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Mr Andrew James Plumridge

THE ARCHITECTS REGISTRATION BOARD

PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT COMMITTEE

In the matter of

Mr Andrew James Plumridge (054967C)

held on

30 April 2013

at

Architects Registration Board
8 Weymouth Street
London
W1W 5BU

—————–

Present:

Ms Alexandra Marks (Chair)
Mr Stephen Neale (PCC Lay Member)
Ms Judith Carr (PCC Architect Member)

Ms Nicola Hill (Clerk to the PCC)

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Iain Miller (of Bevan Brittan LLP) appeared on behalf of the Board
Mr Plumridge did not attend the hearing and was not represented

 

1. The Architects Registration Board (“the Board”) was represented by Mr Iain Miller of Bevan Brittan LLP.
2. Mr Andrew Plumridge did not attend nor was he represented.
3. Mr Plumridge faced allegations that, in breach of Sections 14(1)(a) and 14(3) of the Architects Act 1997 (“the Act”), he was guilty of unacceptable professional conduct in that:
(a) he failed to act with honesty and/or integrity by:
(i) failing to disclose to his client, Mr W, in writing his relationship with the builder on the project ;
(ii) certifying the value of works contrary to the best interests of Mr W;
(iii) refusing to provide to Mr W a copy of minutes from a meeting unless he was paid monies; and/or
(iv) writing a letter to Mr W’s employer which was inappropriate and/or contained unfounded allegations
contrary to Standard 1of the Architects Code: Standards of Conduct and Practice 2010 (“the Code”);
and further allegation (ii) above is also contrary to Standard 6 of the Code in respect of the Respondent’s failure to carry out his professional work faithfully and conscientiously and with due regard to relevant technical and professional standards;
(b) prior to undertaking professional work in relation to Mr W’s project, he failed to set out in writing:
(i) who would be responsible for what:
(ii) provisions for suspension or termination of the agreement;
(iii) a statement that he had adequate and appropriate insurance cover;
(iv) details of the complaints handling procedure;
(v) the fact that he was registered with the Board and is subject to the Code and that a client could refer a complaint to the Board if his conduct or competence appears to fall short of the standards of the Code
contrary to standard 4.4 and/or 4.6 of the Code.
(c) he failed to provide the Board with evidence of indemnity insurance to cover his liabilities for the time period 2001-06 following a request by the Board in breach of Standard 8.4 of the Code; and
(d) he failed to respond to the Board’s enquiries in breach of Standard 11 of the Code.
4. The Board’s solicitor reminded the Panel that the Board’s Professional Conduct Committee Rules (in force with effect from 1 January 2013) (“the Rules”) provide that the burden of proving the case falls on the Board’s solicitor and that the Committee shall apply the civil standard of proof (the balance of probabilities) (Rule 12e.). The Board’s solicitor stressed that no dishonesty is alleged against Mr Plumridge. However, Mr Miller invited the Panel to find Mr Plumridge guilty of a lack of integrity in breach of Standard 1 of the Code.
5. In Mr Plumridge’s absence today, the Clerk invited the Panel to treat Mr Plumridge’s email last evening as an application to adjourn today’s hearing.
6. Rule 9 governs adjournments. Rule 9a states that the Committee may adjourn any hearing at any time if they consider that it is appropriate to do so.
7. The Clerk drew the Panel’s attention to ARB’s Guidance on seeking an adjournment, a copy of which had been sent to Mr Plumridge on 19 April 2013. That Guidance emphasises that without documentary evidence supporting any claim by a respondent of lack of readiness, ill-health or inability to secure representation, an application for adjournment on such grounds is unlikely to be considered reasonable. The Guidance also points out the need to ensure that cases are heard within a reasonable timescale so that the interests of the public as well as the profession can be protected.
8. The Clerk referred the Panel to the case of Crown Prosecution Service v Picton [2006] EWHC 1108 (Admin) which lays down a number of non-exhaustive factors which should be taken into account when considering whether or not to grant an adjournment. That case further states that the crucial test is that the respondent is entitled to a fair hearing but the convenience of parties or their representatives is not a sufficient reason for an adjournment. Unless advised by the Panel that an adjournment has been granted, parties and their representatives must attend the Panel ready to proceed.
