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Ms Karin Reenie Elliott

THE ARCHITECTS REGISTRATION BOARD

PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT COMMITTEE

In the matter of

Ms Karin Reenie Elliott (061005D)

Held as a video conference

On
20 July 2020 and
1 to 4 March 2021
———-

Present

Julian Weinberg (Chair)
Judy Carr (PCC Architect Member)
Jules Griffiths (PCC Lay Member)

———–

In this case, ARB is represented by Ms Kathryn Sheridan of Kingsley Napley LLP.
Ms Elliott attended this hearing and was legally represented by Mr Tej Thakkar of Leathes Prior
Solicitors, and subsequently by Ms Paula Clements of Alexander Chambers.

The Professional Conduct Committee (“PCC”) found Ms Elliott guilty of unacceptable professional conduct (“UPC”) in that:

1. The Respondent sent a number of abusive and/or offensive communications to Neighbour A between 9 – 13 January 2018;
2. The Respondent sent a number of abusive and/or offensive communications to Neighbour B between 10 – 11 January 2018.

and that by doing so, she acted in breach of Standards 9.2 and 12.1 of the Architects Code: Standards of Conduct and Practice 2017 (“the Code”).

The sanction imposed is a £2000 Penalty Order.

Charge and allegations

1) In this case, ARB is represented by Ms Kathryn Sheridan. Ms Elliot (“the Respondent”) has attended this hearing, which is being conducted remotely, and was initially represented by Mr Tej Thakkar of Leathes Prior Solicitors, and subsequently by Ms Paula Clements of Alexander Chambers. The Respondent faces a charge of unacceptable professional conduct (“UPC”) based on three allegations in relation to breaches of the Architects Code: Standards of Conduct and Practice 2017 (“the Code”). The allegations as amended are as follows:

1. The Respondent sent a number of abusive and/or offensive communications to Neighbour A between 9 – 13 January 2018;
2. The Respondent sent a number of abusive and/or offensive communications to Neighbour B between 10 – 11 January 2018;
3. The Respondent’s actions at particular 1 and/or 2 lacked integrity.

Preliminary Application

2) At the commencement of the hearing, Mr Thakkar made an application for Holly Wignall, Investigations Manager at ARB, to be called to give live evidence. In summary, he stated that if Ms Wignall gave evidence, he would ask her questions relating to ARB’s decision to pursue proceedings against the Registrant in the light of the fact that the criminal proceedings had been discontinued. Mr Thakkar confirmed that he was not making any application in relation to the fairness of the proceedings or in relation to the jurisdiction of the PCC to proceed with the hearing in light of the criminal proceedings against the Respondent being withdrawn.

3) He stated that he anticipated that Ms Wignall, whose statement of 18 March 2020 is exhibited to ARB’s Report, would be called to give live evidence. Ms Sheridan on behalf of ARB indicated that she did not intend calling any live evidence in support of the allegation, but confirmed that Ms Wignall was available to give live evidence if required.

4) The Committee was mindful that ARB’s Report did not explicitly state which witnesses, if any, it proposed calling. It has also borne in mind that whatever the basis for pursuing the investigation by the Registrar, the Committee was now seized of the case. It therefore concluded that, in the interests of fairness, Ms Wignall should be called to give live evidence, but the Respondent’s questions should be limited to those matters raised in her statement.

Allegation background:

5) The Respondent is a registered architect.

6) In July 2019, ARB received a complaint from the Respondent regarding another architect. Whilst ARB concluded that an investigation was not warranted into that matter, during the course of its enquiries, it became aware that the Respondent was subject to a restraining order (“the Order”) imposed by the Norfolk Magistrates Court on 19 July 2019. The terms of the Order prevented the Respondent from having any direct or indirect contact with her neighbours, Neighbour A and her husband, save through solicitors regarding ongoing civil proceedings.

7) The Respondent and Neighbour A and her husband were in dispute regarding building works and land ownership. In or around February 2017, Neighbour A and her husband obtained planning permission to carry out works at their property which was adjacent to the Respondent’s home. In October 2017, the Respondent wrote to them requesting that their builders reinstate the dividing wall between their respective properties. Neighbour A responded saying that the wall was wholly on her property but that she wanted to obtain the Respondent’s consent to the type of fence that also needed to be constructed.

8) The Respondent in November 2017 reiterated that Neighbour A and her husband had wrongfully demolished her wall and fence and had constructed a carport without authorisation.

9) On 9 January 2018, the Respondent sent Neighbour A a message which read:

“….You can’t just take someone else’s land or other property because you rather like the look of it. it’s plain theft, and still illegal in England. We are not in 1930’s Germany, we are not Jewish, we don’t wear yellow stars, and you won’t crush us. There are enough civilised people in this country that will protect us EU citizens against your horrid hate crimes. Apologise and rebuild our wall exactly as it was, straight away, or we will make sure that you face the consequences of your hateful cations”.

10) On receipt of that message, Neighbour A requested the Respondent stop messaging her and that all future correspondence be made in writing or sent through a solicitor. The message was sent to both the mobile numbers Neighbour A held for the Respondent.

11) It is then alleged that between 9 – 13 January 2018, Neighbour A received a series of abusive and / or offensive messages from the two mobile numbers she held for the Respondent.

