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Moodie & Co Principal
Robert A Moodie LL.B. (Hons.) Ph.D Barristers & Solicitors
Dispute Resolution & Litigation Lawyers, 11 Halcombe Rd, Feilding

Phone (06) 323 4636
Facsimile (06) 323 4623
Mobile (027) 446 6697

11th March 2005

Statement by Dr Rob Moodie regarding the Berryman Bridge Collapse in 1994

Background Information

Kenneth Richards was killed when the laden light truck he was driving plunged 30 metres into the Retaruke River on the 22nd March 1994 after two transoms (the supporting beams suspended from wire ropes running from side to side beneath the bridge) snapped causing the Te Rata Station bridge to collapse.

Construction of the Te Rata Station bridge was completed on 22nd March 1986, and it collapsed on the 22nd March 1994. It was therefore only 8 years old to the day, when the structure failed.

The bridge provided access to Te Rata Station, a property owned by Mrs Margaret Berryman and farmed by her husband Keith. The bridge was constructed on Crown land at the entrance to the property by the New Zealand Army. The construction was undertaken as a community support training exercise. The Bridge was designed and engineered by 2nd Lieutenant J R Armstrong of the New Zealand Army Engineering Corps, and constructed by Army Staff under Lt Armstrong's supervision.

Keith and Margaret Berryman paid for all the materials used in the construction of the Te Rata Bridge. The original design called for treated pine timber to be used in the construction of the transoms and stringers that comprised the support structure of the bridge. However, when the bridge was built treated pine of suitable size was not available. Oregan timber from a demolition site was purchased and used, but only after Lt Armstrong viewed the Oregan timber at the demolition site from which it was obtained on Friday 24th January 1986, and approved it as being suitable for the stringers and transoms, that is, for the structural timbers of the bridge.

The Coroner's Inquest into the death of Kenneth Richards

A Coroner's Inquest (a judicial inquiry) into the death of Kenneth Rickards was held at Taumaranui in February 1997. At that inquest the New Zealand Army gave evidence that the Te Rata Bridge was properly constructed in accordance with UK and Australian Army manuals.

However, the Coroner formed a view that Lt Armstrong was inexperienced and appeared to lack formal technical qualifications for bridge building. He also noted that a senior warrant officer employed on the project also lacked design experience or qualification. On the 2nd May 1997 the New Zealand Army received advice from the Coroner that he intended to make adverse comment in his findings about these matters.

In response to advice from the Coroner that he intended to make adverse comment directed at the Army, the Army made submissions through senior counsel insisting that the bridge had been properly and adequately designed, engineered and well built, and represented that the sole reason for the collapse of the Te Rata Bridge was the failure of the Mr and Mrs Berryman to properly maintain the structure.

As a result of the submissions made on behalf of the New Zealand Army by their legal Counsel Mr McGuire, the Coroner changed his initial view and concluded that the design and construction of the bridge by the New Zealand Army was entirely sound. He concluded -

I had initially considered that perhaps the 2nd Lieutenant's designs were not checked by his superiors but I accept Mr McGuire's submission that they in fact were.

My concerns with the New Zealand Army is simply that the Court would perhaps have thought that this project was better left under the supervision of an officer of more experience than a 2nd Lieutenant ...but... in particular I refer to Mr McGuire's submissions...The bridge was well built. There is no problem.

I emphasis that there is no suggestion here that the standard of construction of the bridge was in any way lacking.

After finding that the bridge had been soundly engineered and constructed, and after making oblique reference to the speed of Mr Richard's truck possibly being a contributing cause of the bridge failure, the Coroner then emphatically concluded that the bridge collapse was due to disrepair resulting from the lack of a planned programme of inspection and maintenance on the part of Mr Keith Berryman.

Army Court of Inquiry

In September 1994 the Army convened a Court of Inquiry into the collapse of the Te Rata Bridge and that Court of Inquiry concluded, in summary, that -

  1. Lt Armstrong's design of the bridge deck was unsatisfactory and resulted in variable load factors and stringers that were undersized; and ......