9. This Panel took into account the fact that Mr Plumridge had supplied no documentary evidence in support of his claims of current ill-health, his lack of readiness for today’s hearing, his inability to secure representation at today’s hearing, and the unavailability of himself and his witness to attend. It was, in the Panel’s view, significant that today’s hearing is itself an adjournment of the originally scheduled date of 16 October 2012 and that the parties were advised of today’s hearing date in mid-December 2012. Thus, in the Panel’s view, Mr Plumridge has had ample time to prepare for today’s hearing, submit the nature of his defence, and arrange for representation (if he chose to avail himself of it), as well as ensure the availability of his witness and himself. The Panel further noted that Mr Plumridge had been advised in writing that, his prior applications to the Clerk for adjournment having been refused, he had a right to seek adjournment by the Panel at the commencement of today’s hearing. The Panel also noted that certain of the original allegations had been removed from today’s proceedings in order to address to Mr Plumridge’s concerns that this hearing might prejudice concurrent proceedings in the Patent Court, scheduled for hearing in September 2013.
10. Taking all these matters into account, and the need to balance the interests of the respondent with the public interest and protection of the profession, the Panel concluded that it was not appropriate to adjourn today’s hearing in accordance with Rule 9a.
11. By way of preliminary application, the Board’s Solicitor applied for this hearing to continue in Mr Plumridge’s absence. The Panel first considered carefully whether Mr Plumridge had been properly served with notice of the hearing in accordance with the requirements of the Act and the Rules. The Panel’s bundle included evidence that Mr Plumridge was well aware of the date, place and time of this hearing which had been served on him both by post and by email. On the basis of that evidence, the Panel was satisfied that notice of this hearing had been properly served.
12. The Panel went on to consider whether, in the circumstances and given the background to this case, it was appropriate for the proceedings to continue in Mr Plumridge’s absence. Having applied Rule 11 of the Rules, the principles set out by the Court of Appeal in R v Jones (Anthony William) [2003] 1 AC 1 and the factors set out in Tait v Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons – [2003] All ER (D) 286, the Panel was satisfied that Mr Plumridge had been given an adequate opportunity to appear before the Panel to argue his case. The Panel noted that Mr Plumridge had communicated with the Board on numerous occasions and at great length on other matters during the investigation but had not provided any satisfactory evidence in support of his inability to attend this hearing today. The Board’s solicitor reminded the Panel that witnesses had attended today, and that their memories of events (which had occurred over two years ago) as well as their convenience in giving evidence would be adversely affected were the matter not to proceed today. The Panel weighed carefully Mr Plumridge’s repeated written indications to the Board that he refutes all the allegations made against him; and that he intends to defend these proceedings, seek representation and produce a witness in his defence. The Panel also noted Mr Plumridge’s claim that he has been focussing fully on the forthcoming Patent Court proceedings and has been unable to prepare adequately for these proceedings. However, Mr Plumridge has been aware of these proceedings since last August, and those relating to the Patent Court matter have been removed from this hearing in order to address his concerns of prejudice in those court proceedings. The Panel therefore concluded – in exercising its discretion with the “utmost care and caution” – that it would be in the interests of justice, and the public interest, for the hearing to proceed today. The Panel noted its crucial responsibility to ensure that the respondent has a fair hearing and will conduct today’s hearing, despite Mr Plumridge’s absence, with that responsibility always in mind.
13. The Panel also noted that Rule 11d of the Rules provides an additional safeguard, namely that an absent respondent may apply for a rehearing in certain circumstances.
14. As Mr Plumridge was neither present, nor represented, nor had he made any admissions, he was regarded by the Panel as denying all the above particulars, and denying that he was guilty of unacceptable professional conduct.
15. In reaching its decision, the Panel gave careful consideration to the papers, submissions and evidence presented by the Board’s Solicitor, Mr Miller, including evidence given under oath by the witnesses he called – Mr W and Mr Handley – and their answers to questions from Mr Miller and the Panel.
16. The Panel also gave particularly careful consideration to the papers, correspondence and documentation which Mr Plumridge had submitted, given his absence from the hearing and the Panel’s decision nevertheless to proceed in his absence with “utmost caution”.
17. It was clear from Mr Plumridge’s correspondence with the Board that he refuted the allegations and wished to defend himself, but at no point during the 17 months since he was notified of these proceedings had he put forward any defences for the Panel to consider.
18. In brief, on the basis of the evidence, the Panel found proved – on the balance of probabilities – the following facts:

