Collapse of accountability

By Rebecca Macfie In Current Affairs

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Emergency services search the rubble for survivors of the collapsed CTV building. Photo/Brett Phibbs

This article was first published on February 20, 2014.

It took no more than 20 seconds for the seemingly unremarkable six-storey building at the corner of Christchurch’s Cashel and Madras streets to be reduced to a small, tight stack of broken concrete and twisted steel.

Penelope Spencer and Tom Hawker were standing in the middle of Cashel St when they saw the building in which they worked at Canterbury Television come down before their eyes. They had popped out to buy lunch and were heading back to the building to eat in the staff cafeteria.

At 12.51 on February 22, 2011, the ground jolted violently, then continued shaking. The CTV Building, directly in front of them as they crossed the street, swayed back and forth. Behind them, the windows of the IRD Building on the opposite side of Cashel St seemed to bulge in and out like jelly.

As they stared up at the south face of the CTV Building, the windows on every floor shattered. The concrete pillars on the fourth floor exploded. The fourth floor slammed down onto the floor below, paused briefly, then dropped again to the next floor and then on down to ground level. The top floor stayed largely intact as it came to rest upon the flattened rubble.

On the fourth floor of the IRD Building, Michael Williams had emerged from under his desk and begun to call his team together when he heard a rumbling sound. He had an unobstructed view out his window of the south side of the CTV Building. It appeared to him to be collapsing into a hole, the top of the building floating down engulfed by dust.

The pile of rubble was assembled neatly, contained almost within the building’s original footprint. It had fallen so straight that Hawker’s vehicle and others in the car park along the south wall of the CTV Building sustained only light damage; his car lost its bumper and the windscreen was broken.

Margaret Aydon had been in her office at the language school, Kings Education, on the third floor of the CTV Building when the shaking began. She had just stood up to greet Filipino student Rosendo when the first jolt threw her against a wall. Another jolt threw her against her desk. She yelled through the noise and violence for others in the office to get under their desks. As she got under her own, she could feel herself falling.

When the movement stopped, she was in a sitting position, and as she felt around in the dust and rubble, she realised the ceiling was resting on her desk and she was jammed in. She and Rosendo spoke to each other through the darkness and were able to reach out and touch fingers.

She didn’t know the building had completely collapsed. Another severe aftershock hit and the rubble thumped down further. She smelt smoke. Rosendo told her he could see a sliver of light and together they kicked, crawled and pushed themselves towards the surface.

GOING DOWN WITH THE BUILDING

On the fourth floor, Phillippa Lee had been at her work station at the medical centre called The Clinic, where she was a receptionist. The Clinic had shifted into the building only six weeks earlier, after its premises in Gloucester St had been red-stickered following the Boxing Day earthquake.

Photo/Mark Mitchell

The initial shaking threw computers to the floor. There was a brief pause, during which Lee started to walk towards her colleague Dian Falconer. She heard a loud cracking sound, then felt herself falling. When the movement stopped, she was trapped in a tight space and could feel broken concrete, threads of carpet and office stationery around her. Her hand and foot were stuck.

Lee was rescued four hours later, the sole survivor from The Clinic. Falconer and her other colleagues perished.

On the top floor, Nilgun Kulpe was in a meeting with her colleagues at Relationship Services. Like many others, she had been unhappy in the building since the earthquake of September 4, 2010, and always moved to the nearest door frame when aftershocks occurred.

The first hard jolt in the early afternoon of February 22 almost propelled her up off her seat. She and workmate Angela Osborne ran to the door, and as they reached its flimsy aluminium frame, there was another sharp shunt from underneath, then a swaying movement. The ceiling caved in and Pink Batts rained down.

The women went down with the building, stopping as if in an elevator that had reached the ground floor. Kulpe was still standing and holding the door frame when the movement stopped. She saw that the outside walls had collapsed inwards. Rescuers opened a hole in the rubble through which she could escape.

