'I just want justice'

ASHLEIGH STEWART AND MICHAEL WRIGHT AND MARC GREENHILL
Last updated 18:48 10/12/2012

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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A receptionist who escaped the CTV building collapse has called for manslaughter charges to be laid against those found responsible for the building's failure.

A royal commission of inquiry into the CTV building, which collapsed during the February 2011 earthquake killing 115 people, has identified serious deficiencies in its design and construction and found it should not have been issued a building permit.

Mary-Ann Jackson, who described the collapsing building "chasing" her as she fled across the street, said prosecutions should result from the royal commission's findings.

''I just want justice, and I have to do it for the ones that lost their lives," she said.

"I want the justice department to lay charges and prosecute. If it was a plane crash someone would've been held accountable."

Jackson and a group of survivors were planning to seek compensation for the tragedy.

''We went to work every day thinking we were safe. We were all terrified of the earthquakes, I would never even go in the lift."

Jackson said she had read parts of the royal commission report and wanted Alan Reay, whose company designed the CTV building, and former CTV building manager John Drew to be "held accountable".

"The building was unsafe."

The families of the 24 Chinese nationals killed in the building believe the CTV report has proved human error was behind the building's collapse.

Christchurch's Chinese consulate-general, Aimin Hu, said that while there had been no immediate response from the families of the Chinese victims, most of whom were students, the report findings had "justified their anger".

"[It] proved their suspicion that the collapse of this building was related to human error,'' Hu said.

''They do hope that a lot more will be done to ensure that those responsible for the collapse will be punished, mistakes will be corrected, victims will be compensated and such tragedies will never happen again." 

The building did not meet construction standards, was designed by an engineer out of his depth and was overseen by a boss who should have known better, the royal commission found.

The report recommends changes in building practices to avoid a repeat of the disaster.

The brother of a woman killed collapse says the report, given to families over the weekend, did not make life "any easier".

Maurice Gardiner, whose sister, Donna Manning, was killed, said the report could not bring family members back. 

"It doesn't give you any answers to why it was green-stickered or why it was even built. It just says it shouldn't be."

Gardiner said he received the report last week, and it had made for emotional reading.

"I've stopped reading, then picked it up another day," he said.

"Personally, as a builder, it does make me saddened to think the design, every part of that particular building, it was set to fail in this earthquake. That's the thing that was disappointing. It just wasn't done properly."

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Gardiner said his family simply wanted lessons learnt from the tragedy.

"The whole world is watching what is happening in Christchurch," he said.

"As long as they learn from it and buildings are built stronger ... all of New Zealand is going to be a stronger place as a result. A lot of young builders and architects are going to be so well educated in seismic buildings, it can only be better."

Read more reaction to the report's release here.

FINDINGS FOLLOW EVIDENCE FROM 80 WITNESSES

The findings come after an eight-week hearing, with testimony from more than 80 witnesses.

The commissioners found building designer David Harding was working ''beyond his competence'' and identified fundamental errors in his plans.

They criticised the hands-off approach of Harding's boss, Alan Reay.

Harding did not know he was ill-equipped for the job, the report said, and Reay was mistaken in placing such responsibility in him. 

''[Harding's] self-assessment of his competence and the confidence he had that he could design the building competently was unfounded,'' it said.

''This ... raises issues about Dr Reay's decision to hand over the design of the CTV building over to Mr Harding without having any intention of reviewing his work.''

Harding had no experience designing multi-storey buildings, and had Reay reviewed his work he may have picked up the design problems.

Reay said today he had not received an advanced copy of the CTV report.

Reay, principal of Alan Reay Consultants Ltd, oversaw the building's design in 1986 but did not take an active part in it.

He said in a statement this afternoon that he learnt of the report's impending release this morning.

"I have not been provided with a copy of the ... report. When I receive a copy, I will study it carefully," he said.

"It is premature to make any other comment."

Reay has previously been critical of investigations on the collapse.

He labelled a Department of Building and Housing report released in February "technically inadequate" and criticised the short amount of time he had to respond to its findings before the public release.

Former CTV building manager John Drew got an advance copy of the report, but declined to comment today.

"It's all been said, I think."

The commissioners identified four major reasons for the building's collapse:

- Poorly designed joints between the building's beams and columns. The reinforcing that held to two together was weak and not up 1986 building standards.

