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CIPFA statement concerning member Mr Stephen Clark

07-12-20

On 4 and 7 December 2020 a Disciplinary Committee of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (“CIPFA”) heard allegations against CIPFA Member Mr Stephen Clark.

Attendance

Mr Clark attended the hearing with a colleague for support.

The Disciplinary Committee Hearing

Mr Clark was admitted as a Member of the Institute in February 2000. He was employed by Company A as a Senior Statutory Auditor and Key Audit Partner in respect of signing audits of financial statements of Public Bodies.

The facts of the matter

In April 2019 Mr Clark was involved, as a car driver, in a head on collision in the Derbyshire area which resulted in extensive front-end damage to both cars. The police attended and, suspecting that Mr Clark had been drinking from the smell of alcohol on his breath, administered a breath test. Although not a legal basis for proceedings, the test indicated a reading of 91 micrograms of alcohol per 100ml of breath (the legal limit being 35 micrograms per 100ml of breath). The other car involved in the collision was upside down resting on its roof and the driver was heard by the officer to be in significant pain. The driver was later found to have a broken ankle amongst other unnamed injuries. Mr Clark himself was taken to hospital and treated for a head laceration.

A police officer later attended Derby Hospital to take a blood procedure to ascertain the levels of alcohol in Mr Clark’s body, permission for which was given by the Doctor in charge.

Mr Clark failed to give a sample claiming that he did not know who the officer was. The officer’s evidence was that she was in full uniform, introduced herself as a police officer and showed Mr Clark her warrant card. She said Mr Clark appeared to have no difficulty talking to medical staff but when asked to provide a sample acted confused and kept his answers vague. For example, when asked to provide a specimen he said “I don’t know”, when asked for consent to take a specimen he said “I don’t know who you are, I don’t know” and, when given a warning, he said “struggling to know who you are”. This was quite properly treated as a refusal to provide a sample. Following the refusal Mr Clark was reported by the police for failure, without reasonable excuse, to provide a blood specimen.

Mr Clark’s own account to the probation officer who prepared his pre-sentencing report was that he was driving home and on passing a public house, three miles from his home, decided to stop and have a drink. He stayed at the pub for two hours but could not remember how much alcohol he had drunk. He initially said that he would not have driven if he had thought that he was incapable of driving but later, when challenged by the probation officer, confirmed that he did feel the effects of alcohol but that getting a taxi would have been difficult due to the remote location. He said he did take a risk, he would have felt intoxicated, that it was a stupid thing to do and that he put a lot of people at risk. He told the probation officer that he had had little recall of events after the accident due to his head injury and was thinking that he failed to provide a blood specimen as he was confused and didn’t understand what was being asked of him but couldn’t remember.

Mr Clark was subsequently charged with the offence of failing to provide a blood specimen to the police for analysis – an offence punishable by up to 6 months imprisonment. He initially pleaded not guilty but, a week before trial, on legal advice, changed his plea to guilty. The case was regarded by the justices as a Category One offence, with both greater culpability and harm, so the starting point for sentence was custody and a high level of community service. As a result of mitigation pleaded on behalf of Mr Clark, he received a Community Order requiring him to participate in a specified activity for a maximum of 6 days and an unpaid work requirement of 200 hours, a victim surcharge, an order for prosecution costs and a disqualification from driving for 29 months subject to a 25% reduction upon satisfactory completion of an appropriate driving course (which was undertaken by Mr Clark).

This was Mr Clark’s first criminal conviction.

Mr Clark was advised by his solicitor that he had rightly pleaded guilty in light of the strength of the evidence and the lack of sufficient evidence or support for his contention that his concussion was responsible for his refusal to co-operate with the taking of the blood sample. He was also advised that there were no grounds for appeal.

Mr Clark brought the incident to the attention of his employers who undertook disciplinary proceedings, resulting in a final written warning for 24 months. He was also required to fully comply with the conviction terms and to attend a consultation with the firm’s occupational health provider. During the course of those employment proceedings, Mr Clark advised his employer that despite the roadside reading he had thought he was ok and that the breathalyser was inaccurate, on the basis that this had happened in another case. He informed his employer that he had been advised that his defence would have amounted to a suggestion that the police officer was lying, which would likely result in his conviction, and that his defence of reasonable refusal based on his being concussed was unlikely to succeed and so, on legal advice, he changed his plea. Mr Clark’s employer considered him to be remorseful and apologetic for his conduct and understood the gravity of his actions for the driver, his family and the firm.

