Outrage at failure to prosecute sex abuse of mentally ill woman

In 2013 I reported on the case of Geoffrey Pick, a psychotherapist who was found to have committed serious sexual misconduct with a mentally ill client. The allegations were found proven by the Arbours Association of Psychotherapists, a member organisation of the UK Council for Psychotherapy, and he was dismissed from his NHS post. Disgracefully, Arbours gave him a one-year suspension instead of a striking off, and then he was allowed to re-register as a psychotherapist. He subsequently resigned his registration after being contacted by a broadsheet journalist. The UKCP has since changed its rules so that member organisations are no longer allowed to investigate complaints themselves. All complaints now have to go through a centralised Complaints and Conduct Process.

I’ve since been told that a criminal prosecution of Mr Pick has been dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service, for reasons that seem both shocking and farcical.

Mr Pick was to be prosecuted under Section 38 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

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.

There seems to be no doubt that the sexual misconduct took place. He admitted this in his hearing at the Arbours Association.  The NHS admitted full liability in a civil settlement. They issued the following press statement.

“Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust dismissed Geoffrey Pick from his role as a psychotherapist with the organisation on 27 January 2011 following an inappropriate relationship he had conducted with a client.

“We take our duty to protect the people that we serve very seriously and reported Geoffrey Pick to the local authorities, the Independent Safeguarding Authority and to the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapists. We also undertook an investigation into the practice of Geoffrey Pick which included talking to his manager and other team members to identify any lessons to be learnt.

“We have spoken directly with the client and continue to offer her our sincere apologies.”

There also seems to be no doubt that she was under his care for a mental disorder. She was a patient of a Community Mental Health Team, who referred her to Mr Pick for psychotherapy. Over the years she has experienced suicide attempts, self-harm and hospital admissions, including detentions under the Mental Health Act. After his misconduct, her mental health deteriorated sharply. She made two further suicide attempts, and spent several months under the care of a home treatment team. She subsequently had to access specialist psychotherapy to come to terms with her experience.

When the client reported him to the police, she alleges that her complaint was poorly handled from the start. According to the client, her case was initially dealt with by an inexperienced police constable who had not even completed interview training. At one point, an officer told her that she could not be mentally ill because she had a professional qualification, and that she presented too well to have a mental illness. Although she reported the offence in May 2013, it took until October 2014 for the police to even interview the defendant. At times the alleged victim felt as though she was the one under investigation rather than Mr Pick.

Despite this, a prosecution was begun and Mr Pick was charged under the Sexual Offences Act. However, at the beginning of June 2015, the client was informed by the Crown Prosecution Service that their intention was to attend the Crown Court and offer no evidence, an action which would force the court to find Mr Pick not guilty.

The reason given was that there had been some disagreement between psychiatrists over her exact diagnosis, which the CPS felt would make it difficult to prove that she had a mental disorder. Note that none of the psychiatrists felt that she had no diagnosis, just that they differed as to what the diagnosis was. The police had two witness statements, one from a court appointed expert witness and one from a psychiatrist within the Surrey and Borders Trust who both agreed the client suffered from a mental illness.

The client states that key witnesses were not interviewed, including her care worker and her psychiatrist at the time of the alleged offence. The client also states that the police did not get her medical records and eventually six months after the initial report to the police the client handed the medical records from the civil case to the police herself. The police did not offer an explanation as to why they were ineffective at gaining the medical records themselves. She was told by the Crown Prosecution Service that health services destroy their records after two years. When she contacted the NHS trust, they told her records are kept for 20 years, not two, in line with Department of Health guidelines.

There was a last-minute scramble by the client to try to prevent the dropping of the case, hiring a barrister to present her objections. She objected in the strongest possible terms to the CPS decision. Her former consultant psychiatrist was contacted, who agreed that she would be willing to testify that the client has a mental disorder. In a letter to the CPS seen by Unsafe Spaces, the client’s barrister states, “If the prosecution is terminated when it ought not to have been then that is a denial of our client’s right to justice as well as a failure properly to uphold the law in a case of real importance… we ask that nothing is notified to the defendant or the court until [the client] has had a chance to exercise her rights and to ensure that a (further) injustice is not visited upon her thus adding further to her difficulties.”

Her barrister also wrote, “there is no requirement for proof of any particular diagnosis and so the fact (if it be so) that the various doctors do not agree on a precise diagnosis is not to the point if it is generally agreed that [she] was at the time suffering a mental disorder…In any event, there would still appear to be a large body of evidence that supports the proposition that [she] suffered from a mental disorder including the perfectly obvious conclusion to be drawn from the fact of treatment.”

