Architect caught forging client's initials and telling them to 'game' the planning system

A mock up of papers for a planning application rolled up with a black pen nearby
Architect caught forging customer's initials on planning application. (Image credit: Getty Images)

An architect has been removed from the professional register for dishonest behaviour after it was discovered he had forged the initials of his client and provided inappropriate planning advice. 

The individual in question, Desmond O’Hara, an architect for Englishaus Architects in London, was found to have violated the Architects Code of Conduct by the Architects Registration Board (ARB).

The ARB stated that the architect had failed to act with integrity, behaved unprofessionally, and breached the clients' trust when he explained the planning permission process to his client.

The individual was found to have altered drawings and plans to a two-storey extension he was hired to build in 2014, without his client's knowledge or consent, which is a serious breach of professional standards.

Additionally, the architect had given advice that was deemed inappropriate, which could have had negative consequences for the client. The ARB panel found that the architect's behaviour had undermined the trust between architects and their clients, which is a fundamental aspect of the profession.

What did the architect tell the customer?

O'Hara advised his client to submit two separate planning applications for their house extension: one for a rear single-storey extension, and another for a two-storey rear extension and side entrance. 

He suggested that the two applications could be "combined" for approval and that his former client could "game" and exploit the planning system.

Despite the client's concerns, O'Hara claimed that it would be difficult for planning enforcement to detect this if the second application was submitted soon after the first was approved. He assured the client that the council would "never know" about the two applications.

However, the client eventually consulted a local planning officer, who contradicted O'Hara's advice and stated that the two applications could not be combined. This meant that the client could only build one of the two sets of plans.

Architect handing pen to client to sign documents

Desmond O'Hara was caught forging customer's initials and providing false information regarding planning permission regulations (Image credit: Getty Images)

How did the customer discover the forgery?

The client discovered what O’Hara had done when he sought advice from a local planning officer who informed him that O'Hara's suggestion to combine the two planning applications was not feasible. This meant that the client could only proceed with one of the two sets of plans.

In addition, the client discovered that his property was located within the green belt, which restricted construction to permitted development rules. He claimed that O'Hara had not previously mentioned this to him.

An argument over fees prompted the client to review the written agreement and revealed that O'Hara had made unauthorised changes to the document, including adding the client's initials by hand. The client submitted a formal complaint to O'Hara, but did not receive a response.

Eventually, the client engaged another architect to develop plans for the project and seized contact with O'Hara for six years.

Why was the architect struck off?

Remarkably, in 2021 the client received a demand for payment of £15,896 in fees on behalf of O'Hara from debt collectors. This prompted the client to lodge a complaint with the ARB who launched an investigation into the matter.

In its ruling, the ARB found that O'Hara's conduct was 'dishonest' and lacking in integrity, and was inconsistent with the standards expected of architects. The board stated that O'Hara had undermined public confidence in the profession and had fallen short of the expected ethical standards.

As a result, O'Hara was struck off the register, with a possibility of reapplying for registration after a period of four years.

How do I make sure I use a reputable architect?

In order to avoid scenarios with architects such as in this case you can read our guide on how to find an architect.

According to Homebuilding & Renovating's Editor Claire Lloyd, to find the right architect you should prepare a brief in advance so the architect understands your project. She adds that word of mouth can be key to finding a reputable architect as well as carefully reviewing their previous work to see if their style suits your project. The RIBA (The Royal Institute of British Architects) also has a tool to find architects in your area.

Claire Lloyd then advises to conduct thorough research on your choice before going ahead, evaluating the architect's experience and areas of expertise, examining their portfolio of past work, checking their credentials, and arranging a face-to-face meeting to discuss your project and their approach.

Crucially, finding an architect you can work together with, and who respects your needs and budget will help you find the right person for your project.

Joseph Mullane
News Editor

News Editor Joseph has previously written for Today’s Media and Chambers & Partners, focusing on news for conveyancers and industry professionals.  Joseph has just started his own self build project, building his own home on his family’s farm with planning permission for a timber frame, three-bedroom house in a one-acre field. The foundation work has already begun and he hopes to have the home built in the next year. Prior to this he renovated his family's home as well as doing several DIY projects, including installing a shower, building sheds, and livestock fences and shelters for the farm’s animals. Outside of homebuilding, Joseph loves rugby and has written for Rugby World, the world’s largest rugby magazine.