EQC engineer breaks down at hearing

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 16:53 28/08/2014
Marg and Hugh Bigsby
Kirk Hargreaves

AGGRIEVED: Marg and Hugh Bigsby of St Martins said Graeme Robinson arrived for an inspection without tools.

Graeme Robinson
Kirk Hargreaves
EQC ENGINEER: Graeme Robinson arrives for the second day of his discplinary hearing.

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EQC engineer Graeme Robinson turned up to do a repair strategy for a garage which had already been condemned, a disciplinary committee has heard.

Robinson is facing complaints from 11 Canterbury homeowners at an Institution of Professional Engineers disciplinary committee sitting in Christchurch.

Hunter Morton, the owner of a property in Leeston, said a garage on the property had been condemned in 2011 after the earthquakes.

Robinson had turned up unannounced a day after the demolition order and suggested a repair involving the removal of large sections of the garage walls and the scraping of asphalt to fix a sticking door.

The engineer had insisted no building consent would be required for his design although later the Selwyn District Council had said one would be required.

Morton said safety was not mentioned in Robinson's report which meant the family did not know if they were safe on their property. The family still had to avoid the site.

His wife had mentioned the demolition order to Robinson.

The engineer's notes said, "just want a new garage, ended in tears, nasty case," Morton said.

Robinson had become agitated and combative when challenged and left his wife in tears.

She had not allowed him more than two metres into the house yet Robinson had concluded in his notes the house had only minor internal damage.

Robinson said an estimator had given him the information about the internal damage but Morton told the committee nobody from EQC had been in the house before Robinson's visit.

Robinson said the council was wrong in requiring a building consent for the repair he recommended.

The design he produced was for EQC to cost the repair, he said, and it was immaterial to him whether it was a rebuild or a repair.

He was aware of Morton's concerns about the safety of the building.

ENGINEER BREAKS DOWN AT HEARING

Earlier today Graeme Robinso broke down as he defending his manner and assessments before the disciplinary committee.

The committee's first day yesterday heard complaints of Robinson rushing jobs, doing assessments without tools and being aggressive and dismissive. He denies any impropriety or carelessness.

Asked about his manner by committee chair Peter McCombs, Robinson became tearful and said it was the first time he had lost his detachment and become upset.

"It would nice to have some balance. This project has taken some time out of me too,'' he said.

He broke down reading an email from a supporter and his lawyer John Morrison had to take over.

One email said Robinson was intellectual and sensitive with a great knowledge of New Zealand culture.

Robinson said the committee was only hearing negative comments about him.

A property owner says EQC's top engineer recommended a foundation repair without investigating the land underneath it.

ENGINEER RECOMMENDED BREACH OF BUILDING CODE

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Chiropractor John O'Malley told the disciplinary committee that he believed Robinson had recommended an illegal repair.

The repair of a cracked corner of a foundation suggested by Robinson ignored the rest of the foundation and contradicted an earlier engineer's report.

The repair would have breached the building code and would have "snuck in under the radar" if he hadn't objected.

His recommendation has been produced without background work and did not request further work on the TC3 land, O'Malley said.

He believed Robinson had showed bullying characteristics in the way he went about his inspection.

He had met Robinson on his driveway and asked him why he was here when an engineering report had already done.

"He walked past me and said "I'm not taking any notice of that.''

When referred to Housing and Building Department guidelines, Robinson said the guidelines were just that and not the law.

O'Malley said his own engineer had written 11 pages on how to go about coming up with a repair solution.

Robinson came up with the repair solution in half a page, he said.

Robinson told the committee repairs were not designed to future proof a house.

COUPLE SAYS ENGINEER WAS NEGLIGENT

Earlier the hearing heard that Robinson had threatened to make a harsher assessment if his repair advice was disputed, a disciplinary committee has been told.

Hannah Carey told the committee she and husband Mark were alleging Robinson was incompetent and/or negligent and failed to provide an honest and objective assessment.

His conclusion damage to cladding on their house pre-existed the Christchurch earthquakes lacked foundation because his investigation was substandard.

His interpretation of the Building and Earthquake Commission Acts was wrong and the acts did not support the solution Robinson was suggesting.

Carey said she and her husband doubted Robinson had the qualifications necessary to propose repair solutions to the cladding issue.

When they raised concerns about his proposals, Robinson had said, "if we didn't accept his advice he would say all the damage was pre-existing.''

