Reluctant CTV witness agrees to give evidence

Last updated 18:08 28/06/2012
Graham Frost's evidence
Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission Zoom
COLLAPSE: Photos taken by Graham Frost, the chief engineer for construction company Fletcher, during his five days in Christchurch after the February 2011 earthquake.
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Iain McGregor Zoom
VERTICAL COLLAPSE: Rob Heywood gives evidence at the royal commission today.
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Iain McGregor Zoom
CONCERNED: David Bainbridge was so anxious about the CTV building's safety, he could not wait to get out.

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An important witness who initially declined a request to appear at the royal commission's hearing into the collapse of the CTV building has now agreed to give evidence at the hearing via video link from Australia.

Commission counsel Stephen Mills, QC, told the hearing on Monday that Gerald Morton Shirtcliff, 67, a former construction manager for Williams Construction, which built the CTV building in 1986-87, had declined a request to appear.

Shirtcliff was living in Australia, Mills said at the time, but was reluctant to divulge his exact location and had been in contact with investigators only by email.

"We offered him the opportunity to have a video link. He hasn't taken that up but in the last few days has requested a copy of the [Department of Building & Housing] report.

However, the commission announced this evening that Shirtcliff had provided a signed statement of evidence and agreed to appear as a witness at the hearing via a video link.

The Press revealed yesterday that Shirtcliff was convicted of fraud in 2005 and sentenced to 20 months' jail by Christchurch District Court Judge Murray Abbott.

Shirtcliff was bankrupted in 2006 and his company, Langford Services (formerly Autoburger Ltd), was placed in liquidation in 1999.

Sources told The Press that Shirtcliff also used the name Fisher and claimed he had a master's degree in engineering.

Evidence about the construction of the CTV building is scheduled to be heard in the week of July 30.

The commission will also hear from three other former members of Williams Construction, managing director Michael Brooks, quantity surveyor Tony Scott and foreman Bill Jones.

Mills said on Monday it was likely Shirtcliffe would come in for criticism from other witnesses during the hearing.


Shirtcliff was earlier described as being like "a bull at the gate" by a man who worked alongside him.

The commission today heard that city council building inspector Russell Simson worked closely with Shirtcliff through the building construction industry over the years.

He described Shirtcliff as "a difficult person" to work with.

Simson was aware that Shirtcliff was a foreman during the construction of the CTV building.

Simson had no part in the construction of the building.

"I personally found him to be a difficult person to work with," he said.

"He was a bit like a bull at the gate."

Simson said he could not comment on Shirtcliff's standard of workmanship.

However, he had "a reputation".


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Three council building inspectors appear to have been mistaken for engineers during an assessment of the Canterbury Television building after the September 4, 2010 earthquake.

A Canterbury earthquakes royal commission is hearing evidence about the building collapse that claimed 115 lives in the February 22 earthquake.

The assessors spent up to an hour performing a level 2 rapid assessment on the building on September 7, following an external inspection two days earlier.

They gave the CTV building a green placard, meaning it was safe to occupy, even though some floors could not be reached because they were locked.

A "boss" in the reception when they arrived about 11.45am was likely to have been either CTV managing director Murray Wood or building manager John Drew, but this could not be confirmed.

Wood sent an email to all CTV staff at 1.26pm on September 7.

It read: "We have just had an internal inspection of the building from 3 engineers and they have found the building is in good condition and is deemed habitable. The only damage they could find was surface damage and has on [no] effect on the stability of the structure.

"There is advice in the media that there will be more aftershocks so we need to be mindful that the situation may change at any time but on the recommendations of the experts from the agencies involved it's businesses as usual at CTV.

"If anyone has any anxieties or issues please come and see me directly."

An engineer did eventually inspect the CTV building and gave it the all clear.

Wood perished in the building collapse.


Top floors in the building could not be inspected after the September 2010 earthquake because they were locked, the commission heard.

Graeme Calvert continued evidence from building inspectors who assessed the CTV building in the days after the September earthquake.

Calvert filled out the CTV building's fateful 'level 2' green placard, which meant there was no compulsion on the owner to get a detailed engineer's assessment of the building before it could be occupied.

This proved a source of consternation among families of those killed in the building's collapse.

Calvert, at the time a senior building support officer for the council, arrived at the CTV building about 11.45am on September 7 along with two other council staff members.

None of them were engineers.

Calvert noticed the building had already been given a green sticker from a level 1 rapid assessment two days earlier.

He then went inside and spoke to the receptionist and another man, who appeared to be a "boss" of the one of the businesses.

Calvert asked both if they had any concerns about the building or any issues his team should look at, but neither did.

He was told an engineer would be inspecting the building, but was not told when.

They went to inspect the inside the building, but could only get as high as the second or third level because the top floors were locked.

Calvert said this was "not ideal", however there was a "back-up" that an engineer would perform the detailed assessment task.

He noticed cosmetic damage but "no obvious damage that caused me any concern."

"The fact we could not see obvious things wrong with the building did not mean there were not things structurally wrong," he said.

"There could be cracks in the foundations or all sorts of things that were hidden from view."

However, the team concluded that there was no reason after the September 7 inspection for any alarm with the CTV building, he said.

Calvert filled out a level 2 assessment form on the CTV building, marking it as G2, meaning it could be occupied, but repairs were required.

However he admitted he was clear on what this meant in terms of further assessments.

On questioning, he said he knew a green placard did not compel a building owner to carry out an engineer's inspection, but he had been told this would be done, and expected that the council would contact the owner to ensure it had been done.

He had no recollection of a gap found in the floor on one of the levels.

The team did not alert people at emergency headquarters that the CTV building needed an engineer's assessment.


A council building inspector who gave the CTV building a green placard after the September 2010 earthquake said his team did only a quick walk around the building and did not notice any obvious damage or hazards.

Peter van der Zee was the first to read his statement to the Royal Commission this morning.

"We were looking for obvious damage or hazards."

"We probably weren't thinking too much further down the track."

Van der Zee did not know if there would be any follow up.

He had believed Level 2 would be inspected if there were potential issues identified on level 1.

The commission has already heard witnesses who worked in or visited the building before the disaster describe the post-September damage they saw.

More than 80 witnesses are being called during hearing, which covers the initial building consent issued by the Christchurch City Council, the construction and design, identification of a structural weakness in 1990, and the assessment after Boxing Day quakes in 2010.

The commission has until November 12 to complete its work.

- A previous version of this story incorrectly spelt Gerald Morton Shirtcliff's last name as Shirtcliffe.

- The Press

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