High Court judges that architect deceived clients about composition of project team on two high-profile jobs
A High Court judge has found the architect Aukett Fitzroy Robinson guilty of fraudulent misrepresentation and deceit, the most serious judgement handed down in the civil courts.
The architect deliberately failed to inform its client that the project architect on two high-profile jobs had tendered his resignation until eight months after the event.
Aukett Fitzroy Robinson – known then as Fitzroy Robinson before its reverse takeover by Aukett - had been contracted to design two refurb jobs in London and in Buckinghamshire for the property developer Simon Halabi.
Nicholas Thompson, the chief executive of Aukett Fitzroy Robinson (AFR), failed to inform Halabi that Jeremy Blake, project leader on the former In & Out Club on Piccadilly and Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire, had resigned from the company in March 2006.
Although Blake had agreed to work out a year’s notice, the developers, led by Halabi, were unaware that he would be leaving the company until November 2006.
Mr Justice Coulson, presiding over the case, said it was Thompson’s “wholly unreliable” testimonial statement that had persuaded him that the misrepresentation was intentional, and therefore fraudulent.
He said: “This was a document which had been so artfully 'spun' - so deliberately designed to belittle Mr Blake on all points, regardless of what had actually happened - that I was driven to conclude that it was a wholly unreliable document."
The judge said the details of the statement were “incorrect, misleading, inaccurate, unfair, and, in at least one case, knowingly untrue.”
A legal source said the seriousness of the judge’s ruling could not be underestimated. He said: “[Thompson] really went out on a limb with this one, and it’s not as if he’s a junior employee – he’s the chief executive. The reputational impact of this on the architect could be enormous. This is as serious a finding as you get in a civil court.”
Rupert Choat, construction partner at CMS Cameron McKenna, said that the ruling would have wider implications for anyone bidding for a job with their best team.
He said: “A lot of people go in for a bid with their best and brightest people. Clients get an idea that these will be the ones working on the job, and it isn’t always the case.” Choat said contractors and clients often use a contractual clause to name key personnel on each job to avoid confusion.
Although the judge concluded that AFR’s failure to inform the developers of Blake’s departure was fraudulent misrepresentation, he predicted any claim arising from this was likely to be “modest” as the departure could not be proved to have delayed the project.
The developers stopped paying AFR shortly after the planning applications for the two jobs were made, and the architect is claiming over £1m in unpaid fees.
Justice Coulson did not rule on the fees owed to AFR as he said there was further adjustments that needed to be made to the figures. He added that this should be a “relatively straightforward exercise.” The judge rejected a separate counterclaim for negligence on behalf of the architect.
In a statement to the City released this afternoon, the architect said: “We are very pleased that the judge has entirely dismissed the counterclaim of professional negligence and that he also found that we should receive payment for the services performed.
"The judge did, however, find that communication of the resignation of a senior member of the project team should not have been delayed and therefore found against the company in respect of this element of the counterclaims.”