A senior social worker who targeted vulnerable teenage girls by encouraging them to pose topless or nude for bogus modelling agencies was struck off today.
Christopher Hardman, 55, from Batley, West Yorkshire, abused his position at Kirklees Metropolitan Council (KMC) where he was a youth offending team manager, by obtaining files and contact details of several young women, a conduct hearing at the General Social Care Council was told.
He concealed his identity, contacting the girls with text messages and letters using a number of aliases and claiming to work for a legitimate modelling agency.
At the hearing in central London, which Hardman chose not to attend, chairman of the committee Sarah Phillips said he had committed a “gross breach” of trust and must be struck off the register of social workers.
She said: “This was an elaborate and sophisticated scheme deliberately targeting young women, the majority of whom were service users and two of whom were vulnerable.
“It amounted to a sustained course of misconduct during which the registrant was at pains to conceal his involvement.
“Moreover it was a significant abuse of power and was behaviour wholly incompatible with his status as a social worker.
“The committee regarded this misconduct as at the top end of the scale of seriousness.
“The public is entitled to be protected and to expect to be protected against conduct of this nature.
“The committee took the view that public confidence would be severely shaken if such conduct did not result in removal.”
The committee heard that Hardman, who did not attend the photo shoots, thought to persuade four young women who had been in contact with the young offending team, to pose topless or nude for money, with £120 offered for a full naked shoot.
The women were identified only as letters, with the youngest aged just 15 when she was first approached.
The committee heard that Hardman contacted a total of six young women, with all but one agreeing to attend a photo shoot and two posing topless.
The chair said: “The facts amounted to a gross breach of trust by the registrant.
“He used information available to him through his employment to obtain contacts or other details of four young women and thought to persuade them nude or topless for money.
“He deliberately concealed his true identity to pretend he was a legitimate modelling agency and to obtain their trust.
“Four of these young women were service users known to the youth offending team which he led.”
The committee heard that Hardman contacted a total of six young women, with all but one agreeing to attend a photo shoot and two posing topless.
The chair said: “The facts amounted to a gross breach of trust by the registrant.
“He used information available to him through his employment to obtain contacts or other details of four young women and thought to persuade them nude or topless for money.
“He deliberately concealed his true identity to pretend he was a legitimate modelling agency and to obtain their trust.
“Four of these young women were service users known to the youth offending team which he led.”
The committee heard that one young woman, identified as Miss A, was sent letters and texts seeking to persuade her to attend a shoot, lie about her age, and forge her parent’s signature.
The 16-year-old replied to the text, in which Hardman pretended to be a woman called Sue: “I’m only 16 and my parents won’t condone it. Will you still be interested?”
The reply from “Sue” read: “Yes we are very. If you are 16 you can do topless but not nude but just do lingerie until you are more assured.”
Miss A was offered £80 for a topless photo shoot and £120 for nude.
More texts arrived from “Sue”, with one reading: “If you want to earn a few hundred before Christmas just go topless” and another saying: “None of them tell their parents. Just do it girl.”
When the girl said she could not obtain parental permission, a further text came in reply which read: “Just put any signature down. Just don’t tell anyone.”
Miss A did not attend the photo shoot but the other five girls did, including Miss B who was first approached with a phone call when she was just 15.
Hardman, who identified himself as Peter Jennings said she could not take part until she reached 16 and months later, after the girl‘s birthday, he contacted her again on her home phone and on two mobile phones, telling her there was a shortage of black models.
Miss B posed for photographs, first in a skirt and shirt with her bra on and then with her bra off.
She later received 179 thumbnail photographs, complaining that some “looked sexual“, the committee heard.
Both Miss C and D, 16 and about 18, who were known to the youth offending team, agreed to pose topless, with C taking part in a shoot with a friend after obtaining parental consent.
Miss D took part in two shoots, with her mother present, and was described to the committee as “vulnerable”.
Hardman also targeted Miss E, obtaining her details through work.
The 16-year-old was described as “extremely vulnerable, especially to older men“.
A final young woman who was persuaded to pose for photos was the daughter of a colleague, after Hardman persuaded the mother that it was a good way to make money, concealing his involvement with the bogus photo studio. The young woman who took part was aged more than 20.
All of the offences took place in 2005.
Rosie Varley, chair of the GSCC, said: “Social work relies on the existence of a wholly professional relationship, in circumstances in which users of services have little choice but to be trusting.
“The vast majority of social workers, and there are almost 80,000 on our register, have no difficulty with this because they are absolutely committed to working within the best interest of the service user at all times.
“People who need social care services have the right to be protected from social workers who seriously abuse the trust placed in them, for the purpose of sexual gratification or for any other purpose.
“A social worker who abuses this trust should forfeit the privileges which come with registration and be removed from the workforce.”
Hardman’s activities came to light after the arrest of photographer David Hemingway early in 2006.
Police searched Hardman’s home address and found a small quantity of cannabis in hid bedside drawer for which he accepted a formal caution.
He resigned from KMC but his employers told him he would have been dismissed in any case. The police did not pursue criminal charges either against Hardman or Hemingway.
Hardman was registered by the GSCC in February 2005 and as manager of the Youth Offending Team supervised a number of staff.
Presenting the case for the GSCC, Shelley Edwards said: “All the women were known to the registrant and he deliberately targeted them not once or twice but over some months through text messages and phone calls.
“The public should rightly be able to expect that those registered with the GSCC tasked with dealing with youths are honest, upstanding and caring.”
The committee found Hardman breached the code of conduct on 12 counts, including failing to respect and maintain the dignity and privacy of young people who came into contact with the youth offending service, failing to be honest and trustworthy, abusing confidential information, and abusing the power which came from his work.
The committee also found he exposed the young women to potential abuse and harm and exploited their trust, putting them at unnecessary risk.
Hardman admitted the offences in an email sent last month and expressed his desire to make an apology but when he was told he would be able to email the apology to the committee there was no response.
A Kirklees Council spokesman said: “As soon as these allegations came to light, Mr Hardman was suspended from his duties with immediate effect and we relayed our concerns to the General Social Care Council.
“A disciplinary investigation was carried out and Mr Hardman resigned before the hearing. He declined to attend the hearing, after which he was informed that he would have been dismissed had he not already resigned.
“We have co-operated throughout with the General Social Care Council’s investigation and we fully support the outcome.”