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DC removes Northants vet from Register for theft, fraud and dishonesty

10 May 2023

The RCVS Disciplinary Committee has directed that a Northamptonshire-based veterinary surgeon be removed from the Register after she was convicted of theft and fraud, and found to be dishonest and misleading in not declaring a police caution and an adult restorative disposal to the RCVS.

The hearing for Joanna Wicksteed, who was representing herself, took place from Monday 24 to Friday 28 April 2023 in respect of five charges against her.

The first charge concerned her conviction in May 2021, following a jury trial at Oxford Crown Court, for one count of theft and two counts of fraud for which she was sentenced to a two-year community order, including 150 hours of unpaid work, and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £2,800, £177.07 to Barclays Bank and £85 as a victims’ surcharge. She admitted this charge at the outset of the RCVS Disciplinary Committee hearing.

The second charge concerned the allegation that, in October 2015, she was made subject to an ‘adult restorative disposal’ (‘ARD’) following thefts from Tesco Extra stores. This charge was found proven, with the Committee citing as its evidence the fact this had been admitted by Dr Wicksteed’s defence Counsel during the criminal trial at Oxford Crown Court and Dr Wicksteed admitting in her evidence to the Committee that she had signed an ARD at the time.

The third charge concerned the allegation that, in January 2018, she stole from a Debenhams department store and, in March that same year, received a formal police caution. This charge was found proven by the Committee.

The fourth charge was that, in her annual renewal declarations made each year with the RCVS from 2016 through 2021, she had failed to declare the ARD and the caution. Under the Code of Professional Conduct, veterinary surgeons are required to declare any convictions, cautions and/or other adverse findings upon initial registration or upon the annual renewal of registration. Dr Wicksteed was cleared of failing to declare her ARD as it was determined by the Committee that, under the College’s declaration protocol, this was neither a conviction, caution, nor adverse finding. However, the Committee found that, for her annual renewal declarations from 2018 through 2021, she had failed to declare the police caution.

The fifth and final charge against her was that in failing to make declarations upon renewing her registration, she was dishonest, misleading and had failed to take adequate steps to inform the College of the caution and the ARD. The Committee found this charge proven in respect of the caution only and not the ARD, as it had been previously established that the ARD did not fall under the RCVS declaration protocol.

“The Committee noted that the conviction concerned three elements of dishonesty: theft and two counts of fraud. It involved stealing from a junior colleague at work, and the fraudulent activity – the use of the colleague’s card - was carefully planned"

Having considered the facts of the case, the Committee next considered whether the first charge, which Dr Wicksteed admitted, rendered her unfit to practise, and whether the remaining charges that were found proven amounted to serious professional misconduct.

Commenting on this charge, Judith Way, chairing the Committee and speaking on its behalf, said: “The Committee noted that the conviction concerned three elements of dishonesty: theft and two counts of fraud. It involved stealing from a junior colleague at work, and the fraudulent activity – the use of the colleague’s card - was carefully planned in that, when it was used, it was in respect of items which did not cumulatively cost in excess of £30 and therefore did not require knowledge of the card holder’s PIN. It was used twice in the Tesco Store. Between those times, Dr Wicksteed changed her appearance by taking off her coat and waited some 20 minutes.”

She added: “The Committee accepted the College’s argument that members of the public would find it abhorrent for a member of the profession to have acted in this way – stealing from a junior colleague a card held under a Power of Attorney for her brother, and spending money using that card, deliberately keeping each transaction under the contactless limit to try to conceal the conduct. Honesty and integrity is one of the five key principles which must be maintained by members of the profession.”

The Committee found that this charge alone rendered Dr Wicksteed unfit to practise veterinary surgery.  

As regards the elements of the remaining four charges that were found proven, the Committee found that these amounted to serious professional misconduct, both individually and cumulatively.

The Committee then considered the most appropriate and proportionate sanction for Dr Wicksteed, taking into account both aggravating and mitigating factors.

In terms of aggravating factors, the Committee considered that there was actual harm to a vulnerable person in the case of the conviction for theft and fraud, the misconduct and dishonesty it entailed was repeated, there were elements of premeditation in the conduct, there was inadequate insight shown into her behaviour, and there was wilful disregard of the College and its processes.

In terms of mitigation, the Committee considered supportive statements and character references from professional colleagues and clients and accepted that there was no actual or potential harm to animals, that Dr Wicksteed had a hitherto unblemished career as demonstrated by the references, and that there had been a significant lapse of time since some of the elements of the charges, albeit she had not declared them. The Committee also accepted that Dr Wicksteed had suffered from ill-health, although had not seen evidence that directly connected her health with the dishonest behaviour.

Taking into account all the factors, the Committee decided that removal from the Register was the appropriate and proportionate sanction, referencing Dr Wicksteed’s breaches in relation to: serious departure from and reckless disregard for the professional behaviours set out in the Code of Professional Conduct; causing serious harm to the public and breach of trust; persistent and concealed dishonesty; and persistent lack of insight into the seriousness of her  conduct.

The full findings of the Disciplinary Committee can be found on our Disciplinary hearings webpage

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