Mr Idwal Stedman
ARCHITECTS REGISTRATION BOARD
PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT COMMITTEE
IN THE MATTER OF
MR IDWAL STEDMAN (045011A)
18 & 19 June 2012
Chartered Institute of Arbitrators
12 Bloomsbury Square
Mr Julian Weinberg(Chair)
Mrs Linda Read (PCC Lay Member)
Mr Donal Hutchinson (PCC Architect Member)
Ms Nicola Hill (Clerk to the PCC)
Mr Idwal Stedman did not attend and was not represented
Mr John Williams of Bankside Law appeared on behalf of the Architects Registration Board
- In this matter, the Board is represented by Mr John Williams. Mr Stedman attended this hearing this morning to make an application to adjourn his case, which was refused by the Clerk for the reasons read into the record before. He is not represented. He faces one allegation of unacceptable professional conduct based on seven allegations as set out in the charges. It is alleged that by his conduct, he has acted in breach of standards 4, 8, 9 and 11 of the Architects Code: Standards of Conduct and Practice 2002 (“the 2002 Code”) and standards 6, 9, 10 and 11 the Architects Code: Standards of Conduct and Practice 2010 (“the 2010 Code”).
- Having refused his application for an adjournment, Mr Stedman has left the hearing and has not returned. As a preliminary application, we are therefore asked to consider whether to proceed in his absence. The issue of service is not relevant here since Mr Stedman attended the hearing this morning.
- In considering the application to adjourn, Mr Stedman originally stated that he would remain at this hearing to assist, but has since changed his mind. We have listened carefully to Mr Williams’ submissions who has referred us to the cases of R v Hayward andTait v Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.
- The Committee notes from the signed Acknowledgement of Notice of Hearing form dated 24 March 2012 received from Mr Stedman that he does not intend to be legally represented which position he confirmed again today. We have exercised great care and caution in reaching our decision, and have carefully considered the overall fairness of the proceedings. In reaching our decision, we note that Mr Stedman subsequently made clear prior to the lunch recess this morning that, should his application to adjourn the hearing not succeed, he would not stay for the rest of the hearing. He was informed by the Committee that it might be in his interests to stay to be able to put his case, but he has nevertheless decided that he would not. He was informed and understood that if he did leave, the hearing may proceed without him. In the circumstances, the committee is satisfied that he has chosen voluntarily to absent himself from this hearing. We are satisfied that Mr Stedman has been given an adequate opportunity to appear before the Committee to argue his case in person and that he chooses not to do so. The Committee is mindful of the fact that a witness for the Board has attended from Cardiff to give evidence and of the inconvenience that might be caused to him having to leave and attend another day, and the consequential effect that such an adjournment may have on his recollection of events. The allegations that Mr Stedman faces are serious. The Committee has balanced Mr Stedman’s interests, the public interest, the interests of the witness, and the need for this hearing to take place expeditiously. Having done so, for the reasons stated above, we have concluded that it is fair and in the interest of justice to hear the case in his absence.
- The background to this matter is that Mr Stedman appeared before this Committee following complaints being made against him, firstly, by Mr Floyd and secondly by Mr Sherwood and Mrs Alden when he was practising under the name, Stedman Architectural.
- Mr Floyd was an independent Consultant Hydrologist who made his complaint to the Board on 26 August 2011. In 2008, he was commissioned by Mr Stedman to carry out flooding consequences assessments to accompany planning applications for three redevelopments. Mr Floyd submitted four invoices between February 2008 and January 2009 for his work, totalling nearly £8000. Mr Stedman did not pay these invoices despite repeated attempts by him to secure payment, which included corresponding with him, contacting a debt collection agency and eventually instructing solicitors to recover the monies owing. Proceedings were commenced and on 1 December 2010, a County Court judgement in the sum of £9073.89 was entered against him. Following that, Mr Stedman then entered into correspondence with Mr Floyd in which he offered to pay off the debt at the rate of £500 per month. Subject to certain conditions, that offer was accepted, yet he continued to default on paying him. As at today, no sums have been paid in settlement of the judgement debt.
