A slightly disjointed week at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry saw further evidence from staff at building manager Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) interspersed with the views of a cladding expert. Peter Apps reports
The inquiry returned to topics first discussed almost a year ago this week, with the evidence of Jonathan Sakula (pictured above), a cladding expert with 30 years’ experience in facades in the cladding industry.
Mr Sakula was only appointed in October and completed his report in March, hence the timing of his evidence.
He was primarily asked to explain what a “reasonably competent” cladding contractor could and should have known about the risks of using the highly combustible aluminium composite material (ACM) panels selected for Grenfell Tower.
His view, in a nutshell, was that they should have been aware it was combustible and unsafe for use on a high-rise block.
This was because of well-publicised high-rise fires, mostly in the Middle East, between 2012 to 2016 that were linked to ACM and were well known in the industry.
Mr Sakula said contractors should have known from reports of the fires that ACM was “easily ignited and combustible”.
As a result, he said using the product on a high rise was “unwise” and failing to consider the “known combustibility” would “fall below the standard expected of a reasonably competent practitioner in the cladding industry”.
He agreed with counsel to the inquiry Kate Grange QC (pictured below) when she suggested to him that the contractor should also have been aware using the product on a high rise was “unsafe”.
However, Mr Sakula said he believed the risks were not taken seriously enough by some in the industry because the fires before Grenfell did not involve severe loss of life. “It was a failure of imagination,” he said. “There was a bit of this attitude of, ‘well, it hasn’t happened so it can’t happen.’”
He also addressed some of the arguments witnesses from cladding contractor Harley Facades advanced to explain their actions.
One of these was the firm simply inherited product selections made by architect Studio E and trusted it had done the work to ensure the products were safe and compliant.
Mr Sakula’s view was that both organisations should have satisfied themselves that the products were suitable, not rely on the other to do so.
He was also asked about a certificate from the British Board of Agrément (BBA) which appeared on its front page to say the cladding met the standard of ‘Class 0’, but made clear this was actually based on quite limited testing when read in full.
Mr Sakula said the contractor was entitled to rely on the BBA certificate “to a great extent” as the BBA was a “reputable body” and its statements were “to be trusted”.
However, he felt that it should have employed “somebody with technical or design responsibility” to read the certificate “in detail to ensure that the product was appropriate for its intended use on a project”.
He also said that rather than “take comfort” from the fact that the material was widely used on many other buildings, a reasonably competent contractor should have reviewed each job on its merits because “every building is different”.
Mr Sakula also gave some important evidence on the question of what government guidance that was in force when Grenfell Tower was refurbished did and did not say.
This has been a vexed question since the fire, with the government keen to distance itself from blame by insisting the use of combustible ACM cladding was “banned” in the UK by its guidance.
This requires a little explanation. Statutory building regulations simply state that the walls of a building must “adequately resist the spread of flame”.
But the government published official guidance called ‘Approved Document B’, which sets out in detail how to comply with this standard.
This document said the “external surfaces of walls” must meet the standard of Class 0. This has been widely interpreted in the industry to apply to cladding. But Class 0 is a flawed test for fire safety, becuase it primarily assesses how the surface of a product responds to flame, and dangerous ACM products have previously obtained it.
After the fire, however, the government claimed cladding should in fact have met the higher standard of ‘limited combustibility’, which many in the industry had previously thought only applies to insulation.
Mr Sakula did not agree that this was the case. “I just think that was a bit of a stretch,” he told the inquiry.
He also reviewed various other bits of industry guidance that said cladding should meet the higher standard of ‘limited combustibility’, but said the industry would have “deferred” to the standards in Approved Document B.
“A cladding contractor would have interpreted this that the use of [ACM] was still allowed,” he wrote in his report.
None of this excuses the actions of the Grenfell Tower contractors: their use of combustible insulation put them in breach of the government guidance on any reading and Mr Sakula agreed that specific terms in their contracts would have prohibited the use of a combustible cladding product on the tower in any event.
