Christchurch family says there's no justice over tattoo parlour death

A Christchurch father has been left reeling that no one has been held accountable for the death of his son in the 2011 earthquake. 

Matti McEachen, 25, was working inside the Southern Ink tattoo parlour when he was killed by falling masonry as he tried to escape the building. 

Last month the Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal found property manager Christopher Chapman failed to meet industry standards by not informing Southern Ink of safety issues after the 2010 earthquake, but could not prove disgraceful conduct.

The family's last ditch effort for justice has now been turned down as The Real Estate Authority (REA) has told them it will not appeal the tribunal's decision.

Bruce McEachen, Matti's father says there needs to be an urgent law change.

"185 people have died in Christchurch and no one is even issued a parking ticket, it's a disgrace, I think the law needs to be looked at, it needs to be looked at very carefully and quite quickly because New Zealand does live in a earthquake prone society.

"One of the questions they asked the REA the other day was, if I told you there's a property manager in Wellington who's got a note from a structural engineer, What mechanism do you have to get those people out?"

"And the answer is none, they have no mechanism to do it and if the building collapsed and killed someone we're back to where we are now, that someone's died, could have been prevented and the law in New Zealand doesn't allow anybody to do anything.

"It leaves us sitting here going there is something fundamentally wrong with the law in New Zealand."

The REA chief executive Kevin Lampen-Smith says "We are disappointed with the Tribunal’s decision, especially after having to argue in the High Court for the right to have the case heard in the first place.

"We would appeal if we thought the High Court would come to a different opinion applying the law to the same facts. This is very unlikely."

Mr Lampen-Smith said the REA knew it would be difficult to have Mr Chapman found guilty due to the way the Real Estate Agents Act is written, as commercial property management work in managing tenancies does not fall within the Act, but that taking the charge against him was important.

"What is apparent in the decision of the High Court in allowing the case to be heard, and in the Tribunal decision itself, is that this was a close run decision and pursuing the charge against Mr Chapman for what we saw as serious failings in his actions was completely the right thing to do."

While the Tribunal agreed that Mr Chapman’s behaviour "did not meet industry standards, by a considerable measure", it did not find that this failing was 'disgraceful' within the context of other decisions and case law addressing the behaviour of real estate agents, Mr Lampen-Smith says. 

"If we were to appeal the Tribunal’s decision we would be arguing matters of opinion.

"It is far easier to appeal on errors concerning the application of the law, where we would hope that the higher court would find an error in law had been made and correct it. In this case we can’t find any place where the Tribunal has misapplied the law."