12) The following is a sample of the 23 messages that ARB alleges the Respondent sent to the Neighbour A which supports the allegation:

i) “Oh right no regrets then? For Krystallnacht [sic] 1917? We will not be your victims anymore. Please stop communicating with me and my lodgers and vandalising my property you bitch;
ii) You may think it’s ok to harass us because you’re rich or English or dummies – I don’t know why you’re doing it…..dump your filthy garbage somewhere else – not at my gate you pigs;
iii) ….Go away and leave us alone you malicious bastards;
iv) ….I’m thinking of applying for planning permission for a little illuminated sign on the boundary of my garden with yours….the sign will read: ‘leave me alone you Big ugly fucker from East Anglia’;
v) ….From your Facebook pics, you looked so much slimmer before you met [Neighbour A’s husband]. I’m sure he’s quite a challenge emotionally.…;
vi) Are you trying to bring up your nice children to become fat racist thugs like their parents?
vii) ….Will your children be put in charge of operating the controls of your filthy gas chambers? The Nazis didn’t get away with it and neither will you’
viii) ….There wouldn’t be enough comfort food in Norfolk to make up for the emotional trauma caused to any woman that had to shag your Nazi husband;
ix) ….If you agree to get the bastard locked up, I’ll give you another month to rebuild the wall fences etc and clear your other junk off my land;
x) .…Get rid of the bastard [Neighbour A];
xi) ….don’t fool yourself of your racial superiority – your just a fat lazy cunt…;
xii) ….put back our wall you greedy cunt;
xiii) Now get off our property you fascist pigs;
xiv) ….what motivates you perverts to reroute your drainage onto our land? You’re disgusting;
xv) There are no concentration camps in this fair country yet. You and [Neighbour A’s husband] planning to build one…;
xvi) Your husband is a biff (big fat fucker);
xvii) …lying cheating greedy racist pricks”.

13) Further text messages allegedly sent by the Respondent suggested that the Neighbours’ architect and builders were dishonest, incompetent and unprofessional.

14) Neighbour A reported the matter to the Police in January 2018. The Respondent was interviewed by Police on 13 August 2018 during which she confirmed that the two mobile numbers which had sent the messages belonged to her, albeit that she could not remember sending the messages. The matter was ultimately dealt with by way of a non-conviction restraining order which currently remains in force, the criminal proceedings being withdrawn.

15) The Respondent reported Neighbour A and her husband to the Local Authority for breaches of planning permission in November 2017. The Local Authority investigated the matter and concluded that no enforcement action was needed.

16) This allegation is brought by the Registrar.

17) The Committee initially heard live evidence from Ms Wignall on behalf of ARB. It also began to hear live evidence from the Respondent.

Application to Adjourn

ARB submissions

18) The case was originally listed for a hearing to be conducted remotely between 20 and 22 July 2020. The hearing started and ARB closed its case on the morning of 20 July 2020. The Respondent admitted Particular 1 at the outset of the hearing.

19) During the lunchtime break, Neighbour’s B husband, who was observing the hearing as a member of the public, informed ARB privately that his wife had also received a number of text messages in a similar tone to those received by Neighbour A. Enquiries were made of Neighbour B who provided a copy of the text messages in question.

20) Prior to the conclusion of the Respondent’s evidence, Ms Sheridan made an application to adjourn the hearing pursuant to Rule 10a of the Professional Conduct Committee Rules (“the Rules”) which states:

“The Hearing Panel (or the Chair of the Hearing Panel or of the Professional Conduct Committee on a day prior to the relevant hearing) may adjourn the hearing at any time if they consider it appropriate to do so. Written notice of the date, time and place of the adjourned hearing shall be served on the Respondent.”

21) The basis of the application was that an observer of the hearing, who wished to remain anonymous, emailed Ms Sheridan on the first day of the hearing at 13.54. In summary, that individual stated that at the same time that the Neighbours were receiving text messages from the Respondent, he and his wife also received messages from her that he stated were offensive, hurtful and caused great distress, claiming that he was a “racist bully”. He stated in the email that his wife reported the matter to the Police who, he stated, said that they would keep the matter “on the back burner”. The email stated that the purpose of the email was to ensure that ARB was aware that the alleged abuse received by the Neighbours was not an isolated incident.

22) The email stated that he had let Ms Swanston of ARB have this information. Ms Swanston confirmed that there was no record of the matter having been raised with ARB.

23) Ms Sheridan accepted that at this stage, it was not clear whether the individual was willing to give evidence and that there was a need to assess the information received, have it considered by the Investigation Panel and for a decision to be made as to how to proceed in light of any decision the Investigation Panel should make.

24) She submitted that it was not fair to either ARB, the Respondent, nor was it in the public interest to continue with the hearing, which should be adjourned so that ARB could take stock of the new information that had come to light. If it transpired that the Investigation Panel concluded that there was a case to go to a PCC, consideration would then need to be given as to whether the cases should be heard together given that it appeared that the allegations related to similar facts over the same period of time.

25) Ms Sheridan referred the Committee to the case of Gilchrist v The Law Society [2001] EWHC 122 (Admin). She referred to paragraph 34 of the decision which states:

“There are, in my judgement two exceptional reasons why in this case, this court should interfere. The first and most important is that these matters, separately considered in April 1999 and December 1999, ought properly, and in fairness to everyone, to have been considered by a single Tribunal. It is to be noted that not only was there the overlap in terms of time and conduct to which I have already referred, but there were, on the first occasion, 12 offences of which the appellant was found guilty by the Tribunal, and on the second occasion there were but five. That, of itself, of course, is not determinative of what should be the appropriate sentence; all the circumstances have to be looked at. But it is a matter for comment that for the first Tribunal a suspension of 12 months was thought appropriate for those 12 offences and a suspension of four years was thought appropriate for five offences relating to conduct which in many respects was of a similar kind.”

26) She submitted that to remove unfairness and reduce the risk of this matter being under prosecuted, the hearing should be adjourned. She also submitted that if a second allegation was referred to the PCC, then the hearing should restart before another Committee. However, she emphasised that at this stage, it was unknown what the result of ARB’s investigations would be.