While these efforts were underway, the client discovered that on 11th June 2015 the CPS had attended Winchester Crown Court without notifying her, and offered no evidence. As a result Mr Pick was acquitted. The letter from the client’s barrister arrived a few hours too late.

The client is now seeking a Victim’s Rights Review of the case. However, the most this can secure is an apology. The prosecution now cannot be restarted because Mr Pick has been found not guilty.

The CPS has a woeful track record when it comes to handling sexual assault allegations, and this seems to be yet another example. It also shows how badly cases are handled when it involves a vulnerable adult with mental health problems. This is an absolute disgrace and a travesty of justice.

7 thoughts on “Outrage at failure to prosecute sex abuse of mentally ill woman

  1. Every acquittal has to be respected. He is innocent having not been proved guilty of the crime.

    I wonder though if we are not seeing the results of cutbacks to the justice system. Is the CPS still up to scratch? If the public loses confidence in the CPS, all sorts of trouble might ensue.

    I alao have a bit of a worry about evidence from a tribunal, where, as the BACP’s new ethics policy reminds us, candour is vital, being provided to a criminal trial as might have occured had the prosecution presented its case. The right not to incriminate oneself in a criminal trial should not be undermined by quasi-legal professional processes.

    • ” I alao have a bit of a worry about evidence from a tribunal, where, as the BACP’s new ethics policy reminds us, candour is vital, being provided to a criminal trial as might have occured had the prosecution presented its case. The right not to incriminate oneself in a criminal trial should not be undermined by quasi-legal professional processes.” This can be dealt with. Have the membership organisations agree to make a report to the police in cases of sexually inappropriate behaviour. The police can investigate. Should there be a prosecution the professional body can stay their own adjudication with interim terms of practice until the outcome of the police investigation or prosecution. Where’s the problem?

      • I think that sounds very sensible, Jobaker, where that behaviour might cross the line between mere professional misconduct and the downright criminal. It is, on the face of it, a pity it didn’t happen in this case, although I know none of the details.

    • I think one thing I’ve made very clear in the above post is that I do not respect the acquittal. A finding of fact has already been made on this case, at the Arbours disciplinary hearing and in the dismissal for gross misconduct by the NHS. Both of those found that Mr Pick had committed serious sexual misconduct. Yes, I know that such hearings have the civil standard of proof (“on the balance of probabilities”) as opposed to the criminal standard (“beyond reasonable doubt”). Even so, I’d respect the judgement if it had been done fairly and properly, which it clearly has not.

      As regards cutbacks to the justice system, this is somewhat speculative on my part, but I think it’s quite likely that this was a factor in how this case was handled. Proving the allegations would have involved spending money, and given the situation in the public sector I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this was the root cause as to why things that should have been done were not done.

      Regarding the BACP’s duty of candour, arguably there’s already such a duty in criminal cases. That’s why people get a lesser sentence if they plead guilty early in proceedings.

      • That is not how criminal justice works, Phil. He stood trial. The only case he had to answer was the one put by the prosecution in that trial. The professional hearing is not relevant. The speculation of a blogger is not relevant. It is a matter of fact that he is not guilty of a crime. That is a fair and just procedure. The prosection might have totally naffed it up, but justice has still been done.

        The chance was missed, perhaps, but the chance was made available in good order. Whatever has happened, it’s important that the basics of the criminal justice system are not overlooked, or we really are in trouble.

      • Having said that, it is very worrying if the CPS is becoming untrustworthy. One for Gove, I think, not that he would do anything other than pay lip service to the effects of cuts.

  2. Transitional Object

    He didn’t stand trial the prosecution offered no evidence after charging at just before the trial. The CPS write to the court with their intention. However this doesn’t mean there was no evidence. The police investigation was ineffective and the CPS don’t have the budget to prosecute all the crimes, particularly complicated sexual crimes involving mental health. The two problems are lack of understanding of mental health and sexual assault/rape crimes. In this case the evidence wasn’t reviewed correctly, key witnesses weren’t interviewed and medical records weren’t reviewed correctly, the police didn’t understand mental health systems or diagnosis. It took the police 17 months to interview the defendant after the complaint was made. Don’t be fooled into thinking everyone who walks away is innocent. The burden of proof is such 5 guilty people walk away so one innocent person isn’t convicted unfairly. This is what a police officer told me.

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