18.1 In July 2010, Mr W appointed Mr Plumridge in connection with minor building works to his home in Sunningdale;

18.2 During a meeting on site in late July 2010 to determine the extent of the works, Mr Plumridge mentioned he knew a builder who would be able to start work within a few weeks;
18.3 Two weeks later, on 10 August 2010, Mr Plumridge emailed Mr W referring to his “preferred builder” being “on standby to price the work and is available to start work in the second half of September.”
18.4 Mr Plumridge’s email set out his hourly rate, and proposed a ceiling for his fees, but failed to set out:
(i) who would be responsible for what:
(ii) provisions for suspension or termination of the agreement;
(iii) a statement that he had adequate and appropriate insurance cover;
(iv) the firm’s complaints handling procedure; and
(v) the fact that he was registered with the Board and is subject to the Code, and that a client could refer a complaint to the Board if his conduct or competence appears to fall short of the standards of the Code.
18.5 On 25 September 2010, Mr Plumridge received a quote for the works, totalling £35,741 from a Mr B.
18.6 At no time did Mr Plumridge inform Mr W that his “preferred builder” (Mr B) was in fact a close personal friend. Mr W told the Panel that he had discovered after the works had commenced that Mr Plumridge is godfather to one of Mr B’s children and their friendship was evidently a very close one. Nor did Mr Plumridge advise Mr W to enter into formal contract documentation with the builder or explain to him the implications of not doing so. Accordingly, no contractual provisions were ever recorded in writing as to the works completion date, payment of monies, retentions, or certification procedures.
18.7 As the project progressed, Mr W objected to Mr B’s behaviour, and was dissatisfied that the project was unfinished by Christmas 2010. He met Mr Plumridge and Mr B on 25 January 2011, and agreed works would restart on 31 January 2011.
18.8 However, on 1 February, the day after works recommenced, Mr Plumridge emailed Mr W that the contract “..by joint agreement.. is ended”. That day, Mr Plumridge issued a second valuation certificate and stated Mr B owed Mr W around £1,390 as a result of prior overpayment.
18.9 Following Mr Plumridge’s assertion that the contract had ended, Mr W wished to obtain an independent valuation of the works carried out. He instructed Mr Handley (an architect whose name he obtained from RIBA) to inspect the works and assess their value.
18.10 On 16 February 2011, Mr Handley reported that Mr Plumridge’s valuation certificates were “very unusual” in certifying 100% of the value of work and materials rather than allowing for any retention. Mr Handley also disagreed with many items on Mr Plumridge’s valuation schedules, opining that Mr B owed Mr W a refund of nearly £7,700.
18.11 When provided with the report written by Mr Handley, Mr Plumridge queried his independence and opinion.
18.12 As for independence, Mr Handley told the Panel that, until Mr W had telephoned him on Saturday 5 February 2011, he had not ever been acquainted with him. His only interaction with Mr W following that conversation, was a site visit the following day, submission of a draft report to Mr W, some minor alterations to his draft report as a result and some follow-up telephone calls during the ensuing two to three weeks.
18.13 As for his valuation, Mr Handley explained to the Panel that, having reviewed the specification, the quotation and visited the site to inspect each element of the works, he had identified items which had been charged as extras when they were already included in the specification. These, he estimated, accounted for around 60-70% of the difference between his valuation and Mr Plumridge’s. He had also identified items which were unfinished, and items which were of poor quality. These latter two categories, Mr H explained, require judgement and are, therefore, a matter of opinion. However, the unwarranted extras were, in his view, “clear cut” because they amount to double-counting of items already covered by the original quote.
18.14 In light of Mr Plumridge’s assertion that Mr W had “terminated the contract in haste”, Mr W asked Mr Plumridge to provide notes of their meeting on 25 January 2011, when continuation of the works had been agreed. Following repeated requests over a five month period, on 1 November 2011 Mr Plumridge agreed to release the meeting notes but only on payment of his outstanding fees which he stated were £672.00. Mr W disputed those fees and told the Panel that he had not at any time before that date been made aware of any outstanding fees, nor had he previously received any request for payment nor at any time since received an invoice.
18.15 On 24 November 2011, Mr W wrote to ARB, complaining about Mr Plumridge’s conduct.
18.16 On 20 December 2011, the Board informed Mr Plumridge of Mr W’s complaint, and asked for a response by 9 January 2012.
18.17 Mr Plumridge sent no response, despite reminders from the Board on 17 January 2012 and 8 February 2012.
18.18 However, on 18 January 2012, Mr Plumridge wrote to Mr W’s employer, alleging that Mr W had divulged confidential information about his patients, possibly stolen hospital property and questioning his “mental state and professional behaviour.” Mr W’s employer investigated the allegations, found no evidence to support them and wrote to Mr Plumridge that matters would be taken no further.
18.19 In the meantime, on 15 March 2011 the Board wrote to Mr Plumridge telling him that correspondence had been received about an outstanding claim not covered by his PI insurance. The Board asked Mr Plumridge to provide details of his insurance (or run off cover) for the period 2001-06.
18.20 Mr Plumridge provided the Board with evidence of his insurance cover from 13 March 2006 but none prior to that date “because the records are not available and insurance matters were at that time handled by the practice manager [who] retired on health grounds about three years ago..”.
19. Section 14 of the Act defines unacceptable professional conduct as conduct which falls short of the standard required of a registered person. Section 13 of the Act states that failure to comply with the provisions of the Code shall not be taken of itself to constitute unacceptable professional conduct but shall be taken into account in any proceedings. The Code also expressly states that failure to comply with the provisions of the Code shall be taken into account. On these bases, the Panel considered whether Mr Plumridge’s actions and/or omissions amount to unacceptable professional conduct. The Panel decided that:

