The Expert Witness Magazine interviewed Managing Director Richard Allitt to understand more about what it is like to be an expert witness and what skills are required. He told the magazine both about his company’s experience and his work as an expert witness.

Profile of Richard Allitt BSc, FICE, CEng, CEnv - Experienced Flooding & Drainage Expert

Can you tell us a bit about your professional background”  

I am Managing Director of Richard Allitt Associates Ltd a leading specialist provider of hydraulic modelling, surface water management and flood risk consultancy for the urban drainage industry. I am a Civil Engineer by profession and have spent my career in the drainage and wastewater industry working for a number of Local Authorities as well as for Engineering Consultants in the wastewater industry.

This was prior to setting up my own consultancy in 1996. The company celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2016; a milestone which the company is very proud to have achieved in an industry that is continually evolving.

The majority of the firm’s work is hydraulic modelling of sewerage systems and the preparation of Drainage Area Plans, Sewerage Management Plans and Surface Water Management Plans for clients such as Local Authorities and Water Companies.  

“How has the company been able to stay at the forefront of the industry?”

The company’s success stems from our philosophy of seeking out the latest technological advances to ensure that it develops an approach that is continually leading edge. Our aim is to resolve flooding problems in the urban environment using the latest analytical techniques. Our most recent tool is one which can provide Local Authorities and Water Companies with real time street by street urban flood alerts.

 “What makes you qualified to be an Expert Witness?”

I am a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers which is the highest grade of membership. It is for civil engineers and technicians who've made a big contribution to the profession and recognises your high level of knowledge, ability and experience. I also enjoy chartered status as a Chartered Engineer and Chartered Environmentalist. According to the Engineering Council, Chartered Engineers are characterised by their ability to develop appropriate solutions to engineering problems, using new or existing technologies, through innovation, creativity and change. This is a peer reviewed process. A Chartered Environmentalist must show a commitment to environmental best practice and a high degree of expertise in their field. Both these endorsements demonstrate that the depth of my knowledge and experience is recognised by my peers in the industry.

I have been responsible for the development of many leading edge modelling techniques for urban drainage modelling and take an active role in the writing of the CIWEM UDG (the industry’s leading body) User Notes and other guidance. I am also an Approved Auditor for the Water Industry Commissioner for Scotland and in this capacity am responsible for technical audits of sewerage models built for various catchments in Scotland. I have also led a series of research projects for UKWIR (United Kingdom Water Industry Research) furthering industry knowledge on topics such as Integrated Urban Drainage Modelling and Urban Creep (the loss of permeable surfaces e.g. the paving over of driveways) which contributes to flooding and other problems.

“How does the flooding industry recognise your expertise?”

I have spent over 40 years in the industry and I have been asked to make technical presentations and share my knowledge at industry conferences for the last 15 years or more e.g. at the European Water & Flood Modelling Conference. In addition to conferences I frequently present at a wide range of other events such as Flood Risk Managers meetings and have also been asked to present at CPD Training sessions held by legal practises to talk about how to prove a flooding case (or defence as case may be) with hydraulic computer modelling.

“What experience do you have testifying in legal cases?”

I have worked with numerous legal practises acting for the claimant or defendant or in some cases jointly, in nearly 100 cases over a period of many, many years.  Numerous legal practises have returned time and again to work with me on flooding cases valuing the knowledge and expertise I can bring. Increasingly, I am called in before a case is even taken to court, as there is now recognition that taking expert advice at an early stage can make the process more efficient and helps determine whether there is a case to be made.

“Have you provided testimony for both claimant and defendant?”

Whilst testimony will always be impartial and a representation of the technical facts I have over the years been engaged by both claimants and defendants. This means I have been engaged by legal practises, Local Authorities & Government Agencies, Water Companies & commercial premises as well as private householders. I have also provided testimony in matters of adjudication. 

