Call for quake inquiry to resume over CTV allegations

10:05 pm on 28 September 2012

Survivors and relatives of victims of the collapse of the CTV building say the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission should resume so further questions can be asked of the man in charge of the building's construction.

Some 115 people died when the building collapsed in central Christchurch in the February 2011 earthquake.

Gerald Shirtcliff was the construction manager at the time the building went up in 1987 and now lives in Australia. A fortnight ago, Fairfax newspapers published claims that he had stolen the identity of another engineer and faked an engineering degree.

Building and Housing Department officials have requested that police consider an investigation and a senior investigator has been assigned to assess the allegations.

Mary-Ann Jackson, one of the few to survive the collapse of the Canterbury Television building, says the commission should resume so Mr Shirtcliff is held accountable.

The CTV receptionist says the commission needs to look further at claims that he used his fake engineering degree to gain a Masters in engineering in Australia.

A man widowed by the CTV building collapse says it was inevitable that police would eventually investigate Gerald Shirtcliff.

Brian Kennedy, whose wife Faye died in the collapse, told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Friday something needed to happen once the allegations became known.

"I would think that the engineers themselves should feel rather concerned that it looks as though this fellow slipped through the system and been able to purport what he is not."

However, Mr Kennedy says there would be nothing to gain from bringing Mr Shirtcliff back before the commission.

"We've had discussions since they finished and they're quite satisfied they have all the information they require - and I believe that. The commission itself, although they've dealt with Shirtcliff, will certainly publish appropriate comments, I think."

He says the police are best placed to ask further questions of Mr Shirtcliff.

The professional engineers body in Australia where Gerald Shirtcliff is working has an urgent investigation underway which is close to being completed. Is is alleged he has worked there under a different name.

Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Friday serious charges could be laid if it turns out Mr Shirtcliff misrepresented himself as an engineer, but that is for the police to determine.

Mr Williamson says the man may have to return to New Zealand if a prosecution is pursued.

A Queens Counsel says police are unlikely to investigate Mr Shirtcliff.

Nigel Hampton QC says proving Mr Shirtcliff did anything wrong would be difficult because he wasn't directly questioned at the commission about his qualifications.

Mr Hampton says the question around Mr Shirtcliff's qualifications falls more into the realm of an employment matter.