Kendyll Mitchell had been in the waiting room at Relationship Services with three-year-old son Jett and 10-month-old daughter Dita. When the shaking began, she grabbed Jett, tucked him under her arm and gripped the baby’s stroller. She saw the internal wall in front of them disintegrate as the building began to collapse. It felt as if they were being sucked into a vacuum.

They came to rest in a jumble of Batts, glass, cement and steel beams. She was knocked out for some time, and when she regained consciousness, the children were looking at her and she saw that the three of them were trapped in a small cubbyhole of space. Dita was still in her stroller.

Mitchell could smell smoke and heard voices crying for help. She held the children on her knee as they remained stuck and helpless, until a man named Evan from a nearby construction site cleared a space in the rubble and plucked Jett and Dita to safety, enabling her to haul herself out to a line of rescuers.

THE PANCAKE EFFECT

All that remained of the CTV Building was the north wall and its lift shaft and stairwell complex, which loomed as a scarred and snarling tower over the carnage.

Of the 185 people killed in the February 22 earthquake, two-thirds – 115 people – perished in this one relatively modern building that had been designed only 25 years earlier by the firm of Alan Reay, one of the country’s most prominent structural engineers.

A small number of people emerged miraculously alive from the collapse. The bodies of four people were so damaged they were never recovered. Two 19-year-old Japanese students subsequently had legs amputated. Those who died were from China, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, Korea, Turkey and Christchurch. Seventy-one of the dead were students from Kings Education and nine were staff from the school.

No other building failed so catastrophically that day – not even the PGC Building, in which 18 people died; not the hundreds of unreinforced masonry buildings long known to be a serious earthquake risk; not even the red-stickered building in Gloucester St from which The Clinic had been forced to relocate.

The CTV Building had pancaked in a manner that left the occupants with little or no chance of survival.

Maan Alkaisi at the CTV site where his wife died. Photo/Martin Hunter

FROM IRAQ TO “SAFETY”

Maan Alkaisi, a professor of electrical engineering at Reay’s alma mater, the University of Canterbury, could not bring himself to view the body of his beloved wife and best friend of four decades, Dr Maysoon Abbas, when she was identified eight days later.

Alkaisi can point to the exact spot on the eastern side of the now-vacant CTV site where his wife was killed. She had been seeing a patient, 66-year-old Heather Meadows, a mother of three adult children, grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of one. Abbas’s consulting room was close to the reception area in The Clinic where Phillippa Lee and Dian Falconer worked. Falconer was her good friend, often looking after Abbas and Alkaisi’s home when they went on holiday.

The Alkaisi family before the 2011 quake.

Abbas loved the diversity of her medical work in the city, although it was a far cry from her chosen field of immunology. She had studied medicine at the University of Baghdad, where she met Alkaisi, then a young engineering student. After completing postgraduate work in the UK, they returned to the University of Baghdad where they both worked as researchers and lecturers. Abbas also developed her own clinical practice.

But the 1990-91 Gulf War marked the start of a 20-year struggle for stability and security, a goal they felt they had finally achieved in Christchurch by 2010.

Baghdad had been bombed by the Americans, and it seemed inevitable that life in Iraq would continue to be dangerous and difficult. They had already had to flee their home once when the city came under attack, and were constantly at the ready in case of disaster – Abbas always carried a comprehensive store of medicines and had learnt to make gas masks in the event of a chemical attack.

With the safety of their three daughters foremost in their minds, they decided they must get out of Iraq. In normal circumstances, the Iraqi Government would never have allowed a university professor and a medical doctor to leave the country, but in a stroke of good fortune, Alkaisi was seconded to a university in Algeria. Getting there involved travelling by bus to Jordan, then from Jordan to Algiers by air.

They were barred from taking any money out of Iraq, so they began their exodus penniless.

Maysoon Abbas.

After two years in Algiers, they moved to Jordan where both found work. But in a country bordered by Israel, Syria and Iraq, they continued to feel vulnerable to the instability of the Middle East. In 1995, having learnt from a travel book of New Zealand’s isolation, beauty and absence of land borders, they decided to come here.