But it leaves the government with difficult questions to answer.
Not only must it now explain why their guidance was so defective as to allow the use of dangerously combustible cladding on high rises, but also why it has spent the past four years telling us it was not.
Turning to the evidence of KCTMO, Peter Maddison (pictured above), director of assets at the organisation, continued his evidence this week. One of the first topics he was asked about was how KCTMO had consulted with residents about the planned refurbishment of the tower.
He was shown a KCTMO document from August 2013 that set out a plan for consultation and noted “a perception by residents that TMO doesn’t respect them”, which was driven by “inadequate and intermittent communication [which] has also given residents cause for distrust”. It said meetings regarding the project were “acrimonious and unproductive”.
Mr Maddison agreed the report was an accurate reflection of the situation at this time and said some of the bad feelings came from the delays to the refurbishment.
At the end of 2013, KCTMO took the decision to scrap public meetings regarding the refurbishment altogether and instead rely on drop-in sessions and newsletters.
Mr Maddison said this was the preference residents expressed in consultation and that the decision was made due to poor attendance at previous meetings.
But KCTMO minutes from November 2013 painted a different picture, recording that “it has been agreed to hold no more public meetings due to the stand being made by the Grenfell Tower leaseholder group”.
In his witness statement, Mr Maddison disputed this by saying it was “inaccurately recorded”.
“Why did you not correct the minutes?” asked Richard Millett QC, counsel to the inquiry.
“I don’t know that I picked up that nuance,” Mr Maddison said.
A further email from a local councillor referred to the fact that “Peter Maddison has suggested and I have agreed that we don’t hold any more open meetings” due to “disruptive” complaints being made at them by tower resident Ed Daffarn.
Asked about this email, Mr Maddison said he disagreed with it. “I felt the key issue… was that the consultation meetings weren’t effective and that we should do something different,” he said.
On a similar theme, Mr Maddison was also interrogated about the period when Mr Daffarn and others attempted to establish a residents group within the tower but were initially denied recognition by KCTMO.
This stretched back to January 2014 when the organisation initially told Mr Daffarn “the TMO are unable to recognise Grenfell Tower Residents Group” as there was another residents association covering the whole estate, which by this stage was barely functioning.
In April 2015, Mr Daffarn, along with neighbour David Collins, again sought recognition for the group. Once more, he was told that “this group will not be recognised” due to the existence of the other residents association.
This further refusal came just days after Mr Maddison had sent an internal email to colleagues at KCTMO complaining about the blog Mr Daffarn contributed to which raised concerns about the refurbishment.
“Mr Daffarn is continuing to agitate in Grenfell Tower,” Mr Maddison wrote. “He is clearly distributing misleading information. I wonder if you could advise on the point at which his comments become libellous?”
He attached a screen grab of a recent blog showing an early meeting of the group Mr Daffarn had established, highlighting several passages including one that said “the TMO have worked to prevent tenants and leaseholders from forming any form of collective representation”. But wasn’t this precisely what happened?
“It was certainly true, wasn’t it, that there had been past attempts by residents to gain a united voice for the Grenfell Tower community which had been refused by the TMO?” asked Mr Millett (pictured above).
Mr Maddison said he did not agree, claiming the group KCTMO had refused to acknowledge would not have been part of the refurbishment consultation.
The residents group was finally recognised in July 2015, after the intervention of the local MP.
Finally, Mr Maddison was grilled at length about how complaints from residents were handled by KCTMO, with reference to several specific complaints about fire safety covering the renumbering of floors in the tower and gas works carried out by the National Grid after the main refurbishment completed.
One complaint stood out, however. Mr Daffarn (pictured above) complained in August 2015 that the door of his neighbouring flat, Flat 136, was left standing open after the tenant moved out and main contractor Rydon carried out some work.
Mr Daffarn’s evidence was that the ‘self-closing’ device was holding the door ajar. We now know that many self-closing devices in Grenfell Tower had faults, which is thought to have been a major cause of the spread of smoke within communal areas on the night of the blaze.