Respondent’s submissions

27) Mr Thakkar opposed the application. He submitted that the Respondent had an unblemished record and that, given the length of time ARB’s investigation had been ongoing, there had been ample time for all necessary enquiries to be made. He submitted that the Committee had now heard ARB’s case and that the Respondent had started giving evidence. At this stage, he submitted, it was not known whether a further formal complaint was being made and the veracity of the claim was not known at this stage. He submitted that it was not known whether this potential new claimant would be making a claim or whether he / she wished to proceed with it.

28) He submitted that adjourning the case would give ARB a further opportunity to open their case and that potentially, this was unfair. In any event, it would be financially costly for the Respondent and that she had limited funds to finance her defence.

Decision regarding application to adjourn

29) The Committee determined to adjourn the hearing. It had taken into account Mr Thakkar’s submissions but the Committee concluded that, given the similar nature of the further potential allegation being considered, it was appropriate, fair and in the interest of justice for ARB to make further enquiries to consider whether a further allegation should be made. If appropriate, ARB could make an application for joinder of the two matters in due course.

Circumstances since the hearing was adjourned

30) ARB made an application for joinder of the cases of Neighbours A and B which was granted on 25 November 2020.

31) Neighbour B has, however, since advised ARB that she is no longer willing to assist ARB due to the distress of re-visiting the matter and on that basis, ARB do not propose calling Neighbour B as a witness. Instead, ARB relies on the evidence of Viviana Schejtman, an ARB Investigations Officer, who confirms that the Respondent’s registered mobile telephone number was the same number used to send the relevant text messages to both Neighbour A and Neighbour B.

32) It is alleged that in January 2018, Neighbour B wrote to the Respondent (and other neighbours) that they had rented a hot tub for the weekend. Neighbour B stated that her children would therefore be in the garden during the weekend evenings and apologised in advance for any inconvenience caused.

33) It is alleged that the Respondent then sent a number of abusive / offensive texts including, but not limited to:

i) “we are not in Nazi Germany, we will never wear yellow stars, you cannot instigate a one family Nazi regime to occupy our land and intimidate us off our property….;
ii) Suggested New years [sic] resolution: send your husband for therapy with professionals who actually know how to help him….Now tell yoir [sic] racist prick of a husband to get lost and leave us alone;
iii) ….Get your greedy British butts off our land you racist pigs;
iv) Hope it makes your useless under-employed husband feel like a king of the empire, the poor git;
v) Are you trying to bring up your nice children to become fat racist thugs like their parents?
vi) .…Will your children be put in charge of operating the controls of your filthy gas chambers? The Nazis didn’t get away with it and neither will you;
vii) ….There wouldn’t be enough comfort food in Norfolk to make up for the emotional trauma caused to any woman that had to shag your Nazi husband.”

Resumed hearing: 1 March 2021

Application to amend particulars at the resumed hearing

34) Following a successful application for joinder of allegations relating to Neighbour A and Neighbour B, allegation 2 was added. ARB now seeks to amend the allegations in light of that further charge being added. Ms Sheridan submitted that the proposed amendment did not affect the nature or gravity of the allegation against the Respondent but merely sought to clarify the allegation and ensure that the allegation of a lack of integrity was stated as relating to the allegation against both Neighbours A and B, ARB’s application for joinder having been granted. She submitted that the Respondent had had good notice of the proposed amendment.

35) Ms Clements did not object to the proposed amendment.

36) Having heard the submissions of both Ms Sheridan and Ms Clements, the Committee was satisfied that there was no unfairness or injustice in granting the application. The Respondent had been given notice of the application and that it was proper to grant the application to give effect to the joinder application that had been granted.

37) The Committee therefore grants the application to amend the charges as proposed.

38) Particular 2 of the amended allegation is admitted, but particular 3 (as worded at the time of the resumed hearing) is denied, as is UPC. In relation to Particular 2, the Respondent does not deny that she sent the texts in question, but that they should not be viewed in isolation but in the context of the surrounding circumstances of the Respondent’s dispute with Neighbour B.

Application (heard in private) for evidence to be heard in private

39) In support of the Respondent’s defence, Ms Clements stated that she proposed calling FG, who has been in a long-term relationship with the Respondent and who jointly owned their property, to give evidence. She submitted that his evidence should be heard in private pursuant to Rule 21a of the Professional Conduct Committee Rules which states:

a. A hearing of the Professional Conduct Committee shall be conducted in public unless, in the interests of justice or for other reason specified in Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Committee directs that all or part of the hearing shall be conducted in private.
b. An application that all or part of a hearing shall be conducted in private shall be heard in private.
c. If the Hearing Panel makes a direction that a hearing shall be conducted in private the direction shall be strictly confined to so much of the hearing as is necessary for the reason referred to in paragraph a. of this Rule.

40) The basis of the application was that Neighbour B’s husband had attended the hearing as an observer and that, given the history of alleged harassment towards FG and the Respondent, that FG would feel uncomfortable and intimidated giving evidence, albeit virtually, in his presence. She submitted that the history between FG and Neighbour B’s husband and their close proximity, meant that it was necessary to hear FG’s evidence in private. She stated that the application was limited to hearing FG’s evidence alone in private and that that was proportionate and in the interests of justice to ensure a fair hearing.

41) Ms Sheridan opposed the application. She reminded the Committee that the default position was that hearings should take place in public to ensure ‘open justice’. She stated that the parties had known each other for some time, and that Neighbour B would be aware of the ‘flavour’ of FG’s evidence, even if he were excluded from the hearing for FG’s evidence. In the circumstances, she submitted, it would make little practical difference to exclude him from the hearing. She also submitted that if FG was concerned about Neighbour B’s husband seeing him, he could observe the hearing by phone rather than by video link.

42) The Committee had regard to the submissions made and Rule 21 of the Rules. It was mindful that the relationship between FG and Neighbour B and her husband was acrimonious, and that in the circumstances, that may affect the quality of the evidence that FG might give.

