Lawyers urge speed to access wills
Last updated 05:00 29/04/2011
Christchurch lawyers are demanding faster access to the crippled Clarendon Tower to recover thousand of files, including the wills of earthquake victims.
Engineers have estimated it will take 10 months to secure the 17-storey building for safe access, but this has been challenged by some tenants, who have appealed to Civil Defence for faster action.
Duncan Cotterill senior partner Helen Smith said files in the firm's quake-hit Clarendon Tower offices included wills for people who had died in the February 22 quake, potentially adding to the stress of already distraught families.
"When you've dealt with a tragic event like this, it can just compound things," she said.
The firm had about 100,000 deeds and 8000 wills in the building, including 22 for people who had died just before, during or since the quake, Smith said.
"We can work around it in the short term but we don't really know how long we'll have to wait."
She had no confidence in the building engineers' plans for access and had asked Civil Defence and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority to push for a faster solution.
Police had recovered vehicles from the building's car park, and Urban Search and Research and fire officers had also entered the building, she said.
Cavell Leitch has offices on the 14th, 15th and 16th floors of the Clarendon Tower, and more than 10,000 wills are in there.
Managing partner Julian Clarke said dozens of wills for people who had recently died were held in the building, and the figure would grow every week. "It could be hundreds of families that are torn apart by this sort of thing."
Other documents would also be needed as evidence in upcoming court cases, leaving people unable to defend themselves properly.
The firm could not afford to wait until next January for access, as proposed by the building engineers, and would consider hiring its own engineers or take legal action if faster access could not be obtained, Clarke said.
Building manager Mark Youthed, of Knight Frank, said he was discussing faster options for access with Civil Defence, and he understood tenants' frustrations.
"If there is another safe option, I'm all ears," he said.
The initial engineers' assessment was being peer-reviewed by the building's insurer, with a report expected today that could offer alternatives, he said.
"There is a lot of pressure to get people in there, but at the end of the day it's all about safety," he said. "We can't just charge into the building."
Civil Defence cordon and access control manager Angus Smith said discussions on the best solution for accessing Clarendon Tower were continuing.