They arrived in Auckland and within a month Alkaisi was offered a job as a lecturer in electrical engineering at the University of Canterbury. Still knowing almost nothing of New Zealand, they packed the three girls and their few possessions into a car and drove to Christchurch. Having spent all their savings getting to New Zealand and buying furniture, a vehicle, clothing suitable for a cold climate and school uniforms for the girls, the first pay packet from the university was a moment of great relief and celebration.

Over time, they bought a section close to one of Christchurch’s green parks, built a house to their own design and saw the girls through their education. Initially Abbas worked as a research immunologist at the medical school, but she eventually tired of the constant battle for funding and, at age 53, went through the taxing and time-consuming process of retraining as a GP.

“It really took until about 2010 to feel ‘we did it, we are now settled’,” says Alkaisi. “It took that long to feel we really had some control of our life, that we are safe, we are settled financially, the kids had grown up. [Eldest daughter] Sarah and [middle daughter] Marwa were both married, and Sarah had a little girl, Sally. So, yeah, we felt that we were now under control. We started to feel that this is it, this is home, this is the place where we want to live and work.”

In late 2010 the couple had even taken their first holiday alone, without the children.

A DESPERATE SEARCH

On the morning of Tuesday, February 22, Abbas left for work while her husband sat at the breakfast table instructing their youngest daughter, Mariam, on where she should park on what would be her first day at the University of Canterbury. Tuesdays at The Clinic were always busy for Abbas, and she didn’t share the normal morning chat with the family.

She was extremely unhappy with The Clinic’s new location in the CTV Building – its position on the fourth floor was totally unsuitable for frail and elderly patients, there were no hand basins in the consulting rooms and no staff toilets, and the building shook whenever trucks passed.

She had been applying for other jobs and – as Alkaisi later found out – had been selected by another medical centre, although her would-be new employer had not yet told her the news.

At 12.51pm, Alkaisi was at the university with two German experts who had been brought out to fix some specialist machinery damaged in the September quake. He calmed his shocked and shaken visitors, who had never experienced an earthquake before, and tried in vain to call Abbas on her cellphone. He then went home to find Mariam. He had no idea of the chaos in the centre of the city and couldn’t understand why his well-organised and considerate wife had not found some way to make contact. He tried to keep Mariam calm and started cleaning up the mess of smashed bottles in the kitchen.

The power came on some time in the afternoon, and he turned the TV on. The images showed the triangular CTV sign on the ground surrounded by rubble, but even then he had no idea the building had collapsed – he assumed the sign had fallen down. He tried ringing 111 and was told that his wife, as a doctor, was no doubt helping the wounded. Daughter Marwa set off through town in search of her mother, checking triage sites and hospitals.

At about 6pm, Alkaisi – who had grown increasingly desperate but reluctant to leave the distressed Mariam at home – headed out with her to Latimer Square, just to the north of the CTV Building. Even now, he did not realise the scale of the crisis. He and Mariam were instructed to sit with others in a tent. Eventually he began objecting to the futility of their idle wait; he felt helpless and thought there must be something useful he could do to help.

Only then did a volunteer take him to the edge of the park, from where he could see the burning ruin where his wife’s workplace had once stood.

Sometime afterwards, hope was revived. News went through the tent, to which Alkaisi had returned in shock, that rescuers had found 15 people alive in a cavity. Anxious family members clapped and cheered. Every so often Alkaisi would see a stretcher being carried in the distance and wonder if the person on it could be his wife.

After a time talk of the 15 survivors faded away.

By 1am it was raining and cold. Alkaisi took the shivering Mariam home, and the reality that he was losing his life companion of 40 years began to hit him. When he finally fell asleep from despair and exhaustion, he dreamed of Maysoon as a smiling young woman in her twenties.

In the morning he returned to the site with his son-in-law, then searched the city’s hospitals in case his wife had been pulled from the rubble. Even then he did not know for sure that she had been in the building when it collapsed.

Only when he and his family mounted a Google missing-person search was he able to confirm that she had been. A woman came forward with news that she had called into The Clinic hoping to see Dr Abbas, but the doctor was busy with another patient. That was at 12.45, only six minutes before the building collapsed.