Mr Daffarn’s complaint was not upheld by Mr Maddison, who told him the door was not broken and that Rydon’s staff were able to return and simply close the door.
This resulted in an angry response from Mr Daffarn, who felt Mr Maddison was calling him a liar.
But this week, Mr Maddison’s witness statement appeared to contradict what he had told Mr Daffarn in 2015. In his statement he said: “The door closer was repaired and an apology was given.”
Asked about this, he said: “I apologise, that’s a mistake in my witness statement… I think my solicitors have drafted that wrong.”
“I feel bound to suggest to you that when you said in your statement that the door was repaired, that was true, and that was true because it was broken earlier,” said Mr Millett.
Mr Maddison denied this, saying he had taken Rydon’s assurance that they could simply close the door “at face value”.
Mr Maddison was followed by Teresa Brown (pictured above), director of housing at KCTMO, who was primarily questioned about the lack of personal emergency evacuation plans, or PEEPs, for residents of the tower.
This is a major topic for this section of the inquiry, which began with lawyers for the bereaved calling the fire “a landmark act of discrimination” against people with disabilities and noting that disabled residents of the tower died at a far higher rate than other occupants.
But it is also one that takes us into systemic, not just local, issues. KCTMO did not provide PEEPs – but neither did the vast majority of social landlords managing tower blocks around the country.
Ms Brown’s evidence gave us some insight into this. Asked why KCTMO did not develop such plans, she cited its reliance on the stay put policy and guidance published by the Local Government Association (LGA) in 2011.
This guide, commissioned by government in the aftermath of the Lakanal House fire, said preparing such documents was “usually unrealistic” and advocated reliance on stay put instead.
“We were operating according to that guidance in a way that I think other organisations across the country were,” said Ms Brown.
But lawyers for the bereaved are arguing that a statutory responsibility to provide means of escape in an emergency to all residents should not have been overridden by the guidance.
This is an awkward topic for the inquiry as one of the experts advising it on these matters is Colin Todd, a fire safety consultant who was the primary author of the LGA guide.
Ms Brown was shown a draft vulnerability policy which said the provision of PEEPs to KCTMO residents could be done in an “ad hoc and/or self-nominated” fashion.
But she accepted that this was not publicised to residents, leaving them unaware of it. The final policy made no reference to PEEPs.
“Isn’t that a serious gap in the scope of the policy that was meant to safeguard vulnerable people?” asked counsel to the inquiry Andrew Kinnear QC.
“So we weren’t looking to evacuate our residents, we were looking to utilise information in emergency situations to provide support,” Ms Brown said.
KCTMO actually had a major warning before the Grenfell tragedy of the potential need for PEEPs, when a fire at nearby Adair Tower got out of control and triggered a block-wide evacuation.
An emotional Ms Brown said data gathered by KCTMO to identify vulnerable residents was used when responding to this fire, but it did not prompt consideration of the need for evacuation plans.
“When we did a review, there was no recommendation from the LFB [London Fire Brigade] or from anybody else to have changed that,” she said.
It is worth emphasising here that the first phase of the inquiry recommended the adoption of PEEPs, but the government has so far not taken this up, after being lobbied by industry representatives who called it “totally impracticable”.
A legal challenge by bereaved families has resulted in a consultation on it being reopened but it has not yet progressed.
The company that managed Grenfell Tower did not prepare plans to evacuate residents with disabilities during a fire due to its reliance on government-endorsed guidance, its former director of housing has told the inquiry.
A “reasonably competent” cladding contractor should have known that the combustible panels used on Grenfell were unsafe for high rises, a cladding expert told the inquiry.
A resident of Grenfell Tower who raised fire safety concerns on a blog was accused of “agitating” by a director of the building’s management company, who instructed colleagues to investigate whether the resident’s criticism could be considered “libellous”, the inquiry heard.
