SYDNEY – New Zealand police said Thursday they will not pursue criminal prosecution in relation to a Christchurch building collapse that claimed the lives of 115 people, including 28 Japanese students, during a 2011 earthquake.
Detective Superintendent Peter Read said in a statement that after a “complex, technical investigation” into the collapse of the six-story Canterbury Television Building, the police concluded there was not enough evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction in court.
Kuniaki Kawahata, the principal of a foreign language school in Toyama Prefecture who lost his 20-year-old daughter Kyoko as well as 12 of the school’s students in the collapse, said he “can’t accept” the outcome.
“Not prosecuting anyone even though there were a number of problems (with the building), such as design mistakes and ineffective steel reinforcement, means no one will take responsibility,” Kawahata said.
“We are acutely aware that there will be disappointment with this decision, particularly for the families and friends of those who died in this tragedy,” Read said. “Ultimately, the decision must be based on the evidence before us and the thresholds we must meet.”
Read said the investigation found significant deficiencies in the building’s design and considered charging its engineers with negligent manslaughter. However, after seeking legal advice and input from experts, it was concluded that the prospects of a successful prosecution were not high, he said.
Several international students were killed in the collapse while studying English at the King’s Education language school on the building’s fourth floor.
Deputy Solicitor-General Brendan Horsley, who reviewed the police investigation and legal advice provided by the Christchurch Crown Solicitor, said there were a number of complicating factors in the case, including the earthquake itself.
“The prosecution must also prove that the defendant’s negligence caused the death of the individual or individuals concerned,” he said in a statement, noting that the prosecution would have to prove the building would not have collapsed in the absence of the design errors identified by the police. “This too can be difficult, especially where an extreme event such as a natural disaster intervenes.”
The police said the families of those who died in the collapse were advised of the decision earlier Thursday.
In total, 185 people were killed in the earthquake on Feb. 22, 2011. The majority of them were inside the CTV Building when it collapsed.
The families of those who died will meet with the police, the investigation team and Crown Law representatives in December to discuss the outcome.
Following the meeting in Christchurch, police representatives will go to Tokyo to meet with the Japanese families.
Christchurch has continued to rebuild the roughly 170,000 buildings that were destroyed in the quake and have started work on the former CTV Building site, which will be turned into a memorial garden.