High Court upgrades McCarron case to a striking-off

In June 2014 I was alarmed to hear that the Health and Care Professions Council had declined to strike off a clinical psychologist who had committed serious sexual misconduct with someone who had recently been in therapy with him. Despite John McCarron not even turning up to the hearing, he was issued with a one-year suspension instead.

The Professional Standards Authority subsequently appealed the decision to the High Court. Today I’m pleased to hear that the High Court has upheld the appeal (see page 6) and ordered that McCarron be struck off.

I’ve criticised some of the professional bodies in psychotherapy for failing to strike off therapists who commit serious sexual misconduct. For example, in January 2014 the UK Council for Psychotherapy gave Rob Waygood a six month suspension for having sex with a client. That said, they subsequently did strike off Ray Holland for a similar offence. (Incidentally, despite his legal threats, Holland still hasn’t sued me. Cluck cluck.) I’ve always regarded the Health and Care Professions Council in high esteem for their decisions, so I was surprised that they’d show such leniency.

The HCPC decision seemed to involve a theme that keeps coming up in therapy misconduct cases – a tendency to minimise boundary breaches as a product of transference and counter-transference. I have a view on such statements, and it rhymes with fullspit. I’m not saying that transference doesn’t exist, but it’s simply not an excuse. Transference or not, it really isn’t difficult to not have sex with your clients.

I welcome the High Court’s decision here. It sends a clear message that in nearly all cases of serious sexual misconduct, the only correct sanction is a striking-off.

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6 thoughts on “High Court upgrades McCarron case to a striking-off

  1. “Yes, of course I’d studied transferance and counter-transferance. Every psychotherapist does. But, when it happened to me, I felt the only possible course of action open to me was to have sex with my client. And then do it again. And again.” Doesn’t sound exculpatory or even mitigating to me. In fact, it amplifies the offence: the relationship of therapist and client creates opportunity which the therapist is aware of but the client is not. Taking advantage of that opportunity, acting unprofessionally and abusing a position of trust should be dealt with the same way as a teacher having sex with a school pupil.

    • Succintly put, and I fully agree.

    • “Taking advantage of that opportunity, acting unprofessionally and abusing a position of trust should be dealt with the same way as a teacher having sex with a school pupil.”

      That would be a much harder thing to do, how would you define a “position of trust” in this case (the one in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 roughly translates to “someone who’s officially looking after the person under 18”)?

      Consider the following scenario, a man meets a distressed woman in a pub and offers her a shoulder to cry on, the two establish a platonic relationship the nature of with closely match a counselling relationship, the man then uses the trust in that relationship to get the woman to sleep with him. Should this type of manipulation be made illegal? What if he was offering a befriending service where people pay him to sit and chat with them?

      Should the law only apply to registered professionals or should it cover anyone engaged in any activity that could accurately be described in counselling or psychotherapy? (e.g. what about someone who markets themselves as an “emotion coach”?)

      It looks straightforward when you just consider cases where someone is explicitly practicing as a counsellor or psychotherapist, but there’s a big grey area that would make it almost impossible to make a law that doesn’t either miss out predators who choose to operate outside its remit or which unduly interferes with adult relationships.

      • Section 38 of the Sexual Offences Act can cover such cases.

        38 Care workers: sexual activity with a person with a mental disorder

        (1)A person (A) commits an offence if—

        (a)he intentionally touches another person (B),

        (b)the touching is sexual,

        (c)B has a mental disorder,

        (d)A knows or could reasonably be expected to know that B has a mental disorder, and

        (e)A is involved in B’s care in a way that falls within section 42.

        (2)Where in proceedings for an offence under this section it is proved that the other person had a mental disorder, it is to be taken that the defendant knew or could reasonably have been expected to know that that person had a mental disorder unless sufficient evidence is adduced to raise an issue as to whether he knew or could reasonably have been expected to know it.

        (3)A person guilty of an offence under this section, if the touching involved—

        (a)penetration of B’s anus or vagina with a part of A’s body or anything else,

        (b)penetration of B’s mouth with A’s penis,

        (c)penetration of A’s anus or vagina with a part of B’s body, or

        (d)penetration of A’s mouth with B’s penis,

        is liable, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years.
        (4)Unless subsection (3) applies, a person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—

        (a)on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both;

        (b)on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years.

  2. How is a “care worker” defined in law? Can anyone give examples of prosecutions that have occured? Would a scumbag like Stuart McFarlane fall within the compass of this legislation? If not, why not? Sorry if this questioning sounds a bit terse but I don’t understand why there aren’t a lot of therapists in prison? Is it a case of prosecutors not fully applying the law?

    • In terms of how a care worker is defined in the Sexual Offences Act, see Section 42. Particularly 42(4). That should include psychotherapists, so long as the client involved has a mental disorder (though of course not everyone who goes for therapy has a mental disorder).

      42Care workers: interpretation

      (1)For the purposes of sections 38 to 41, a person (A) is involved in the care of another person (B) in a way that falls within this section if any of subsections (2) to (4) applies.

      (2)This subsection applies if—

      (a)B is accommodated and cared for in a care home, community home, voluntary home or children’s home, and

      (b)A has functions to perform in the home in the course of employment which have brought him or are likely to bring him into regular face to face contact with B.

      [F1(3)This subsection applies if B is a patient for whom services are provided—

      (a)by a National Health Service body or an independent medical agency;

      (b)in an independent hospital; or

      (c)in Wales, in an independent clinic,

      and A has functions to perform for the body or agency or in the hospital or clinic in the course of employment which have brought A or are likely to bring A into regular face to face contact with B.]
      (4)This subsection applies if A—

      (a)is, whether or not in the course of employment, a provider of care, assistance or services to B in connection with B’s mental disorder, and

      (b)as such, has had or is likely to have regular face to face contact with B.

      (5)In this section—

      “care home” means an establishment which is a care home for the purposes of the Care Standards Act 2000 (c. 14);
      “children’s home” has the meaning given by section 1 of that Act;
      “community home” has the meaning given by section 53 of the Children Act 1989 (c. 41);
      “employment” means any employment, whether paid or unpaid and whether under a contract of service or apprenticeship, under a contract for services, or otherwise than under a contract;
      [F2“independent clinic” has the meaning given by section 2 of the Care Standards Act 2000;
      “independent hospital”—

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