st July 2019

A social worker has been struck off the register for dishonesty after borrowing £52,000 from Person A which she did not repay.

Mrs Anne Ripley also took an Omega Constellation watch belonging to Person A and approximately EU4000 from Person A.

Computer searches found that Mrs Anne Ripley had searched for terms such as 'how to get a rich man to give you money’, ‘price of omega constellation images’, 'paying money into uk account from southern ireland’, 'how to get rid of your fingerprints' and ‘best way to transport money when travelling abroad’.

The events took place in Mrs Ripley's private life and so did not involve anyone she was working with in her capacity as a social worker. Person A is retired and a man of some wealth. During the process of becoming divorced in May 2017, Person A placed an advertisement on a dating website run by a national newspaper. Mrs Ripley replied to his advertisement and they first met on Saturday, 20 May 2017. By 8 July 2017 the relationship between Person A and the Mrs Ripley was over.

The Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service Panel received documents from Sussex Police. A Notification Of No Further Action dated 30 April 2018 stated that the Police had decided that at that time Mrs Ripley was not to be prosecuted. That decision was made on the basis that the view of the Police was that the evidence did not meet the evidential stage of the full code test set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

"However, it would not be appropriate for the Panel to adopt the view of Sussex Police that there was insufficient evidence. The task for the present Panel is to form its own judgements on the basis of the evidence introduced in this case. It would be no more proper for the Panel to apply the view formed by Sussex Police that there was insufficient evidence to justify matters proceeding than it would have to have adopted the Police view had the opposite view been taken," said the Panel.

The Panel found Person A was a witness upon whose evidence it could safely rely. In contrast, the Panel considered that there were a number of issues relating to Mrs Ripley's representations, which were unsatisfactory. For example:

• She asserted that the Police had complete access to her “online data”, but this was not the case, in that there were areas to which the Police were unable to gain access due to encryption. The Panel noted that the Registrant appeared to have regularly deleted her browsing history, but some Google searches, which are specified in paragraph 8, were recorded in the Operating System event logs, which had not been deleted and of which most computer users are unaware.

• The Registrant asserted that Person A had been trying to hide some of his assets in a particular bank account from his wife. The Panel, with the aid of the Presenting Officer, was able to establish that Person A’s wife had been a Director and Company Secretary of the particular company related to this bank account. The Panel accepted Person A’s account that full financial disclosure of all his assets had been made in his divorce proceedings.

Regarding the allegation that between 13 June 2017 and 24 June 2017 Mrs Ripley borrowed approximately £52,500 from Person A, which she did not repay, there is no dispute that the sums of £40,000 and £12,500 were transferred from Person A’s account to Mrs Ripley. There is, however, a stark conflict between the two participants as to why the transfers were made.

Person A's account is that Mrs Ripley asked for a short term loan to facilitate a house move she was undergoing, in particular that she needed the money for a house purchase in Arundel, but would not have the money until she sold a property in Peacehaven. Person A said that Mrs Ripley had said that she only required the money for a short period. Person A stated that there was talk of the Registrant writing an IOU for the sum advanced, but it never materialised.

Mrs Ripley's account is that Person A gave her the money as a gift in order that she would be able to buy a house in Arundel.

When Person A and Mrs Ripley ended their relationship, Person A said that as Mrs Ripley put her suitcase in the boot of her car and prepared to drive away, he asked her about the return money. However, she said that he had no proof it had been a loan.

The Panel felt that one party must have told a deliberate untruth about the matter. Given the Panel’s assessment of the truthfulness of Person A, coupled with the "somewhat mercenary flavour of the Registrant’s internet searches in the period running up to the transfers being made," the Panel concluded that Person A’s account is to be preferred and that allegation was proved.

In terms of the watch, it was alleged that around 24 May 2017, Mrs Ripley took a watch belonging to Person A. Person A was due to move into a new home on 24 May 2017, and Mrs Ripley offered to help him. On the day of the move, Mrs Ripley stayed that night at Person A’s new flat and the following morning Person A left quite early.

When Person A returned, Mrs Ripley informed him that she had been out of the flat for a walk, closing but not locking the door to do so. She said that on her return she had been unable to locate a necklace she had been wearing, and that it had been stolen whilst she was out walking. Person A’s evidence was that later that day he realised that his Omega Constellation wristwatch was missing. It was a watch given to Person A by his wife some years earlier. Given that he was moving into his new home, he assumed that he had left the watch at his former family home. He made efforts to, but did not, find it. In evidence before the Panel he stated that he still has the provenance document relating to the watch.