  2. The use of Oregan timber for the main structural members of the bridge deck when it was obviously intended to be semi-permanent or permanent in nature was unwise; and

  3. The bridge was not inspected or approved for use and no post construction inspections were carried out.

After the collapse of the Te Rata Station Bridge Keith and Margaret Berryman were charged with offences under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 by the Occupational Safety and Health division (OSH) of the Department of Labour. These charges were dismissed by Judge Abbott in the New Plymouth District Court. OSH maintained it's interest in the matter however, and, unusually, were represented at the Coroner's Inquest by New Plymouth Crown Prosecutor Mr Tim Brewer. Mr Brewer is a Brigadier in the New New Zealand Territorial Army, and is the present Judge Advocate General of the New Zealand Defence Force.

At the time of the Coroner's inquest both Mr McGuire and Mr Brewer knew full well that the Army had conducted a Court of Inquiry into the collapse of the Bridge. Yet neither Counsel for the Army or OSH advised the Coroner of that fact. Brigadier Brewer had not only been informed in writing of the Army Court of Inquiry, he had also been informed of the identities of witnesses before the Court of Inquiry. He knew that the recently retired Colonel Commandant of the Army Engineering Corps had carried out an examination into the cause of the bridge failure and had given evidence on the matter to the Court of Inquiry.

Coroner not informed of Court of Inquiry

Neither Mr McGuire nor Mr Brewer informed the Coroner that the Army had convened a Court of Inquiry and had reached conclusions about the cause of the failure of the bridge structure. Instead the Army presented evidence and made submissions to the Coroner that were quite contrary to the knowledge of the New Zealand Army High Command about the real reason for the collapse of the bridge. In short, the evidence and submissions of the Army and OSH were not true. In the result that evidence, and those submissions completely perverted the course of justice at the Coroner's formal inquest into the death of Kenneth Richards. By this evidence and submissions, the coronial inquiry was completely usurped and corrupted.

The Butcher Report

Mr Butcher is a qualified and experienced civil engineer. When in retirement Mr Butcher examined the cause of the collapse of the Te Rata Bridge at the request of the New Zealand Army. Mr Butcher's entire report and evidence before the Court of Inquiry follows this explanatory note. In his report on the cause of the bridge collapse Mr Butcher found -

  1. There was nothing in the design calculations document supplied to him that would suggest that the calculations have been subjected to a checking protocol, or QA procedures, or a peer review; and

  2. There was no reference (in the design procedures and material properties listed) to applicable New Zealand standards such as NZS 3603:1981, Code of Practice for Timber Design, nor to documents such as the Bridge Manual 1956 and the Highway Bridge Design Brief CDP 701 1978 of the MWD. The latter documents set out the recommended practice for the design of bridges in New Zealand at that time; and

  3. The allowable stresses used in the design of the timber members were far too high for the grade and timber species used; and

  4. The designer used the FRI Bulletin No 41 without adjustment to determine allowable stresses in bending and sheer ... this was an error of judgment...the information contained in Bulletin 41 has been misinterpreted; and

  5. The design procedure for the timber deck structure was unsatisfactory and resulted in variable load factors and stringers that were undersized. It was fortuitous that the owner elected to install substantial running planks over the stringers during construction of the deck and kept them well nailed throughout the life of the bridge. Full or partial composite action with the stringers was thus possible and together with the greater transverse load distribution provided additional stringer load

  6. Capacity not taken into account in the design; and

  7. The design of the deck structure could not be considered as adequate for the bridges intended use but (due to the changes fortuitously made by Mr Berryman) the inadequacies of the design procedure did not contribute to the failure of the transom nor to the resulting collapse of the section of the bridge; and

  8. The decision to use untreated timber in the original bridge cannot be supported...Oregan is durable when continually immersed in water, but has a very short life when exposed to the weather or when subject to alternate wetting and drying; and

  9. The collapse of three bays of the timber deck structure on 22nd March 1994, was due to the failure in bending of a timber transom when subjected to the rear axel load of 23 kN - (about 2350kgs which was within the design parameters) of a vehicle crossing the bridge; and

  10. Inspection of the transom...shows considerable and serious decay of surfaces which had been in contact including the internal faces of the laminated member (the transom); and

  11. The transom failed ...due almost 50% reduction in the nominal strength of the member in bending. The reduction in strength of the member was in my opinion entirely due to decay of the untreated timber; and

  12. Oregan timber should not have been used for the main structural members of the deck structure of the bridge when it was obviously intended to be semi permanent or permanent in nature; and

  13. Several additional factors contributed to the collapse...the decision to use two 300 x 75 beams bolted together for the transoms in place of a solid 300 x 150 member. The interface was not flashed and permitted the entry of water to the centre of the laminate which, with the oxygen available in the gap, encouraged fungal growth and accelerated the rate of decay. The effective life of the member would have been significantly reduced as a result.