INEXPERIENCED, UNSUPERVISED DESIGNER

Three years on, thanks to the work of technical investigators and the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission, we know why the CTV Building failed so completely. And although the commission did not apportion blame, it raised serious concerns about the role of various parties.

At the inquiry: Alan Reay. Photo/David Hallet

The job of designing the six-level office block – a spec building – came in 1986 to the then-small firm of Alan M Reay Consulting Engineer. Reay, who has a PhD from the University of Canterbury’s School of Engineering, had built a prominent career primarily in the area of single-level precast concrete factories and cold-formed steel.

From 1984 to 1985, he employed John Henry, a highly competent engineer with significant experience in the design of multi-storey buildings. But Henry resigned from Reay’s firm after only a year; in his absence there was no one at the practice with multi-storey design experience.

Reay then employed David Harding, who had worked in the firm some years previously and then spent several years as a civil engineer at the Waimairi District Council designing such things as roads and roundabouts and the hydroslide and swimming pools at the Jellie Park recreation complex.

David Harding. Photo/Dean Kozanic

The developer of the building that eventually became known as the CTV Building was Prime West Corporation, the builder Williams Construction. Prime West owned the land at the corner of Cashel and Madras streets and the report of the Royal Commission noted that the company wanted a building that cost as little as possible and had the maximum tenantable floor space.

Reay’s firm was invited to be the structural engineer on the job, and the task of designing the building was assigned to Harding, who by then had been back at the firm for only four months. Despite Harding having minimal experience with multi-storey building design and none with a “significantly eccentric configuration” as the CTV Building would have – Reay considered him capable of doing the job, the commission heard.

Reay then left Harding to it. Details filed with the commission showed that between March and December 1986, Harding spent almost 305 hours on the job. Reay, the principal of the firm, spent only three and a half hours. According to Reay’s evidence, he considered the job to be Harding’s responsibility. He did not think it necessary to provide supervision – a philosophy that the commission noted was in contrast to that of other engineers who gave evidence, all of whom referred to processes whereby design work would be reviewed by others.

Ex-Williams Construction’s Gerald Shirtcliff. Photo/Dean Kozanic

The commission heard that Harding struggled along out of his depth. He taught himself the computer program used to test how multi-storey building designs will perform under seismic loadings, but was unaware of some of the program’s important limitations and never called out for help with the design.

When Harding completed the design, Reay did not review it. Indeed, there were no internal checks at all on the robustness of his employee’s work. In cross-examination by Harding’s lawyer at the hearings, Reay was asked whether Harding was “flying solo”; Reay replied, “Yes, he was, he took responsibility for it.” Reay was asked whether the absence of a review procedure was “an inexcusable abdication of your responsibilities as a principal?” He replied: “Not at all. In his [Harding’s] senior role it was his responsibility to come to me with issues.”

Reay told the commission that there was no review process within Alan M Reay Consulting Engineer at that time and that as his firm was small, he relied on the Christchurch City Council to review its work.

THE DESIGN GETS SIGN-OFF

And it appears that the council’s deputy buildings engineer, Graeme Tapper – a capable and experienced structural engineer with little tolerance for consulting engineers who failed to submit adequate design details – sought to do exactly that. The commission heard evidence that Tapper had periodically come into conflict with Reay over his building designs. On this occasion, he wrote to Reay’s firm, in fountain pen, asking to see the calculations behind the design and calling for further information, including regarding the connection between the shear walls and floor slabs.

However, the commission accepted the evidence of witnesses that Reay went over Tapper’s head to his boss, city engineer Bryan Bluck. “This was despite the fact that on his own evidence Dr Reay knew very little about the structural details of the building, having not reviewed any of the structural drawings prior to a permit being issued,” the commission’s report on the CTV Building noted. Reay convinced Bluck – whose approach was to rely on the “recognised expertise” of the designer – that Tapper’s concerns were unfounded.

Tapper subsequently signed off on the structural design. The commission concluded that he was either persuaded that his concerns were without foundation or, more likely, was directed by Bluck to approve it.