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
Week eight: ‘It haunts me that it wasn't challenged’
Four witnesses from contractor Rydon gave evidence this week. Lucie Heath recaps what we learned on the last week of evidence before the inquiry breaks for five weeks
Week nine: ‘All I can say is you will be taken out for a very nice meal very soon’
This week the inquiry heard evidence from witnesses at Harley Facades, the sub-contractor responsible for Grenfell Tower’s cladding. Peter Apps recaps the key points
Week 10: ‘As we all know, ACM will be gone rather quickly in a fire!’
As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry entered its 10th week, Jack Simpson recaps the key points from a week of important evidence from the refurbishment’s cladding contractor
Week 11: ‘Did you get the impression Grenfell Tower was a guinea pig for this insulation?’
With witnesses from the cladding subcontractor, the firm which cut the deadly panels to shape and the clerk of works which inspected the job giving evidence this was week full of revelations. Peter Apps recaps the key points
Week 12: ‘Would you accept that was a serious failing on your part?’
With the surveyor who inspected Grenfell Tower for compliance giving evidence, this was a crucial week from the inquiry. Dominic Brady and Peter Apps report
Week 13: ‘Value for money is to be regarded as the key driver for this project’
With consultants to Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) giving evidence, attention at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry turned for this first time to the actions of the TMO and the council. Peter Apps reports
Week 14: ‘Did it not occur to you at this point that your budget was simply too low?’
This week, for the first time in phase two, the inquiry heard from Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, the landlord that oversaw the fatal refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. Lucie Heath reports
Week 15: ‘Have you ever informed the police that you destroyed documents relevant to their investigation?’
Witnesses from the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) gave evidence for a second week, which began with a shocking revelation about withheld and destroyed evidence. Peter Apps recaps
Week 16: ‘I conclude this was very serious evidence of professional negligence’
This week saw members of Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation finish giving evidence, before the inquiry’s expert witnesses took the stand to make some highly critical assessments of the work they had seen before and during the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. Jack Simpson recaps
Grenfell Tower: a timeline of the refurbishment
Following the conclusion of module one of the Grenfell Inquiry’s second phase, Peter Apps presents a timeline of the key moments during the fatal refurbishment of the west London tower block
Week 17: ‘It’s hard to make a note about this because we are not clean’
The start of the second module of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase two came with some huge revelations about the companies that sold the products used in the cladding system. Peter Apps reports
Week 18: ‘It was just reckless optimism wasn't it?’
As the inquiry began cross-examining witnesses for the second module of its phase two work, the picture surrounding just how Grenfell Tower ended up wrapped in such dangerous materials became a little clearer. Nathaniel Barker was keeping an eye on proceedings
Week 19: ‘And that was intentional, deliberate, dishonest?’
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry this week heard the shocking story of how the insulation manufacturer “manipulated” official testing and marketed its product “dishonestly”. Peter Apps tells the story
Week 20: ‘We were outed by a consultant who we then had to fabricate a story to’
This week the inquiry investigated the actions of Kingspan – the manufacturer of one of the insulation products used in the tower’s cladding system. Dominic Brady reports
Week 21: ‘It’s there in black and white isn't it? We see a complete absence of any consideration of life safety’
The story of insulation giant Kingspan’s testing and marketing of its combustible insulation for high rises was unpacked in minute detail this week. Peter Apps reports
Week 22: ‘All we do is lie in here’
In the third week of evidence from insulation giant Kingspan, the inquiry continued to uncover shocking details about the firm’s behaviour both before and after the Grenfell Tower fire. Lucie Heath reports
Week 23: ‘That would have come as an earthquake to you at the time, would it not?’
This week the inquiry took its deepest dive yet into the inner workings of the cladding manufacturer whose product has been blamed for the terrible spread of fire up Grenfell Tower. Nathaniel Barker reports
Week 24: ‘Do you accept that Test 5B was Arconic's deadly secret’
The president of the firm that made and sold the cladding panels installed on Grenfell Tower was asked to account for the apparent concealment of “disastrous” fire tests on the product this week. Peter Apps reports
Week 25: ‘This is quite an incredible list of omissions and missed instances, isn’t it?’