43) In the circumstances, the Committee concluded that it was in the interests of justice that FG give evidence in private, but otherwise, the hearing would be held in public.

Findings of Fact:

44) At the resumed hearing, the Committee heard live evidence from the Respondent and from FG. No further live evidence was called by ARB.

45) In reaching its decisions, the Committee has carefully considered the live evidence, the documentary evidence presented to it in the Report of ARB’s Solicitor, the Supplementary bundle and the exhibited documents which include screenshots of the relevant text messages. The Committee has also had sight of the Respondent’s Defence Particulars bundles together with its exhibits.

46) The Committee has accepted the legal advice given by the Legally Qualified Chair which is a matter of record. It has had regard to the fact that the burden of proof is on ARB and that the civil standard applies, namely proof on the balance of probabilities. The Committee is mindful that the more serious the allegation, the more cogent should be the evidence to find it proved. Whether the conduct alleged amounts to UPC is a matter for the Committee’s independent judgment to which no burden or standard of proof applies.

47) The Committee makes the following finding of facts:

Allegation 1:

48) The Committee has had sight of the various text messages and has had regard to the admission made by the Respondent.

49) The Committee therefore finds that the Respondent sent the relevant messages and that they were abusive and / or offensive. The texts contained a number of expletives and the Respondent repeatedly called Neighbour A and her husband racists and Nazis and made offensive references to their physical characteristics.

50) The Committee therefore finds the facts of this Particular proved.

Allegation 2:

51) The Committee has had sight of the various text messages and has had regard to the admission made by the Respondent.

52) The Committee therefore finds that the Respondent sent the relevant messages and that they were abusive and / or offensive. The Respondent repeatedly used offensive swear words, called Neighbour B and her husband racists and Nazis and made offensive references to their physical characteristics and mental health.

53) The Committee therefore finds the facts of this particular proved.

53) The Committee therefore finds the facts of this particular proved.

Allegation 3:

54) The Committee finds the facts alleged not proved for the following reasons.

55) The Respondent gave evidence going into extensive detail to support her position that Neighbour A and / or her husband had demolished a wall on her property and damaged her garden, and her allegation that she and FG had been threatened with a hammer and a chainsaw. She also stated that Neighbour B had wrongfully parked on her property and restricted access to her home. She reiterated her belief that Neighbours A and B had engaged in a concerted campaign of racially motivated harassment against her and her partner, including lying to secure planning permission without her being consulted, and were using various means to secure adverse possession over parts of her property. It is against that background, that she invited the Committee to view her actions in context. However, she accepted that her language was abusive and offensive, and that she had overreacted.

56) In the Respondent’s letter to ARB dated 4 October 2019, the Respondent stated that “I maintain my position that my responses to [Neighbour A’s] incessant attacks have been measured, appropriate, and wholly in keeping with the scale of the criminal damage and personal provocation incurred to my property, my family, my trees and my person. I would ask: How else would a responsible neighbour reasonably have responded?” She stated that her texts to Neighbour A were “necessary for me to state, in the strongest terms possible, that no such agreement [to use her property] had ever been made. It was also necessary for me to state that there was no friendly undeclared arrangement for the giant balcony or staircase, for the horrible carport, or the drains etc…”.

57) In her live evidence, the Respondent stated that they were intended to demonstrate that she was not friendly with her neighbours and that she was not consenting to them encroaching on her land. This she stated, would prevent her neighbours being able to secure adverse possession over her property. Her position was that “It’s not something I’ve done to somebody else, it’s what they’ve done to me”.

58) The Committee rejected that explanation for her motive for sending the texts in question as not being credible. Quite apart from the tone and language used in the messages, which had no bearing on her legal position, the Respondent had made her position clear in a letter to Neighbour A in a note dated 28 October 2017, and to Neighbour B dated 26 February 2017, both several months before the text messages were sent, which set out her concerns. The text messages in question were not required for the Respondent to demonstrate that she had not given her neighbours consent to take possession of part of her property.

59) Notwithstanding the Respondent’s views as to the merits of her dispute with her neighbours, the Committee has noted the contents of a letter dated 9 January 2018 from Norwich City Council to Neighbour A and her husband. It confirmed that the relevant notification and consultation requirements for Neighbour A’s planning application had been complied with, and that they did not consider that Neighbour A’s planning permission had been breached. The Committee also noted that the Respondent had reported matters to the Police and other authorities, but no formal proceedings had been instigated against either neighbour.

60) The Committee has also had regard to the fact that, whilst the Respondent’s criminal case against her was discontinued, her actions resulted in a Restraining Order not to contact Neighbour A or her husband directly or indirectly, being imposed on her. That order lasts until 18 July 2021.

61) FG gave detailed evidence as to the dispute he and the Respondent had with Neighbours A and B. He stated how their actions in allegedly damaging their property and parking on their land had affected his and the Respondent’s enjoyment of their property. On questioning by Ms Sheridan, FG accepted that the Respondent’s text messages were not an appropriate way to communicate with her neighbours and that their tone would not help resolve their differences. He stated that the public would be upset to see how the Respondent had behaved and that her texts were childish. However, he stated that the messages had to be seen in context against the background of their property having been “stolen” by their neighbours.

62) In reaching its decision, the Committee is mindful that it is not its role to make any determination in relation to any aspect of the dispute between the Respondent and her neighbours. It is not this Committee’s role to make any finding as to where the Respondent’s land boundary was, whether the Respondent’s neighbours have damaged her property or garden, threatened her or her partner, wrongfully parked on her land or violated any rights of way. Its role is to consider whether, in all the circumstances, the Respondent acted without integrity in relation to the matters found at Particulars 1 and 2.

