Families call for perjury charges against Shirtcliff

OLIVIA CARVILLE
Last updated 07:47 16/09/2012
Gerald Shirtcliff
Dean Kozanic

VIDEO LINK APPEARANCE: Gerald Shirtcliff says he had "limited involvement" in the CTV building's construction.

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Uncovering the past of the construction manager of the deadly Canterbury Television building has sparked a call from victims' families for perjury charges to be laid against him.

A Press investigation led by Martin van Beynen yesterday revealed Wellington-born Gerald Shirtcliff, 67, stole the identity of a professional engineer and faked an engineering degree before he supervised construction of the CTV building over two years in 1986 and 1987.

The building collapsed in the February 2011 earthquake, claiming the lives of 115 people.

Shirtcliff told the Royal Commission inquiry into the failed CTV building last month he was a "graduate civil engineer" who had been a supervisor on a number of construction projects in South Africa but inquiries suggest those assertions are misleading.

The investigation into Shirtcliff made international headlines yesterday and upset a number of grieving families - with many calling for him to be held to account for evidence he gave under oath to the commission.

CTV widower Murray Grant said he believed Shirtcliff had been "ducking and diving" from any involvement in the building's collapse, but that it had "backfired now".

"He hasn't been truthful and there should be consequences. If you lie under oath you should be held accountable," he said.

Another widower, Richard Austin, said: "If he has lied to the commission, in my view he should be charged with perjury."

Law Society spokesman Jonathan Krebs said it was possible for Shirtcliff to face perjury charges. "It appears to me he has given evidence under oath to a commission of inquiry, and if that evidence is proved to be false, and he knew it, then he could be charged."

A perjury conviction lead to up to seven years in jail.

"If what has been reported is made out in evidence, I think it is sufficiently serious that some office of Government should fully investigate the possibility of a perjury prosecution," Krebs said.

A number of victims' families agree. Betty Gardiner, 83, lost her daughter Donna when the building collpased, and said it was "heartbreaking" to read of Shirtcliff's life of lies. She was reduced to tears by the story, but took comfort in her belief that "karma will come round".

"He doesn't seem to have cared at all for what he's put people through with his lies, but he'll get it some way or another."

Mike Berry, who lost his sister Marion Hilbers, hoped the investigation would see police look into Shirtcliff's actions.

Widower Michael Didham said he wondered if Shirtcliff's past might raise further questions arouond the construction of the CTV building, and if it could affect the commission's outcome, but the commission said while it had received a number of media inquries asking if the hearing would reopen, it would not.

"The hearing into the performance of the CTV building is complete," a spokeswoman said. The commission is currently considering its findings in relation to the failed building and said they would be delivered to the Governor-General by November.

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- The Press

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