EQC engineer denies bullying

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

The Earthquake Commission's (EQC) top engineer made assessments without tools and was arrogant and bullying, a disciplinary hearing has heard.

Graeme Robinson appeared before an Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand disciplinary committee yesterday to defend complaints from 11 Christchurch homeowners.

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.

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

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.

Graeme Robinson
Graeme Robinson

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