Grenfell Tower Inquiry diary 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. Pete Apps recaps

Linked InTwitterFacebookeCard
Sharelines

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. @PeteApps recaps.

“Well, they were destroyed, you binned them”

Monday’s evidence session started with a bombshell announcement.

It emerged that Peter Maddison, director of assets at KCTMO, had disclosed on Friday (16 October) that there was a stash of eight day books and five diaries running to 300 pages in length. They covered the period from January 2013 to May 2017 and contained – in the words of lead counsel Richard Millett – material of “the utmost relevance” to the inquiry’s work.


READ MORE

Grenfell management company decided fitting sprinklers was ‘too complicated’, inquiry hearsGrenfell management company decided fitting sprinklers was ‘too complicated’, inquiry hears
Legally required fire safety information for Grenfell ‘incomplete and insufficient’ at end of refurbishment, inquiry hearsLegally required fire safety information for Grenfell ‘incomplete and insufficient’ at end of refurbishment, inquiry hears
Police ‘will review’ destruction and withholding of Grenfell evidence by KCTMOPolice ‘will review’ destruction and withholding of Grenfell evidence by KCTMO

This shocking discovery raised a very difficult question for Mr Maddison and KCTMO’s solicitors Kennedy’s: why had he not handed them over sooner?

But before this news had time to sink in, it was superseded by an even bigger revelation when Monday morning’s witness, Claire Williams, project manager for the refurbishment, took the stand. She was immediately asked whether she had disclosed all her diaries.

“Yes,” she replied. “I left the TMO in May 2018 and I binned all of them but the last one.”

“You binned them, even though you knew by that time that there was already on foot a public inquiry?” asked an incredulous inquiry chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick.

“I believe I looked at them and they were notes,” she said. “Everything that was in there I would have thought is actually documented elsewhere.”

Pressed further, she was unable to say with certainty whether this took place before or after the police attended to clear her desk, or whether or not she had been advised to retain all relevant evidence.

“Have you ever informed the Metropolitan Police that you had destroyed documents which were relevant to their investigation?” asked Mr Millett.

Richard Millett holds up the newly disclosed diaries (picture: Grenfell Tower Inquiry)
Richard Millett holds up the newly disclosed diaries (picture: Grenfell Tower Inquiry)

“No, I didn’t,” she replied. “Because it’s not occurred to me. Today’s the first time that I’ve ever really had a conversation about this.”

“They weren’t destroyed, I didn’t rip pages out of them,” she added. “So it wasn’t a conscious ‘I’m hiding anything’ decision – it was: I am clearing my desk.”

“Well, they were destroyed – you binned them,” said Mr Millett.

“I put them in the bin, yes,” she replied.

A few hours later, the police issued a statement saying that it would “seek to establish the facts and assess whether a criminal offence may have been committed”.

The questioning of Mr Maddison about why he did not disclose the diaries will take place on Monday.

‘Are you sure that your evidence isn’t an attempt to reconstruct a conversation that never actually took place?’

‘Are you sure that your evidence isn’t an attempt to reconstruct a conversation that never actually took place?’

Some of the most important moments in Claire Williams’ (pictured) evidence related to precisely what assurances she had received about the fire safety of the cladding being installed.

The first of these related to claims made by her colleague, David Gibson, that following a specific question during a project meeting about the cladding’s safety, Rydon’s project manager Simon Lawrence had told him it was “inert” and “would not burn”.

No minutes of this meeting have ever been found, Mr Lawrence has denied it and no other witness except Ms Williams can recall it being said.

However, Ms Williams was adamant that the conversation happened. She said she recalled hearing it said at the meeting, and then printing and reading the minutes in the KCTMO offices for Mr Gibson.

Except, as it emerged this week, Ms Williams did not mention this in her first witness statement, which she made in February 2019 – she added it to an updated statement in September.

“Are you sure that your evidence isn’t an attempt to reconstruct a conversation that never actually took place?” asked Mr Millett.

“No, I wouldn’t do that,” she replied.

Ms Williams was also asked about an email she sent in November 2014, which has become known in the inquiry as her “Lacknall moment” (sic).