The building – which was completed in early 1988, shortly after the 1987 sharemarket crash – did not comply with the building code of the day and should not have been consented, the commission concluded. This was known from 1990, when a review was done by Holmes Consulting for a prospective tenant for the still-unoccupied building. The review identified a critical weakness in the way the floors were tied to the north shear core: the wall, lift and stairwell complex that was the building’s dominant structural element, expected to take most of the earthquake load.

The connections were “tenuous”, warned the Holmes review. In the event of an earthquake, “the building would effectively separate from the shear walls, well before the shear walls themselves reach their full design strength”.

It was a fundamental design failing – in evidence to the Royal Commission, Reay called it a “straight blunder”. The Holmes finding was communicated to Alan Reay Consultants (the firm Reay had established in 1988 and which was the successor to Alan M Reay Consulting Engineer). But the revelation did not prompt the firm to conduct a full review of the design. The commission noted that Reay knew of Harding’s inexperience when he designed the building, and the identification of such a “fundamental design error” should have signalled to him the need for a more detailed review.

By then, Harding had left the firm and Reay had employed another engineer, Geoff Banks. Prime West, the building owner, had gone broke, and the firm’s receivers were having great difficulty finding a buyer for it.

As it turned out, no work was done to remedy the defect for 21 months. The commission said Reay should have acted “more expeditiously and proactively” to resolve the design defect, and that “the dilatoriness was unacceptable”.

When additional strengthening was added to some of the floor-wall connections in October 1991, Reay’s firm did not seek a building consent for the work – a “clear omission”, said the commission – which meant the council did not have the opportunity to become aware of the failings in the original design or to have the remedial work inspected.

Police and volunteers work to rescue people trapped in the collapsed CTV building. Photo/Geoff Sloan

OCCUPANTS UNAWARE

Thousands came and went from the building over the following two decades. Troubled couples and families rode up the small lifts to the top floor to obtain guidance from the counsellors at Relationship Services; reporters and cameramen at Canterbury Television produced and broadcast stories about the region; students from around the globe wanting to learn English came and went; people sweated through their fitness routines at the gym that occupied the top floor for a time.

To the untrained eye, it was just another charmless building from the 1980s construction boom. That the original design was, as the commission described it, deficient, or that the structure was known in engineering terms as asymmetrical or “eccentric” – and therefore more complex to design and more prone to twisting action in an earthquake than a symmetrical building – would have been unknown to its occupants. That it was unusual in having its structural core on the outside of the building envelope rather than within it, where it would have been much better attached to the floors and which would have made the structure less asymmetrical, would have been lost on those who used the building. And they were unlikely to have been aware it was designed by an unsupervised engineer who was a novice at multi-storey building design.

Inasmuch as anyone took note of the engineering provenance of the building, they would have been justified in taking comfort from it having been designed by Reay’s firm. Reay, through his firm Alan Reay Consultants, continued to build a reputation for excellence over the years. He was regarded as a highly intelligent man, and his firm received numerous awards from the Association of Consulting Engineers, the Institution of Professional Engineers (Ipenz), the New Zealand Concrete Society, the Tilt-Up Association of North America and the Property Council of New Zealand. It attracted high-profile commissions such as the Waitakere Trusts Stadium and Waitakere Civic Centre in Auckland and the Jade Stadium redevelopment in Christchurch.

Reay served as the engineering adviser to the Commission of Inquiry into the Cave Creek viewing platform collapse in 1995, a tragedy that cost the lives of 13 students and a tutor on the West Coast. He was also a fellow of Ipenz, a status conferred in recognition of outstanding individual engineering achievements or contributions. In a High Court ruling on a bitter dispute between Reay and Banks, he was described as “one of New Zealand’s foremost structural engineers and lead consultants … an engineer of exceptional ability whose work is acclaimed not only in New Zealand but also overseas”.

As the years passed, opportunities that might have led to the building’s flaws being revealed were missed. It became home to a language school in 2001, but the change of use did not prompt the council to force the owner to strengthen it. It was assumed, wrongly, that because the building had been consented in the first place, it complied with the building code as it stood in 1986.

