Social worker filmed up women's skirts

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The Independent Online

A social worker who filmed up women's skirts during shopping trips for his own "personal gratification" was removed from the register today.

Michael Bird, 55, admitted using a digital camera hidden in a sports bag to capture images of the unsuspecting females while visiting supermarkets and clothing stores in Newcastle.

A General Social Care Council (GSCC) conduct hearing in central London was told Bird worked as a senior social worker in North Tyneside Council's emergency duty team at the time of carrying out the offences on four separate occasions in June 2008.

The panel heard how Bird was arrested on June 25 of that year by Northumbria Police, interviewed and later received a caution for voyeurism after admitting using observing equipment in a department store just before being detained.

Bird, of Newcastle, told officers he had used a tennis racquet bag to conceal a digital camera taping down the record button.

He had adapted the equipment further by putting a piece of fabric over the camera lens to create the illusion the item of clothing was sticking out of the bag.

Nirupar Uddin, presenting for the GSCC, said Bird had "adapted the tennis racquet bag in order to view under adult females' skirts and that those images caught were for his own personal sexual gratification".

It was alleged Bird used his hidden camera to film up women's skirts on June 24 at Tesco in Kingston Park and Sainsbury's in Gosforth High Street.

He was also alleged to have captured footage in the same manner on June 25 at River Island in Eldon Square and lastly Fenwick department store.

Police found some images from June 24 had been edited and placed on his home computer and immediately alerted his employer.

The recovered images made reference to women's upper thighs, bottoms and partially covered genitalia.

When asked about his arrest, Bird initially told managers he had been involved in a fight but was then forced to come clean, stating he "did not know what had come over him".

He was suspended from his post on 26 June.

Bird later said he had been showing his son how to use a video camera for a school project and had previously seen videos on the internet, causing him to become "curious".

He added he had been brought up as a Jehovah's Witness and prevented from testing the boundaries as a result of his religion.

Ms Uddin told the hearing's panel the offences breached the codes of practice relating to social care workers, namely that individuals must strive to establish and maintain trust and confidence in service users and carers.

They must also uphold public trust and confidence in social care services by not behaving in a way which would call into question an individual's suitability to work in the sector.

Bird, who was not present for the hearing, has admitted misconduct.

Hearing the facts of the case, committee chairwoman Tricia Bradbury said: "Such behaviour was a violation of the privacy of those women, who doubtless would have been horrified to learn they had been filmed in such a way."

After retiring to consider appropriate sanctions, she said the committee had concluded to remove Bird from the register "with immediate effect" following his formal dismissal from work on August 18 2008.

She said: "There was clearly an element of premeditation, planning and sophistication involved.

"The camera had to be placed in such a way that it could not be seen but still operated."

She said the committee had taken into account Bird's positive references and his 25 years' service in the profession, but found this was a "serious incident of misconduct" and a "serious departure" from the relevant code of practice.