EQC engineer in disciplinary hearing

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 16:53 27/08/2014
Fiona and Michael Tierney
Kirk Hargreaves

COALGATE COUPLE: Fiona and Michael Tierney say Graeme Robinson showed "no care for us as human beings".

Graeme Robinson
Graeme Robinson
Niven Shuker
David hallett
UNHAPPY: Niven Shuker and Andrea Laws, with their children Sonja and Joshua, say Graeme Robinson spent only 19 minutes on their property.

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The public needed to be protected from the Earthquake Commission's top engineer, a Canterbury homeowner told a disciplinary committee today.

Engineer Graeme Robinson is before an Institution of Professional Engineers disciplinary committee today to defend complaints from 11 Christchurch homeowners. 

Robinson was used by EQC to ensure its engineering advice was correct and performed over 2000 assessments for EQC after the Christchurch earthquakes.      

The hearing is expected to take three days.

Complainants have told the panel today of aggressive and bullying behaviour by the engineer and assessments done without tools and extremely quickly.

The last complainant on the first day of the hearing in Christchurch, Heidi Gwynne, said Robinson had assessed her Diamond Harbour Fraemohs home and had done an unprofessional and dishonest job.

"I'm here not for any financial reason,'' Gwynne, a radiologist, said.

"I'm here because the public needs to be protected from his actions.''

Gwynne said Robinson was arrogant, biased and came to the assessment with a personal philosophy.

The engineer had been adamant the house was substandard because it was not built with tie-rods in its walls. He believed the house would be bettered if tie-rods were used in the repair and "he was not going to do that''.

In fact her house did have rods and the earthquake had put the walls out of plumb, a fact Robinson failed to notice.

Robinson had recommended a small cash settlement for cosmetic damage to the ceiling.

He had identified a leak in a roof deck but the roof had never leaked.

'DETERMINED TO MINIMISE QUAKE DAMAGE'

Engineer Graeme Robinson is before an Institution of Professional Engineers disciplinary committee today to defend complaints from 11 Christchurch homeowners. 

Mark Bailey, a medical practitioner, and brother David, a licensed builder, gave evidence Robinson had inspected one of their houses in Linwood as part of a joint visit with other representatives in March 2012.

Mark said he had been disturbed by Robinson's conduct and within 24 hours of the visit had emailed his brother to record Robinson was inappropriate, overbearing and had attempted to influence the group assessment.

Robinson had said the house was in poor shape and downplayed liquefaction damage despite the amount of material already removed. He had missed a damaged chimney which had to be pointed out by a builder in the group.

The house was 100mm out of level but Robinson maintained this was largely historical despite a new house on the same section undergoing a similar drop.

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Bailey said he was concerned Robinson seemed so worried the house should be a repair and puzzled why he had taken individuals aside for discussion. He was overheard talking about legislation, historical damage and over-generous insurance policies.

"I wondered why he would be concerning himself with that,'' Bailey said.

He was also baffled about Robinson's focus on whether the damage was over or under cap.

Despite Robinson's assessment, EQC eventually agreed the house was a rebuild, Bailey said.

Robinson said he wanted to use the inspection to raise some concerns with the AMI representatives present. He had not wanted to do it in public.

He denied having to be dragged into the house to look at the chimney.

"I was looking for it.''

He had conducted a thorough inspection of the subfloor and he was aware of the chimney damage.

Asked if EQC had directed him to produce a finding making the damage under cap, he said that had never occurred.

'YOU'RE ONLY A CARPENTER, I'M AN ENGINEER'

Robinson stood toe-to-toe with a Christchurch homeowner and insulted him, the hearing earlier heard.

Homeowner Niven Shuker, a commercial carpenter, told the hearing he had debated with Robinson on his driveway.

"He did not want to know. Then he was two inches from my face and he said, 'you're only a carpenter, I'm an engineer. I've wasted enough time with you.''

Shuker's partner Andrea Laws said she was amazed at how brief Robinson's inspection of their house had been.

He spent only 19 minutes on property and half of that time was spent arguing with her partner.

Robinson had walked in the front door, down the hallway and out the back door and did not talk to her.

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.

IPENZ investigator Colin Hickling said the case appeared to show a less than thorough inspection by Robinson if he was to make a final and sound recommendation. For instance, he had taken no levels.

He agreed with Robinson's lawyer John Morrison that the report foreshadowed further inspection but said it nevertheless reached some conclusions. 

Robinson told the committee getting in someone's face was not part of his normal behaviour.

"I think Mr Shuker is a solid man. I'm not one to get in confrontation. I'm denying it categorically."

ROBINSON 'RUDE, ABRUPT'

The committee also heard from Coalgate home owners Michael and Fiona Tierney, who claimed Robinson was rude and intimidating when he inspected their home in November, 2010 and May, 2011.

He had yelled at them and got in their personal space.

Michael Tierney said that when Robinson inspected his family's 1885 brick home in May 2011, Robinson was rude, abrupt and showed "no care for us as human beings"

The Tierneys also said Robinson had declared the house was safe even though they had been told to leave the house by Civil Defence.

'I'M DIRECT AND HONEST'

Robinson told the committee his safety assessment was based on bracing and shoring work required by another engineer having been carried out on the house.

He had recommended the house be given a green sticker because the "safety to occupy" had not changed as a result of the earthquakes.

He considered the house dangerous due to a free standing hot water cylinder, exposed wiring and the quality of Tierney's building work, he said. He had notified the territorial authority about his concerns.

The September, 2010 earthquake had caused only minor damage and the house was no more dangerous than before the earthquake, he said.

Asked by the panel if he was concerned about the vulnerability of the building to further aftershocks, he said the building had come through the earthquake and he was "reasonably satisfied it was able to stand as a building''.

"I didn't see the building as earthquake prone although dangerous.''

His diary note that the building had been "tastelessly attacked" by Tierney was a release of private feelings, he said.

Some of the comments attributed to him may well have been made by another EQC staff member.

He said he was forceful, direct and honest but had not behaved disrespectfully or inappropriately.

"I am direct. People are hearing not want they want to hear. Sometimes the message is not nice... I am what I am. That can be seen as rudeness and bullying.''

- The Press

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