19.1 in failing to disclose in writing to Mr W the nature of his close personal relationship with Mr B, Mr Plumridge’s conduct was contrary to Standard 1.3 of the Code in that he failed to manage the conflict of interest, or obtain all affected parties’ informed consent to his continuing to act; and

19.2 in failing to certify payments until Mr W had paid direct to the builder virtually the whole of the contract price; for certifying payments for 100% of the value of the works without providing for any retention; for failing to release minutes of a meeting until his (disputed) fees were paid, Mr Plumridge’s conduct exposed his client to unnecessary risk, was not in his client’s best interests and was contrary to Standard 6 of the Code (to carry out professional work faithfully and conscientiously) and contrary to Standard 1.1 of the Code (to avoid actions or situations which are inconsistent with professional obligations); and
19.3 in writing to Mr W’s employer with unfounded serious allegations of dishonesty, breach of patient confidentiality and other matters, Mr Plumridge’s conduct was contrary to Standard 1.2 (not to make any statement which is unfair to others or discreditable to the profession) and Standard 1.1 of the Code (to act with honesty and integrity); and
19.4 by failing to set out in his original terms of engagement (i) who would be responsible for what; (ii) provisions for suspension or termination of the agreement; (iii) a statement that he had adequate and appropriate insurance cover; (iv) the firm’s complaints handling procedure; (v) that he is registered with the Board, subject to the Code and that a client could refer a complaint to the Board about conduct or competence, Mr Plumridge had failed to meet the requirements of Standards 4.4 and 4.6 of the Code; and

