Wednesday23 August 2017

The victims of Arb’s harsh tactics deserve to be heard

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Star chamber practices are no way to treat an upstanding member of the profession, says Amanda Baillieu

Wherever you stand on Arb, there is no doubt its main interest is self-protection and its default position is silence born out of fear. This applies just as much to the architects who sit on its board as the executive staff who run it. 

Many, including its latest victim, should hardly be surprised. Arb has been lording it over the profession like a star chamber on steroids for many years and the case of George Oldham is sadly just another example. But Oldham refuses to be quiet — and who can blame him?

Having used the word “ethnics” in an email to board members, Oldham has narrowly escaped a more serious punishment and been given a “reprimand” that has cost in the region of £50,000 in legal fees and staff time. The charge is patently ridiculous but no one on its board has had the bottle to publicly denounce it.

None of the board members will talk on the record about Oldham’s case. An opportunity to do so was rejected at last week’s board meeting seemingly on the grounds that he’d been handed his punishment and should now be quiet.

Leaving aside that Oldham is the very model of a decent architect, this treatment is not dissimilar to the way the government reacted to claims
that its chief whip Andrew Mitchell called the policeman at Downing Street gates “plebs”. The only difference is Oldham did use the word “ethnics” whereas Mitchell never uttered the word “pleb”. But in both cases the individuals are victims of larger political battles being fought.

Mitchell resigned. Oldham has resigned from Arb and can no longer call himself an architect. There’s often a case for moving on, and other victims of Arb’s high-handedness have done just that, including one architect whose case for incompetence was dropped but is now unable to get PI cover. Oldham, however, continues to protest his innocence.

And there is an important difference between the cases. Mitchell is going to get justice. An investigation is under way that may lead to criminal charges against police and public. In Oldham’s case there is no easy end in sight.



Readers' comments (13)

  • "George Oldham, who referred to the Stephen Lawrence Trust-backed candidates in the forthcoming Arb elections as “the ethnics”, "
    Why not run a survey amongst non-english people, and see if 'ethnics' used in that context doesn't cause pause for them.

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  • No shortage of hyperbole here. Silence born of fear? Star-Chamber on steroids? My goodness, I must have been missing something during my time on the Board. It would be good to see a bit of rational analysis, and a bit less hysteria. And I don't think the "victims of ARB's harsh tactics" have much difficulty in making themselves heard: BD is always very willing to provide a platform. I have commented in another thread that BD's repetition of an anonymous allegation that the ARB registrar instigated an investigation vindictively in order to get her own back is disgraceful, and makes the threat below to remove comments deemed to be libellous a bit hollow.

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  • Joseph, as a non-English person, I assumed Oldham's "ethnics" term was referring to the English.

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  • George Oldham is an embarressment to himself and the profession. I am glad he was censured for what he wrote, not just because it was racist but it shows the contempt people who have grown accustomed to power and influence have for others and the infantile lower sixth form humour they dress it up in.
    He doesnt represent me or my profession.

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  • SomeoneStoleMyNick

    Did George Oldham take Amanda Baillieu to lunch, or what?

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  • I am not entirely sure if you are trying to justify/ defend his comments with this piece. And the article even states that, different to Mitchell, he did use the term. So what exactly in his treatment is harsh? Just because he is a decent architect he should get away with appaling comments like that? Do you believe he would help attracting a wider, more diverse interest in architecture? Apologies for all the questions but I simply do not understand the purpose of this article.

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  • A lot of brainwashed commentary.
    Why does ARB have the power to reprimand anyone for a (possibly) derogatory comment made in a private email? There is nothing expressly racist about the word ethnics but even if there was why does ARB have any jurisdiction in this. The word was used in a private email.
    The only reason this issue was made public was because ( I understand) one of the Board recipients decided to complain to ARB.
    I would suggest that whoever referred it did more damage to the reputation of architects than Mr Oldham.
    Had the eMail been left on various computers and servers then only the NSA and GCHQ might have been offended, but I bet they've seen worse.

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  • amanda baillieu

    Hi Christopher . I completely agree - but just to clarify, no one complained to Arb. The email with the word ' ethnics' in it was sent to a journalist by mistake who then ran it as a story thus putting it in the public domain. No complaint was made either to the Arb or to the AJ which ran the story originally. I can only hope that people who say they are ' appalled' and shocked haven't been following the story from the start.. Leaving aside the freedom of speech aspect of this, it is extraordinary how much time and money has been wasted over this.

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  • Hi Amanda, sorry I misunderstood the genesis of the complaint. Its a real shame when emails are mistakenly sent to journalists !

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  • Amanda,
    Surely some of you ire ought to be directed at your fellow Journo for publishing private correspondence not intended for them?

    Is it not the case that Oldham is a 'victim' as much of a story-hungry press as of an overreaching ARB?

    Or do you lot also open your neighbour's letters the postie might accidentally put through your front door?

    Not that I am condoning or condemning Oldham's linguistic choices but I'm smelling some serious double standards here.

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