Mr Clark self-reported the matter to CIPFA.

Mr Clark’s admissions and the Committee’s findings

Mr Clark admitted the facts and breaches of Bye-Law 23. He accepted that he was guilty of misconduct in having been convicted of a matter which could result in imprisonment and that his actions brought, or were likely to bring, discredit on himself, his employer and the profession of accountancy (Bye-Law 23(d)). He also admitted his conduct was a breach of the Institute’s Code of Ethics’ fundamental principle of professional behaviour and affected prejudicially the status reputation or welfare of CIPFA (Bye-Law 23(b) and (c)).

The Committee accepted Mr Clark’s admission on the facts and breaches of Bye-Laws 23(b) and (c) and found misconduct proven (Bye-law 23(d)).

Mr Clark’s reprehensible behaviour did not set the good example to colleagues that someone in his senior position should be providing but did the opposite. Instead of owning up to his responsibilities from the outset, Mr Clark employed tactics to try to avoid/mitigate his responsibility. In the undoubted knowledge that he had drunk too much alcohol to be able to drive he had got get behind the wheel of a car and ended up in a collision with a victim sustaining serious injury. Thereafter Mr Clark behaved equally badly by not cooperating with the police officer when she requested a blood sample. The Committee noted the officer’s evidence which gave the impression of Mr Clark deliberately trying to avoid responsibility for his actions and trying to find a way out of the predicament that resulted from those actions. This pattern of looking to find ways to avoid responsibility continued with the initial not guilty plea. Mr Clark’s actions set a bad example which reflected poorly upon him, and, by association, the profession, his employer and the Institute. Such serious behaviour alone amounted to misconduct.

Mr Clark was also guilty of misconduct in having been convicted of an offence that could lead to imprisonment. His offending had been viewed as a Category One offence with a sentencing starting point of imprisonment. The offence had been viewed seriously by the court and its sentence (of a Community Order with nearly the maximum hours of unpaid work and a driving ban close to the maximum) showed how close Mr Clark had come to receiving a custodial sentence.

Sanction and relevant considerations

The Disciplinary Committee directed that Mr Clark be severely reprimanded.

In reaching this decision the Committee took into account relevant aggravating factors; that the indication from the breath test was that Mr Clark was over twice the legal limit, that he endangered the life of another road user and potentially others, the serious injuries sustained by the other driver, the seriousness of the offence, his attempts to avoid responsibility, and, his limited insight.

The Committee also took account of mitigating factors. Mr Clark had expressed remorse and apology for his behaviour and indicated in his evidence to the Committee that he took full responsibility for his actions. He was of previous good character, had made guilty pleas to the court and the Committee, had developing, but not fully formed, insight, had taken measures to prevent a recurrence, and produced positive testimonials.

This was an isolated incident but there were no exceptional personal circumstances and Mr Clark’s actions were not non-deliberate. He told the Committee he would not normally drive when he was going to the pub, as he knew that he would drink too much to be able to drive, but had done so on this occasion with serious consequences. In the Committee’s view he had also wilfully refused to allow a specimen of blood to be taken.

The Committee took the view that the mitigating factors, along with this being an isolated incident in an otherwise unblemished career, made a severe reprimand a proportionate sanction, but wanted Mr Clark to know that he had come close to being suspended.

The Disciplinary Committee directed that Mr Clark be severely reprimanded.

The Committee also imposed a costs order against Mr Clark.

ENDS

For media enquiries contact the CIPFA press office at

T: +44 (0)20 7543 5703

M: +44 (0)7833 091 303

E: ashleigh.moore@cipfa.org

CIPFA, the Chartered CIPFA of Public Finance and Accountancy, is the professional body for people in public finance. CIPFA shows the way in public finance globally, standing up for sound public financial management and good governance around the world as the leading commentator on managing and accounting for public money.