Engineering ‘confusion’ cited at tribunal

There was “considerable confusion” by different parties over the structural reliability of the Colombo Street building where falling masonry caused deaths in the February 2011 Christchurch quake, the defence said at a Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal hearing.

Defence counsel Philip Rzepecky detailed that confusion as he opened the defence case for Christopher Chapman, the commercial building manager, who faces an allegation of misconduct for failing to tell tenants of the building about safety concerns.

Matthew McEachen, who worked at the Southern Ink tattoo parlour, was crushed by falling masonry when he tried to flee the building when it collapsed in the February 22, 2011, earthquake.

When the hearing began on Monday, counsel for the Real Estate Agents Authority, Michael Hodge, said Chapman was the building’s commercial property manager, because he performed that work even though the building’s owners never signed an agreement with him. The question before the tribunal was whether he breached his professional obligations in a manner which rose to the level of misconduct.

Mr Rzepecky said the Colombo Street side of the building where Southern Ink was located was given a green placard by an engineer while the St Asaph Street side was yellow – despite it all being the same building.

Later, a Christchurch City Council engineer red stickered the St Asaph Street side and barricades were put up to keep people away.

The council did not change the green stickers to red or yellow, or put up any barricades on the Colombo Street side, in particular in front of Southern Ink. Members of the public and motorists were passing by and facing the same risks as Mr McEachen, who was killed in front of the shop.

An engineer inspected the building on October 4, 2010, and knew that Southern Ink was still in the building, but was not concerned because he did not think they were in any immediate danger. He inspected again on November 26 and 29, 2010.

Mr Rzepecky told the tribunal the Canterbury Earthquake Royal Commission had concluded: “It is clear to us that events occurred that sometimes were not entirely the fault of any individual, but which resulted in a breakdown in communication.”

Mr Rzepecky said: “Mr Chapman did not act without any regard to the interests of the owners of Southern Ink or any other party. His conduct does not reach the high threshold for a finding of disgraceful misconduct based on any conduct which could be characterised as morally reprehensible and which showed indifference by him to the rights of others.”

Mr Chapman gave evidence to the tribunal on Tuesday.

The hearing is continuing.

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