SOCIAL WORKER, SEX ABUSE COUNSELLOR, JEHOVAH’S WITNESS, VOYEUR.

A social worker who secretly filmed up shoppers’ skirts blamed his behaviour on his strict upbringing as a Jehovah’s witness.

Michael Bird, 55, hid a spy camera in his tennis bag and followed unsuspecting victims around supermarkets and clothes stores in Newcastle.

He was arrested after one woman spotted the device between her legs in Fenwick’s and alerted security.

Bird, a Senior Social Worker for North Tyneside Council’s Emergency Duty Team, who ran a support group for sexual assault victims, was given a police caution and sacked from his job.

He told his bosses he was just ‘curious’ had been prevented from ‘testing boundaries’ as a child because of his religion.

Mirpur Uddin, for the General Social Care Council, told the hearing: ‘He said there were many different reasons for him doing this.

‘He was showing his son how to use the camera for a school project and he had previously seen up-skirt videos on the internet and wondered how they worked.

‘That same weekend he started playing tennis and he noticed that the bag was big enough for a video camera and this contributed to his curiosity.

‘The images were not erotic to him. It was just curiosity. He thought that the worst that would happen is that the women would find out he was filming them.

‘He said he had a strict upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness and he was prevented from testing boundaries as a child due to his religion.’

Ms Uddin explained that Bird adapted his tennis racquet bag to video under skirts ‘for his own personal sexual gratification.’

She said: ‘He had adapted his tennis racquet bag to incorporate a digital camera to record video footage up women’s’ skirts.

‘He Sellotaped the record button in place and glued a piece of fabric over the end to create the illusion that an item of clothing was sticking out of the bag so as not to draw attention to the camera.’

On June 24 last year, Bird was carrying the bag when he wandered into Tesco in Kingston Park, Newcastle.

Once he spotted a suitably dressed women clutching her shopping bags, he moved in, filming a couple of minutes of her upper thighs and bottom.

He then moved onto Sainsbury’s in Gosforth High Street where he got another two minutes of footage.

Bird’s next victim was found in River Island in Eldon Square the following day but he was later caught and arrested at Fenwick’s in the city centre.

He rang his bosses and told them he couldn’t make it into work because he’d been arrested for fighting but they had already been told the truth by police.

Bird was sacked from work in August and in February this year accepted a police caution for voyeurism and using observing equipment.

He has now moved abroad and is not attending today’s central London hearing but admitted the charges.

Bird was found guilty of misconduct and chairman Tricia Bradbury said: ‘He has admitted going into four different shops over two days and using a hidden camera to film up four women’s skirts.

‘Such behaviour was a violation of their privacy and they doubtless would have been horrified to learn that they had been filmed in such a way.

‘A certain amount of planning and sophistication was required to place a camera in a bag and film up skirts and remain hidden.

‘This was a pattern of behaviour, not a one-off.

‘This was a fundamental departure from the standards expected from a social worker.’

The General Social Care Council panel was unimpressed by Bird’s protestations that he had been driven by curiosity and struck him off.

It emerged that Bird once set up a support group for victims of sexual abuse.

Banning him from working in social services again, chairman Tricia Bradbury said: ‘The camera had been concealed in such a way that it could not be seen.

‘He said he was curious to see if this would work and it was curiosity that made him do it.

‘He said a friend had been discussing a voyeuristic website and whether the footage was staged or obtained with the women’s consent and he decided to see, out of curiosity, if he could gain any footage.

‘He said he acted on the spur of the moment.

‘However we are unconvinced by these conflicting explanations because he also said he had a deep-seated problem going back to his childhood and his strict religious upbringing.

‘This was a serious incident of misconduct. The behaviour was only brought to a halt because he was caught and it is not known what would have happened had he not been caught.

‘He lacked insight by saying he didn’t think there would be any serious consequences from his actions.’