CTV hearing: Key witness is convicted fraudster

A key witness in the royal commission hearing into the CTV building disaster is a convicted fraudster who is living in Australia under another name.

Gerald Morton Shirtcliff, otherwise known as Fisher, was responsible for ensuring the six-storey Christchurch structure, which collapsed in last February's earthquake, claiming 115 lives, was built to comply with design engineer plans and specifications.

The former Williams construction manager - once described by a judge as being "grossly dishonest'' - had previously refused to give evidence at the royal commission investigating its collapse.

But he fronted today to give his version of events via video-link from his home in Brisbane.

The 67-year-old faced a tough examination from commission lawyer Mark Zarifeh who accused him of "distancing'' himself from the doomed building.

Mr Zarifeh said Mr Shirtcliff agreed to give evidence only after adverse media publicity when, on the first day of the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission in June, it was revealed that he had declined to come forward to respond to likely criticism over his role in the building's construction.

Today, Mr Shirtcliff, who was convicted of GST fraud in 2005 and jailed for 20 months, claimed "limited involvement'' with the 1986 project to build the Madras St structure because it was a "straightforward job''.

He said he did not visit the CTV site regularly, leaving responsibility for the "relatively straightforward job'' with experienced site foreman Bill Jones.

"To the best of my knowledge I was on site once a month, at most,'' he said.

"The work was repetitive - each floor was the same as the floor below.''

Mr Shirtcliff said he could not recall any problems with the construction, or any issues with the city council, and was too busy with other projects to keep checking on the CTV site.

After rejecting claims he was attempting to "distance'' himself from the ill-fated building's birth, questioning turned to his shady background.

Mr Zarifeh asked him what work experience he'd gained while living in South Africa prior to 1986 and what surname he went by.

He denied going by Fisher while he was there, but later contradicted himself by saying: "I've worked everywhere else in the world under Fisher except New Zealand.''

Asked why he had changed his name to Fisher, Mr Shirtcliff claimed it was a personal matter following "family issues'' 40 years ago.

He admitted that he was extradited from Australia to his homeland to face a GST fraud trial, on which he was convicted and jailed.

But he rejected claims he only cooperated with the royal commission after being shamed in the media.

"I never said I wouldn't cooperate - ever,'' he said today, adding he had been in prior communication with commission officials.

His Australia lawyer - who flanked him during the video conference - then interjected to object to his client having "his credit impeached''.

But royal commission chairman Justice Mark Cooper said that questions surrounding credibility were "perfectly legitimate'' given his testimony is being contested by other witnesses.

Mr Shirtcliff denied he could've done more to ensure the building met correct specifications, saying: "I did what I was required at the time.''

Earlier today, his boss, Michael Brooks, managing director of Williams Construction Ltd which won the contract to build the CTV Building for local property developer Neil Blair, said he was disappointed with his work.

"He (Shirtcliff) just wasn't up to the job, it's as simple as that,'' Mr Brooks said.

His concerns with Mr Shirtcliff related to his failure to provide supervision on site which he agreed could've resulted in construction issues.

The hearing continues.


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