63) What is not in dispute is that, whilst their relationship may have initially been cordial, the relationship between the Respondent and Neighbours A and B broke down to the extent that the Respondent felt significant animosity towards her neighbours which continues to this day. Whether or not she was justified in feeling aggrieved, the Respondent believed that she had been the subject of a lengthy harassment campaign, that her neighbours had damaged her property and garden, were unlawfully parking on her land and obstructing her access to her property. Despite Norwich City Council confirming that they had concluded that Neighbour A had not acted in breach of the planning permission granted, the Respondent believed that the planning permission had been obtained by lies and deception and without proper consultation.

64) The Committee concluded that the abusive nature of the texts, whilst borne out of anger and frustration with the ongoing neighbour disputes, were intended to be gratuitously abusive and offensive. They continued for a period of four days in relation to Neighbour A, and over two days in the case of Neighbour B. Neighbour A’s polite request for her to stop texting her only prompted more messages including late at night and early the following morning. Their abusive content had no bearing on her dispute with her neighbours, did not advance her legal rights, but instead were littered with expletives, references to being racists, Nazis and made numerous other personal abusive comments.

65) The Committee considered whether the Respondent, in sending abusive and/or offensive texts to Neighbours A and B between 9 – 13 January 2018, acted without integrity. The meaning of ‘integrity’ was considered in the case of Wingate and another v SRA [2018] EWCA Civ 366 where it was noted that “Integrity is a more nebulous concept than dishonesty. Hence it is less easy to define”. Integrity was referred to as “a useful shorthand to express the higher standards which society expects from professional persons and which the professions expect from their own members. The underlying rationale is that the professions have a privileged and trusted role in society. In return they are required to live up to their own professional standards…..Integrity connoted adherence to the ethical standards of one’s own profession. That involves more than mere honesty…..The duty of integrity does not require professional people to be paragons of virtue. In every instance, professional integrity is linked to the manner in which that particular professions professes to serve the public.”

66) The Committee has taken into account the case of Bar Standards Board v Howd [2017] EWHC 210 (Admin). In allowing the appeal, it was said that ‘integrity’ in the relevant Core Duties, ‘takes its colour’ from the term ‘honesty’, and connotes probity and adherence to ethical standards, not inappropriate and offensive social or sexual behaviour.

67) Standard 1 of the Code states:

Honesty and Integrity
1.1 You are expected at all times to act with honesty and integrity and to avoid any actions or situations which are inconsistent with your professional obligations. This standard underpins the Code and will be taken to be required in any consideration of your conduct under any of the other standards.

68) The Committee has noted that the introduction to the Code states that: “You are expected to be guided in your professional conduct and professional work by the spirit of the Code as well as by its express terms. The Code also covers your private life where your conduct may affect your fitness to practise as an architect, or public confidence in the profession.”

69) The Committee finds that the Respondent deliberately pursued a course of conduct over a four day period, intentionally sending a number of abusive and offensive messages. The Committee has had regard to the non-exhaustive list of examples of a lack of integrity referred to in the Wingate case. Those examples do indeed take their ‘colour’ from the term ‘honesty’, recognising that dishonesty and a lack of integrity are not synonymous. Whilst the Committee finds that the Respondent was abusive and offensive by acting as found proved, and failed to meet “the higher standards which society expects from professional persons and which the professions expect from their own members”, it has concluded that her conduct cannot be said to have acted without integrity as interpreted in the above legal authorities as having taken its colour from honesty. The Committee does not therefore find that the Respondent’s actions lacked integrity as alleged and therefore further finds that the Respondent has not acted in breach of Standard 1 of the Code.

70) The Committee does not therefore find the facts of Particular 3 proved.

71) However, the Committee nevertheless finds that the Respondent’s conduct as found proved at Particulars 1 and 2, failed to maintain the reputation of architects and brought both herself and the profession into disrepute in breach of Standard 9 of the Code which states:

Maintaining the reputation of architects
9.1 ……
9.2 You are expected to conduct yourself in a way which does not bring either yourself or the profession into disrepute……

72) Whilst this case does not relate to discriminatory conduct in relation to protected characteristics as defined by the Equality Act 2010, the Committee nevertheless finds that by acting as alleged, the Respondent acted in breach of Standard 12 in that the Respondent failed to show respect for others and failed in her obligation to treat everyone fairly.

73) Standard 12 of the Code states:

Respect for others
12.1 You should treat everyone fairly. You must act in compliance with your legal obligations. You must not discriminate because of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation.

Finding on Unacceptable Professional Conduct:

74) Having found both the allegations proved, the Committee went on to consider whether the Respondent’s conduct amounts to UPC. UPC is defined in section 14(1)(a) of the Architects Act 1997 as conduct which falls short of the standard required of a registered person. Any finding of UPC remains a matter for the Committee’s independent judgment.

ARB’s submissions

75) Ms Sheridan submitted that it matters not that that the Respondent’s conduct was unrelated to her work as an architect. She made reference to the case of Remedy UK v GMC [2010] EWHC 1245 which stated:

“First, it may involve sufficiently serious misconduct in the exercise of professional practice such that it can properly be described as misconduct going to fitness to practise. Second, it can involve conduct of a morally culpable or otherwise disgraceful kind which may, and often will occur outwith the course of professional practice itself, but which brings disgrace upon the doctor and thereby prejudices the reputation of the profession…..Conduct falls into the second limb if it is dishonourable or disgraceful or attracts some kind of opprobrium; that fact may be sufficient to bring the profession of medicine into disrepute. It matters not whether such conduct is directly related to the exercise of professional skills”.

76) She also referred the Committee to R (on the application of Pitt and Tyas) v General Pharmaceutical Council [2017] EWHC 809 (Admin). This case, she submitted, established that behaviour remote from a professional practice, if sufficiently disgraceful, can still amount to “serious professional misconduct”.

