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Social worker suspended for sexual misconduct

Social worker who grabbed colleague's breast and spoke about watching porn is suspended from the social work register

Published on 20th August 2019

A social worker has been suspended from the Health and Care Professions Council register for sexual misconduct.

Robert Robinson, a Team Manager of the 18 Plus Service at Kent County Council, put his hand on Colleague A's bottom and/or her right breast on or around 12 May 2017, and told her that he had been watching pornography featuring women of her size and had 'been having a good time'.

Colleague A said that Mr Robinson asked to speak to her and suggested that they go into the first aid room at the office. He spoke to her about watching pornography of women of her size, saying that it turned him on and he had been having a good time. Colleague A was embarrassed and raised her hands to indicate that he should stop talking like that. He then took a step towards her and put one hand on her bottom and the other hand on her right breast. She said she felt intimidated because he is a large man and this took place in a small room, told him to ‘f*** off’ and left the room. She subsequently left the office on a joint visit with a senior colleague. She said she had not done anything to encourage him.

Mr Robinson denied inviting Colleague A into a private room or touching Colleague A in this way or speaking to her about pornography when these matters were raised in the internal investigation. He maintained that Colleague A had asked him to go to a small meeting room to discuss a work matter but the conversation had turned to her discussing personal issues with him.

However, the Panel accepted Colleague A’s evidence that Mr Robinson had touched her as alleged and that he had spoken to her about watching pornography which, they said, was "clearly conduct that was inappropriate and sexual in its nature".

At the beginning of May 2017, he had also suggested to Colleague A that he book a hotel room for them both which, the panel said, was "clearly an inappropriate suggestion that was sexual either in its nature or because of the circumstances".

Around 5 June 2017, Colleague A said that Mr Robinson asked to speak to her and led her into a side meeting room in the office that is often used when colleagues wish to speak to each other in private. She said that he started speaking to her about pornography, put his hand down her top, touched the top of her right breast and told her that ‘they didn’t disappoint’. She said that she told him to ‘f*** off’ then pushed past him to leave the room. She told the Panel she looked down to make sure that her clothing was in order and noticed that he was aroused. She told the Panel that she was very upset and that within an hour she left the office on a work visit and did not return to work that day.

Mr Robinson denied the alleged physical contact during the course of the internal investigation. He accepted there was a meeting at which she spoke about her difficult weekend.

However, the panel said the conduct was clearly inappropriate and sexual in its nature ans found the allegations proved on the balance of probabilities.

Around 6 June 2017, Colleague A returned to the office from shopping at Asda with a packet of bread rolls with a colleague, EH. Colleague A told the Panel that Mr Robinson asked what she was cooking for his dinner, then he squeezed the packet of bread rolls she was holding and remarked, “I like a good pair of baps”. Colleague A said she made her excuses and walked away. Colleague A denied that she bantered with him by saying something like “So are you saying you want some of my baps?” as suggested by EH and TC during the internal investigation.

Mr Robinson accepted making a comment about baps as soon as he was interviewed about this during the internal investigation. He also accepted in his appeal against the internal disciplinary outcome and in his email to the HCPC dated 11 September 2018 in which he maintained that it was a silly joke in bad taste.

Furthermore, Colleague E gave evidence of two occasions on which she said Mr Robinson made physical contact with her that she regarded as over familiar and uninvited. She said that after working for him for a period of time, he had briefly stroked her shoulders whilst she was wearing a vest top. She said that she did not like this but she did not say anything because she was taken aback by it. On a subsequent occasion, he straightened a strap on her vest top whilst he was having an otherwise professional conversation with her. She said that he had remarked her strap was twisted and straightened it himself when he could have suggested that she straighten it out.

The Panel determined that that brushing a colleague’s shoulder and adjusting her strap in that way was inappropriate because it was overly familiar and not the kind of physical contact that was to be expected from a manager towards a female colleague. The Panel noted that such physical contact was not repeated on other occasions and that Colleague E told the Panel that Mr Robinson was otherwise professional in his dealings with Colleague E such as in one to one supervision meetings. The Panel therefore concluded that the conduct, was inappropriate.

The Panel also felt that Mr Robinson putting his hand on Colleague A's bottom and/or her right breast, telling Colleague A he had been watching pornography, suggesting he booked a hotel room and placing his hand down Colleague A's top, touching her breast under her bra and stating that 'they didn't disappoint' were sexually motivated actions.

The Panel has found that the some of the Registrant’s conduct was sexually motivated and that it was so serious as to amount to misconduct. The nature of the misconduct, involving sexual advances towards a colleague and suggestive comments, is such that public confidence in the profession would be undermined if no finding of impairment were made.

A reasonable member of the public would expect a finding of impairment in the circumstances of this case in order to uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour.
The panel outlined the mitigating factors as:

• Mr Robinson had a 29 year career as a social worker and there were no previous concerns about his conduct or competence

•There was independent evidence that he was a professional and capable manager in his usual dealings with colleagues

•The misconduct related to one colleague with whom he had developed a relationship in which she felt able to confide in him about personal issues

•There were two instances of sexual misconduct with one colleague, but they took place over a short period of time.

The aggravating factors were:

•Sexual misconduct

•Breach of professional boundaries with a more junior colleague

•No evidence of remorse or insight at this stage with a consequent risk of repetition of the misconduct.

Mr Robinson sent an email to the HCPC on 11 September 2018, in which he acknowledged the proceedings and stated that he was not planning to attend the hearing or to be represented. He denied the allegations of sexual motivation or misconduct and expressed his view that the HCPC had already prejudged the outcome of the hearing. He has not responded to the HCPC’s subsequent attempts to contact him.

The Panel concluded that a 12 month Suspension Order was the appropriate and proportionate sanction in order to protect the public and reflect the gravity of the misconduct. The Panel concluded that this order would maintain the confidence of the public in the regulator and the profession. A member of the public with a full appreciation and knowledge of the particular facts of this case would understand why the Panel had determined this was the appropriate sanction.

It added that a panel reviewing the suspension would be greatly assisted by Mr Robinson engaging with his regulator and providing evidence as to his level of insight and his understanding of the importance of maintaining professional boundaries at work.

 

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