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Exclusive: Architectural expert sacked from Grenfell inquiry

John priestley web
  • 9 Comments

An expert witness who claimed to be an architect but had not been on the ARB register since 2010 has been removed from his role on the Grenfell fire inquiry

Earlier this week John Priestley of John Priestley Associates was unveiled as the expert charged with investigating the ‘architectural design’ of the tower’s controversial refurbishment and had been asked to carry out a detailed examination of the building works undertaken between 2014 and 2016.

But his appointment on Wednesday (20 June) was quickly overshadowed after the Architects Registration Board launched an investigation into Priestly’s potential misuse of the title ‘architect’. 

Despite numerous references to ‘architects’ on his website, including the statement ‘John Priestley is a UK registered and Chartered Architect’, it emerged he had not been on the ARB register for the last eight years. 

The webpage has since been taken down. 

The ARB told the AJ it had acted ‘in response to concerns raised with us regarding potential misuse of the title “architect’’’.

An ARB spokesperson said: ‘Based on the information available at this time, we have reason to believe the individual in question is Andrew John Priestley who first came on to the Architects Register in 1987, but has not been registered since 2010. We will be taking appropriate action in response to this matter.’

A Grenfell Tower Inquiry spokesperson told the AJ: ‘All expert witnesses instructed by the inquiry are expected to comply with any relevant provisions and professional codes of conduct. Before he was instructed, John Priestley confirmed he was a UK registered and chartered architect.

‘Following the receipt of information that Priestley is not currently registered with the ARB, the inquiry has withdrawn his instruction as an expert witness.’

According to the Grenfell inquiry’s ‘expectation of expert witnesses’, those who are called to give an opinion on matters that call for expert skill and knowledge ‘owe the inquiry a duty to exercise reasonable care and skill [and] must also comply with any relevant professional code of ethics’.

The ARB added: ‘The titles “architect” and “architects” are protected in the UK. We regulate UK architects and maintain the architects register of individuals with the appropriate skills and qualifications to use the title. Where the individual labelled as an architect is responsible for the use of the term, ARB’s objective is to investigate and stop any ongoing misuse of title as quickly as possible.

‘We aim to be proportionate in our actions and, depending on the circumstances, we may seek satisfactory assurance that the breach will not reoccur, or consider prosecution. In deciding whether prosecution is appropriate we will consider whether it in the public interest to prosecute and if there a reasonable prospect of success.’

It is understood the ARB’s investigation will remain ongoing. Earlier this year a Luton man was ordered to pay almost £30,000 after illegally calling himself an architect.

The inquiry said a replacement for Priestley will be appointed in due course ’based on suitability’.

Priestley has not responded to requests for a comment.

A response from the RIBA: how can someone be an RIBA chartered member and not registered with the ARB?

All our chartered members who been elected to membership in the UK have qualified as architects, having undertaken courses of study and passed examinations that have been prescribed or recognised by council, which are also recognised by the Architects Registration Board (ARB). Chartered members in the UK must not practise or carry out business in the UK under any name, style or title containing the word ‘architect’ or use the affix ‘RIBA’ unless they are registered with the ARB.

A good example would be an academic who no longer practises as an architect but is still qualified should they want to.

John priestley web page

John priestley web page

  • 9 Comments

Readers' comments (9)

  • P Latham

    Truly unbelievable. Not only has this awful tragedy shown up a lack of technical skills in the profession for which the RIBA and approved schools carry a heavy responsibility but now we find the profession is represented by a fraud if the reports are true of his public profile. Martin Moore-Bick should have checked this guy's credentials as well given the weight he was clearly prepared to place on his evidence. The public has as much right to expect trust and expert skills of architects as they do from lawyers and doctors. Fellow architects who dismiss the use of the word architect on here are a discrace. I am sickened by the involvement of my profession any where near the Grenfell refurbishment and sickened by anyone who betrays their profession and public trust in it.

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  • Thank goodness it has been found out now, before any Inquiry time was spent on this. I find it shocking that an expert witness could put themselves in this position, speaking as an expert witness (on heritage matters), not as an architect!

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  • A necessary and speedy decision. The judge running the enquiry could not wait for ARB to act.

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  • @Platham
    The enquiry has not yet shown up any lack of skills in the architects, or the profession generally.
    The architects initially specified a zinc sheet rain screen cladding, with RockWool insulation behind. Totally non-combustible. And the windows were set in the original window openings in the concrete external walls.
    How that all morphed to combustible cladding and insulation with windows set off from the walls, i.e. in the cladding, is something the enquiry needs to address.
    Lack of clarity in the Building Regs, lack of proper testing, too much influence from manufacturers and installers, a lazy, if not negligent government.
    Lack of control by Kensington and Chelsea; fireman's lift did not work, dry riser not up to standard, fire door to lobbies and flat not up to standard, ineffective fire alarm system, all in a recent refurb costing millions is another question for the enquiry.

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  • Phil Parker

    Even if this character had been registered, I fail to see why anyone would seek advice from such a ropey looking outfit? Surely, the enquiry should be looking for input from the best professionals not outfits like this.

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  • P Latham

    if Berridge is correct (and he seems to know more than most), it still is not good enough for an architect to allow this incendiary construction to take place. Were letters written to the clients followed by solicitors letters? Given the gravity, (if it WAS understood by the architects) personally, I would have laid down in front of the contractors. The Building Regulations should not be a gold standard for architects detailing full stop.

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  • P Latham

    ...ok I have reviewed my file on Grenfell which includes screen shots from Studio E architects website before it was taken down. These proudly show the incendiary cladding system and include a partially removed panel which shows the firestops with clear air gaps either side of vertical metal support framing. So my point is, any architect should know the effect of smoke in continuous cavities, an effect accentuated on a warm night by the 'stack effect' due to the differential air pressure at ground level and the top of the tower. So Grenfell was a primed fire bomb awaiting any fire in any flat to go off with catastrophic consequences. If the architects knew of the technical deficencies of the alleged client/cladding contractor system (quoting Berridge), I find it strange they would display it proudly on their website. But I agree, of course no blame can be attached to the architect pending the outcome of the official enquiry.

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  • Can't beleave he would put himself in the spotlight without having propped upto date accredited status. Just watched the enquiry from today. It seems as if LFD FAMILULARITY visit is just the same as much of construction . A quality assurance documemt that is never used coŕrectly.

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  • It has been widely reported that the building regulations namely ADB2 is confusing. 12.5 and 12.7 are actually clear they proscribe materials below the threshold of limited combustibility if used in a building over 18m. In this case an alternative justification is required, look forward to hearing what strategy was adopted.

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