Fake engineer worked on Queensland projects

CAMERON ATFIELD
Last updated 08:23 10/08/2014
Gerald Shirtcliff
Kirk Hargreaves
GERALD SHIRTCLIFF: Said he had little to do with the construction of the CTV building.

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Engineering projects across Queensland have had to be reassessed after a fake engineer, who worked on the CTV building that collapsed in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, worked on them using a fake name and qualifications.

Gerald Shirtcliffe, under the truncated name Gerald Shirtcliff, featured in the New Zealand royal commission into the Christchurch earthquakes last year over his role supervising the construction of the CTV building, which collapsed on February 22 2011, killing 115 people.

Shirtcliffe, 66 of Victoria Point, pleaded guilty on June 12 to 146 charges, including carrying out professional engineering services while not a registered engineer and making "false and misleading" statements to the Board of Professional Engineers of Queensland.

Since March 2000, Shirtcliffe had worked as a registered engineer in Queensland under an identity he stole from a former colleague.

Shirtcliffe had shared a flat with English engineer William Fisher in the 1960s, and practiced in Queensland under  Fisher's name.

Shirtcliffe walked free from court, but was fined $500,000 and ordered to pay $20,000 in professional costs.

"You knew you were not entitled to be registered," Magistrate Paul Kluck told Shirtcliffe.

"You allowed yourself to be held out as a registered professional engineer and you used that title."

In Queensland, Shirtcliffe worked for engineering firms Worley Parsons Limited and Sedgman Limited, where he worked on several major projects.

Those included major coal projects at Maules Creek, Codrilla, Boggabri, Lake Vermont and Caval Ridge.

He also worked on the southern expansion of Mount Isa Mines' Black Star open cut mine in outback Queensland, along with New Auckland in Gladstone.

Comment was sought from both Worley Parsons and Sedgman.

A spokesman for Housing and Public Works Minister Tim Mander, whose portfolio takes in the BPEQ, said Shirtcliffe's most recent employers had reviewed his work and "reported no concerns".

"The board is currently exploring options to investigate Mr Shirtcliffe's prior work history," he said.

In an affidavit written to the court, Fisher, who now lives near Exeter in the United Kingdom, said his original copy of his University of Sheffield Bachelor of Engineering degree had gone missing in South Africa.

Fisher and Shirtcliffe shared a flat for about six months in 1969 while they both worked for consulting engineering firm Van Niekirk, Kleyn and Edward in Pretoria.

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Fisher said he had never worked or resided in Australia or New Zealand, but had visited both countries on holidays.

Although he had not seen Shirtcliffe since 1969, Fisher recognised the New Zealander from a photograph attached to an application form to become a Registered Professional Engineer of Queensland.

"I do recognise the man in the photograph as him," he said.

Fisher said he had had no contact with Shirtcliffe since 1969 - the year he noticed his degree had gone missing.

"To the best of my knowledge, in 1968 Gerald Shirtcliffe had no engineering work experience or qualifications," he said in the affidavit.

"It was a fairly small office and although he was not directly working under me, I could see what he was doing on a daily basis."

Shirtcliffe used the stolen degree to enter a Masters programme at the University of New South Wales in 1973. The UNSW revoked Shirtcliffe's Master of Engineering Science in Highway Engineering, obtained under Fisher's name, on November 20, 2012.

In her affidavit to the court, BPEQ registrar Clare Murray said the board's investigation into Shirtcliffe was launched after she saw a media report in the Brisbane Times.

A joint statement of facts, agreed by both Shirtcliffe and the BPEQ, was presented to the Magistrates Court.

"The nature of the offences are very serious and warrant a very high and substantial penalty. Indeed the offences are of the most serious kind that one may contemplate against the (Professional Engineers Act Queensland)," the joint submission stated.

"This is because Shirtcliffe - not being registered as an RPEQ and in circumstances where he took on an engineering degree awarded to someone else and then sought to adopt that person's name in purporting to seek registration - carried out significant and complicated professional engineering services as a senior civil engineer with respect to large coal projects, mining projects and civil infrastructure projects.

"...The professional engineering work performed was of the most serious and complicated kind and called for a properly registered professional engineer to perform and supervise the work.

"Any deficiency in the engineering calculations, design and data with respect to this work could have had very serious consequences in terms of injury to persons, damage to property and/or with respect to the success of the engineering projects."

Engineers Australia cancelled Shirtcliffe's registration in 2012.

Fairfax Media asked Mr Mander's spokesman whether the BPEQ was confident safeguards were in place to prevent a similar case in the future.

"Since 2008, engineers have been required to have their qualifications verified by an approved assessment entity before gaining registration with the Queensland Board of Engineers," he said in a statement.

- Brisbane Times

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