Our overriding priority is always to make sure that the people we support can live full and engaged lives in the way that they choose.

The period following the online publication of a photo of one of our colleagues has been very difficult for those involved, but it’s been an experience we have learnt a lot from.

When we saw the photograph, we responded immediately by implementing our disciplinary procedure with the member of staff involved. The Care Quality Commission, the police and the local authority safeguarding team were immediately alerted so that they could independently look into the situation.

After speaking with the person we support and his family, and reviewing the circumstances surrounding the incident, these agencies did not find evidence that there was any mistreatment, and decided not to investigate further.

We knew immediately from speaking to S that the photograph painted a very misleading picture of what was happening.

To ensure objectivity, and following our own internal policy, we then commissioned an independent investigation, led by Alan Rosenbach (formerly of the CQC), which reported back to Mencap.

The investigation confirmed that - as we can see from the photograph itself - there were some serious breaches of Mencap policies around smoking at work and the use of mobile phones. But it also uncovered the context that lies behind the photograph. The bags of shopping belong to the person we support, and while it may not have been the right thing to do, were placed on a tray on his wheelchair at his own suggestion.

The photograph invites us to see him as a passive ‘victim’ in this situation, but this isn’t the case: he is a man with a lively and full personality who enjoys going out, has a strong relationship with his support workers and has firm views on both the activities he wants to take part in and the support he wants from his support worker.

The investigation led to a disciplinary hearing, which concluded that while the conduct of the staff member fell well short of what we would expect in this instance, it did not warrant dismissal. Central to this decision were the statements and wishes of the person we support (referred to as ‘S’) and his family.

S’ brother and guardian, told us:

S is a big personality, and has always had a great bond with his support workers. It has been very hard for us being at the centre of this storm, as we knew immediately from speaking to S that the photograph painted a very misleading picture of what was happening. On that day, they had been out shopping for some new clothes S wanted, and he likes to be able to see his shopping and asked to have his bags in front of him.

Mencap has made sure that S has been involved fully in the investigation into what happened, and we have felt listened to through the whole process. Both myself and S are happy with the result, and relieved it’s all over.

When we asked S if there was anything he would like to include in this blog, he said:

“Me glad not been sacked. Me thought might be.”

We acknowledge that the photograph is distressing, and has uncovered behaviour that is not up to the standard we would expect from our employees, which we are addressing and working with our staff to ensure will not be repeated.

But the independent investigation has shown that, as a snapshot, it paints a misleading picture of what is happening, and the decision in this case reflects that.