This raised doubts he was being honest and objective. "He knew or should have known he did not have the facts to support his conclusion.''

Robinson had also failed to resolve the conflict and to "treat us with dignity''. "He said he would not have purchased our home and . . . we should have purchased a better home,'' Carey said.

He had a tendency to misrepresent facts when particulars were challenged, she said.

Mark Carey said Robinson had maintained he had a legal opinion from Chapman Tripp to support his position but the opinion had never been produced.

Robinson's position was undermined by the fact he had sought legal advice from EQC's in-house counsel on the very issue after making the claim.

Despite saying interior damage did not match exterior damage, Robinson had not inspected the interior of the house.

Hannah Carey said EQC had come up with a more sophisticated repair solution than proposed by Robinson. She now felt comfortable with the level of investigation behind the new solution.

ENGINEER'S ADVICE CORRECT AND ACCURATE

EQC assessor Ray Harper said he had always found Robinson's explanations and advice correct and accurate.

He was "direct" but on the three visits he had made with Robinson he was not unprofessional.

It was unfortunate his advice was needed in often difficult claims and what he had to deliver was often not taken well.

Asked by McCombs how Robinson performed in an environment where care and tact was required, Harper said personality conflicts happened.

Robinson tended to speak aloud what he was thinking and invite discussion.

EQC had not in the end taken Robinson's advice, Harper said.

Robinson told the committee he did not think any of the damage to the Carey's house was due to the earthquakes and denied making any threat.

HEARING HEARD ENGINEER WAS 'ARROGANT AND BULLYING'

Yesterday, the hearing heard Robinson made assessments without tools and was arrogant and bullying.

Self-employed Robinson was used by EQC to ensure its engineering advice was of the highest standard and performed more than 2000 assessments after the Canterbury earthquakes.

Marg and Hugh Bigsby, of St Martins, told the committee Robinson had inspected their 1929 character house in 2011.

After the earthquakes, water was pooling against the house and the couple were delighted an engineer was finally looking at the issue.

Hugh Bigsby said Robinson had turned up without tools, cast aspersions on work on the house and wrongly claimed some of it did not meet code.

Robinson said they had already been treated very generously.

"We didn't expect that sort of feedback. Discussions had started out civilly but came down to one of us was lying," Bigsby said.

Mark Bailey, a medical practitioner, and his brother David, a licensed builder, gave evidence that Robinson had inspected one of their houses in Linwood as part of a joint visit with other representatives in March 2012.

Mark Bailey said he had been disturbed by Robinson's conduct and within 24 hours of the visit had emailed his brother to record that Robinson was inappropriate, overbearing and had attempted to influence the group assessment beyond his brief.

The engineer said the house was in poor shape and downplayed liquefaction damage despite the amount of material already removed. He had missed a damaged chimney and had to be dragged back into the house to examine it.

Robinson testified that he had not missed the chimney.

Complainant Michael Tierney said that when Robinson inspected his 1885 brick home in December 2010 and May 2011, he was rude, abrupt and "showed no care for us as human beings".

Robinson said the home was as safe as it was pre-earthquake, Tierney said.

"This was not true and we have the reports to prove that," he said.

Civil Defence had given them seven days to leave the house after the September 2010 earthquake and another engineer's report said internal and external walls had cracked and were dangerous.

Robinson denied any agenda to cut costs for EQC.

He told the panel he had often heard the slur that he was tasked with reducing EQC's liability.

"I take personal and ethical exception to that. The cost is immaterial on each and every single one of the jobs I have done for the Earthquake Commission."

His job was to identify earthquake damage fairly, honestly and to the best of his ability.

Robinson told the committee he was aware that "people don't always take what I say well".

"Sometimes when it is necessary to make technical points I may be seen as arrogant. I do my best to avoid rudeness and I guess if arrogance is trying to get it right then I'm arrogant."

He said he was honest and direct but never disrespectful or inappropriate.

Andrea Laws said she was amazed at how brief Robinson's inspection of her house had been.

He spent only 19 minutes on the property and half of that time was spent arguing with her partner.

She said Robinson had concluded foundation damage could be remedied by jacking and packing the piles, when other reports said the piles were unsuitable for repacking.

Two of Robinson's EQC colleagues said he was frank, clear and assertive but had not seen him be arrogant or a bully.

- The Press

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