77) She submitted that the Respondent’s actions were serious and have the potential to bring the profession into disrepute. Members of the public, she submitted, must be able to rely on an architect to behave respectfully and with integrity. She reminded that the Respondent sent 23 abusive and offensive messages to Neighbour A and 12 to Neighbour B over the relevant periods of time and that their nature and frequency resulted in a restraining order being imposed by the Norfolk Magistrates Court on 19 July 2019.

78) She submitted that the Respondent has demonstrated little insight into her actions, and that her conduct would be considered deplorable by fellow members of the profession and brought the profession into disrepute. Ms Sheridan noted that the Respondent has provided a number of testimonials, but submitted that they should only be considered to be of limited assistance as the authors did not confirm that they had had sight of the text messages in question.

79) In summary, Ms Sheridan submitted that the Respondent’s behaviour amounted to a serious falling short of the standard expected of an architect, attracted an appropriate level of moral opprobrium and therefore amount to UPC.

The Respondent’s submissions

80) Ms Clements on behalf of the Respondent accepted that the Code encapsulates the private life of an architect to the extent that conduct may affect their fitness to practise and public confidence in the profession. She submitted that the Respondent had been an honest witness, and that having heard her and FG’s evidence, the Committee would have an understanding of how overwhelming the Respondent’s situation had become. She submitted that the Respondent felt that she had exhausted all other avenues and that she had been harassed and intimidated by her neighbours.

81) Ms Clements submitted that the property Office Copy entries defined the Respondent’s land and that Neighbour B had continually parked on it. The Respondent had bought her ‘dream home’ but her dispute with her neighbours had forced her to move out. The Respondent’s texts, whilst being ill-advised, abusive and offensive, needed to be considered in the context of a continuous campaign of harassment and were out of character.

82) She reminded the Committee that not every breach of the Code crossed the UPC threshold and submitted that, in any event, Standards 9 and 12 were inapplicable.

Decision on UPC

83) In reaching its findings, the Committee has carefully considered all the evidence presented to it, all submissions made and has accepted the advice of the Legally Qualified Chair. The Committee recognises that, by virtue of Section 14(1)(a) the Act, not every shortcoming on the part of an architect, nor failure to comply with the provisions of the Code, will necessarily result in a finding of UPC. However, a failure to follow the guidance of the Code, whether in one’s professional or private life, is a factor that will be taken into account should it be necessary to examine the conduct or competence of an architect. In addition, the fact that a course of conduct is not specifically referred to in the Code does not mean that it cannot form the basis of disciplinary proceedings. Each case is judged on its facts, and there may be circumstances in which unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence is found even where there has been no clear breach of the express terms of the Code.

84) The Committee recognises that any failing must be serious (Vranicki v Architects Registration Board [2007] EWHC 506 Admin) such that it would attract a degree of opprobrium or harsh criticism. The Committee has borne in mind the case of Spencer v General Osteopathic Council [2012] EWHC 3147 (Admin) and accepts that “mere negligence does not constitute misconduct” and that “a single negligent act or omission is less likely to cross the threshold of misconduct than multiple acts or omissions (The Queen on the Application of Dr Malcolm Noel Calhaem v General Medical Council [2007] EWHC 2606 (Admin). The Committee is nevertheless mindful that this case relates to conduct outside of the Respondent’s professional practice.

85) Misconduct, which is akin to UPC, was defined in the case of Roylance v GMC [2000] 1 AC 311 as, “a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. The standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required to be followed by a medical practitioner in the particular circumstances”.

86) The meaning of misconduct was further considered in the case of Remedy UK v GMC [2010] EWHC 1245 as referred to above.

87) In considering whether the Respondent’s conduct amounts to UPC, the Committee has also considered the case of R (on the application of Pitt and Tyas) v General Pharmaceutical Council [2017] EWHC 809 (Admin). In deciding whether it does, the Committee has considered the potential damage caused by the Respondent’s conduct to the public reputation of the profession.

88) The Committee has also had regard to the case of Beckwith v SRA [2020] EWHC 3231 (Admin). It was held that professional rules may reach into private life only when conduct that is part of a person’s private life “realistically touches on his/her practise of the profession….or the standing of the profession….Any such conduct must be qualitatively relevant….. It must, in a way that is demonstrably relevant, engage one or other of the standards of behaviour which are set out in, or necessarily implicit from [the Code]”.

89) The Committee has taken into account all the evidence before it together with both Ms Sheridan’s submissions and those of Ms Clements.

90) The Committee concluded that the matters found proved and the corresponding breaches of the Code, albeit that they did not occur in the course of the Respondent’s architectural practice, represent serious departures from the standard expected of a registered architect. The Respondent repeatedly sent gratuitously abusive and offensive texts to both Neighbours A and B with what could only be the intention of causing offence. The Respondent informed Neighbour A in a text dated 21 November 2017 that she was an architect and in her evidence, she confirmed that Neighbour also knew her profession. The abusive content was unrelated to her neighbour disputes and could not have advanced her legal rights. Notwithstanding her emotional state as a result of her dispute with her neighbours, her conduct was wholly unjustifiable. The public must be able to have trust and confidence that architects will behave professionally, even when in dispute with others, whether in their working or private life, and irrespective of whether they are right or wrong. Such obligations go hand in hand with the privileged position architects hold in society as members of a profession. Sending gratuitously abusive and offensive texts is the antithesis of what it means to be a professional. In the Committee’s judgment, the deliberate and repeated sending of abusive and offensive texts would be considered deplorable by fellow members of the profession and members of the public, and would attract a level of harsh criticism such that the Respondent’s failings, both individually and collectively, are sufficiently serious to amount to UPC.

91) The Committee therefore finds that the facts found proved amount to UPC.