- Mr Sherwood and Mrs Alden made their complaints on 11 November 2010 and 29 November 2011. In October 2009, Mr Stedman was appointed to plan and project manage an extension to their home. Planning permission for an extension had been sought and obtained and Mr Stedman was then required to send out tenders for the work. The complainants provided the names of four firms who they wanted to be contacted in addition to a firm considered suitable by him. However, given the delay receiving tenders being received, they contacted a number of the builders directly only to ascertain that they had not been contacted. It is alleged that he failed to provide evidence that he contacted any of the contractors invited to tender other than a letter to DG Greenslade dated 14 July 2010. On 5 August 2010, after some nine months into the project, they terminated their agreement with him.
- Following his dismissal by them, the complainants asked the builders and a Structural Engineer to provide advice on the project. It was at that point that they found out that they would not be able to build the proposed extension to the ground floor as it would have been near or over a public sewer. Having been contacted, Mr Stedman stated that he was aware of the presence of the sewer and that he would have served a Building Over Sewer Agreement with Welsh Water once the contract had been agreed. It is the Board’s case that Welsh Water would not have given consent for such work if the extension was positioned less than three meters from the sewer. The essence of the allegation is that he failed to adequately investigate and report on the problems presented by the presence of the sewer at a sufficiently early stage of the project and that he failed to advise the complainants that dealing with this issue might significantly affect the cost of the project so that they could make an informed decision as to how to proceed.
- Following receipt of these complaints, the Board wrote to Mr Stedman enquiring, amongst other things, on the status of his professional indemnity insurance, particularly regarding whether he had ‘run off cover’ for the period prior to 30 October 2008. It is alleged that he failed to respond to the Board’s letters of 23 February, 10 and 28 March 2011, either fully, or within the time limit specified by the Board.
- In the Acknowledgement of Notice of Hearing Form, Mr Stedman admitted the facts of all the allegations save for allegations 3a and 3b. In addition, he denied that his conduct amounts to unacceptable professional conduct.
- In reaching its decisions, the Committee has carefully considered all the documentary evidence presented to it in the Report of the Board’s Solicitor together with the 410 pages of its enclosures and the contents of the signed Acknowledgement of Notice of Hearing form dated 24 March 2012. Mr Sherwood attended the hearing and gave live evidence for the Board. The Committee has also carefully considered the submissions made by Mr Williams and has heard and accepted the legal advice given by our clerk. As stated above, Mr Stedman did not stay for the hearing and therefore has not either given evidence or made any submissions but we have taken account of any information supplied by him in correspondence contained in the bundle before us. The burden of proof in this case is on the Board and that the civil standard applies, namely proof on the balance of probabilities. Whether his conduct amounts to unacceptable professional conduct is a matter for our professional judgement.
- Turning to the allegations, the Committee finds the facts of allegations 2a, 2b, 2c and 3d proved by virtue of his admissions. So far as allegations 3a and 3b are concerned, we find those allegations proved for the following reasons:
- Mr Sherwood gave live evidence in respect of both these charges. The Committee found his evidence to be clear, credible and reliable. Mr Sherwood was not prone to embellishing his evidence and he was willing to say that he could not recall a particular detail when that was the case. He stated that the issue of the sewer was discussed with Mr Stedman at the outset. He had had a previous experience of building over a sewer and was aware that this could be a potential problem. He had repeatedly asked Mr Stedman to survey the drains and that that there would not be a problem with the building. However, he was reassured by Mr Stedman that this could be addressed by a Building Over Sewer Agreement being put in place. Mr Stedman accepts in his letters to the Board, that he was aware of the issue and that the signing of such an agreement was the appropriate way of dealing with it. However, it was clear from the correspondence received from Welsh Water, that due to the proximity of the sewer to the property, they would not have agreed to building over the sewer. This would have materially affected the cost and viability of the project would have meant that that it would not have been possible to build the ground floor extension as proposed. Mr Sherwood stated that neither the possibility nor the cost implications of consent not being forthcoming from Welsh Water was raised by Mr Stedman and he has not produced any evidence that contradicts this assertion.