This week the Grenfell Tower Inquiry heard its first witnesses from the Building Research Establishment (BRE) - the testing house which carried out key fire tests on the Kingspan and Celotex insulation products which were later used on Grenfell Tower. Peter Apps reports.
Week 26: 'You were taking an enormous risk, weren't you?'
Week 26 at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry was a key moment in understanding how dangerous products used on the tower came to be accepted by industry professionals. Dominic Brady reports
Week 27: ‘What will happen if one building made out [of] PE core is in fire and will kill 60 to 70 persons?’
The most explosive evidence this week at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry came from those who did not attend, as the evidence which would have been presented to Arconic witnesses was displayed in their absence. Peter Apps reports
Week 28: ‘This is a serious safety matter’
This week the Grenfell Tower Inquiry zeroed in on the British Board of Agrément, the body that produced “misleading” certificates which inspired trust in both the cladding and insulation used on the tower. Lucie Heath reports
Week 29: ‘Is it true that Kingspan’s position… was to do its best to ensure that science was secretly perverted for financial gain?’
The final week in this section of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry primarily examined the attempts by insulation manufacturer Kingspan to lobby government after the fire. Peter Apps reports
How the products used in Grenfell Tower's cladding system were tested and sold
As the section of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry examining how the products used in the cladding system were tested, marketed and sold comes to a close, Peter Apps summarises what we have learned about each of the products included in the system
Week 30: ‘There is certainly a high probability that in the event of a fire the whole building can become an inferno’
The focus of the inquiry shifted this week to the actions of the social housing providers responsible for maintaining Grenfell Tower. Pete Apps recaps what we learned
Week 31: ‘If we cannot get out people will die’
This week saw the former residents of Grenfell Tower enter the witness box to tell of their experiences attempting to raise complaints with the council and its managing agent. Pete Apps reports
Week 32: ‘Let's hope our luck holds and there isn't a fire’
This week saw the return of the landlord of Grenfell Tower, Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), as senior staff members attempted to explain how vital fire safety protections at the block were allowed to fall into disrepair. Lucie Heath reports
Week 33: ‘Isn't that a serious gap in the scope of a policy meant to safeguard vulnerable people?’
A slightly disjointed week at the Grenfell Tower inquiry saw further evidence from staff at building manager Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) interspersed with the views of a cladding expert. Peter Apps reports
Week 34: ‘Some members of the community are doing their best to spread false information’
Jack Simpson covers all the major revelations from the past week of evidence at the Grenfell Inquiry, including evidence from Laura Johnson, director of housing at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
Week 35: ‘I really didn’t like the champagne’
This week the Grenfell Tower Inquiry saw council witnesses, including former deputy leader Rock Feilding-Mellen and leader Nicholas Paget-Brown, questioned about their role in the story for the first time. Peter Apps reports
Week 36: ‘Is that not a very incurious approach for a fire risk assessor?’
This week the Grenfell Tower Inquiry scrutinised the work of Carl Stokes, the man hired to carry out fire risk assessments for the block. Nathaniel Barker reports
Week 37: ‘In giving that advice, weren’t you acting beyond your knowledge and expertise?’
A curtailed week at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry saw fire risk assessor Carl Stokes grilled over advice he gave regarding the tower’s cladding. Peter Apps reports
Week 38: ‘Well it’s a bit more than that, isn’t it. He’s suggesting that you tell the LFB a lie’
The inquiry heard the mammoth cross-examination of KCTMO’s health and safety manager Janice Wray this week. Peter Apps reports
Week 39: ‘What you said there was a grotesque understatement’
This week the inquiry continued to hear from former employees of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, as well as two employees from the London Fire Brigade. Lucie Heath reports