Sanction:

92) Ms Sheridan informed the Committee that there were no previous adverse regulatory findings recorded against the Respondent. She submitted that the Committee should have regard to ARB’s sanctions guidance and identified the following factors that she asked the Committee to take into account in considering which was the appropriate sanction to impose:

a) the Respondent’s actions were gratuitously offensive, deliberate and repeated, even when requested to stop;
b) the Respondent has demonstrated limited insight into her conduct;
c) the Respondent’s actions caused Neighbours A and B distress;
d) the Respondent’s actions were considered sufficiently serious for a Restraining Order to be imposed which is still in effect.

93) Ms Sheridan reminded the Committee that the Respondent had made admissions, had engaged in the regulatory process and that the Respondent did not have an adverse regulatory history.

94) In her initial Defence Particulars, Mr Thakkar on behalf of the Respondent identified the following matters to be taken into account:

i. the Respondent’s background, history and expertise in the profession;
ii. the matters in question rose in a personal rather than professional context or in furtherance of professional duties and obligations;
iii. that the claimed conduct was over a short period of time against a backdrop of dispute between parties over 2/3 years, which remains ongoing;
iv. this was an isolated episode other than which the Respondent has an unblemished and exemplary record both personally and professionally;
v. the conduct occurred at a time of serious and significant distress and upset to the Respondent due to the personal welfare of herself and others and the need to protect her property;
vi. following the Respondent’s reports to the police of a criminal allegation, having engaged solicitors from a civil perspective and the accumulative frustration from resolution over an extended period where the Respondent genuinely and sincerely believed she was the victim rather than perpetrator;
vii. the cooperative and open approach taken by the Respondent when providing information and details to the police, ARB and all concerned;
viii. the prosecution was formally withdrawn having regard to the evidential test and public interest considerations;
ix. the non-criminal conviction basis on which the order was offered/ advanced by the Respondent and agreed between parties. The order is civil by definition and only breach of the terms transmits into a defined criminal offence. The CPS papers served did not at any stage seek to apply of obtain any such order which should be viewed in the context of the assertions made by the other party in their victim impact statement. However, this was proactively identified and pursued by the defence for the Respondent as a compromise accepted as a resolve to the mutual satisfaction of all, and secondly to equally afford some degree of protection to her insofar as there is judicially binding order that prohibited the Respondent making contact with the Neighbours, and equally inferred to promote contact not being attempted towards the Respondent by them;
x. the terms of the Order were carefully prepared by the Court following representations from parties as to the position and the need to direct contact via solicitors. Nonetheless, the Respondent thereafter was in receipt of direct correspondence. However, she has not and will not be hauled back into any exchange whereby she is exposed to breach of Order. The Respondent reassures the PCC of the same;
xi. reference letters in support of the contention that this blemish in the Respondent acting in a similar way again would not arise and does not in any way directly or directly impact her ability to practise in the profession;
xii. previous decisions of ARB where concerned with conduct, are only identified to be where conviction is secured. Seeking direction or assistance to other occasions with the view of ensuring an open, transparent and consistent approach when seeking to reach any outcome (either way) that is fair, appropriate and proportionate having regard to the human rights of the Respondent and the overall impact caused should any adverse finding or sanction be determined.

95) Ms Clements, on behalf of the Respondent, referred the Committee to the Respondent’s statement of reflection dated 4 March 2021. In it, she states that the texts were only sent to her neighbours because of repeated attacks on her and her partner over 16 months. Had it not been for that, the messages would not have been sent given that “I had made a promise to [her vendor], in buying her house and gardens, that I would protect its architectural heritage and preserve its integrity for future generations”. She stated that:

“My messages were a desperate ploy to save my home, and to secure my family’s safety…. I certainly did not adequately consider the effects that my It has taken me some time to learn the lessons I needed to learn from this. The text messages were ill advised. I certainly did not adequately consider the effects that my messages would have on readers. It would have been a shock to read them, since they extended well beyond the topic in question into personal matters that were none of my business. The language I used was coarse (to say the least) and does not reflect well on me or on my reputation as an architect. The messages do not give the impression that I had attempted to reconcile peacefully for 16 months, on a daily basis, prior to sending them. I had simply had enough of their and their husbands bullying. A member of the public would have been shocked to read my messages if they were not aware of the violent attacks that prompted them….I did not show adequate respect for their feelings. I made an error in communicating with both wives about their husbands brutality. I made a serious error of judgement by insulting them so horribly…..

I wished to state in no uncertain terms that there was no ‘friendly agreement’ for them to use our home, our garden, our gates, our forecourt, our laneway, or any other part of our property, as both neighbours were claiming. But I regret that in my texts, I resorted to childish bad language. I wanted to ensure that there was no ambiguity that I did not like them. But I went way too far. My text messages moved beyond these matters into personal insults. In mitigation, I would ask the members of the panel to understand what it feels like to be attacked. It’s hard not take it personally when strangers are smashing up your home.

I can see why ARB is concerned they might bring the profession into disrepute.

It is clearly in the interests of public safety and confidence in the profession to ensure that architects behave with respect, compassion, and in a spirit of collaboration. This applies no matter how difficult their contractors, clients, projects, collaborators, or processes with statutory authorities might be. I understand why ARB, whose role it is to uphold public confidence in the architectural profession, should feel obliged to investigate why I sent those text messages. I recognise that, seen in isolation, the text messages I sent to the neighbour A and B and their spouses – an isolated incident between 9 and 13 January 2018 – would appear to fall short of my normally high standards of professional conduct. But context is everything.”

96) She stated that she has not made contact with either Neighbour A or B for over three years and that she would not send any such texts again.