Referring to the 2009 fire in Lakanal House in Southwark in 2009, Ms Williams wrote to Mr Lawrence: “I am just writing to get clarification on the fire retardance of the new cladding – I just had a ‘Lacknall’ moment.”

She queried in the email whether the cladding met specified standards but no reply has ever been found. Asked this week why she didn’t chase for one, she said she thought Mr Lawrence “would have” replied orally at a site meeting the following week.

“He would have said, ‘Of course it meets those standards.’”

“Do you have any recollection of him actually answering that question in that way?” asked Mr Millett.

“No,” replied Ms Williams.

Asked why she would have sent this email if she had been given a separate assurance by Mr Lawrence that the cladding was inert, she said it was “to keep the thought in one’s mind”.

“That doesn’t make any sense, with great respect, Ms Williams,” replied Mr Millett.

URGENT, URGENT, URGENT: Grenfell Fire Risk Assessment – outstanding items

A further opportunity to check the safety of the cladding came in the form of a fire risk assessment of the planned works that KCTMO’s risk assessor Carl Stokes carried out in October 2014.

He advised KCTMO that it should gather certain information from Rydon as a high priority, including “the fire rating of the cladding and the fixings”.

This task was allocated to Ms Williams. Some six months later in April 2015, she emailed Simon O’Connor, a site manager for Rydon, asking for this information – directly cutting and pasting from the risk assessment, without even correcting typos.

“Why were you only doing this now?” asked Mr Millett.

Ms Williams claimed she had verbally asked him earlier, although there is no email record of this.

Two months later in June, she re-forwarded him the email, changing the subject header to: “URGENT, URGENT, URGENT: Grenfell FRA – outstanding items”.

“Simon, I think you could polish this off quickly, don’t you?” she wrote.

She claimed, however, that she had spoken to him about it “many times”.

“Why is there nothing in your witness statement about that?” asked Mr Millett.

“My witness statement covers areas that I was aware of that I thought would be of importance to the inquiry,” she replied, emphasising that it was a “long project”.

She claimed this was ultimately dealt with by “sitting down together” with Mr O’Connor to get the answer. But in the end, no information about the fire rating for the cladding was included in Mr Stokes’ final risk assessment for the tower in June 2016.

Ms Williams also accepted she had given a fire strategy for the project – a separate document prepared by consultancy Exova – no more than a “cursory” read when she joined the project in January 2013.

She said that as a result, she was unaware of a line that said the impact of the designs on “external fire spread” would need to be confirmed “by an analysis in a future issue of this report”.

No future issue was ever written. She was unable to explain why on a spreadsheet tracing work on the project she had annotated the column on Exova with the words “need more fire strategy work” in November 2015 – other than to say she may have added it at an earlier time.

‘There was a list of specific items which were potential candidates for price reductions, including the cladding’

‘There was a list of specific items which were potential candidates for price reductions, including the cladding’

A question that has hung over much of the evidence relating to the procurement of the contract to refurbish Grenfell Tower has been the relationships between key figures at KCTMO and the successful contractor Rydon – and whether the firm received favourable treatment as a result of those relationships.

When he gave evidence, Mr Maddison accepted that he knew Steve Blake, a director at Rydon who was involved in winning the Grenfell contract, from a previous job at Hyde Housing. However, he claimed he only knew him “in the same way that I knew his equivalents in most of the main contractors”.

Notes from his (newly disclosed) diaries show he asked them for a cost comparison as early as February 2013 – when the scheme was being delivered by Leadbitter – and gave them a “heads up” when Leadbitter was dropped and a new contractor was being sought.

Jumping forward to March 2014, Rydon had bid for the work alongside two rivals and was in first place, having entered the lowest quote of £9.2m. But this was still £800,000 higher than KCTMO’s budget.

An email sent by Mr Blake on 6 March 2014 – before the process concluded – shows he met with senior KCTMO staff at the housing conference in Brighton.

“We have been informally advised that we are in pole position – ours to lose,” he wrote.

Asked if he felt the tip-off was “improper”, Mr Maddison conceded that he thought it was “unwise”. He accepted he was at the conference, but said he could not recall any meetings with Rydon.

