The judgment calls into question the way best value is assessed and deals yet another blow to the controversial scheme, which, at £1.2m per MP, is one of the most expensive buildings ever built in Britain. The judge said that the US curtain-walling firm's bid for the bronze cladding was not treated fairly or equally by the MPs and civil servants overseeing the project, and accused them of adopting a "buy British" policy. He also said that construction manager Laing Management employed bullying tactics to persuade Harmon to drop its three-year legal fight against the decision to award the contract to a British rival.
In letting the contract to joint venture Seele/Alvis for £34m – £2.4m more than the Harmon bid – the MPs and civil servants were judged to have broken European procurement rules. Harmon has been awarded legal costs estimated at £2m, its tender costs of £420 000 and the profit it would have made on the contract, estimated to be £4.5m-5.4m (subject to appeal). The figure could amount to £7.8m.
In the 300-page judgment, Mr Justice Lloyd said: "There was cogent evidence of misconduct on the part of one senior public official, a civil servant in the Parliamentary Works Directorate." He said the House of Commons was therefore guilty misfeasance in public office. Andrew Smith, partner in Harmon's solicitor Wragge & Co, says this means that the MPs were "reckless about checking the law".
The civil servant referred to in the judgment is project sponsor Andrew Makepeace. The judge said Makepeace "gave no satisfactory explanation for not telling Harmon the true reasons for his decision and why they were not awarded the contract". The judge also called Makepeace's evidence "incredible", "disingenuous" and "profoundly disquieting". Makepeace refused to comment on the judgment, but said an appeal is being considered.
There was cogent evidence of misconduct on the part of one senior public official
Mr Justice Humphrey Lloyd
Philip Brand, project manager for Laing Management, was also criticised. The judge said: "Mr Brand successfully conveyed the impression of a Teflon man, which may account for his position within Laing Management, as otherwise he did not display a grasp of the project." The judge also said that Laing Management tried to bully Harmon into dropping the action. Giving evidence, Harmon's sales director Ed Boyle said: "Ron [Kerr, Laing Management's procurement co-ordinator] informed me that filing the writ would do irreparable damage to Harmon, going as far as to say that Harmon would never work in the UK again."
Boyle said Laing Management threatened to get involved in a legal battle over another of its projects, for SmithKline Beecham, if the writ was not dropped. "I told Ron that I understood from both him and Tony [Aikenhead, joint managing director, Laing Management] that the two projects were separate. Ron said the two projects were not directly linked but indirectly they were. He indicated that it would also impact on what we are doing on Daiwa and Scottish Widows [two projects that Laing Management and Harmon were working on]".
In a statement issued by the House of Commons Commission, Archy Kirkwood MP said: "The commission is concerned by the judge's findings that the project team unlawfully promoted a 'buy British' policy." But the statement also defends the choice of cladding contractor, pointing out that if Harmon had been appointed, its liquidation in 1998 would have caused delay and financial loss on the project.