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. Martin van Beynen at The Press 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.

Gerald Shirtcliff, 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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