Good journalism

September 19th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

A good example of the investigative journalism we need more of in NZ. at reports:

The construction manager of the deadly Canterbury Television building stole the identity of a professional engineer and faked an engineering degree, an investigation has revealed.

, now 67, supervised the construction of the CTV building which was finished in about October 1987. It collapsed on February 22 last year, taking the lives of 115 people, when Christchurch was hit by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake.

The Canterbury earthquakes royal commission has been told of a number of construction defects with the building, although Shirtcliff denies he had much to do with the site.

In evidence to the commission last month he claimed to be a “graduate engineer” and that he had been a supervisor on construction projects in South Africa. Inquiries by The Press, in Christchurch,  suggest these assertions are misleading.

Shirtcliff, who was educated at Rongotai College and left school to work in a Wellington bank, has lived off and on in Australia since about 1970 under the name William Anthony Fisher. …

A month-long investigation by The Press shows Shirtcliff in 1970 stole the identity of an English engineer called William Anthony Fisher, with whom he worked in South Africa in 1968 and 1969. Shirtcliff has lived as William Fisher in Australia for over 25 years, and now resides in Brisbane, driving a late-model Mercedes and enjoying a spacious house and a $200,000 motor launch.

When Shirtcliff left South Africa towards the end of 1969 to settle in Sydney he took on Fisher’s identity including his birthplace, birthdate and his bachelor of engineering from the University of Sheffield.

Shirtcliff then used the real Will Fisher’s BEng to gain entry into a masters programme at the University of New South Wales in 1971 and also to become a member of the Australian Institute of Engineers in 1972. As “Will Fisher” he was awarded a master of engineering science degree in highway engineering in April 1974.

He later worked as an engineer for a Sydney firm, then called MacDonald, Wagner and Priddle (to become Connell Wagner and then Aurecon), before returning to New Zealand in the mid-80s, to work under his Shirtcliff name.

In New Zealand he purported to be a “registered” engineer and at one time a “chartered” engineer.

Shirtcliff used his new identity on company documents and also to try to avoid extradition to New Zealand on the fraud allegations. He spent a week in a Brisbane jail in 2003 before conceding he was actually Gerald Shirtcliff.

A fascinating discovery which would have taken a lot of detective work.

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13 Responses to “Good journalism”

  1. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    Shirtcliff then used the real Will Fisher’s BEng to gain entry into a masters programme at the University of New South Wales in 1971 and also to become a member of the Australian Institute of Engineers in 1972. As “Will Fisher” he was awarded a master of engineering science degree in highway engineering in April 1974.

    So he actually passed his Masters of Engineering?

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  2. peteremcc (344 comments) says:

    Yeah, if he passed a Masters in Engineering, then either a Bachelors in Engineering can’t be worth much, or a Masters in Engineering is pretty easy to get. I’m not sure which is more concerning.

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  3. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    Why sound so surprised? I’m enrolled in that qualification at UNSW at the moment (I’m a geologist and it’s in the geotech engineering program not highway engineering) and while some parts are challenging, it’s not difficult. And you certainly don’t need a 4 year engineering degree behind you to do it. Engineering isn’t hard.

    It’s no different to non lawyers doing their own house conveyancing and not finding it difficult.

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  4. Lloyd (125 comments) says:

    Martin van Beynen’s article made it clear that the Master’s was gained in Roading Engineering and that Shirtcliff used his father’s expertise (from memory he owns a roading company in Aust) to assist with completion of the degree. Given that half of a Master’s in Engineering is a practial thesis, this would explain why he was able to surmount any problem with not having a B.Eng.
    The whole article is well worth reading:http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/7682385/CTV-builders-lies-exposed
    It also looks like there will be some legal fall-out from the article:http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/7686433/Families-call-for-perjury-charges-against-Shirtcliff
    115 people died in the CTV building. It is hard to believe that it was built by a guy who is good at acting…

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  5. RRM (9,916 comments) says:

    Astonishing discoveries. It will be interesting to see whether the Royal Commission attributes much blame to the construction company, and if so then you’d think there would be a lot of scope for the police to ponder whether this guy’s general dogdiness in life extended to his work…

    peteremcc:
    Yeah, if he passed a Masters in Engineering, then either a Bachelors in Engineering can’t be worth much, or a Masters in Engineering is pretty easy to get. I’m not sure which is more concerning.

    Actual LOL. Shows what you know.

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  6. beautox (422 comments) says:

    I saw this on the TV news several days ago. I thought bloggers were meant to be ahead of the TV news. Or provide some substantial comment.

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  7. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    The thing with engineering on large projects (and increasingly on smaller ones) is that you have to get all the engineering peer reviewed. So even if he did do all the calculations on the building design himself (being that he supervised its construction he probably didn’t), his work will have been peer reviewed and that process should have picked up any errors.

    It’s very easy to point the finger with no evidence. Not saying that what he did was right, but there are (or should be) safeguards in place to check for mistakes.

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  8. lastmanstanding (1,293 comments) says:

    Typical. The Commission of Inquiry wont reconvene. What a cope out. They have had evidence that demands that they reconvene. So are they going to cover their eyes and ears and pretend they didnt have this evidence. This is typical of the failures of governance and administration and judical conduct in this country.
    There appears to be a series of disasters around the CCTV building. The design the construction the Councils role is signing it off. Those who lost loved ones in the CCTV buidling deserve better than they are going to get which will be a white wash. Nothing to see here move on. An orchestrated attempt to cover up and protect the guilty.
    Thats the outcome we will see.

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  9. joana (1,983 comments) says:

    This story has been around for awhile but what kept it in the news was the desire of survivors and family members to reopen the Commission given that he so blatantly lied to them. He refused to come back here to give evidence so gave evidence by video link..He has been lying for so long he probably does believe he has a Brit Eng degree..Weird how his family knew about the two names. I also feel sorry for the local inventor he ripped off. He has patented his invention , some kind of diesel engine , in Australia under the Brit engineers name.
    Why does NZ produce so many of these fairy tellers?
    The strategy of getting a fake first degree then a seemingly legit ”top up ” is very familiar to me..I wrote to so many about a group of immigrants who were here on the strength of their fake quals and of the supposedly respectable NZ org. which seemed more than happy to give them ”Top Up ”Quals..I told this story so many times I got sick of telling it..No one was interested..I also know a man who has lived in the US on the same basis..His first degree cost five Canadian dollars but his US” top up ” sees him right..
    So many more out there..

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  10. Nookin (3,341 comments) says:

    Lastmanstanding

    When did the commission refuse to re-convene?

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  11. insider (1,028 comments) says:

    He also went to the same school as Mr Farrar. Hmmm…have they been seen in the same room together?

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  12. Elaycee (4,392 comments) says:

    Martin van Beynen is the same journalist who sat through all sessions of the Bain farce, listened to all ‘evidence’ presented to the Court and then published his view that the Police were on the right trail.

    Looks like he’s been able to been able to sift through the murk in this case too…

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  13. Curiousobserver (1 comment) says:

    It was an excellent piece of work. He just missed couple of things:
    * His other interests
    * How he benefited from the patent
    * And one of his staff committed suicide recently

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