After the first of the Canterbury earthquakes, on September 4, 2010, the building was left with several large and noticeable cracks in the walls. Daylight could be seen through some of them, and they expanded in size and increased in number as the aftershocks continued. The floor was so uneven in the Kings Education premises that whenever a pen was put down on the reception desk, it would roll in a southeasterly direction.

Kendyll Mitchell is carried to safety by Mark Hoskin while her children Jett Mitchell age 3 and Dita Mitchell age 11 months are carried by passers-by. Photo/Geoff Sloan

The building was given a green sticker by the council following a rapid assessment shortly after the September 4 earthquake. A further check by council officers – none of them engineers, despite the fact that so-called “Level 2 rapid assessments” should be conducted by an engineer – concluded the building was safe to occupy, although they recommended that the building manager obtain an engineer’s assessment.

An inspection was duly done in late September 2010 by chartered engineer David Coatsworth, which concluded there was no evidence of structural failure and the building remained sound. Coatsworth was not provided with the structural drawings, as building manager John Drew did not have them and the filing system at the council, where they were held, was in disarray because of the earthquake. When the drawings later became available at the council, Drew didn’t inform Coatsworth, the commission heard.

However, the Royal Commission described Coatsworth’s inspection as the most thorough it had considered over the course of its inquiry. But had he seen the drawings, it is likely he would have noticed the inadequate connections between the shear core complex and the floor slabs and conducted a more invasive inspection.

The sharp, shallow earthquakes of Boxing Day 2010 did not alter the building’s status. After a rapid assessment, it was confirmed as safe to occupy. It was not inspected by an engineer again, despite the discomfort of many of its occupants who worried about the way it shook during the demolition of a neighbouring building and about its many noticeable cracks.

As the weeks passed, many Cantabrians troubled by the earthquakes travelled up to the top floor for trauma counselling provided by the expert team at Relationship Services. The Clinic, a business owned by the manager of the CTV Building, John Drew, took up its occupancy of the fourth floor in early January 2011.

FIRM CONTINUES TO OPERATE

Reay told the Royal Commission that when he heard on the afternoon of February 22, 2011, that the CTV Building had collapsed, it added to the “shattered” feeling he already had from being in the city, although he did not go to the site. Like other engineers in the city, he became involved over the following months with the massive job of inspecting damaged buildings. The council introduced a rule that the only people permitted to enter the cordoned central-city red zone were chartered engineers and people accompanied by a chartered engineer. Ipenz developed a fast-track process to enable those who were not chartered to become so; Reay was one of those who partook of that process.

Along with many of his peers, he was later awarded the Fulton-Downer Gold Medal for services in the aftermath of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

An aerial view of emergency services working at the ruined CTV building. Photo/Sarah Ivey

Despite Reay’s association with the fatal CTV Building, his firm continued to operate following the February 2011 earthquake. The board of the prestigious private girls’ school St Margaret’s College appointed Alan Reay Consultants as designer of the school’s new chapel, gymnasium, office and classroom complex. According to the school’s director of community relations, Jo Brady, St Margaret’s had a relationship with Reay’s firm before the earthquake and elected to appoint it to design the rebuild work following a “robust” process undertaken for the school by a project management consultancy.

Reay’s firm was also engaged by the city’s other exclusive private school for girls, Rangi Ruru, to assess the safety of its buildings following the February earthquake.

It was also hired to design a new building for Forte Health Hospital in Kilmore St. The owner of the building, investment group Nobby Holdings, already had a working relationship with Reay’s firm and chose to continue that association for the design of the new private hospital building. Nobby chairman David Shackleton told the Listener that Alan Reay Consultants assured his company that its contemporary work was “of a high standard and that a peer-review process was in place”.

Reay has also been a regular attendee at post-earthquake professional meetings of Christchurch’s engineering fraternity, and co-authored a paper for the New Zealand Society of Earthquake Engineers’ 2013 conference on lessons on the performance of buildings incorporating tilt-up construction methods in the Canterbury earthquakes. Two of the buildings upon which the article commented favourably were designed by his own firm, although this was not disclosed in the paper.