97) Ms Clements reminded the Committee that not every finding of UPC required the imposition of a sanction. She reminded the Committee of the Respondent’s early admissions at the outset of this hearing. She submitted that the Committee should take into account the following:

i. the fact that the texts remained private and were not put into the public domain;
ii. that the Respondent had reflected on her actions and acknowledged her wrongdoing which she regretted and was ashamed about;
iii. that the Respondent was in an emotional state when the texts were sent and that her UPC was highly unlikely to be repeated;
iv. that after the 13 January 2018, no further messages were sent, noting that the Restraining Order was not imposed until July 2019;
v. that the Respondent now recognised that she should pursue her rights through proper channels, as demonstrated by getting listed status for the house and garden, and recognising that mediation may be appropriate;
vi. a number of testimonials had been provided attesting to the Respondent’s good character;
vii. that the Respondent had a good disciplinary history.

98) In the circumstances and having regard to ARB’s Sanctions Guidance, she submitted that a reprimand was the appropriate and proportionate sanction to impose and that the Respondent’s UPC was not sufficiently serious to justify a more severe sanction.

99) The Committee then considered whether to impose a sanction, and if so, which one. The Committee has had regard to the public interest, which includes the need to protect the public, to maintain confidence in the profession and ARB, and to declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour. The Committee has carefully considered all the evidence and submissions made during the course of this hearing. It has heard and accepted the advice of the Legally Qualified Chair which again, is a matter of record. It has borne in mind that the purpose of imposing a sanction is not to be punitive although it may have a punitive effect. It has taken into account the Respondent’s interests, ARB’s Sanctions Guidance and the need to act proportionately. It has taken into account any aggravating and mitigating factors in this case and the Committee has exercised its own independent judgement.

100) The Committee has also borne in mind Bolton v Law Society [1994] 1 WLR 512 in reminding itself in that the collective reputation of the profession is more important than the fortunes of the individual and that expulsion from the profession is appropriate for serious lapses.

101) Having taken all the evidence and submissions before it into account, the Committee has identified the following aggravating factors:

i. The Respondent’s actions were deliberate, repeated and intended to cause upset and offence. The Respondent sent a large number of gratuitously offensive texts over a number of days to two neighbours. Those texts could not have advanced her rights in respect of her dispute with her neighbours. The Respondent’s conduct fell far short of what was expected of her. The Committee considered this to be the most serious aggravating factor;
ii. The Committee noted that despite the Respondent’s exchanges with her neighbours, only the Respondent’s texts were abusive and offensive. The Respondent was not responding to inappropriate texts;
iii. The Respondent’s actions caused distress to her neighbours, resulting in a 2 year Restraining Order being imposed;
iv. In considering insight, the Committee notes the contents of her reflective statement, noting that her expressions of insight have come late in the day. The Committee has borne in mind the contents of the Respondent’s letter to ARB dated 4 October 2019 referred to above in which she emphatically justified her actions as being reasonable. The Respondent continued to maintain that, whilst abusive and offensive, seen in context, her texts were justified. In her statement dated 7 February 2021, she stated that “the texts were intended to send a clear message that we would not give in to harassment, intimidation, threats, trespass on our property or attempt to steal it”. The Committee also considered that the focus of her reflective statement relates to her neighbours’ alleged conduct rather than her own. Noting that the Respondent regrets her texts, any statement of apology was limited to comments she made in respect of Neighbour B’s children. In the circumstances, the Committee has no assurance that the Respondent’s UPC will not be repeated but considers the risk of recurrence after the expiry of the Restraining Order, to be low but not insignificant given her ongoing strong views about the property.

102) The Committee has identified the following mitigating factors:

i. the Respondent has engaged in the regulatory process;
ii. the Respondent made admissions at the outset of this hearing;
iii. the texts were private and not placed in the public domain;
iv. the Committee has considered the character evidence provided attesting to the Respondent’s otherwise good character and professionalism. However, the Committee notes that the authors of the references, save for a limited number of exceptions, do not state that they are aware of the allegations against the Respondent. None of the writers of the testimonials / references state that they have seen the texts in question. In the circumstances, the Committee has attached less weight to them than would otherwise be the case;
v. the Respondent has put in place some steps to remediate her failings, for example by securing listed status for her property to advance her cause, and the Committee accepts that the Respondent now appreciates the need to go through the proper channels should her neighbour dispute continue;
vi. the Respondent’s UPC related to an isolated period and was out of character;
vii. the texting stopped many months before the Restraining Order was imposed and she has not repeated her abusive conduct, although the Committee notes that the Respondent does remain subject to the Court’s restraining order until July 2021;
viii. she has no adverse regulatory history in an unblemished career spanning over 25 years.

103) The Committee notes that the matters found proved are serious to the extent that the Respondent’s failings diminish both her reputation, and that of the profession generally. Courtesy is a core quality that any member of the public should be able to expect from a professional. In considering the question of seriousness, the Committee has had regard to its determination on UPC. The Committee has therefore concluded that the Respondent’s conduct was sufficiently serious for it to require the imposition of a sanction and has considered them in ascending order of severity.

104) The Committee first considered whether to impose a reprimand. The committee considered that such a sanction was neither appropriate nor proportionate given that it did not consider the Respondent’s UPC to be at the lower end of the scale given the aggravating factors identified.

105) The Committee then considered whether to impose a Penalty Order and concluded that such a sanction was appropriate and proportionate to protect the public and the reputation of the profession given the seriousness of the UPC found proved and the limited level of the Respondent’s insight.

106) The Committee therefore imposes a £2000 penalty order which the Committee considers to be an appropriate and proportionate sum to impose given the seriousness of the UPC found proved having considered all the aggravating and mitigating factors identified. That sum, which takes into account the Respondent’s limited financial circumstances, must be paid within 28 days. Failure to pay that sum within that timeframe may lead to the order being replaced with a Suspension or Erasure order.

107) The Committee considered whether to impose a suspension order, but given the suitability of a Penalty Order, the Committee concluded that such a sanction would be unduly punitive.

108) That concludes this determination.

 

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