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ARB suspends architect who used taxpayers’ money to pay off debt

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An architect who was disqualified as a company director for using £200,000 he owed the tax office to pay off a personal debt, has been struck off for two years by the Architects’ Registration Board (ARB)

The board’s Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) hit Anthony Browne of London-based Chelsea Consultants with the suspension after finding him guilty of unacceptable professional conduct for his disqualification and his failure to report it to the board.

Explaining its decision, the PCC said ‘that a company director has accepted that he has run a company so badly that he accepts that he must be disqualified from holding such an office is inevitably damaging to the profession’.

In June 2017, a member of the public alerted the ARB that Browne’s former company, M&B Architects, had been forced into liquidation in 2015 through a court order as it owed HMRC £286,000. 

Following the insolvency of his company, Browne was disqualified from acting as a company director for four years.

According to the PCC, Browne ‘personally owed’ £120,000 related to a manner ‘unconnected with the company’, but used company funds to pay it off.

The removal of this money meant the firm was unable to pay bills it owed to the HMRC for VAT, national insurance and student loan repayments.

The PCC said that in the period when money was withheld from the public purse, the total amount the architect received was £200,000. 

Browne, who attended the hearing and had legal representation, admitted that his disqualification as company director of M&B Architects in 2016 – and his failure to report this to the regulator – amounted to unprofessional conduct. 

In his defence he said he intended to settle the debt using funds from another property development, that his disqualification did not reflect any criminal activity and that he fully accepted blame.

The ARB said it accepted that Browne intended to pay back the money and that there was no allegation of a lack of integrity, but nevertheless found him guilty of unprofessional conduct.

Explaining its decision, the ARB said: ‘Browne knew exactly what he was doing. Being a good citizen is not a reason to impose lesser sanction by reason of professional misconduct.

‘Browne intentionally took £289,532 of public money and utilised £202,170 for his own benefit. The committee would have erased Browne but for the fact that he had intended to replace the money from a personal property development.

‘He was (entirely wrongly) effectively borrowing money from the taxpayer in the hope of paying it back’

Browne, who worked on the Zap Club in Brighton and the Sussex country mansion of international financier Nicholas van Hoogstraten, said he used the £200,000 to pay off a debt owed on a property development deal in south-east London.

Responding to his suspension, Browne insisted he did not feel ‘hard done by’. 

’They are making an example of me, as well they should,’ he said. ‘I do accept it as part of the learning experience, some of which is bitter and some of which is sweet.’

When asked how he thought the loss of title would affect him, he said: ‘It does have an adverse effect, but you can’t expunge over 40 years of experience. I have a wealth of experience and while they might suspend the title and remove me from the register it doesn’t erase my experience.’

Browne added he thought his case should serve as a ‘lesson for all architects’ to re-read the ARB’s code of conduct and that universities should teach students more about how to run a business.

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