Pleas to revisit fraudster's evidence

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 05:00 18/09/2012
Gerald Shirtcliff
Dean Kozanic

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

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Pressure is building on the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission to have a closer look at a Christchurch fraudster who appears to have misled the commission.

The Press last week revealed that Canterbury Television building construction manager Gerald Shirtcliff, now 67, faked a bachelor of engineering degree and stole the identity of a qualified engineer.

The building collapsed in February last year with the loss of 115 lives.

Shirtcliff's evidence to the commission last month suggested he visited the site no more than once a month to carry out his supervisory duties.

The disclosures also raise questions about the truth of his evidence. He told the commission he was a "graduate civil engineer" with experience supervising construction projects in South Africa. Neither claim appears to be true.

Families of people who were killed in the building collapse have called for a closer look at Shirtcliff's evidence, and Canterbury MPs yesterday supported the call.

But there appeared to be little official action on the revelations yesterday.

Royal commission executive director Justine Gilliland said the commission was satisfied it had sufficient evidence about Shirtcliff's role in the construction of the CTV building.

"This includes evidence from Mr Shirtcliff himself and others involved in the project, including the site foreman, Mr William Jones," she said. "It also heard evidence about Mr Shirtcliff's subsequent conviction for fraud. It does not consider that it needs anything further to enable it to respond to the terms of reference in the report to be delivered to the Governor-General later this year."

Police district commander Gary Knowles would not comment yesterday, saying he had not read The Press story.

Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove said the new information would leave families of the deceased "scratching their heads". "If this guy faked a degree and stole someone's identity and supervised the construction of the building, the families will want to be sure that every aspect of his evidence has been vigorously examined and investigated," he said.

Green Party MP Eugenie Sage said the "comprehensive" information in The Press story severely damaged Shirtcliff's credibility, and she hoped the commission would look at the new material seriously.

Under cross-examination, Shirtcliff told the commission last month he had changed his name to Will Fisher "for personal reasons" by deed poll in Australia.

The Press investigation found Will Fisher was the name of a young English engineer with whom Shirtcliff worked in South Africa in 1968-69.

The real Will Fisher gained his bachelor's degree at the University of Sheffield in England, and Shirtcliff used a copy of that degree to launch an engineering career in Australia.

When Shirtcliff's lawyer objected to the questioning of Shirtcliff at the inquiry last month, commission chairman Justice Cooper said issues affecting Shirtcliff's credibility were "highly relevant".

Counsel assisting the commission Mark Zarifeh suggested to Shirtcliff: "You didn't do enough in that supervisory or mentoring role. If you had, some of those issues [building defects] would have been picked up."

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Shirtcliff said he did what he was required to do at the time.

The commission's findings are due to be delivered to the Governor-General by November 12.

- The Press

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