Tribunal reduces ban for social worker convicted of drink driving

The Care Standards Tribunal finds suspension was the right sanction in this case, but reduces the length of the ban by six months after ruling that the General Social Care Council's investigation took longer than it should have.

A social worker who was convicted for drink driving offences has successfully challenged the length of his suspension from the register.

Aaron Chihoyi was found guilty at Bexley Magistrates Court in May 2011 of using a vehicle while uninsured, driving a vehicle with excess alcohol in his system and without reasonable consideration and failing to stop after an accident that had caused personal injury to another.

Chihoyi had been involved in two consecutive road traffic accidents on the night in question, in June 2010. He was disqualified from driving from three years.

Chihoyi informed the General Social Care Council (GSCC) in December 2010 that he had been charged with the road traffic offences. The GSCC launched an investigation, which concluded in May this year.

During the GSCC’s conduct hearing, it emerged that Chihoyi had also been disqualified from driving for 12 months after being found guilty by Medway Magistrates Court in May 2004 of driving a vehicle with excess alcohol in his system.

After examining all the evidence, the conduct committee decided to suspend him from the register for two years.

Chihoyi appealed to the First-tier (Care Standards) Tribunal, claiming the sanction was disproportionate. His legal representative, Allan Norman of Celtic Knot Solicitors, said the committee had incorrectly characterised Chihoyi’s conduct in 2010 as a pattern of behaviour, taking into account his previous road traffic offence. Chihoyi did not attend the hearing.

However, the tribunal panel said it was not persuaded that the seven-year gap between the offences was so long that it was not relevant to consider the 2004 conviction.

Putting service users at risk

The panel was satisfied that Chihoyi had shown remorse for the driving offences, but not for his overall conduct. Nor did they feel he had taken sufficient responsibility for his actions.

“Mr Chihoyi rightly acknowledged that it had been his choice to drive his car without insurance,” the panel led by Judge Liz Goldthorpe said. “But this choice displayed a particular lack of responsibility not only to the public, but also to service users. Deliberately driving without insurance places a service user in the vehicle at risk in the event of an accident since it deprives that individual of a claim against the driver’s insurance company.”

During the criminal proceedings, Chihoyi claimed that his cousin had been driving at the time of the accidents in 2010 and had run off before the police arrived. But the panel said it found his account of the events “contradictory, inconsistent and somewhat implausible”.

However, it also took into account the fact that Chihoyi had been unable to work as a social worker since the end of June 2010, as a result of the GSCC’s investigation. Together with the subsequent two-year ban imposed in 2012, this would see him out of practice for a total of four years.

“Whilst the GSCC has dealt with his case rather more quickly than others, once Mr Chihoyi was convicted it should have been a relatively straightforward procedure to conclude the investigation in six months or less,” the panel said. “It would have been reasonable to have concluded the process by November 2011.

“We have concluded in the light of our findings and the evidence and submissions as a whole that the sanction was proportionate, but Mr Chihoyi should be able to return to work six months earlier than the sanction imposed by the committee would allow.”

Chihoyi’s suspension will therefore be lifted on 31 October 2013.

Read the Care Standards Tribunal’s full report

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