24 Mar 2015

Referee aware of engineer's CTV connection

9:10 pm on 24 March 2015

The man who acted as a referee for the engineer whose company designed the CTV Building was aware of Alan Reay's involvement with the structure's design and construction, a disciplinary hearing has been told.

Search and rescue teams at the site of the  collapsed CTV building in February 2011.

Search and rescue teams at the site of the collapsed CTV building in February 2011. Photo: AFP

A month after the CTV Building collapsed in the February 2011 earthquake, killing 115 people, Dr Reay asked senior structural engineer David Whittaker to act as a referee for his renewed registration as a chartered professional engineer with the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ).

A disciplinary committee hearing, triggered by an IPENZ complaint against Dr Reay, is underway in Christchurch, to determine whether Dr Reay declared his connection with the building on his application.

Mr Whittaker said at the time he acted as a referee for Dr Reay, the engineering reasons behind the building's failure were unknown.

He said he assumed the engineers assessing Dr Reay, and IPENZ, would have been aware of Dr Reay's connection with CTV, but today conceded he should not have made that assumption.

"On reflection I accept that I should have mentioned the knowledge I had of Dr Reay's former firm having designed the CTV Building," Dr Whittaker said.

He said he was not asked to fill out a form referees usually complete and had acted as a referee for only one other applicant. For that candidate, he told the committee he was asked to judge if the candidate was of sound mind, which he found an "odd question".

Dr Reay's counsel Hugh Rennie QC has spent most of his time highlighting potential weaknesses in the IPENZ registration system.

After IPENZ laid the complaint against Dr Reay alleging that he did not disclose his involvement with the CTV Building, Dr Whittaker said he was phoned by a member of the IPENZ Registration Authority and asked whether he had known about the CTV connection.

"I said I knew that Dr Reay's firm was connected with the CTV Building and that I knew of that at the time I acted as a referee, but I also knew that Alan hadn't personally designed the building, because Alan told me."

Dr Reay is today facing questions from the IPENZ Registration Authority's counsel.

The two panel members who assessed Dr Reay in April 2011 told the committee yesterday they did not recall him mentioning his firm's involvement with the CTV Building.

One member said he recalled a discussion about the CTV Building collapse from an engineering point of view and the other panel member said he was positive Dr Reay did not disclose his connection to it.

Dr Reay told the committee he was "specifically asked about building failures" and spoke about CTV.

Final submissions

The disciplinary committee has heard final submissions into a complaint about whether Dr Reay disclosed his involvement with the CTV Building when he applied for registration as a chartered professional engineer.

IPENZ Registration Authority counsel Pheroze Jagose said Dr Reay had misrepresented himself because the assessment panel, who granted his application on the basis of current engineering competence, was under the impression that Dr Reay's Christchurch buildings had performed well.

He said the personal connection one assessor had with the CTV Building would have triggered a conflict of interest and follow-up questions.

Tim Armitage knew Murray Wood, who died in the building, and yesterday said had Dr Reay mentioned his firm's involvement with the CTV Building design and construction, he would have naturally asked questions.

Mr Jagose said the committee had the "unenviable task of deciding who was right in terms of the content of that discussion".

Dr Reay said he was asked specifically about building failures and successes and chose to nominate the CTV Building as a failure, but other evidence indicated the assessors asked about general building performance.

Mr Jagose acknowledged that normal IPENZ and registration processes were not followed in Dr Reay's case, as he was one of three senior engineers whose applications were fast-tracked to allow them access to the central city red zone after the earthquake.

Dr Reay's lawyer, Hugh Rennie QC, analysed the handwritten note written by one assessor, Basil Wakelin, which said Dr Reay's Christchurch buildings "evidently performed well in the earthquakes".

"What in fact appears to have happened ... is that Mr Wakelin took his laptop to the Marlborough Sounds and somewhere between seven to 10 days after the interview wrote that sentence.

''Evidently is a judgemental word ... Dr Reay wouldn't say that, he would say they did or they didn't."

Mr Rennie said both Mr Wakelin and Mr Armitage had varying and inconsistent accounts of the assessment interview they conducted with Dr Reay in April 2011.

Mr Rennie said it took more than a year and seven written requests before Mr Armitage's notes were handed over to Dr Reay's lawyers.

Mr Rennie went as far as inferring that Mr Wakelin and Mr Armitage may have been "caucusing to make their stories join up".

He suggested that Mr Armitage might be prone to memory lapses and moments of confusion.

The committee will now deliberate the matter before making a written decision.

If the complaint is upheld, parties will be invited to make submissions on appropriate penalties.

The committee has the power to suspend, censure and fine Dr Reay.