- Inadequate steel reinforcing in the concrete columns.

- Weak ties between the floors and north wall - the strongest part of the building.

- Smooth surfaces of the precast concrete beams where they met the columns weakened the join. That they were not roughened was a ''critical omission''.

The building permit, issued by the Christchurch City Council in September 1986, should not have been granted, the report said.

A council inspector voiced concerns about design problems but eventually signed off on the project after Reay intervened.

''[Reay's] involvement in the permitting process contributed, at least to some extent, to the wrongful permitting of the building,'' the report said.

Reay had not reviewed Harding's drawings and it was ''difficult to understand how he was in a position to give any proper assurances in relation to the design''.

The commissioners concluded that construction manager Gerald Shirtcliff, since exposed by The Press as a fraudster leading to his sacking and being stripped of his engineering qualifications in Australia, did not spend enough time on site.

The construction manager was another who could have indentified design problems and given guidance to site foreman Bill Jones.

Jones was a ''competent and experienced foreman'', the report said, but was ''working in circumstances he appears to have been unused to''.

Strengthening work done in 1991, after the weak connections between the floors and the north wall were picked up by another engineer, was an ''opportunity ... lost'' to check for other flaws, the commissioners found, with Reay the chief culprit.

''The identification of such a 'fundamental' design error should have signalled the need for a more detailed review of the design.''

An engineering inspection after the September 2010 quake was satisfactory, the report said.

The engineer, David Coatsworth, conducted a damage-based assessment standard at the time and could not have known of the building's shortcomings despite asking to see structural drawings and never getting them.

Coatsworth recommended further assessment, and the commissioners noted building manager John Drew's failure to do this before February 22, 2011.

Crucially, though, they concluded any pre-existing damage ''would have made very little difference'' on February 22.

The six-storey building, constructed in 1986, claimed 115 lives when it collapsed.

The Canterbury earthquakes royal commission report was presented to the Government this month.

More than 80 witnesses gave evidence at the eight-week hearing, which finished in September.

It covered the initial building consent issued by the Christchurch City Council, the construction and design, identification of a structural weakness in 1990 and the assessment after the September 4 and Boxing Day quakes in 2010.

Commission executive director Justine Gilliland said before the hearing that it would be "inquisitorial, not adversarial", as the commission's role was not to apportion blame.

Christchurch East Labour MP Lianne Dalziel said this was already a difficult time of year for family members and they needed any information that might ''give them answers, peace or some closure''.

The three volumes of findings released today make 83 findings.

They include:

- Changes to improve the building safety evaluation system after disasters, including the rapid-assessment process and the placarding system.

- The establishment of a core team of building safety evaluators, a training programme for them and detailed guidelines for their evaluations.

- An ethical obligation on engineers to advise the relevant local authority and the industry body about structural weaknesses found in buildings.

- Establishing a new category of engineers called Recognised Structural Engineers, responsible for certifying the design of complex buildings.

- Changes to the Resource Management Act to more explicitly acknowledge the potential effects of earthquakes and liquefaction.

- Guidelines be developed for structural failure investigations.

Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson said some of the recommendations would require policy and legislative changes.

"Many of the recommendations are also very technical in nature and the Government expects to deliver a full and comprehensive response [by] mid-next year,'' he said.

''Overall it found New Zealand was very well served by those who participated in the building safety evaluation operations in Canterbury, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't consider making improvements to the system.''

The commissioners applauded the efforts of three Urban Search and Rescue engineers, Graham Frost, John Trowsdale and Robert Heywood, who recorded and preserved evidence for the investigation.

''Fortunately, a great deal of evidence was available to the royal commission, largely due to [their] initiative and efforts.''

The trio, recognising the likely investigation that would follow the tragedy, made sketches and notes, took photographs and collected 30 samples of structural elements.

Heywood, a forensic engineer living in Australia, acknowledged they had no idea of best practice for collecting such evidence but ''did the best they could in the circumstances''.

Peter Mitchell, general manager regulation and democracy services at Christchurch City Council, said council had received the final three volumes of the report, which include the CTV building collapse findings.

"We are taking time to review these volumes and the related 83 recommendations, along with the previous four volumes. 

"The council takes the commission's findings very seriously and will take time to read the entire report and consider its recommendations," he said.

- The Press

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