Harding, the engineer whom Reay left unsupervised to design the CTV Building in 1986, remains a director of Harding Consulting Engineers and is still a chartered engineer, having renewed his registration in July 2011 – although he does not design multi-storey buildings.

Emergency services and volunteers rescue people from the collapsed CTV building. Photo/Geoff Sloan

FIGHT FOR ACCOUNTABILITY CONTINUES

Three years on from the CTV tragedy, Alkaisi continues to mourn his wife and dedicate every spare moment to the quest for accountability for her death. He has written to the Prime Minister, met with the Minister for Earthquake Recovery, fought for legal representation for the families of CTV victims at the Royal Commission, held meetings of grieving family members in his living room, and cared for the bereft relatives of dead foreign students who have made the pilgrimage to Christchurch.

Along with a core group of family members, including retired electrician Tim Elms whose daughter – nurse and mother of two Teresa McLean – died in the CTV Building, he has maintained a determined fight to see accountability for the deaths of the 115 people who perished in the building, and to ensure that such a travesty does not occur again.

The Royal Commission delivered the families a comprehensive explanation of why the building failed. It concluded that Harding had worked beyond his level of competence and should have recognised this himself. It said that Reay, as the principal of the firm and aware that Harding lacked relevant experience with multi-storey design, should not have left him to design the building unsupervised and without a system of review.

The commission also said site works were inadequately supervised by the construction manager (a man later exposed by journalist Martin van Beynen as a fraudster and identify thief) and that a construction defect – a lack of roughening of the joints between precast and in situ concrete – that ought to have been picked up by Harding during routine inspections, as well as by the foreman and construction manager, went undetected. It noted that a five-month period elapsed during construction when there were no inspections by the council.

The commission concluded that in the unusually intense shaking of February 22, 2011, the building failed because the connection between the shear core of the building and the floors was inadequately designed (a failing that the unconsented retrofit in 1991 did not remedy). Also, the concrete beam-column joints were brittle and could not sustain the movement they were subjected to, as were the columns, which had inadequate reinforcing steel. In addition, the lack of roughening between the end of the concrete beams at the column joints meant they did not adequately interlock.

Urban Search And Rescue and other emergency services are lowered into the remaining structure of the CTV building by crane. Photo/Sarah Ivey

The commission has spelt out the failings, but no one has been held to account for them.

The police are still going through a “complex and quite technical process” of assessing whether to undertake a criminal investigation in relation to the building’s collapse, says spokesman Stephen Hill.

Both Reay and Harding remain registered with Ipenz as chartered engineers, although complaints have been laid against both in relation to their involvement with the CTV Building. One complaint, initiated by Elms and joined by 53 others, alleges unethical behaviour and incompetence on the part of both Reay and Harding.

Complaints have also been laid against Reay by Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment chief engineer Mike Stannard and by Ipenz chief executive Andrew Cleland.

Reay has reportedly denied the allegations against him, and has responded to the complaints from the families and Stannard by seeking a declaratory judgment to determine whether Ipenz has jurisdiction to hear aspects of the complaints relating to engineering activities that occurred during a period when the organisation had different rules in place. Ipenz rules were changed in 2002. A hearing in the High Court to determine jurisdiction has been set down for August this year. Reay’s lawyers asked Ipenz to suspend its inquiries into the two complaints in the meantime, but the organisation refused the request and is continuing to investigate.

Reay has not challenged jurisdiction in relation to Cleland’s complaint, which questions whether he disclosed his involvement in the CTV Building when he was interviewed to become a chartered engineer in 2011 and whether he ought to have disclosed it.

Stannard and Cleland have also lodged complaints against Harding.

Whatever the outcome of the complaints, the penalties available to Ipenz have been aptly described by Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson as “a wet bus ticket” – a description with which Ipenz president Derrick Adams has said the organisation agrees. At most, it can impose a $5000 fine, censure and/or expulsion or suspension from the organisations. None of these penalties would bar either Reay or Harding from continuing to practise as an engineer.