In short the evidence of Mr Butcher was, as the Coroner had at first intuited, that, due to a lack of technical qualification and experience, Lt Armstrong's design and calculations were completely botched, and he had not received adequate guidance and supervision by more experience superiors. The single cause of the failure of the Te Rata bridge.

There can be no doubt whatsoever that whilst there was a litany of serious failures in the design and construction of the Te Rata Bridge, the cause of the early failure of the structure (after a life of only 8 years) was due entirely to the lamination of the transom timbers without providing a flashing (a raincoat) to keep water from penetrating the gap in the laminate. This was a basic design and construction failure. The full responsibility for this failure rested entirely with the New Zealand Army.

The failure to flash the laminate was further seriously aggravated by the fact that, on the advice of a builder friend, Mr Keith Berryman had actually purchased, and provided to the Army Engineers, sufficient three ply malthoid to provide all of the transoms (and stringers) with a malthoid raincoat. This raincoat was for the very purpose of preventing water penetrating the join in the laminate. Yet this flashing material was not used by the engineers as requested by Mr Berryman.

The extent of the decay in the laminated transoms was not visible to Mr and Mrs Berryman because the decay that Mr Butcher found significantly reduced the life of the timber was in fact causing rot from inside to out. The stringers were made of the same timber as the transoms and, although undersized, they had not failed due to any surface decay. This finding of Mr Butcher is important because it confirmed that the Oregan timber (apart from the timber decaying due to the un-flashed lamination) had not in fact reached the end of its useful life.

Butcher principal findings not carried into Court of Inquiry finding

It was never doubted that the failure of two transoms caused the bridge structure to fail. And in paragraphs 19 and 20 Mr Butcher is quite specific on why the transoms failed. Yet these findings of Mr Butcher are nowhere to be found in the Court of Inquiry Report. So even at the stage of the compilation of it's own Court of Inquiry conclusions, Army brass deliberately omitted reference in the Court of Inquiry findings to the evidence that conclusively established that design and construction flaws by Army staff caused the bridge to collapse and the consequential death of Kenneth Richards.

Corrupted process

The Defence Forces Rules of Disciplinary Procedure prevent any Court of Inquiry evidence or finds being used in any other proceedings, and also prohibit any evidence or report of a Court of Inquiry being shown to any person without the express consent of the Commanding Officer of the service involved. In other words the proceedings and findings of a military court of inquiry, are by statutory regulation, absolutely privileged unless a Commanding Officer approves their release.

With knowledge of this protection from disclosure of the truth of what occurred, and after having omitted reference in it's own Court of Inquiry findings about what occurred, the New Zealand Army then deliberately and knowingly misled the Coroner about the cause of the collapse of the Te Rata Bridge. Moreover, when Margaret and Keith Berryman commenced proceedings in the High Court for a Judicial Review of their declined application to have the Coroner's Inquest reopened, the New Zealand Defence Force vigorously opposed an application for open disclosure of the Butcher and other evidence given before the Court of Inquiry.

Continuing cover up by army command

In the High Court the dishonesty, duplicity and corrupt behaviour of the New Zealand Army was brought forcibly to the attention of Justice Wild in the context of allegations that the New Zealand Army had scandalised the Coroner's and High Court by presenting evidence and submissions that were contrary to the Army's knowledge of the real reason for the collapse of the Te Rata Bridge. Justice Wild completely ignored Counsel's allegations against the New Zealand Army, he declined an application that he personally view the Butcher Report, and he ordered the Butcher and other Court of Inquiry evidence not be discovered. He also awarded costs against Mr and Mrs Berryman in an amount yet to be determined.

Subsequent to Judge Wild's decision, on the application of the New Zealand Defence Force, and without any opportunity for Counsel for Mr and Mrs Berryman to be heard, the writer personally, was ordered by Justice William Young to return all copies of the Butcher Report to the New Zealand Army.

