Shamed social worker quits after sharing confidential information on troubled children

By Sophie Wheeler

A SHAMED social worker has quit after he was caught illegally sharing confidential and highly sensitive information on troubled children while banned from frontline duties.

Leo Kirk, 59, from Leech Brook Avenue, Audenshaw, had been suspended from practice for 18 months by a healthcare regulator after he persuaded a grieving woman to lend him money for a mortgage repayment when he was allocated to look after her.

Leo Kirk (Photos: Cavendish Press)

But he carried on working as a regional manager for a private care company which helps young people without disclosing his suspension and was put in charge of developing policy ideas.

Kirk was reported to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) after he sent private documents to a rival firm which contained confidential details about 14 youngsters in care and whether they were at risk of child sexual exploitation.

He subsequently claimed he passed on the information to show the other company how “difficult and complex some of these young people are”.

At Stockport Magistrates Court, Kirk was fined £483 and ordered to pay a further £412 costs after he admitted two charges of obtaining and recklessly disclosing personal data under the Data Protection Act 1998. His 18-month suspension was lifted in October last year but he is no longer involved in social work.

Kirk, who qualified as a social worker in 1998, had originally been reprimanded by the Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service in April 2018 after he borrowed £450 from a woman he was assigned to care for through an agency between 2014 and 2016.

At the time the unnamed woman from Warrington, who had post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression after a bereavement, was awarded £4,800 in backdated benefits after being helped by Kirk.

But in November 2016 he then told her computer hackers had stolen £3,000 from his bank account and he needed money to pay his next mortgage instalment.

He paid back £100 after she lent him the cash but he transferred to another post two weeks later – sending a text message to the woman saying: “I won’t forget – here is my personal number”.

The money was subsequently refunded in full by Warrington Council after the woman told another social worker about the illicit transaction.

At his disciplinary hearing, Kirk was condemned by the HCPTS for his “lack of integrity” and accused of “abusing his position of power” and suspended him on public protection grounds.

But in submissions to the regulator, he said: “Since I qualified as a social worker in 1998, I have devoted myself entirely to my profession and as a consequence built an exemplary reputation with the local authorities I was employed by, but more importantly the clients I was fortunate to work with.

“From the outset I have acknowledged and accepted that my behaviour was unprofessional and out of character. I also accept that I had caused one of my clients to be upset and distressed which I apologised unreservedly.”

The ICO investigation began in May 2018 after the director of Preston-based Holywell Children’s Services, which provide care and support to young people learnt information about children in its care, had been sent to a competitor the Hillgate Health Group in Stockport.

It emerged Kirk had been working at Holywell without telling his employers about his suspension, although he insisted he had he did not deal with clients face-to-face and instead was assigned to “develop and deliver a children’s service”. It was alleged he had also been suspended by two previous employers.

Asif Khan, prosecuting for the ICO, said: “We received a report about unlawful misuse of personal data by a manager who had without reason passed on documents about up to 14 young people aged 16 to 18 to a competitor.

“He was employed by Holywell children’s services but gave details of 14 children to Hillgate Health Group, which was providing placements for children who are in care.

“Mr Kirk was suspended from his job on May 10, after breaching data protection rules and an investigation revealed he had unlawfully disclosed referrals for residential and foster care placements for vulnerable young people aged between 16 and 18. The information identified sensitive personal data including accommodation and foster referrals and personal data about children in care.

“This sensitive personal data including details concerning sexual behaviour, sexual grooming and the risk of child sexual exploitation plus any history of abuse. It also contained details their health, police cautions and court referrals.

“He disclosed this information to a third party. He was working for an agency at the time but he disclosed information to a competitor. He was interviewed and admitted these offences.”

Representing himself, Kirk said: “The competitor was a new business that was opening up and the reason I sent referrals over was to acknowledge that and to show the new business how difficult and complex some of these young people are.

“The competitor didn’t know anything about the business side of it. I was just trying to show that if you open a business for young people, there are difficulties they present and they can be difficult to manage. I should not have shared these referrals but it was of no benefit to me financially.  I was wanted to show the new business how difficult young people are.”

He added: “I was approached by the rival firm but they didn’t ask for the information – it was sort of a dual conversation. Some people just see the money and don’t see what these young people do. There were conversations around that and my thinking was they need to see how difficult these young people are before you start thinking about opening this business.

“If you don’t get it right, you will do more damage than good – that was my thinking.

“I deeply regret what I have done I am a qualified professional. But my intention was nothing more sinister then showing somebody the complexity of young people and I do apologise for that. I am working now but not as a social worker.”

Sentencing Kirk, chairman of the magistrates Lynn Moores said:  “We have listened very carefully and taken into account your early guilty plea and your fairly obvious remorse – you have obviously lost your job.”

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