Tributes on a fence adjacent to the CTV site on the second anniversary of the building’s collapse. Photo/Geoff Sloan

ALAN REAY MOVES ON

Since the Royal Commission reported in November 2012, a new firm called Engenium Ltd has emerged in the building at 395 Madras St from which Reay operated his business for years. The reception area of Engenium is adorned with the many awards and accolades received by Alan Reay Consultants, and Reay continues to work there.

The company was initially called Reay Consulting Group, and was registered 11 months after the CTV Building collapsed. It was renamed Engenium in August 2013. Reay and a long-time business associate, Christchurch property developer Bert Govan, held the majority of its shares until December 2013 when the 56% stake was transferred to a new holding company owned by a trust company at law firm White Fox and Jones. A further 10% of Engenium’s shares are owned by a trust company at law firm Lane Neave. Reay resigned as a director in September 2013 (although his wife, Barbara, remains on the board).

Engenium’s chairman, former New Zealand Institute of Management Southern chief executive Reg Garters, told the Listener by email that Reay is “close to retirement” and plans have been under way since before the Royal Commission for a transition whereby he would retire and receive his share of the value of the firm, which would be carried on by others. This process was now “substantially completed” and “aside from Dr Reay, who has a reducing role in the company as a part-time consultant, there is no employee or director of Engenium Ltd who had any involvement with the CTV Building”.

Garters said the board of Engenium had “full confidence in” Reay and had “deep regret that he continues to be attacked for a building which he did not design, certified [sic] or supervise in its construction”.

Garters’ statement is consistent with Reay’s testimony at the Royal Commission that he had nothing to do with the building’s design and that his employee Harding was responsible for the job.

Garters recently emailed Alkaisi in response to a question about whether the “proven history” that Engenium proclaims on its website includes the CTV Building. Garters told Alkaisi that “no Engenium staff or directors had any connection with the CTV Building and it has never been and would not be claimed to be part of the record of the former company, or in consequence, Engenium.” Garters said the CTV Building “was designed by Mr David Harding” when he was an employee of Alan M Reay Consulting Engineer, and the work was done “prior to the incorporation of Alan Reay Consultants Ltd in August 1988”.

But Alkaisi insists he will not be so easily fobbed off. He struggles to accept that, having fled his war-torn motherland and worked so hard to achieve security for his family on the far side of the world in peaceful New Zealand, the woman with whom he had shared everything was stolen from him as a result of a failure of engineering design and oversight.

“She did not deserve this … It’s the collapse of everything that you cared for, worked so hard to do and achieve, all the dreams that we had together, all the plans for the future. It went, just like that, in seconds. I know that she would have fought for me even harder if it had been me. Something wrong happened and it has not been resolved. I will never give up until justice is done.”

Eyewitness and survivor accounts quoted in this article are sourced from transcripts of evidence at the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission. Alan Reay refused to be interviewed or answer written questions for this article, saying that the timing made it “inappropriate” to do so but that he would be happy to respond in the future. David Harding’s lawyer Michael Kirkland told the Listener that his client would not be interviewed.

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3 Responses to “Collapse of accountability”

  1. Lemon Feb 26 2014, 12:50pm

    Thank you, Rebecca Macfie, for the work you've put in to this for general readers and family and friends of the lost. So sad and sobering to read.
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  2. Awryly Feb 25 2014, 2:31pm

    Of course no-one was held accountable. Too embarrassing by far that the council's inspectors should be shown to be as incompetent as moles above ground. Going for the architect and builders would be an obvious strategy. But the incompetent hang together in order that they do not hang separately. It one of the rules of capitalist economics. The second rule is that if the first rule doesn't work, change the first rule.
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  3. Veronica Buckley Feb 22 2014, 12:23pm

    Alan Reay appears to be a perfectly good engineer, perhaps even an exceptionally good engineer. However, he certainly doesn't appear to have been a responsible manager of his engineering firm. His is surely the first responsibility for the CTV disaster.
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