Future of struck-off sex-case Cambs councillor-JP in balance
THE future of a Huntingdonshire magistrate and councillor hangs in the balance after he was struck off the register of physiotherapists for having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a vulnerable patient.
Ken Churchill, from Little Paxton, was suspended from the controlling Conservative group on Cambridgeshire County Council at the weekend after news of the striking off reached council leader Councillor Nick Clarke late on Friday. His future as a magistrate and a member of Huntingdonshire District Council and Cambridgeshire Police Authority are also under review.
Cllr Churchill told The Hunts Post he had been set up in a sting by “a disgruntled 72-year-old client” who was unhappy that he was no longer treating her.
The two-day Health Professions Council (HPC) hearing on June 1 and 2 was told that he had been treating the woman (who was referred to as Patient A) since 2006 for a back injury and had continued to treat her for subsequent injuries.
“It was in January 2010 that it is alleged that an inappropriate sexual relationship developed and continued for some time during the treatment,” the HPC said.
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Patient A, who gave her evidence by videolink, said that he had been very supportive after her husband had died, had behaved with total decorum, and she had become emotionally dependent on him.
“She explained that the relationship had become sexual in January 2010. It began with kissing and fondling of her breasts but then developed into full non-penetrative sexual activity on sometimes a weekly basis,” the HPC said. “[Mr Churchill] would decide whether the visit was for treatment or play. This continued until May 10.”
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Even though Patient A had sought a second opinion for her shoulder complaint, which was not progressing, she thought her treatment by Mr Churchill was continuing, but he did not return her calls.
“She explained that she was very upset when [Mr Churchill] abandoned her because she was in so much pain and needed help,” the HPC said. “She realised that she had been very vulnerable at this time.”
At the hearing, Mr Churchill denied having had an affair with the patient and that he had walked away from her during a course of treatment. He believed that, as Patient A had contacted the NHS for physiotherapy treatment, she and he had parted amicably.
“In reaching its decision on the facts, the panel had to decide whose evidence it preferred,” the HPC said. “The panel found [Patient A] to be a credible and truthful witness,” whereas it had found Mr Churchill to be “reticent and evasive”.
It considered his behaviour amounted to misconduct, and that his fitness to practice was impaired as a result. It also found that the misconduct was serious because he knew Patient A was vulnerable and needy.
Mr Churchill could have appealed the finding and sanction to the High Court but was now out of time. Such a course would have cost him around �25,000 and, even if successful, the matter would have been referred back to a tribunal in which he had no confidence.
“I’m putting up a vigorous defence with regard to why I was struck off. My legal advice is that there are other courses open to me other than an appeal,” he told The Hunts Post.
“I have had discussions with my family over the weekend, and a course of action will be put in place.
“I was had by a sting by a disgruntled 72-year-old client. It was an unsubstantiated complaint, which was adjudicated by a panel on the balance of probability, solely on her verbal report and in spite of the records we submitted and a testimonial from my wife.
“Because of a medical condition, I can’t physically do the things she has accused me of.
“I think it was more about my standing in the community that the judgment went against me – because I was a Conservative councillor and a JP – rather than the evidence.
“It’s a classic case of someone being set up by a sting because she was unhappy that I had ceased to treat her because she had gone to the NHS and two physios can’t treat the same patient for the same ailment at the same time.”
He said his barrister and other lawyers had been astonished by the panel’s adjudication.
“At the moment I’m weighing up all the options for the future. I believe I have done some very good work for my party and I look to them for support in times of difficulty.
“I have been through worse things in my life, and I believe my reputation goes before me.”
Mr Churchill said he could continue to practise as a sports therapist, but the ruling meant he could no longer call himself a physiotherapist.
Cllr Clarke said: “Because that report by a fit and proper body used the term ‘vulnerable’ in relation to the patient, and because the county council has responsibility for vulnerable people, we had an emergency meeting on Sunday and I took the action to suspend the whip from him with immediate effect.
“I asked the chief executive to take the necessary action to suspend him from his work on the police authority and some of the committees he sits on until we can be assured we don’t have a safeguarding issue with the public.
“We have taken decisive action to defend the people of Cambridgeshire.”
Spokesmen for the county council and police authority said the bodies were reviewing the implications of the HPC adjudication.
And Conservative colleagues on Huntingdonshire District Council will consider Cllr Churchill’s future as a member of the group at a special meeting on Monday evening, said deputy leader Cllr Nick Guyatt.
A spokesman for the Judicial Communications Office said complaints about magistrates were looked at initially by the Lord Chancellor’s advisory committee and, if considered sufficiently serious, were referred to the Office for Judicial Complaints.