Sometimes the opposing sides will each have their own experts and have on occasions provided contrary evidence so it is important to be robust in your knowledge and it is therefore pleasing to hear endorsements such as that where my evidence has been deemed more valid. In one such matter the Adjudicator said

“In the main I prefer the evidence provided by Mr Allitt as this has addressed the broader causes of the flooding more persuasively…” He went on then to adjudicate based on my evidence.”   

 

“How many years have you been supplying expert witness services?”

My services have been in demand for well over 15 years and many legal practises return frequently to ask for advice with new cases. The number of flooding claims continues to grow.  

“Are there any notable cases you have been involved with?”

I have been involved in many cases over the years but a couple stand out as those that have been viewed as test cases have altered the way in which the law has subsequently been applied.

  • Bybrook Barn –v- Kent County Council
    • An example of where the Leakey principle was applied where a highway authority was held liable because it was responsible for an inadequate culvert which caused a risk of flooding to neighbouring land.
  • Cordin & Others –v- Newport City Council
    • This was a case where strict liability applied to an escape from a reservoir where flows should have been discharged carefully through a sluice gate.

In the latter case the judge remarked :

“I found him to be an impressive witness. His reports and evidence were careful, detailed and to my mind displayed impressive technical command and understanding of the issues. Overall his evidence was compelling.”

“What tools do you rely on to inform your testimony?”

Within Richard Allitt Associates our software modelling program of choice is InfoWorks ICM which offers exceptional results through its general versatility and functionality. It provides us with the ability to test a wide variety of 'what if flooding scenarios’. This facility is key to legal cases where we can show what would have happened if different actions had been applied to essentially the same storm or flooding data.

Hydraulic modelling for legal cases needs a very highly skilled modeller who can test alternative hypotheses and can provide clear plans and visualisations. As a skilled modeller I am not only experienced at identifying the causes and mechanisms of the flooding but can also advise on solutions which can prevent repeat occurrences.

As well as carrying out sophisticated modelling work, as expert witness I will gather essential data and evidence required to inform the model. It is important to know what data is required and how best to obtain it. If required I visit the site in question, observe and photograph conditions and infrastructure to enable visual comparisons between the conditions observable at the time of the incident.

My company employs the use of its UAVs or ‘drones’ which can carry out aerial surveys. These aerial surveys are extremely useful in being able to identify things such as ‘urban creep’ where hard landscaping has prevented water soaking away leading to flooding, or identifying ditches and embankments which are not observable from ground level.

“Do you think you always need an expert in flooding cases?”

 In straightforward cases where the cause is clearly observable it may not always be necessary to employ a hydraulic modeller. However where more data is required and cause is not clear then the modeller should be highly skilled and experienced in order to understand all the possible scenarios. The software helps the modeller to address a wide variety of ‘what if’ questions and can be used to test a variety of alternative hypotheses. There is no doubt that employing a skilled flooding expert will result in clear plans and visualisations which will enable everyone without specific knowledge of the industry to understand unambiguously what has occurred. The expert witness will in this case not just be a (albeit well informed) subjective opinion but be able to provide objective data to illustrate that opinion. In flooding related matters the right expert witness can bring facts and clarity to facilitate the process of law.

“Have you ever turned down Expert Witness work?”

I would only ever take on work as an Expert Witness if I felt I was the right expert for the case in question. I would always advise an informal discussion prior to accepting any appointment. There are occasions where I have advised that I don’t think there will be a case to answer but it is up to the client whether they still wish to pursue matters further.

“Have you seen a rise in demand for Expert Witness services?”

This would appear to be the case but there are a number of factors at play here. Incidents of flooding are occurring with increasing regularity but this has been accompanied by a realisation that there can on occasions be a case to be made for compensation. The complexity of flooding situations is such that it can be hard to disentangle the facts without employing an expert and this has meant that we are being called in earlier in the process as well, which ultimately means the quality of the evidence is much better too.   

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