- So far as the charge relating to the tender documents is concerned, Mr Sherwood’s evidence was quite unequivocal. Frustrated by the delay in receiving the tenders, he contacted the companies in question himself by phone. He was told on each occasion that tender documents had not been submitted to them notwithstanding that he had chased Mr Stedman for confirmation that the tender documents had been sent out. Mr Stedman has not produced evidence to the contrary. Had he sent the tender documents out as he should have done, it would not be unreasonable to have expected the companies to have been chased should there have been a failure or delay on their part to return the tender documents. Mr Stedman has not produced any such evidence, which lends credibility to Mr Sherwood’s version of events. Accordingly, the Committee finds both these allegations proved.
- As for allegation 3c, the Committee notes that Mr Stedman has admitted this allegation. However, and unusually, it cannot consider this matter as having been proved in its current form for the following reasons. ‘Run off’ cover is required where an architect ceases to practise so that any claims that may arise, usually in a six year period after that time, are covered. The profession’s PII guidance form exhibited in the bundle confirms that such insurance is required in these circumstances. Insurance, of course, must still be in place until that time. Mr Stedman was required to have insurance cover in place for the period before the 30th October 2008. The Committee has seen a copy of a policy document showing retroactive cover in place for the 2008-2009 period. However, the Board has specifically put its case on the basis that ‘run off cover’ was required for the period up until October 2008. Whilst Mr Stedman has admitted in the Acknowledgement of Notice of Hearing Form that he did not, he was not required to do so up until such time as he ceased to practise. He cannot therefore be criticised for failing to have such cover at the material time. This issue having been raised by the Committee with Mr Williams, he made an application to amend the charge to refer simply to ‘cover’ rather than ‘run off cover’. We have carefully considered his submission and have accepted the advice of the clerk. Mr Williams’ application can properly be made before the end of the Board’s case. The Committee has carefully considered whether to allow this amendment would be fair and in the interests of justice and has concluded that it would be. Mr Stedman is not present and was not on notice of this proposed amendment. However, to allow such an amendment in the Committee’s view, does not change the substance of the allegation because while the meaning of ‘run off cover’ could be open to misinterpretation, the sense of what is being sought by the Board is quite clear. Whatever the wording used, it is apparent that the Board’s letter to Mr Stedman dated 23 February 2011 is seeking confirmation that he had effective insurance cover in place for any work carried out prior to 30 October 2008. If Mr Stedman was confused as to what was being asked of him, it was open to him to seek clarification but he did not. As the substance of what is being sought would not be materially changed by the proposed amendment, the Committee allows the application and in the absence of evidence being provided that cover was in place for the period in question, the Committee finds this allegation proved.
- In considering whether those facts found proved amount to unacceptable professional conduct, we have had regard to the following facts:
- So far as allegation 2a is concerned, this relates to events subject to the 2002 Code. The allegation is admitted. It is clear that Mr Stedman failed to settle the four invoices rendered to him for professional services rendered, compelling Mr Floyd to eventually take court proceedings. He still failed to pay what was owing even though he made an offer to pay the debt by instalments. He has not given any explanation as to why he has not settled these debts which are now between 3 and 4 years old. The fact that he failed to pay the sums owing for such a substantial period of time shows, in the committee’s view, a wilful and serious disregard of his responsibilities to Mr Floyd, and as such, the Committee concludes that his conduct in this regard was in reach of Standard 9 of the 2002 Code.
- Similarly, it is accepted by him that he failed to pay the judgement debt once it had been entered against him in December 2010. The 2010 Code was in force at that time and specifically envisages situations where an architect fails to pay a judgement debt. As such, we have concluded that by failing to settle the judgement debt, he has breached Standard 9 of the 2010 Code. The Committee has concluded that both his reputation and that of the profession is adversely affected by his actions, and brings both himself and the profession into disrepute. As such, the Committee has concluded that his conduct has breached Standards 9.2 and 10 of the Code.
- So far as allegation 2c is concerned, Mr Floyd made a complaint to the Board about Mr Stedman’s failure to settle his outstanding invoices by a letter dated 16 February 2011. The Board wrote to Mr Stedman on 1 April 2011 seeking a response to the complaint. By that time, Mr Stedman had made his proposal to Mr Floyd to settle his invoices. The Committee is satisfied that by failing to keep to that agreement, Mr Stedman has failed to deal promptly and appropriately with the complaint and has therefore acted in breach of Standard 10 of the 2010 Code.
