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Grenfell Tower Inquiry diary 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

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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. @dominicbrady8 reports #UKhousing

‘The impression I have is that you understood yourself to be being asked to do a bit of a cut and paste job’

On Thursday the inquiry shed more light on how Kingspan’s K15 insulation product incorrectly received a certificate suggesting it was of ‘limited combustibility’ (the basic standard for use above 18m) from certifying body the Local Authority Building Control (LABC).

Witness David Jones of Herefordshire Building Control produced this certificate in May 2009 despite his own reservations about whether he was knowledgeable enough to do so.

Mr Jones recalled his reticence to take on the work when delegated to him in late 2008, having received no training on the use of materials in buildings over 18m tall. Herefordshire, in fact, has no buildings taller than 18m but the council was chosen due to its proximity to Kingspan’s Pembridge offices.

His initial concerns were ameliorated by a colleague he spoke to at LABC – the representative body for council inspectors, which also has a commercial arm selling certificates – who assured him that the product had already been assessed by another certifying body, the British Board of Agrément (BBA).

Mr Jones formed the impression that LABC’s involvement was primarily for marketing purposes – LABC’s logo would look good next to Kingspan’s product – and that he would simply combine existing information to produce a certificate.

Rachel Troup, junior counsel to the inquiry, put it to him that he saw his role as essentially carrying out “a bit of a cut and paste job”.

“Yes, I think that probably does describe it. I was to go and meet with Kingspan, take the information they gave me verbally, take the BBA certificate, extract the information, filter out the parts of it that didn’t relate to the building regulations, and just re-present it in a format that sort of matched the building regulations,” he said.


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David Jones signed off the Kingspan K15 certificate for the LABC
David Jones signed off the Kingspan K15 certificate for the LABC

Reservations smoothed over, Mr Jones took the meeting with Kingspan’s Phil Heath and Andrew Pack in December 2008, which he left with the “distinct impression” that K15 was a product of ‘limited combustibility’ and suitable for use on high rises.

After the meeting, Mr Jones recalled a video circulating in the industry at the time showing some unspecified Kingspan insulation being burned with a blowtorch without catching fire.

This video reassured him further that the product safe for use on tall buildings, even though it was not the K15 product specifically. It is important to note here that this video provided no reassurance whatsoever that K15 would meet the ‘limited combustibility’ standard – which is far tougher to obtain. K15 is a product made of combustible foam and could never have obtained this rating.

Between this video, his meeting with Kingspan, K15 product literature and the BBA certificate, Mr Jones satisfied himself that the product was OK, and issued the LABC certificate in May 2009.

Kingspan privately celebrated, with Mr Heath simply emailing Kingspan colleagues “FANBLOODYTASTIC” in response to the certification. The firm immediately stopped conducting fire tests on the product, considering that it was now possible to persuade other building control inspectors of the product’s suitability without further test data.

But the only relevant test data it in fact had was a large-scale test from 2005, which used a system unrepresentative of the real world and an older, safer version of K15.

Ms Troup said: “You were certifying a product which might go on to be used in hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of building projects, and stepping outside the defined criteria of a material of limited combustibility to do so. You were taking an enormous risk, weren’t you?”

Mr Jones said he did not see it that way at the time and was relying on individual buildings going through statutory design and approval processes.

Ms Troup spent around eight minutes walking Mr Jones through Approved Document B – the document for product fire safety – and cross-checked K15 against the criteria in it, proving it could not be considered a product of ‘limited combustibility’ as stated on the LABC certificate.

“Do you accept,” Ms Troup said, “that had you simply followed the definitions within Approved Document B as we have just done, you would never have ended up writing [this] certificate for K15?”

“No, I would not. No, that’s correct,” he responded.

Asked if he thought he had been misled in the process and by whom, Mr Jones said: “I would say by Kingspan and by the BBA… both those documents there were some very misleading statements and very misleading diagrams that seem to me now to be designed quite deliberately to lead people down a certain interpretation.”

‘Is the reality that Kingspan was potentially a significant source of revenue for the BRE?’

At the beginning of the week the inquiry heard more from the Building Research Establishment’s (BRE) Stephen Howard, who was pressed on the impartiality of the testing house.

We learned that the BRE considered offering desktop studies to companies such as Kingspan was “a potentially huge source of revenue” for the body, which had been privatised in 1997.

The inquiry also surfaced emails between Mr Howard and Jonathan Roper of Celotex which showed the two men negotiating over the wording of a ‘letter of comfort’ for the firm’s RS5000 product, while it awaited approval from a BS 8414 system test.

Richard Millett, lead counsel to the inquiry, asked: “Why are you letting your test sponsors, such as Celotex, take control of that level of detail and the wording to be used?”

“I don’t believe they are taking control. They can suggest wording, but ultimately if we disagree with the wording, then we change it,” Mr Howard replied.

As well as Celotex, the inquiry was shown correspondence between Mr Howard and Kingspan that Mr Millett suggested compromised the body’s impartiality. An email from Mr Howard to Kingspan’s Ivor Meredith showed the BRE employee seeking to understand Kingspan’s “commercial drivers”.

Mr Howard could not recall any training in relation to impartiality at the BRE but said: “I think the general instruction was to not engage in conversations about competitor products, talking about or offering advice and opinions on what would pass.”

Stephen Howard gives evidence to the inquiry (picture: Grenfell Tower Inquiry)
Stephen Howard gives evidence to the inquiry (picture: Grenfell Tower Inquiry)

‘I feel bound to suggest to you that you did spot it at this stage, as part of your careful check of the precise components of the rig, and decided to ignore the presence of that white banding’

Celotex carried out two BS 8414 tests of its RS5000 product in 2014, the second of which was secretly bolstered with fire-resisting magnesium oxide boards. The inquiry sought to understand how this material could have found its way onto the test rig, and key to understanding this was the contractor who fitted the rig – Patrick Jones.

Mr Jones, who was self-employed, recalls being told of the changes to the rig between the February 2014 and May 2014 tests by Celotex’s Phil Clark. Mr Jones said he was told he would be installing a thicker panel to prevent a failure that had occurred in the February test.

But Mr Jones rejected the idea that Celotex had tried to conceal the inclusion of magnesium oxide on the rig: “There was definitely nothing, I would say, underhanded that I could understand that was going on in that respect.”

But Mr Jones also said it would not have been possible for someone at the BRE to miss what was being installed on the rig.

He said: “There were people around most of the time… I was fully aware they were recording and testing and watching everything that we did, so I just took it that they knew.”

Eventually the magnesium oxide boards were installed on the fire test rig, enabling Celotex to pass the BS 8414 test even though the test report included pictures clearly displaying the magnesium oxide (below).

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Both Mr Howard and his colleague Tony Baker reviewed this test report but failed to pick up on the picture of the white boards and ask why there were two different coloured boards included on the rig.

Mr Baker said he “commented verbally regarding the different colours and Phil [Clark] told me it is because that was all that was available in the thickness.”

Mr Millett said: “I feel bound to suggest to you that you did spot [the magnesium oxide] at this stage, as part of your careful check of the precise components of the rig, and decided to ignore the presence of that white banding.”

“No” was Mr Howard’s response. He argued that he was expecting to receive the draft again and that he did not always pick up on mistakes the first time around.

The inquiry continues.

Grenfell Tower Inquiry: week 26 headlines

Grenfell Tower Inquiry: week 26 headlines

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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 week at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry came not 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

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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

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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

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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.

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Module Three

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.

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