My role was limited - Shirtcliff

MICHAEL WRIGHT
Last updated 05:00 09/08/2012
Gerald Shirtcliff
DEAN KOZANIC/Fairfax NZ

RESPONSIBILITY REJECTED: Gerald Shirtcliff, the former construction manager of the company that built the CTV building, gives evidence via video link from Australia, where he now lives.

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The man who oversaw construction of the Canterbury Television building says he had “limited involvement” in the build and has dismissed a claim he was "clearly not up to the job".

Former construction manager for Williams Construction Gerald Shirtcliff, a convicted fraudster, was responsible for ensuring the CTV construction met design and building standards.

He initially declined to appear before the Canterbury earthquakes royal commission but changed his mind once it began hearing evidence on the CTV building collapse.

Several other witnesses, including former Williams managing director Michael Brooks, cited Shirtcliff's key role in the project and his "final responsibility" for construction.

When he was asked yesterday about his responsibilities, Shirtcliff repeatedly pointed to site foreman Bill Jones, Alan Reay Consultants engineer David Harding and Christchurch City Council staff as the key parties.

"I only had limited involvement in the CTV building," he said.

"I deny I was responsible for supervising construction of the CTV building, Jones or the subcontractors."

He also denied he had "any involvement with contractors, consultants or the supply of materials or labour for the CTV building".

Other jobs on Williams Construction's books, including the Copthorne Hotel in Durham St and the Air Force Museum in Wigram, took up most of his time, Shirtcliff said, and he visited the CTV site only about once a month.

"The reason . . . was because it was a typical, straightforward job. Every floor was the same, with repetitive concrete, floors, walls and columns and no internal fitout," he said.

"When I was on the site the purpose of my visits were generally to discuss any concerns the foreman, Mr Jones, had and see if there was anything that he needed.”

Earlier, Brooks said monthly site visits by someone in Shirtcliff's position were not acceptable.

"As construction manager, if you do your job properly you really should be visiting the sites every day," he said.

"My understanding was he was visiting the sites more than once a month and certainly should have been."

Brooks said Shirtcliff was "clearly not up to the job" and gave insufficient guidance to staff.

Shirtcliff responded: "I don't think that was the case. I'm not under the impression I was meant to be mentoring or guiding people, but I certainly guided people on-site."

Former Williams quantity surveyor Tony Scott said he believed Shirtcliff was "attending to the matters on the CTV building".

"I don't see how he could possibly have done his job as a construction manager by attending the site once a month. It would be impossible to do his job properly," he said.

Other projects that Shirtcliff said took up most of his time were on a smaller scale than the CTV job, he said.

"The other jobs . . . were only single-level [or two levels]. The [Copthorne] had already been closed in. It wasn't as if [CTV] was an insignificant job," he said. "We treated it as a fairly major job in the company. It was our biggest structure."

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Shirtcliff gave evidence via video link from Australia.

WITNESS AT LOSS WHEN ASKED ABOUT IDENTITY

Gerald Shirtcliff was often flummoxed when questioned about his past yesterday.

The former Williams Construction employee was lost for words when Mark Zarifeh, a lawyer assisting the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission, asked him about time spent living in South Africa.

Shirtcliff eventually confirmed that he worked as a supervisor on a construction site, but could not say what name he went by at the time.

"Was it Fischer?" Zarifeh asked.

"No," Shirtcliff replied.

"Are you sure about that," Zarifeh said. "Yes," Shirtcliff said.

Soon after a visibly shaken Shirtcliff wavered when asked to confirm his South African identity.

"I can't tell you. I can't remember. I think it was Shirtcliff," he said.

Shirtcliff now lives in Australia, where he works under the name William Anthony Fischer.

He was extradited to New Zealand and convicted on nine counts of fraud in 2005 after he fabricated GST returns that showed his failing company was making hundreds of thousands of dollars profit.

He then used the false returns to convince Queenstown investor Eric Zust to buy his franchise-based automotive servicing business for $296,500.

He was sentenced to 20 months jail.

Shirtcliff said he changed his name "following an issue with my family".

"It was a personal matter. I made a decision to do that," he said.

"[It was] the request of my mother, to try and effect a family reconciliation, that I go back to New Zealand and bring my children up in my birth name.

"Fischer and Shirtcliff are one in the same."

- The Press

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