There is no dispute but that the Omega watch was in Mrs Ripley's possession when her relationship with Person A ended less than seven weeks later. It is Mrs Ripley's version that Person A gave her the watch as a present. She told the Police that she and Person A went to a jeweller in Lewes to have the metal wristband altered so that it would fit her wrist. Attempts were made by the Police to confirm that this visit had taken place, but they were unsuccessful. Person A completely refuted her assertion.

The panel accepted the evidence of Person A that his apartment was on the top floor of a three-floor building, and he thought that it was unlikely that anyone would have gained access to his apartment. In those circumstances, the Panel considered it particularly unlikely that anyone would have happened to gain access during the relatively short period that Mrs Ripley claimed she left it.

Again, the Panel felt that one party must be telling and untruth and favoured Person A's version of events and found the allegation proved.

On Saturday 1 July 2017 Person A and Mrs Ripley travelled to Ireland where Person A had business interests. One task Person A wished to undertake was to pay a debt of approximately €4,000, and accordingly on Monday 3 July 2017 he visited an Irish bank with Mrs Ripley and withdrew that sum from an account. The cash was placed in a sealed white envelope and Person A’s recollection is that Mrs Ripley took responsibility for placing the money in the room safe in the hotel in which they were then staying. Person A further recollected that she had taken "particular interest" in being involved in the setting of the combination for the room safe’s lock.

On Thursday 6 July 2017 they moved to another town and checked in to a new hotel. The envelope was placed in the safe in the hotel to which they moved. Person A told the Panel that, at some stage, Mrs Ripley suggested that some item had been left at the previous hotel and she encouraged Person A to go back to check, which he did. This resulted in her being left at the hotel on her own for some hours.

On Friday 7 July 2017 Person A went alone to pay his debt, but when he arrived to do so and opened the envelope, he discovered that although the envelope appeared not to have been tampered with, when opened it contained no money, but rather ripped up pages of what appeared to be a women’s magazine. The matter was reported to the Irish Police. Person A stated that Mrs Ripley blamed one of the hoteliers for stealing the money.

On Saturday 8 July 2017 Person A and Mrs Ripley were due to return to England together. However, before checking out of the hotel, Person A went to a Police Station to make a statement about the theft of the money. On his return to the hotel he expected to find Mrs Ripley, but instead he discovered that she had already checked out and made her way to the airport where she had checked in for the return flight. Person A told the Panel that he had been surprised that she had changed the seating arrangements so that, on the flight, she and Person A did not sit together. On arriving back at Person A’s home, Mrs Ripley put her case in her car and drove off after the conversation about the repayment of the £52,000.

The Panel finds it to be proved for the following reasons:

• It accepts Person A’s evidence that he withdrew the sum from the bank in Ireland and that it was placed in an envelope.

• It accepts Person A’s evidence that Mrs Ripley had knowledge of hotel room safe codes.

• It accepts Person A’s evidence that when he attempted to discharge the debt, he discovered that the envelope did not contain money, but rather ripped up magazine pages.

• The Registrant had knowledge of the room safe combination and opportunity to remove the cash when Person A made the journey to retrieve the missing items left at the previous hotel.

• The circumstance in which the envelope that the money had been placed in between the time of withdrawal from the bank and the discovery that the money was not in the envelope make it extremely unlikely indeed that anyone other than Person A or the Registrant would have had knowledge of, and the opportunity to remove, the money.

• The six internet searches made by the Registrant on 7 and 8 July 2017 are indicative of her being in possession of a large quantity of Euros, and variously, wishing to pay them into a UK account or travelling back to the UK with them still in her possession.

Her internet searches included 'how many euros can I take from Ireland to uk’, ‘best way to transport money when travelling abroad’, ‘does cash show up on airport scanners’, ‘paying money into uk account from southern ireland’ ‘can I pay money into irish bank to national westminster’and ‘can I carry cash in my pocket going through airport scanners’.

The Panel also found that taking the £52,000 without repaying it, taking the watch and the euros amount to dishonesty and misconduct.

"There has been no acceptance of wrongdoing on the part of the Registrant. She has shown no remorse or insight into her behaviour and, accordingly, there has been no remediation of these serious shortcomings. It follows from these findings that the there is no material from which the Panel could conclude that the risk of repetition has been diminished," said the Panel.

"The Panel considers that any lesser sanction than striking off would not reflect the very serious findings made in the present case. Similarly, any lesser sanction would not serve to declare proper professional standards and would not operate as a sufficient deterrent. The Panel considers that the Registrant’s behaviour was fundamentally incompatible with continued registration as a Social Worker. For these reasons the Panel is satisfied that the making of a striking off order is a proportionate response," the Panel concluded.

 

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