- So far as allegation 3a are concerned, the failure to advise in relation to the sewer issue and its cost implications relate to events when the 2002 Code applied. The Committee finds that the failures found proved breach Standards 4(2) and 11(5) of that Code. The allegations at 3b relate to events after 4 March 2010 and are therefore subject to the 2010 Code. The committee finds that Mr Stedman’s conduct in this regard is in breach of Standard 6 of that Code.
- Turning to allegation 3c, the Committee finds that Mr Stedman’s failure to have in place effective insurance cover is a breach of Standard 8 of the 2002 Code.
- As for allegation 3d, he has again admitted this allegation. Standard 11 of the 2010 Code is unequivocal in setting out an Architect’s obligations to cooperate fully and promptly with the Board and within any specified timescale. He was obliged to provide information which it needs to carry out its statutory duties, including evidence that he was complying with the Code’s standards. This he failed to do by failing to respond to the correspondence, the subject of the charge. In fact, he went further by stating in his letter of 11 February 2011 to the Board in response to a request from it seeking evidence that he had the necessary insurance in place, that “no further correspondence will be entered into as this is costing time and money for an issue that is justified.” The Committee is in no doubt that such a refusal to cooperate with the Board in response to a legitimate request from it places him in beach of Standard 11.
- In the light of our findings of breaches of the Code as set out above, the Committee is satisfied that his conduct fell substantially short of the standard required of a registered person and hence, finds him guilty of unacceptable professional conduct pursuant to Section 14 of the Architects Act 1997.
- In reaching our decision, and in considering whether to impose a sanction, we have had regard to the public interest, which includes the need to protect the public, to maintain confidence in the profession and the Board and to declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and performance. We recognise that the purpose of imposing a sanction is not to be punitive although it may have a punitive effect. We have also taken into account his interests, the indicative sanctions guidance and the need to act proportionately, taking into account all the aggravating and mitigating factors in this case, and in doing so, we have exercised our own independent judgement.
- We have first of all considered whether no sanction should be imposed but considered that as he has been found guilty of a number of fundamental breaches of the Codes, that his conduct was too serious for it not to be marked by the imposition of a sanction. The breaches found proved relate to his professional relationship with a client, a professional third party and his regulator.
- The Committee has therefore then considered whether to impose a reprimand. We have heard that Mr Stedman has no previous matters recorded against him in a career spanning 36 years. However, the Committee has concluded that the breaches found proved are too serious for such a sanction.
- The Committee therefore considered where to impose a suspension order. Whilst no adverse inference is drawn from Mr Stedman’s failure to attend this hearing, the fact that he has chosen not to attend, means that the Committee has heard nothing in mitigation from him and no explanation for his actions. No testimonials have been provided. He has not demonstrated any insight into his failings or given any indications as to how he has addressed them and therefore, there is a risk that such behaviour might be repeated. The enquiries of the Board were justified, and his non-cooperation with it was deliberate and serious. Mr Sherwood has suffered loss as a result of Mr Stedman’s failings both in terms of lost time and having to have work redone. Mr Floyd has still not been paid anything. He has been put to the expense of having to sue Mr Stedman having given him every opportunity to settle the accounts before doing so. Mr Stedman still failed to pay even after judgement had been entered and he had reached an agreement to pay by instalments and the Board had raised the complaint with him. Mr Stedman has given no explanation at any time why he has refused to pay any sum. No apology to any affected party has been given. Failure to have effective insurance cover in place is a breach of a fundamental tenet of the Code and potentially puts clients at risk. The Committee also notes that all the matters found proved occurred before the incident that gave rise to his health issues referred to in his application to adjourn this hearing. These collective failings reflect a wholesale disregard for his responsibilities as a professional architect and cannot be excused by Mr Stedman simply describing himself as an “eleventh hour person”.
- The Committee has concluded that these failures reflect conduct that is fundamentally incompatible with continuing to be an architect. As such the Committee has concluded that a suspension order is inappropriate. The decision of this Committee is that Mr Stedman’s name should be erased from the register. He is eligible to apply for his name to be re-entered on the register to the profession after a period of two years from today’s date.