19.5 in failing to provide evidence of his PII cover when requested to do so by the Board, Mr Plumridge had breached Standard 8.4 of the Code (insurance arrangements); and
19.6 in failing to respond to the Board’s correspondence notifying him of the complaints against him, Mr Plumridge’s conduct breached Standard 11 of the Code (cooperation with regulatory requirements and investigations).
In view of the range and number of his breaches of the Code, the Panel found Mr Plumridge guilty of the charge of unacceptable professional conduct.
20. Mr Plumridge had not attended the hearing so was unable to make any submissions in person or offer any mitigation with regard to sanction. However, the Panel took account of the fact that Mr Plumridge had written at length and repeatedly to the Board about the logistics of this hearing, and had engaged in the process to that extent. The Panel also observed that, during the events in question, he was experiencing severe financial difficulties which culminated in his personal bankruptcy on 18 January 2011 just a few days before works recommenced on Mr W’s property. The Panel also noted that, in compliance with Standard 9.2 of the Code, Mr Plumridge had notified the Board of his bankruptcy and had explained how it had come about. The Panel surmised that, at the time of the events giving rise to these allegations, Mr Plumridge had been under considerable personal pressure and stress.
21. The Board confirmed that Mr Plumridge had no previous disciplinary history.
22. Nevertheless, the Panel regarded as serious the unacceptable professional conduct of which it had found Mr Plumridge guilty: it ranged across a number of standards laid down by the Code; arose from a number of different incidents; showed a serious disregard of clients’ best interests; and had resulted in both expense as well as serious inconvenience and distress to affected clients. The Panel was particularly concerned about the timing and content of Mr Plumridge’s letter to Mr W’s employer, seeing this as a malicious and discreditable attempt to impugn Mr W’s reputation, intimidate Mr W from pursuing his involvement in these proceedings, an attempt to disrupt these proceedings, and demonstrating a severe lack of integrity and professionalism. The Panel also noted that Mr Plumridge had not attended this hearing in person to offer any explanation for his behaviour nor had he ever given any written indication of his defence beyond a blanket denial. The Panel noted that clients had suffered seriously as a result of his conduct, and that Mr Plumridge had not ever apologised to his clients or the Board.
23. The Panel noted that the purpose of sanctions is not punitive but to protect the public interest; maintain standards within the profession; uphold the reputation of the profession; maintain confidence in the regulatory process; and act as a deterrent to other members of the profession. In the Panel’s view, breaches of the Code such as those committed by Mr Plumridge, undermine the public’s confidence in the architects’ profession and damage the profession’s reputation.
24. The Panel considered whether or not Mr Plumridge’s unacceptable professional conduct was serious enough to warrant a disciplinary order in accordance with the Act. The Panel concluded that it was sufficiently serious to deserve a sanction. The Panel considered in turn each of the sanctions available to it, starting with the least severe. Having considered the particular circumstances of this case, and having regard to the Indicative Sanctions Guidance issued by the Board, and taking account of the various aggravating and mitigating factors set out in the Guidance and identified by the Panel as applicable in this case, the Panel concluded that neither a reprimand nor a penalty order adequately reflected the seriousness of Mr Plumridge’s conduct. The Panel carefully considered imposition of a suspension order (available for a maximum period of two years). However, the Panel viewed Mr Plumridge’s behaviour, comprising a number and range of serious breaches of the Code, as fundamentally incompatible with continuing to be an architect. The Panel also lacked confidence that a repeat offence would not occur. The Panel considered Mr Plumridge had shown a severe lack of integrity; persistent lack of insight into the seriousness of his actions, and their consequences; and had failed to express any remorse, regret or apology. Accordingly, the only appropriate sanction was erasure.
30 April 2013
-ENDS-

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