No investigation into CTV rescue efforts

By Anna Turner of The Star

Fire officials have defended rescuers who tried to save five women trapped in the CTV building after last year's quake, following allegations they were 'inept'. File photo / NZ Herald
Fire officials have defended rescuers who tried to save five women trapped in the CTV building after last year's quake, following allegations they were 'inept'. File photo / NZ Herald

The Royal Commission has reached a decision over Srecko `Alec' Cvetanov's submission and will not be holding a public inquiry into his wife's death.

Yesterday the commission heard a submission from Mr Cvetanov to have the actions of search and rescuers following the February 22 earthquake investigated.

Mr Cvetanov's wife, Tamara Cvetanova, survived the initial collapse of the CTV building and was trapped alive in a gap with four Filipino women.

But despite making emergency calls from a cellphone for over four hours, none of the women were ever rescued. They are believed to have died sometime after 1am when the space they were trapped in collapsed.

The hearing involved legal submissions on the interpretation of the Commission's Terms of Reference.

Commission chairman Justice Mark Cooper reserved his decision.

Today, Justice Cooper has released his decision. He said the commission's terms of reference did not allow the Royal Commission to include the matters raised by Mr Cvetanov in the commission's inquiry.

"The difficulty that immediately and plainly arises is that the Royal Commission has been established to inquire into building failure as a result of the Canterbury earthquakes, and is specifically prohibited from inquiring into the role of any person providing any emergency or recovery services after the earthquake,'' Justice Cooper's decision said.

A coronial inquiry into Mrs Cvetanova's death will take place. Justice Cooper said this was the appropriate forum for the investigation.

"The Coroner has already stated that he will conduct an inquiry into these issues if the Royal Commission does not have jurisdiction. The other effect of this decision is that the way will now be clear for the Coroner to proceed with that inquiry.''

The decision in full is available in full on the Terms of Reference section of the Commission's website www.canterbury.royalcommission.govt.nz.

Mr Cvetanov's lawyer Nigel Hampton QC said today's decision was "not entirely unsurprising'' given the tight terms of reference for the commission. He noted there was "some sympathy'' from Justice Cooper for Mr Cvetanov's position.

While the coroner would explore the search and rescue issues, Mr Hampton said it would be a more narrow examination than the commission could provide.

He said Mr Cvetanov and his legal team would keep the pressure on the Government to either expand the commission's scope, or to create a separate independent probe into the search and rescue.

"We are not going to give it away.''

- Additional reporting by Jarrod Booker

- NZ Herald

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