Rongotai old boy faked degree
MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
The construction manager of the deadly Canterbury Television building stole the identity of a professional engineer and faked an engineering degree, an investigation has revealed.
Gerald Shirtcliff, now 67, supervised the construction of the CTV building which was finished in about October 1987. It collapsed on February 22 last year, taking the lives of 115 people, when Christchurch was hit by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake.
The Canterbury earthquakes royal commission has been told of a number of construction defects with the building, although Shirtcliff denies he had much to do with the site.
In evidence to the commission last month he claimed to be a "graduate engineer" and that he had been a supervisor on construction projects in South Africa. Inquiries by The Press, in Christchurch, suggest these assertions are misleading.
Shirtcliff, who was educated at Rongotai College and left school to work in a Wellington bank, has lived off and on in Australia since about 1970 under the name William Anthony Fisher.
The Press has already disclosed he was sentenced to 20 months' jail in 2005 for a Christchurch fraud in which he forged GST receipts to make it look like his failing automotive business was thriving. A Christchurch family was cheated of about $300,000 in the fraud.
A month-long investigation by The Press shows Shirtcliff in 1970 stole the identity of an English engineer called William Anthony Fisher, with whom he worked in South Africa in 1968 and 1969. Shirtcliff has lived as William Fisher in Australia for over 25 years, and now resides in Brisbane, driving a late-model Mercedes and enjoying a spacious house and a $200,000 motor launch.
When Shirtcliff left South Africa towards the end of 1969 to settle in Sydney he took on Fisher's identity including his birthplace, birthdate and his bachelor of engineering from the University of Sheffield.
Shirtcliff then used the real Will Fisher's BEng to gain entry into a masters programme at the University of New South Wales in 1971 and also to become a member of the Australian Institute of Engineers in 1972. As "Will Fisher" he was awarded a master of engineering science degree in highway engineering in April 1974.
He later worked as an engineer for a Sydney firm, then called MacDonald, Wagner and Priddle (to become Connell Wagner and then Aurecon), before returning to New Zealand in the mid-80s, to work under his Shirtcliff name.
In New Zealand he purported to be a "registered" engineer and at one time a "chartered" engineer.
Shirtcliff used his new identity on company documents and also to try to avoid extradition to New Zealand on the fraud allegations. He spent a week in a Brisbane jail in 2003 before conceding he was actually Gerald Shirtcliff.
The real Will Fisher, now retired and living in England, said he was shocked and "still reeling" after The Press contacted him to inform him about the theft of his identity.
He said he was awarded a BEng in 1967 after three years' study at Sheffield University.
During this time Shirtcliff was still in New Zealand, Press inquiries show.
The real Will Fisher said he was born in Hong Kong in 1946 (Shirtcliff was born in Wellington in 1945).
Fisher, who became a chartered engineer in London in 1974, remembered Shirtcliff as a colourful, somewhat mysterious character who told lots of stories. Fisher said he had no memory of Shirtcliff, who was employed as a "junior technician" in the firm's design office, ever supervising a construction project. "I joined VKE in February 1968 and left in July 1969 to return to England to get married," Fisher said. "We shared a flat over the last six to eight months of that period. Gerald was still in Pretoria when I left and I have had no contact with him since."
Shirtcliff did not want to talk to The Press when approached at his Brisbane home last month. The Press later attended a meeting with his lawyer, David Tucker, and Shirtcliff, on advice, declined to answer questions.
In subsequent correspondence through his lawyer, Shirtcliff continued to maintain he had an engineering degree from Sheffield University. He denied misleading the commission and said he changed his name by deed poll in Australia 40 years ago.
The change was prompted by a family rift, he claimed.
He categorically denied any of the wrongdoing claimed or suggested by The Press and threatened to sue the newspaper if it published the allegations.
In 2009, Shirtcliff was employed as a contractor by the global engineering consultancy WorleyParsons at its headquarters in Brisbane.
Information provided by The Press to WorleyParsons prompted the firm to immediately launch an investigation which led to the "termination of his [Shirtcliff's] relationship with the company" last month. All his work was being reviewed, the firm said.
WorleyParsons said the employment agency that supplied Shirtcliff was responsible for standard employment checks prior to presenting candidates for engagement and had also been sacked.
After his departure from WorleyParsons last month, Shirtcliff almost immediately joined Sedgman, another international engineering firm in Brisbane as an independent contractor. On learning about the allegations made by The Press, Sedgman has commenced its own investigation.
EngineersAustralia, the body which oversees the registration of engineers, has begun an investigation, as has the University of New South Wales.
A university spokeswoman said if the allegations were proven to be true - "that a degree had been obtained from this institution using false documents - then the university would cancel the degree".
- © Fairfax NZ News
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