Social worker cleared of calling woman an ‘attention seeker’ hours before she killed herself

The man was only one of a number of people who could have said the words, the Health and Care Professions Council’s conduct panel concluded

Fitness to practise hearing

A mental health social worker has been cleared to continue practising after the regulator found no conclusive proof he called a young woman an “attention seeker” hours before she took her own life.

The woman had been detained at a police station for her own safety under the Mental Health Act on 22 October 2012, but was released and later found dead.

During the inquest, the police officer who had assessed the woman on the day she died said he had called the local approved mental health professional team and a male member of staff told him: “Yeah, I know her, she’s a f**king waste of time, she’s an attention seeker,” or words to that effect.

Following an internal investigation by Southampton council, social worker David Godfrey Lawrence was brought before a panel of the Health and Care Professions Council’s conduct and competence committee on 27-28 January and 18 March 2014, accused of making the comments. The panel accepted that the words had been spoken by someone.

However, Lawrence strongly denied the allegation. He went on to impress the panel with his “evident sincerity, passion and sensitivity” when he spoke about vulnerable service users and their needs.

In addition, the panel found many of the assumptions that had led to his being accused were incorrect. For example, one of the witnesses had asserted Lawrence was the only man in the building at the time, but there was in fact another male social worker and a male nurse in the vicinity.

“The time frame in which the offending words had to have been spoken is extremely brief and covers the time period when night staff were engaged in handing over information and the team telephones to the day staff,” the panel added.

The panel ruled that, on the basis of the evidence presented, it was not possible to conclude that it was more likely than not that Lawrence spoke the words; he was, in fact, only one of a number of people who could have done so.

It also pointed out that Southampton council had focused its investigation on Lawrence from the start, rather than giving equal consideration to everyone present on the day.

Lawrence no longer works for the council. A spokesperson said his departure was “mutually agreed”.

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