Because of concern about what was occuring in high places, immediately after Justice Wild's decision the writer released a copy of the Butcher Report to Television New Zealand for publication . On the Sunday programme. Regrettably, the Sunday Programme then advised the Army of it's intention to publish. The writer now expects that injunction proceedings will shortly be commenced by the New Zealand Army to have the Butcher Report and all other evidence before the Army Court of Inquiry suppressed from publication.

In other words, the Crown is now intent upon obtaining comprehensive Court orders to ensure that any documented evidence of the Army's corrupt behaviour remains secret. Fortuitously the Army is thwarted in this endeavour. A member of Parliament has come into possession of the Butcher Report a copy of which is appended to this communication. This document is from another source and is unaffected by any Court orders or processes at this point in time.

Continuing official indifference to corruption

Keith and Margaret Berryman have been impoverished and their health destroyed, by the New Zealand Army and OSH falsely accusing them of responsibility for the death of Kenneth Richards. For the New Zealand Army the motive was the shifting of blame for Kenneth Richard's death from it's own staff onto Keith and Margaret Berryman's. For OSH it was misguided staff in a new occupational safety regime trying to create an impression of setting standards for structures on farm properties. However, OSH was represented by a highly ranked Army Officer and this fact obviously gives rise to further questions requiring answers.

Prime Minister Helen Clarke and former Attorney General Margaret Wilson have been repeatedly informed of the corruption that occurred. Both have elected to turn a blind eye.

In the context of extremely serious accusations of corrupting justice levied against the New Zealand Army Command, Justice Wild was asked to, and had power to, order the Butcher Report handed up for his inspection so he could determine the truth of those allegations for himself. Yet he declined to do so. Counsel employed by the New Zealand Defence Force have placed evidence before the Coroner's Court and the High Court which is completely inconsistent with the Army's own documented account and knowledge of the cause of the collapse of the Te Rata Bridge. As legal counsel, I have never on any occasion felt able to put either argument or evidence before a Court that contradicts my knowledge of any admission or documented account that is to the contrary. I have always regarded the practice as unethical for an officer of the Court.

I simply cannot allow myself to be silenced about this disgraceful affair until justice and fairness prevail. I am not at all comfortable about the position I find myself in, and I am well aware of the dangers involved. However, I simply do not have the capacity to turn away from my now elderly and frail clients cause, when they have suffered such grievous loss and harm from contrived and blatant corruption by officials.

How you can assist

It is my experience that no one in Government wants to know about corrupt behaviour of officials. Complaints are either deflected to other authorities - who also prove to be unhelpful - or are simply ignored. Those in authority who deliberately turn a blind eye to corrupt behaviour are themselves corrupt. And corruption of judicial processes by false evidence and submissions ranks as one of the very worst forms of corruption.

The Chief of the Defence Staff has released the Court of Inquiry Report on the collapse of the Te Rata Bridge. However, as stated above, that report does not contain Mr Butcher's conclusions on why the transoms failed. The Chief of Defence Staff is desperate to keep the Butcher Report secret. The stated reason is that it cannot be released because of Army discipline code requirements. However that is absolute hog wash. The Army disciplinary code specifically authorises a Commanding Officer to release such information. Mr Butcher was not subject to military discipline, he was instead a retired civilian engineer giving evidence about a civilian structure months after it failed. And I have no doubt that Mr Butcher was paid for his professional services. Release of the Butcher report would have no detrimental impact whatsoever on Army discipline. Nor could it possibly impact upon the reason for the statutory regulation conferment of privilege for military Courts of Inquiry.

The reason why the Chief of Defence Staff wants to keep the Butcher Report confidential is because it clearly shows that the Army has misconducted itself in it's own Court of Inquiry, and in the Coroner's Court, and in the High Court. It is now known that the Army also concealed the existence of the Butcher Report from then Defence Minister Max Bradford when he directed an inquiry into what had actually caused the collapse of the Te Rata Bridge.

What can be done

If you share my revulsion at what has occurred, and what is occurring in the Berryman case, then you can assist by disseminating the information contained in this communication as widely as possible and ensuring that Parliamentarians and other officials know of your revulsion, and your requirement, that they immediately restore Keith and Margaret Berryman's reputations. Also insist that they immediately establish a Commission of Inquiry to conduct a full investigation, and report upon this disgraceful affair. There cannot be any doubt that a comprehensive Commission of Inquiry is fully justified.

- Rob Moodie, Barrister and Solicitor of the New Zealand High Court

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