CTV construction manager distances himself

MICHAEL WRIGHT
Last updated 11:26 08/08/2012
Gerald Shirtcliff
Dean Kozanic

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

Michael Brooks
Dean Kozanic
EVIDENCE: Michael Brooks speaks to the Canterbury earthquakes royal commission today.

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The construction manager for the Canterbury Television building says he had "limited involvement" in its construction and has distanced himself from responsibility in the project.

Former construction manager for Williams Construction Gerald Shirtcliff initially declined to give evidence to 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, have cited Shirtcliff's key role in the project and his "final responsibility" for construction.

Asked about his responsibilities this afternoon, 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, [site foreman William] Jones or the subcontractors."

He 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, Shirtcliffe said.

He visited the CTV site only about once a month, he said.

"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 was generally to discuss any concerns the foreman, Mr Jones, had and see if there was anything that he needed."

Earlier today, Brooks said monthly site visits by someone in Shirtcliff's position was 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."

Shirtcliff gave evidence via video link from Australia, where he now lives, and goes by the name William Anthony Fischer.

He was extradited to New Zealand to face fraud charges in 2005.
 
He was found guilty on nine charges and sentenced to 20 months' jail for what the judge described as "patent criminality".
 
On release, he returned to Queensland.
 
Former Williams quantity surveyor Tony Scott and CTV site foreman Bill Jones will give evidence this afternoon.

Financial problems

Brooks also told the commission today that financial problems at the company that built the CTV building slowed its construction.

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Work by Williams Construction, which built the CTV building, slowed in March 1987 "due to non-payment of suppliers and subcontractors", he said.
 
Williams' parent company, Smart Group, was to blame, he said.

"At that stage ... Smart Group was definitely experiencing some problems, but they also handled their financial matters rather differently than Williams used to,'' he said.

"When [they] came into the picture they started helping themselves to money out of the Williams account, which of course they were entitled to do. It did cause problems.''

Brooks said he doubted the disruption affected workmanship, but he left Williams in April 1987 and could not be sure.

The CTV site owner, Prime West, was also having financial troubles.

"There was some uncertainty about whether we would be paid right up until the cheque was received,'' Brooks said.

"They paid us in full. I think the way it happened was we just happened to be higher on the list of important payment to creditors."

- The Press

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