Rydon’s project manager for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment was unable to explain the presence of “shockingly poor workmanship” of cavity barriers in the cladding system installed on the building at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry today.
Simon O’Connor, who was the onsite project manager for lead contractor Rydon, was shown images of cavity barriers that failed to close the gap between the cladding panels installed on the building and the insulation.
Post-fire inspections have shown that cavity barriers – installed to stop fire ripping through the gap – were fitted upside down, vertically instead of horizontally, and were cut to the wrong size.
“If cavity barriers were placed in different locations from those shown on the design drawings, do you agree that would be defective workmanship… and it would be defective workmanship which Rydon would be responsible for identifying and ensuring was rectified?” asked Richard Millett QC, counsel for the inquiry, today.
“Yes, as well as the clerk of works and building control and everyone else,” replied Mr O’Connor. He said he was not made aware of any concerns relating to the cavity barriers.
The cladding system was designed by sub-contractor Harley Facades, with the specific barriers in question installed after Mr O’Connor left the project.
“In his witness statement Mr Ben Bailey of Harley’s said that he was shocked by the photos in this report. Are you shocked?” Mr Millett asked.
“Yes,” replied Mr O’Connor.
“Do you know – and I know you weren’t there at the time – how such shockingly poor workmanship was allowed to happen unchecked, can you give us any insight into that?” Mr Millett asked.
Mr O’Connor replied: “I can’t because I wasn’t there so I can’t comment on what was going when I wasn’t present.”
Mr O’Connor had explained that work by Harley Facades was reviewed by Rydon against design drawings after completion, which was supposed to detect any “snagging” defects.
A former plasterer, Mr O’Connor moved up the ranks at Rydon after joining the company in 2002, and was carrying out his first job as project manager on the Grenfell Tower project.
Asked if he was given “any guidance about what you should be doing or what documents you should be looking at” in his role, he replied “no”.
A CV provided to Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) – the company that managed the tower on behalf of the council – as part of Rydon’s tender process claimed that Mr O’Connor was able to “co-ordinate design” and assist with value engineering. He said today that he had no experience of either and would not have been qualified to do so.
He left the project in July 2015 after he was offered a job elsewhere. Asked about this today, he said: “We had fallen behind programme… We were working extremely long days, there was a lot of pressure, it was affecting my home life. When I was given the opportunity to leave for another job offering more money… I couldn’t turn it down.”
Mr O’Connor was granted vulnerable witness status by inquiry chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick, which meant his face did not appear on the live stream of the hearings today.
The inquiry saw an email from Claire Williams, project manager at KCTMO, sent in April 2015 asking Mr O’Connor to provide “the fire rating of the cladding and fixings”.
This was in relation to a fire risk assessment Mr O’Connor had carried out for the site. Ms Williams followed this email up in June 2015, marking the subject header as “URGENT, URGENT, URGENT”.
Mr O’Connor said that he did not recall what he did with the email, but that he thought he would have forwarded it to the architects. There is no record of him doing so.
Asked about the process of checking materials coming to the site to ensure they were correct, he said that this was left to specialist sub-contractors and he only monitored for the time of arrival.
“We were using tried and tested sub-contractors, there was a bit of trust there,” he said.
The question was raised in the context of the decision to switch from Celotex RS5000 insulation, as specified, for Kingspan Kooltherm K15, which was not specified, for some of the tower’s lower floors. Both products are combustible.
Following his manager Simon Lawrence yesterday telling the inquiry that residents who complained about safety were “vocal and aggressive”, Mr O’Connor was shown an email in which he referred to one flat as a “problem property” after a complaint from the resident.
“He will shout it from the rooftops if not resolved properly,” he wrote.
Asked what he meant by this, he said it was in reference to the fact that the leaseholder had carried out work on his flat, which made completing the refurbishment more difficult.
The inquiry continues on Monday with further evidence from Rydon witnesses.
Week one: a vivid picture of a broken industry
After a week of damning revelations at the opening of phase two of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, Peter Apps recaps the key points
Week two: what is the significance of the immunity application?
Sir Martin Moore-Bick has written to the attorney general requesting protection for those set to give evidence at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Peter Apps explains what the move means
Week three: architects of misfortune
This week saw the lead architects for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment give evidence to the inquiry. Peter Apps runs through the key points
Week four: ‘I didn’t have any perception that it was the monster it’s become’
The architects continued to give evidence this week, outlining a lack of understanding of the fire risk posed by the cladding materials and its design. Nathaniel Barker reports
Week five: ‘No adverse effect in relation to external fire spread’
As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry returns from its long absence, Peter Apps recaps the key points from a week of important evidence from the fire consultants to the refurbishment
Week six: ‘I can’t recall any instance where I discussed the materials with building control’
Nathaniel Barker summarises what we learned from fire engineers Exova, architects Studio E and the early evidence from contractor Rydon
Week seven: ‘I do not think I have ever worked with a contractor operating with this level of nonchalance’
Two key witnesses from contractor Rydon gave evidence this week. Peter Apps recaps some of the key points from a revealing week of evidence