Emails from 10 March 2014 show Rydon planning to take Mr Maddison and a colleague “for a lunch or evening meal if they would prefer” in central London later in April – apparently to celebrate the award of the contract, which had not yet been formally given to them.

Emails between KCTMO and Rydon over the next three days informed the contractor it was in first place.

Conversations then began about saving £800,000, with specific reference to switching to a cheaper cladding material.

All of this is strictly against procurement rules as it preempted the formal award of the contract to Rydon.

Mr Maddison argued that it was only preparatory work: they just wanted an indication from Rydon as to whether the cost-cutting was possible. He called the proposals “illustrative”.

“Well, it was more than that, wasn’t it?” said Mr Millett. “There was a list of specific items which were potential candidates for price reductions, including the cladding.”

Mr Maddison insisted it was intended simply to gain an indication of the potential scope for cost-cutting. He will continue to be questioned about this when he returns on Monday.

‘Would it be fair to say that because you didn’t have to do it, you didn’t do it?’

The Lakanal House fire also came up with Mr Maddison, who was asked about KCTMO’s response to recommendations made by the coroner who was investigating the six deaths in the fire.

In particular, he was pressed on what KCTMO had done in response to the coroner’s assessment that housing providers should be “encouraged” to retrofit sprinklers into their high rises.

A note from a KCTMO board meeting in May 2013 said: “Recently asked the [London Fire Brigade] to confirm where they require sprinklers to be fitted and as yet no requirement to retrofit in high-rise blocks. A number of other landlords, most notably Southwark, have commissioned feasibility studies, however, they have confirmed that there is currently no resources to fund this.”

Mr Maddison was asked whether money was the “stumbling block” that prevented sprinkler retrofit being carried out, which he described as a “very complicated issue”.

“I don’t think we ever got as far as getting a full cost of what it would be, and I think some of the other issues were the practical issues of how to do it, so there wasn’t a full considered approach to our strategy in relation to sprinklers,” he said.

“Would it be fair to say that because you didn’t have to do it, you didn’t do it?” asked Mr Millett.

“I think that’s a fair enough thing to say, but I think it was probably more complicated than that,” he replied. “Issues around the feasibility and the management of the systems was problematic, too.”

Inside Housing has previously obtained the full papers from the meeting – which were not released by the inquiry this week. They show that Janice Wray, head of health and safety at the organisation, was given a tip-off that the requirements “will not become mandatory”.

“Initial indications from [the Department for Communities and Local Government] are that these recommendations are unlikely to be taken up,” she wrote.

This was before ministers had officially responded to the coroner’s recommendations. Ms Wray is set to give evidence in module three.

Grenfell Tower Inquiry headlines: week 15

KCTMO project manager admits destroying evidence relating to Grenfell Tower fire

The project manager of the Grenfell Tower refurbishment has admitted that she binned her records and notes relating to the refurbishment a year after the fire.

Police will review destruction and witholding of evidence by KCTMO staff

Police will consider whether a crime has been committed after a witness to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry yesterday admitted to binning records relating to the building’s refurbishment a year after the fire.

Legally required fire safety information 'incomplete and insufficient' at the end of Grenfell refurbishment

Legally required fire safety information about Grenfell Tower following the building’s refurbishment was left “incomplete” and “insufficient” after the completion of the project, the inquiry heard today.

Grenfell management company decided fitting sprinklers was 'too complicated', inquiry hears

The company that managed Grenfell Tower considered the retrofitting of sprinklers in its high rises in the aftermath of a previous deadly tower block fire but never pursued it, as doing so would have been “very complicated”, the inquiry heard today.

Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase two: weekly diaries

Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase two: weekly diaries

Module one

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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. Pete Apps recaps

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

Module two

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full 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

Click here to read the full story

Sign up for our weekly Grenfell Inquiry newsletter

Sign up for our weekly Grenfell Inquiry newsletter

Each week we send out a newsletter rounding up the key news from the Grenfell Inquiry, along with exclusive analysis of what it all means for the social housing sector.

New to Inside Housing? Click here to register and receive the weekly newsletter straight to your inbox

Already have an account? Click here to manage your newsletters

Linked InTwitterFacebookeCard
Add New Comment
You must be logged in to comment.
RELATED STORIES