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Chastised architect attacks 'drawn-out' ARB conduct case

A London architect who was dealt a reprimand for 'unacceptable professional conduct' last week has hit out at the 'incredibly drawn-out and incompetent' pre-hearing behaviour of the ruling body which brought the verdict, the Architects Registration Board. And his solicitor, Mark Klimt of Morgan Cole, claims that the ARB has breached its own investigation rules on the case.

Nicholas Brill of Bloomsbury-based Brill + Owen was rapped for his part in a domestic building project for clients Ayse and Peter Baxter, dating back to 1997. Amid a series of attacks by the client on the standard of works carried out by the builder John Cafferty, Brill was found guilty of a 'lapse in standards'. He failed to terminate his engagement in writing and did not submit a final account, but was absolved of the client's allegations that he had acted dishonestly.

Brill said the hearing had been 'fair' and 'rigorous' and that much of his approach had actually been commended, but slammed the ARB's lengthy processes. The Baxters had first taken their grievances to the RIBA in August 1998 after employing Brill the previous spring. Brill responded to the complaint fully in October 1998 and was told in March 1999 that it was being referred to the ARB.

After a wait of 10 more months, in January 2000, Brill learnt that the solicitor complainant was taking the matter on. But then he heard nothing more until almost a year later, on 8 December, when he was sent a report and copy of a response from the complainants which was itself two years old. That asked for a full response inside 10 days but the ARB agreed an extension because it was sent to the wrong postcode. 'It's not terribly satisfactory, ' said Klimt. 'They had years to prepare it and then it was a bit of a smash and grab raid to ask for a response in 10 days after a silence of 11 months.'

Klimt added that the ARB had also technically breached rules about disciplinary hearings. The board is required to issue a summary about what the witnesses would say at the hearing, but key elements - such as the overturned charges about Brill's alleged 'dishonesty' - were not included.

The ARB's Richard Coleman said the board would not comment because the 'independent and impartial' Professional Conduct Committee had ruled in public. Klimt was also given ample opportunity to raise his concerns.

The two-day case revolved around the Baxters' purchase of a new home in Hampstead Garden Suburb, where they employed Brill to carry out 'extensive' works valued at more than £50,000 while they were away on holiday. But when they returned they were not happy with the results from builder Cafferty, describing the work as 'slipshod' and 'far from satisfactory'. The ARB hearing even heard that the couple found urine stains on their wooden floor in the bathroom. Brill admitted that the way the house had been 'abused' was 'unacceptable and totally foolish', and Cafferty had replaced the wood and disinfected the bathroom.

But the Baxters were unhappy about other elements, including work on a skylight, bathroom cabinet chimney and flue, leading to a 'confrontational' final meeting with the architect.

'I felt like I was being ambushed, ' said Brill. 'I made every effort to complete the project, I was accused of being dishonest, incompetent and partial.'

Chair at the hearing Peter Verdin said in his summary that Brill had not been project manager but had checked if work had been done in accordance with specifications, discussing options and solutions. 'Brill paid an exceptionally large number of site visits for a contract of this type, ' she said, 'and we conclude that he did act conscientiously in administering the contract.'

This week Brill said he would be working with the building contractor again - but not the client.

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